The need to overcome feelings of dread is key to transforming performance in any environment. Whether you are prepping for a presentation at the office or getting mentally prepared to execute a hostage rescue operation where the suspects are armed… the preparation process is the same.
Sometimes our brains suck.
We create stories in our minds outlining worst-case scenarios. What if I have a heart attack during my run? What if my bowels discharge unexpectedly? What if I stumble on my words? On and on your brain cycles through the stories that elevate your heart rate and get you running to the bathroom repeatedly.
The interesting reality is some events which should make you nervous or put you into a fight or flight state do not, while activities that shouldn’t, do.
There are many variables which contribute to feelings of dread all of which are very subjective.
Listen, very few people, if any, are immune to the chaos your mind can unnecessarily create. My own experience is an oddity. For example, every six months we would have a team physical. For a week leading up to the test, I would feel agitated and even irritable. It didn’t matter that I knew I was well prepared, there was something that would send me spinning and I would actively have to work through the process.
Compare that to doing entries for armed suspects. I loved it. The planning, preparation, and execution didn’t cause me any anxiety whatsoever despite the fact there was a hell of a lot more on the line.
Seems odd, doesn’t it?
Misplaced feelings of dread are a widespread occurrence. The disparity in ways and scenarios which will create dread in our lives is vast.
Most of us were not taught to deal with adversity healthily, so we learned or taught ourselves how to avoid pain.
The experiences in my life, including critical incidents and seeing many horrible things to prepping for physical tests, have taught me how to work with the feelings. I’ve also coached many people how to deal with these same kinds of feelings so that they can improve their performance and the quality of their life
So what has worked to overcome feelings of dread?
Most of us spend a lot of our time fighting this sense of dread, feeling powerless to combat it and it runs our movie.
Trying to ignore the issue merely allows it to resurface at just the wrong time!
Once you recognize this cycle, you can just accept this dread that is so often present instead of fighting it off. It took me a few years to begin to recognize the cycle in my own life and in particular, it seemed to be related to physical performance.
Once you accept it will be present in a given scenario you to which you are exposing yourself, you will be able to navigate it effectively.
The first step is awareness. Ask yourself the following:
- Is there hard data to support the feeling? Is there anything to be afraid of in this particular circumstance? Apply the Stoic mindset to your situation, do not worry about the things you cannot control. If you have prepared yourself then suffering is a waste of energy. If it is a medical appointment that has you stressed, understand that statistically speaking it is far more likely that you will be fine as opposed to something being wrong.
- Even if you can clearly identify the fear, ask yourself, “What’s the worst-case scenario? Would I be OK if that happened? Would it change who I am, or would it just be a challenge?” Most of the time, when I answer these questions honestly, I realize that my fear is exaggerated in my mind. I realize that I am capable of handling whatever happens and that I am just afraid of what I don’t know or perhaps of pain or rejection. Once I have softened my “rigid” response, I feel less dread and can tolerate whatever still lingers (and by the way, it often does not miraculously disappear!).
- Ask yourself, “Is anything happening to me right now?” Usually, the answer is no; the feeling of dread is due from some anticipated event in the future. A presentation, a test or an appointment. Herein lies the importance of awareness. When you become aware, you can begin to “change your mind.” This means you can begin to rewire your brain. There is no question you become what you think. The process of transitioning your thoughts from the negative dialogue to a positive thought creates new synapses. In doing so, the synapses borrow the “mental glue” from the old thought allowing it to fade away, and use it to solidify the new thinking.
- The initial step is using a short round of tactical breathing. The sequence that has always been very effective for me is 4-3-4-3. 4 seconds in hold 3, 4 seconds out hold 3. If you can complete 5 minutes of this process, the internal impact on your brain is profound. When I first began a breathing and awareness regimen, I would lay on my bed and put my hand on my diaphragm which had a grounding effect and enabled me to ensure my mind wouldn’t slip too far away.
Don’t let dread to reduce the quality of your life. If you use these strategies to overcome dread you can radically change your effectiveness and quality of life. It doesn’t happen overnight. There were situations where I would have to repeat this process many times.
Next time you can’t break the cycle of dread, try teaching yourself that you can: once you loosen your attachment to those feelings, you shift the balance of power from the external stressors to internal controls.