I am sure each and every one of you have had a moment where you were terrified. You have that “I am going to shit my pants” nervous feeling. Somehow whatever scared you happened, the moment passed, and you went on with your life. Yet, you can remember that terrifying moment. You will never forget it. All the details might begin to fade, but the crucial time stays in your memory forever.
After reading this Fast Company article, “How to be a Success at Everything: The Art and Science of Building Confidence Under Pressure” I got to thinking about anticipation, see this excerpt from the article (bold sections are my own emphasis):
“Stress builds when we are waiting for something to happen. ‘Our anticipation is so much worse than doing the thing you’re afraid of,’ she observes. Instead of procrastinating so much that you lose sleep, take apart the situation, think it over logically and get it over with as soon as possible. ‘You are going to survive this,’ Williams says. Stress can be a great thing, she says, because it signals that you are doing something challenging.”
My guess is that a large part of the time when we have a moment that we are terrified, it is the anticipation that makes us freaked out. Once we get through the heat of the moment, and we look back and say “that was not as bad as a I thought it would be.” You might even go back and decide to do it all over again, no longer afraid. Anticipation allows us to dream, ponder, and potentially agonize over what may, could, should happen so that when the moment actually happens we have processed all the woulda, shoulda, coulda responses. It makes us feel safer. Rather than go into a terrifying moment blind, anticipation makes us feel like we are slightly more prepared.
Is it all a waste of time? Are we more prepared? I think it is good to have the oh shit moments once in a while. It keeps us on our toes, and leaves us feeling more alive. What do you think?
So, I look at this two ways: (1) physiologically (nature) and (2) training (nurture).
Physiologically (Nature): there are very specific reasons why certain people DO WELL under pressure and certain people DO NOT DO WELL under pressure. According to Dr. Daniel Amen (Change Your Brain, Change Your Life), the brain’s fuel is both oxygen and sugar it receives via blood vessels. When we get stressed, a burst of adrenalin is produced in the adrenal gland and then is “pushed” to the body by the blood. This is driven by an increased heart rate and a higher blood pressure (heart jumping out of your chest). This is your fight or flight moment. The challenge is that the brain functions optimally in a small band of blood pressure / heart beats per minute / oxygen concentration in the blood. When you go out of that region, the brain typically suffers over oxygenation. While the body is ready for fight/flight, the brain can and often shuts down in this state.
Now, here’s the fun part. People who function below normal pressure (sometimes associated with ADD), when spooled up with adrenalin, become normally functioning people in high stress situations. These are the people who seem to thrive off of crazy situations. I am one of these people. For a long time, I did not know why I would procrastinate. It seemed stupid but I always needed stress to get going – last minute paper / last minute studying / too many credits (my best semester in engineering was in my junior year when I took 24 credits and finished with a 3.8 for the semester). I have since learned tricks to spool up my mind to get more efficient. I can now trick my brain into spooling up without needing the high BP / high heart rate / high oxygen to function. Excellent segue.
Training (Nurture): Training, muscle memory, make something second nature. The only other way (IMHO) is to become proficient at something and have it become second nature so when a situation arises, you know what to do. In this state, you don’t get stressed because you know what to do. In this state, you have trained yourself out of over oxygenation. You will get a spike of adrenalin and have your “heart jump out of your chest” but when you stop and KNOW that “you can do this” your will calm down (drive your blood pressure down) and get to work. We see this in military training, emergency medical response training, doctor and nurse training… this rapidity that forms the muscle memory for you to react versus try to figure out.
Thank you for sharing. Definitely a great way to look at it (nature vs. nurture). I think it also depends on if it is the first time you have encountered something and how your body + mind responds to that moment.