Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Power of Proactive Thinking

Imagine you are about to submit an online assignment at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Your computer crashes and you must submit it from another computer. You decide to drive to the library. However, it is pouring down rain, traffic is moving at a bumper-to-bumper pace and the clock is ticking. If you do not submit the assignment by 8:00, you will not receive credit. What are some of the feelings that you would experience if you were in this scenario and how would you typically respond? Think physiology: racing heart, nausea, indigestion or tense muscles.

The feelings of worry and stress that hinder our thought processes can often times interfere with our ability to make informed decisions and take strategic action while in crisis mode. In these unpredictable times, we can’t always control our external circumstances; however, we can control our response to them and how we strategize to overcome physical and mental stress in preparation for the next time we are faced with a similar situation.

Stephen R. Covey said it best when he commented, “There is a gap between stimulus and response, and the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space.” Once you are in a calmer place, you can better strategize about your next plan of action such as calling the professor or someone in the academic department and letting him/her know of the situation, rather than letting the stress response control your actions.

Some suggestions for stopping the stress response:
  • Be your own cheerleader – “There’s no problem that I can’t conquer; “it’s not anxiety, it’s excitement!” “I can handle this.”
  • Breathing techniques – If you are inclined to take rapid, shallow breaths, practice taking in slower deep breaths to combat the stress response.
  • Think of a calm relaxing scene such as a tranquil, sandy beach with the peaceful sound of ocean waves in the background or whatever scene helps you feel at peace (you may want to practice this in your spare time so that you can return to this scene when circumstances warrant it).
  • Listen to relaxing music. Easy listening music is proven to help bring people a sense of peace and calm.
By now, you are thinking clearly and rationally enough to take the right steps in handling the situation such as contacting the professor or department to let him/her know of the situation rather than letting your naturally reactive response control your thoughts.

In short, you can invent a host of ways to proactively respond to a stressful situation, rather than react and surrender to the stress surrounding it. Finally, evaluating (via journal or diary) how the strategy helped you, and ways to modify it in the future will help you take a more proactive approach to life’s future curveballs and challenges!

Covey. F. (2004). Introduction to the 7 Habits of Hightly Effective College Students Workbook.

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