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I was parked at a red traffic light, minding my own business, when a van with a big tow bar decided to throw itself into reverse and back right into my car. Of course, this happened when I was making my way to deliver a keynote to 150 property managers. I found myself standing on the side of the road (wearing a silk suit and stilettos, I might add), looking at the damage, exchanging details with the van driver and trying to maintain some calm, manage my emotional state, before I stepped on stage.

Two weeks later, my team and I were delivering a very large event online – about 220 people were in the virtual room – and two-thirds of the way into the event, our camera decided to turn off. Kind of a big deal when you’re the presenter and everyone is looking at you. Again, another test: an opportunity to practice maintaining calm.

Both problems were rectified quickly, and no one got hurt, but these two opportunities got me reflecting: how calm was I during these events? What would I have noticed if I was watching myself?

I figured this blog may serve some of you who are reading, as there seems to be an acceleration of chaos in people’s lives of late, and I thought it would be worth considering how to maintain calm.

When I observe people being calm, I am curious to know whether it’s a trait or a practice, or maybe both. I certainly don’t think it’s a trait for me: it’s a practice I have worked on.

One of our world-class ServiceQ facilitators, Taryn Pieramati, always reminds us, “Embrace the chaos”. I love this phrase because it’s a reminder to accept what is and, more importantly, what’s out of your control. Like a van backing into your car or a technology failure in the middle of a presentation!

Okay, so accepting the chaos is great – but I know from personal experience that acceptance doesn’t immediately propel me into a state of calm. What do we do next?

My go-to habit for accessing calm is: conscious breathing.

We teach this in our Service Habits journey: Take Four Seconds. Within four seconds of breathing consciously into the belly, you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and start to slow your heart rate down. This helps slow the pace of the event or experience you’re having so you can think clearly and problem-solve with greater perspective. Who wouldn’t want that?

“I define calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.”

—Brené Brown

Question

Is calmness a trait, a practice or both for you?

Practice

The next time you’re faced with a complicated, stressful or chaotic situation, notice what you do? How do you access calm? Where does your mind go? Your heartbeat, what happens to it? What behaviour, language and tone of voice do you use? Practice building some awareness of how people experience you when you’re faced with some level of chaos.

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