The Single Most Important Skill of our Time
Take a look at the softness and peace in Federer’s face as he dismantles Nadal in the Australian Open with a blistering forehand. This is tactical calm.
We are distracted by meditation, mindfulness and various brain-training apps. These are helpful to build Strategic Calm. If you meditate purposefully and daily for a decade you will be a better version of yourself. The reality is that few of us do this. However, we can all be much better at tactical calm. It is simple, easily practiced and very gratifying.
What if you could master tactical calm in any situation that gives you grief? Would it be worth some purposeful practice?
The evidence, the methods and the tools are plain as day. Most of us “know” it really well. We are terrible at “practice”. Smart and talented people are leaving life, joy, money, deals, and relationships on the table. While they “know” about calm, they have never perfected the “practice” of tactical calm in key situations.
Failure looks like…
A senior colleague demonstrated this gap with disastrous consequences. Here was a seasoned professional who had absorbed, negotiated and dealt with years of tough situations. In his day to day work – even in conflict – he was skilful at staying calm and rational.
To his and our horror he froze at the start of a critical presentation to a large number of powerful and influential people. It was shocking. He bounded on stage, looked out at the audience – and froze. Surprise flashed into fear with teeth bared. His body went stiff. Nothing came from the movements of his mouth. Stage fright was a terrible experience for him. It was awful for the audience with career damaging consequences.
This is a critical situation where tactical should have been practised and mastered.
The very same situation strikes in traffic, bad news, teenage misbehaviour and conflict. Tactical calm is the doorway to impulse control (see Master your Anger).
The clear purpose of Tactical Calm
Tactical calm solves the failure of awareness, agility and decisiveness in the multiple minor challenges that confront us every day:
- the space to give a warm and confident greeting
- the freedom to give someone
- the gift of your full attention
- the preparation to hit the perfect shot
- the nudge from frustration to creative solutions
- the insight to pause and review an e-mail from different perspectives
- the transition from anxious worry to calm deliberate action
The context is an accelerating pace of life, reduced relaxation (relaxation scores in our database dropped 30% in the last six years), uncertainty, and disruptive consequences. We are wired, tired and fired to be stupid.
The question is: “how fast can I get to my optimal biology for this situation?”
Most of us take a deep breath. This link explains why it is terrible practice. Never do or recommend it.
Tactical Calm secures adaptive biological changes
- Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation and muscle tension
- Slow and extend the exhalation to relax the diaphragm (increase CO2)
- Trigger heart rate variability (see explanation)
- Activate the upper Vagus Nerve and Vagal Tone (Vagal Break)
- Reduce adrenaline and cortisol
- Increase testosterone and oxytocin
- Deactivate the amygdala along with fear, anger and sadness
- Reactivate the prefrontal cortex, insula and anterior cingulate cortex
- We know with clarity that we can do this in pretty much any situation with purposeful practice
What to do
Here is my tactical calm practice:
- Ask the question: “What is my state?” Often!
- Lengthen my spine and relax my face
- Exhale slow and easy through the nose for 6 seconds
- Pause until my mind drops into the body
- Inhale gently through the nose for 4 seconds
- Remember what matters and feel the love
- Repeat breathing cycle of 6 seconds out and 4 seconds in
- Engage fully with the situation at hand
Recently, I found myself feeling anxious in a large formal presentation during my introduction. At that moment, my Apple Watch Breathe App kicked in. During the introduction, I focused on breath and tracking pulse. I had time for three slow breath cycles. My pulse dropped from 78 to 56 beats per minute. I got up to do my thing.
Thanks Apple Watch.
Where is your Federer forehand opportunity and how will you apply your tactical calm practice?