There I was, sitting at a conference table with the CEO, CFO, the VP of Finance, one of the members of the board, and my Supervisor.

Prior to meeting my Supervisor mentioned to me “Since you did most of the work would you mind taking the lead on this?”

“No,” I thought quietly to myself. But I knew that wasn’t really an option.

I had a feeling this would happen. That’s why I prepared for this moment.

We just finished our compliance audit of this company. Now I had to present all of our audit findings.

My mind raced.

These men and women were in the 50s and 60s. All of them had more years of experience in their fields than the number of years I’ve been alive. And now I have to tell them people all the things they did wrong.

No pressure.

As I was about to present the findings, my nerves were getting the best of me. My stomach was in knots. I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

I used what knowledge I had of mindfulness, and tried to turn this situation into a positive.

“No sweat,” I thought. “Focus on this feeling you have inside yourself. Embrace this feeling. This feeling is merely a guest. Treat it so.”

I used whatever mind hacks I could to get into the proper frame of mind. I asked myself “What’s good about this?”

My mind searched and searched for answers.

“For one, I don’t normally feel this way. Embrace this discomfort. It’s going to go away soon.”

“Be mindful of the feelings going on inside of you. What are they telling you? Should they be avoided?”

“No, they shouldn’t be.”

Months after this presentation, I came across something fascinating. While reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chein Meng Tan, a great point was brought up.

The key to let go is two things: grasping and aversion. Grasping is when the mind deliberately holds on to something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come in…Grasping and aversion together account for a huge percentage of the suffering we experience, perhaps 90 percent, maybe even 100 percent.

He goes on to state:

The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation that creates that aversion.

The idea is that the pain isn’t what causes suffering. Rather, it’s how we choose to respond to the pain.

This echoes many of the ideas I’ve read in unrelated fields. Tony Robbins, for example, states that you can’t always choose the situation you’re in. What you can choose is how you react to the situation.

Much of this relates to letting go. I didn’t choose to be in this situation. It just sort of happened. However, I did choose how to respond to the situation in a novel way.

I didn’t get angry that my supervisor put me on the spot. I knew it was a possibility.

I didn’t let my nerves get to me. This feeling was only temporary.

I didn’t try to escape the knot in my stomach. Instead, I decided to embrace it.

I embraced that emotion building up inside of me. I welcomed it as if it was a guest in my house. I danced with it.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

-Marcus Aurelius

I chose not to give more power to my emotion than it deserved. After all, it was just a physiological response that probably evolved over thousands of years. What’s the point in trying to change that?

I hadn’t read anything about grasping and clinging prior to doing this presentation. All I knew was that I would choose how I would react to the situation. And running out of the room wasn’t an option.

So I took a deep, mindful breath. I felt those emotions inside of me one more time. Then…

“I want to thank you all for joining us today…”

It was one of the best presentations I’ve ever given.

I was calm. I was composed. All because I didn’t escape my feelings. I welcomed them, embraced them, and danced with them. I try to do the same in all uncomfortable situations.

When was the last time you were in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you (or could you have) put a positive spin on it? 

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9 thoughts on “How I handle uncomfortable emotions

  1. I recently had to give a presentation to all the supervisors in a Managers’ Meeting about what I’m looking for when I audit their reports. I sat in the dark room, knowing my turn was coming up. My hands were shaking and sweaty and my heart was pounding and I kept thinking “why are you so nervous? This is stupid, you know all of these people and they are all very interested in what you have to say!” I took a deep breath and I faked not being nervous even though I was! My own manager approached my later and told me he was too scared to give a presentation and that I didn’t seem nervous at all. Great! My fake bravado was believable. I actually had quite a few people come to my desk to compliment me on the presentation afterwards so that was a great feeling.

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    1. That’s awesome! I feel like that was the exact same experience I’ve had! Being able to fake being not nervous is just as good as the real thing and as you know from experience, others don’t even notice.

      Thanks for sharing Dolores!

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  2. I had the same feeling when I had a presentation recently. The trick is to not fight the emotions, and just let the experience take over. If you can kind of rattle off what you need to say or get started going through the motions, sometimes your brain takes over! Also if you try to focus on the task rather than who is watching you, then that helps. To be honest, sometimes I even ignore people when I start a presentation (just to get the ball rolling) and when I feel more confident I begin making more eye contact and being more engaging.

    I like your mention of being mindful, it really resonates with me as I think it’s a great way of actively improving yourself.

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  3. What you mentioned about mindfulness and how we can choose the way we respond to uncomfortable situations is something I find very useful! In particular, I find I have trouble being mindful when it comes to physical pain: once the lactic acid starts building I find myself panicking and caving in very quickly. But the Aurelius quote in particular was quite motivating, and something that I’ll have to keep in mind. Thanks for writing this 🙂

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    1. Yes! This is something I’ve been working on for the past year or so myself. Your situation reminds me of something Tony Robbins says: you have to link pleasure to those things you want to do consistently (working out) and pain to those things you want to avoid (giving into the pain early in a workout).

      I try to do this myself and I’ve gotten better. I think of all of the benefits of doing something I don’t feel like doing and tell myself to embrace that feeling that used to make me quit. I’ve come to associate a sort of pleasure with muscular soreness in a workout because I know it’s what it allowing me to become stronger and healthier.

      Thanks for the comment Moony. Let me know how it goes for you! 🙂

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  4. I wish I had known a bit of mindfulness while I was at uni. Presentations were pretty much my downfall. I remember one particular one where I totally froze in a group presentation and only managed to whisper the word help to my friend stood next to me who took over. Iv never been so paralyzed with fear before or since.

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    1. I hear you, I hated presentations in school as well! But we can’t worry about the past. The best thing to do is take this information and start applying it today!

      Thanks for the comment Richmond 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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