Panic can prevent us from thinking our way out of a problem, which can be problematic for women feeling overwhelmed and stressed by their current situation. Andrea Clarke shares how we can confront ‘brain-lock’.
I had lunch with two school-friends on Sunday and it took a sharp turn south halfway through the main course.
See, one of us is a big deal in the finance sector. She’s a guru, working her way up the exhausting corporate ladder for 20 years. And she’s at the top of her game. Even as an on-the-road reporter making the odd trip to Iraq, I often looked at her throughout our careers thinking, how the actual fck is she doing that job – midnight conference calls, 50 staff and a startling volume of email.
She was also raising a family, managing a household, supervising a husband and delivering very specific KPI’s as part of the school canteen schedule.
The only problem now that we’re a little further downstream? She’s breaking down crying in public, feeling over-worked and clearly, comprehensively overwhelmed by the demands of her high-performance life.
We knew it was bad, but not breakdown bad.
Here’s what I think is worse: she’s brain-locked about it.
Author Ben Sherlock wrote a book in 2008 called The Survivor’s Club – where he took a close look at the traits of those who survive emergency situations. He talks about a condition he calls ‘brain-lock’: when panic stops our ability to think our way out of a situation.
Over lunch, my friend clearly did not want to examine her situation and make a plan – despite being in the company of two long-standing friends who are paid to facilitate executives every week. We tried to workshop her. All we got was brain-lock.
A Common Theme
I wish this was an isolated event. I run about 60 workshops every year with on average, 10 women in each. In some sessions, there is at least one hard working woman struggling to cope. These sessions are safe and supportive environment where those participating are confronted with basic challenges around public speaking and personal brand. Often, it’s the only day they have the entire year that is about them, as individuals.
Which is why it’s often the time they concede they have hit breaking point. It’s the precise moment where the over-scheduled reality of their situation as parents, friends and leaders is floodlit: they are flat out overwhelmed.
They cannot take on anymore without something giving way. This is cognitive overload in action. Vanessa Bennett, a High Performance Coach at Next Evolution Performance, says that: “At this stage we are seeing fear. Fear of change, and in many cases fear of what other people think, fear of what success means to them being eroded, the list goes on. Things obviously need to change and the fear of having to do something differently to get a different result is frightening which just leads to more brain-lock”.
So how can we think our way out of a situation which will eventually hit crisis point?
I’ve spoken to a few experts and have a shortlist of things to consider:
Step 1: Get radically honest with yourself. Consider engaging a counsellor. Start unwinding and understanding what has been keeping you so driven and more importantly why you are in brain-lock.
Personal Growth Expert, Denise Cook, says that: “When you understand why you do what you do, you can consciously choose what serves you and what does not – and empower yourself to make the changes needed to be more authentic and living your truth. The time you give getting to know this aspect of you will serve you in all aspects of your life because relationship starts with your relationship with yourself, then others, including clients. Being vulnerable, authentic and real will put you on top of your game every time, because those you are interacting with will absolutely get your authenticity and will trust you as a result”.
Step 2: Make an appointment with a GP. This is to make sure that we are under the care of a professional from the start.
Step 3: Confess all to a trusted friend. Reveal all without any filters.
Step 4: Don’t make any significant life changes until you feel things are under control.
Step 5: Get laser focused on getting enough sleep, eating good food and exercise.
Your Life, Your Way
If you aren’t already in a state of everyday nirvana – imagine how insightful it might actually be to mildly declare how you want to run your week, month and year.
It might be a momentous call that you need to make, or it might even be just one small, single tweak that will release the pressure valve. Even the single act of walking five kilometres every morning has completely re-set my life (sidenote, that was seven years after I decided to put my entire life in a blender and set it on fire to end my own brain-lock episode).
Here’s the point: we all know when life is heading into the red zone. No matter how small or big the change, bring-on the personal revolution, because eventually, it means we’re happier human beings and then everyone around us wins. There are no short cuts to any place worth going. We’re all entitled to be at ease with ourselves and make time to have lunch with our girlfriends – without breaking down.
Former Washington D.C. news correspondent and Middle East aid worker, Andrea is the Founding Director of CareerCEO – a leading communications training program supporting emerging leaders and top executives to communicate with authority. With loyal clients across corporate Australia, the CareerCEO portfolio spans a signature ‘Emerging Leaders’ Program, Presenting with Impact, Define Your Value, Media Training, Return to Work & Building Resilience. Visit careerceo.com.au for more.