It seems like when I was a kid, practically every movie or tv show had a scene with someone who falls into quick sand. It was often the dramatic highlight: someone casually walking in the forest, and then, wow, they’ve fallen into that soft, soft, almost fluid-like sand that just sucks them under until the character is up to his neck and about to go under unless help comes and comes superfast.
Do you remember the scene from “The Princess Bride”, when the princess and her companion are walking in the forest, when bam, the beautiful young woman suddenly falls in full body? Or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, when Indie and Marion get caught in the dry sand type of quick sand?
How Do You Get Out?
Then the problem is how to get out. The panic-stricken character often flails his arms, screams, kicks, and continues to sink further and further into this death trap. But does this work? No, they only sink deeper into the soft, sandy pit.
Once they realize that the movements are causing them to sink and get pulled under, they must then figure out pronto how to pull themselves out with just a stick, a tree nearby, and maybe a trusty horse, or even a loyal dog.
Sometimes they sank fully under the sand – and we all cheered a little to ourselves if it was the “bad guy”. When the good character was pulled out safely, the cheers were yelled out loud.
Are You Sinking in Quick Sand?
Have you ever felt like you’re in quick sand? Maybe at work, you’re given a project that is, to you, unrealistic. Due in three days? On top of everything else you’ve got to do!? Impossible! Yeah, you think that but don’t express these thoughts to the department head.
How much more of this stress can you take? Project after project… deadline upon deadline… it’s too much. It’s all out of control, and you’re about to lose it…
Your Typical Reaction
What you do though is puff out your chest – at least internally – and tell yourself you’re not going to do it, which in turn causes you to get upset until you feel a real pounding in your chest, and then to release some of this stress, you text your friends and tell others at lunch how much this really stinks.
It’s the same pattern each time. And guess who loses? You do! But you know who else? Your team, and ultimately the organization, and maybe even your professional and personal relationships become damaged. Repeated actions – or more appropriately reactions – haven’t worked in the past, and won’t work the next time…
Don’t Sink, Change Your Thoughts and Response
So how do you correct this? Firstly, yes you can change these frustrating and damaging patterns. The answer lies in the quick sand, or how our hero gets out of the quick sand.
Just remember you can and will go “FAR”! By employing the following techniques, and you too will be pulled from the quick sand to safety and on your way to success:
- Be Flexible (“F”)
- Alleviate Stress (“A”)
- Remain Optimistic (“R”)
“F” – Be Flexible
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
So, what did the hero do to get out of the quick sand? He softened himself, became almost fluid like, flowing with the sand. What did this do? It allowed him to reach for a branch, call for help to his trusty horse, and the two began to pull him out safely.
You must be flexible! When faced with what may appear to be a daunting task or project, think flexibility. Is this truly a priority? If so, is it possible to delay completion of other assignments? If not, how can you balance multiple demands, remain on task, and keep your cool? Can your horse – a trusted colleague – come to help?
Not everything is a priority! Being flexible also means testing the reality of the situation, as well as being aware of your capabilities. If you truly cannot complete all the required assignments, assert yourself in a mature and definitive manner.
“A” – Alleviate Stress
“It is not stress that kills us. It is effective adaption to stress that allow us to live.”
The villains that sank to their demise in the quick sand were under a lot of stress. And it showed. With drops of sweat pouring off their foreheads – in a closeup scene in which we could almost reach out and touch them of course – they flailed their arms, cried for help, and knew they were sinking fast, which only caused them to repeat these same errors. This in turn led to a faster decent into the soft quick sand, and all of us waving goodbye to the bad guy.
This too was your reaction previously. And the physiological reaction to your negative stress reaction was not good: faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and other responses (many which can lead to much more serious consequences). Ultimately you likely over-reacted to the next interaction. A bad cycle that only got worse.
How do you avoid sinking into the quick sand of stress and negative responses? You must alleviate the stress: Plan and train yourself to be relaxed and composed; face the challenges without over reacting; be confident as you think clearly and realistically assess your environment.
This all sounds good, especially from afar. But how do you apply this each day? First, try to think ahead of possible interactions and how you will respond. Second, remember the “E + R = O” formula: You can and are only responsible for YOUR response and reactions. Decide you will respond in a relaxed, composed, and effective manner. And third, you can be certain of yourself. Understand the situation and be confident! Be strong!
“R” – Remain Optimistic
“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.”
James Branch Cabell
When the hero took the above actions, he knew he would be saved from the quick sand. But even before that he was optimistic. His thoughts were clear, he was relaxed, he was certain he would be out of the quick sand.
I’m not saying blindly move ahead and think everything is going to be alright. Sometimes things really are awful, and you’re in a tough situation. No, stop the negative and destructive thoughts and blaming, and get into a realistic, hopeful approach and resolution.
Remember that you chose your response (“E + R = O”). As an optimist you view setbacks as temporary – this too will pass; specific to this situation – vs. the “why does this happen all the time?” mentality; and yes, there could be other circumstances that led to this outcome – and if true, I am not accepting all blame.
When dealing with stress and in the quick sand of craziness at work, who do you desire to be: the villain that overacts, gets stressed out, and knows they’re going under? Or would you rather be the “Indiana Jones” of the story, the hero who is flexible to new challenges, responds in a calm and collected mature manner, and keeps your optimism high as you seek positive and reasonable solutions?
I choose the hero. I hope you do too!