July 28, 2008

Mapping the Now

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”  — Richard Feynman

What’s stressing you out today?

My own “stressability” got a real workout over the past 48 hours as I dealt with a surprising onslaught of computer and network problems. At times like these, I’m always grateful that I have such a solid problem-solving background. The years I spent in IT didn’t hurt, either.

One of the most important keys to managing stress is an ability to step back and assess the situation. It’s easy to step into stress when the unexpected happens — particularly when we’re on the spot or on a deadline.

A great technique for regrounding yourself is what I call “Mapping the Now.” Begin by writing the following question at the top of a piece of paper:

What is Happening Around Me Now?

Note how the question’s worded. It’s not about what’s going on in your head. You’re listing the grounded facts about what’s happening right now.

Here’s the beginning of the map I did for the technology problems that ran me ragged over the past two days:

What is Happening Around Me Now?

  • I am attempting to access an online form, and the form won’t load in my web browser even after waiting for several minutes. (This is a grounded statement. Anyone else observing the situation would note the same thing.)
  • Refreshed the window. Didn’t work. (Again, a grounded statement.)
  • Checked other sites. Some opened — some behaved in the same way. Made a note of “misbehaving” sites.
  • Closed the browser. Restarted it. Went to the same page. Form does not load even after waiting for several minutes.
  • Verified that the web site was up and running.
  • Tried a different browser. Same result.
  • Rebooted computer. Restarted browser. Same result.

And so forth. You get the picture. What you don’t see in this list is the initial fist-shaking and gnashing of teeth that went on as I first attempted to resolve the problem.

Because the emotional state is ungrounded. My emotions were a reaction to events. But by bringing my attention to exactly what was happening around me, and focusing only on grounded facts, my stress level dropped almost immediately.

Mapping the Now works especially well when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It provides almost immediate relief because the act of observing brings you out of the anxiety state and back into the moment.

Try it the next time you feel overwhelmed by events in your life. You’ll find it’s easier to create a plan of action, and your stress level will drop. I promise.

Oh, and I did manage to figure out my computer problem. It wasn’t something the usual anti-virus and anti-spyware tools can catch, so I had to do a lot of digging around.

Exercise

The best time to learn Mapping the Now is when you aren’t under the gun.

Pick some simple problem you’re facing today and map it. Your opinions and judgments about the problem don’t figure into the map — the map is all about observable facts, so emotions must be left out of the picture.

Once you get the hang of it, try mapping the bigger problems you’re facing in life. Let me know how it works.

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