The 3-Step Process for Countering Negativity: Act -- Think -- Feel

Business owners face stressful decisions all the time. Here's how to perform under pressure.

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By Greg Wells


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Running your own business has its fair share of nerve-wracking moments. Some people feel the most anxious and uncertain before they take the entrepreneurial plunge. Do I have a chance of succeeding?

Others come across bumps in the road well after the business is established. Perhaps the market is changing or a fierce competitor arrives on the scene.

It is natural to feel worried or nervous at different times in the life of your business. But it's another thing to make important decisions from a position of anxiety. The problem with negative emotions is that they're so powerful, they can dominate our thinking and actions.

Related: 4 TED Talks to Help You Deal With Stress and Anxiety

If we don't pay attention, the order of operations we tend to follow is Feel -- Think -- Act. Strong negative emotion affects our thinking and then our actions.

It often goes like this: You feel anxious about a client meeting. You think it might not go well. You act tense and nervous and tight, rather than loose. But it doesn't have to be like that. You can reverse the order of operations to Act -- Think -- Feel and have an entirely different experience. Here is a story to illustrate what I mean.

Shortly before the London Olympics, diver Alexandre Despatie was training in Spain. During one of his dives, he hit his head on the diving board. The accident caused a concussion and a 10 cm gash in his forehead, which required surgery.

Despatie followed his doctor's return-to-sport protocol closely and resumed training shortly after the accident. A few weeks later, he was competing in London, where he had to perform the same dive he was attempting when he injured himself.

Pause for a moment and put yourself in his shoes (or in his bare feet on his diving board). You have to perform a dive that had just caused a severe injury, and you have to do it live in front of thousands of people live and millions more on television. How would you be feeling in that moment? Tense? Nervous? Scared? Anxious?

Related: 5 Ways to Deal With 'Entrepreneur Anxiety'

Despatie was none of these. I was fortunate enough to be in the pool that day covering the event, and I noticed that he was practicing a specific technique right before his dive.

Below the board, Despatie was rehearsing his dives in his mind. His arms were open to the sides, and he stood tall with his head up, as if he were standing on a beach welcoming the sunrise. His face was completely relaxed as he adopted the physical positioning required to perform his dive. There was not a trace of fear or tension in his body. Physical positions can directly impact our psychology and our emotions.

This process of gaining control of your thoughts and emotions is what I am calling Act -- Think -- Feel. But as I mentioned, this is not a natural sequence for humans.

In difficult circumstances, we generally begin with negative emotion -- fear, nervousness, anger -- that then fuels our thoughts and causes us to act in a certain way. That is the reverse of what I'm suggesting. By switching the flow, we can improve our thinking, performance and even our health.

The key to making this shift is focusing first on your body. Take physical action, like Despatie did. Regardless of how you're feeling, adopt a posture of confidence and control. Stand tall with your head up. Breathe deeply and relax. Loosen and drop your shoulders. Unclench your hands. Smile a few times. This may seem overly simple to you, but science tells us that your bodily actions can deeply affect your thoughts and emotions.

Related: 8 Ways to Clear Your Mind of Stress

When you get anxious, tense or uncertain, try these three tips:

  1. Focus first on a confident, relaxed, open stance -- Act
  2. Tune into your thoughts, which will follow your posture -- Think
  3. Experience the anxiety and tension receding -- Feel

Practice making the shift to Act -- Think -- Feel any time you are worried or under pressure. A calm, relaxed body really does create a calm, relaxed mind, which is what you need when making important business decisions.

Greg Wells

Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster, Author

Greg Wells is a scientist, professor and author. He is an expert on human performance in extreme conditions.

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