Acting with Purpose to Manage Stress

manage stress

Acting with Purpose to Manage Stress

Is our reaction to stress automatic, or can intentional awareness of our responses bring purpose?

During a crisis, most human beings experience a reaction to external factors and circumstances. We become humans on automatic, which happens when the brain runs behaviour. When we focus on the external, we are not paying attention to how we think and feel about these circumstances, instead, we instinctively react. When we’re not paying attention to our thinking and emotions, we diminish our personal power. In other words, we’ve limited our ability to act with purpose. 

The belief that pressure, stress and anxiety result from these outside circumstances—rather than from how we think and feel about them—eliminates choice on how to shift and reduce stress.

The common way most people talk about stress is that ‘we must manage it!’ This mantra creates the view that stress is outside of us. If we operate like stress is external to us, and we have ‘no say’ over the circumstances, can you see that traps us in powerlessness? What there is to manage is how we think and feel about the external factors causing the automatic reaction of stress.

“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”—William Shakespeare

The brain creates specific patterns and habitual ways of thinking. The brain is a powerful and complex machine, generating thoughts and reactions both consciously and subconsciously. When the body is in reaction to an external stimulus, there is no energy required. No deliberate thinking. We are a human on automatic. The brain has switched to survival mode and rarely generates an empowering thought because its job is to ensure survival. Predicting the worst possible scenario or future is the brain’s way to prepare us to survive.

Choice is a function of awareness

If you want the power of choice, you must increase self-awareness. This gives you the power to shift and be deliberate in how and what to think. By processing the reasons behind our reactions, we move from an automatic to a thoughtful response. We become human on purpose.

Pause and ask yourself:


• What do I think about this?
• What else do I think about this?
• What else? What else? What else? What else?


• What do I feel about this?
• What else do I feel about this?
• What else? What else? What else? What else?

Susan Scott recommends we ask ‘what else’ at least five times. Every ‘what else’ is like a drill bit, forcing us to go deeper. The first answer will most likely be our answers generated by our brain’s survival instinct. The following words or ideas will give you a better understanding of why you’re reacting as you are and where to go from there. Feel free to write these out, as you are developing the muscle to pause and grow your awareness. Seeing your thoughts and feelings in black and white (or colour if you want to make it fun!) can help you with visualizing your awareness.

In a coaching conversation, there was an executive who believed she needed to drop her passion for her big dream/vision because she was not actively focusing on it. Through coaching, she discovered she was taking actions and simply could not see the connection to her larger vision. She discovered ‘fear of failure’ was operating in the background, causing her to think she had to let this dream go. She refocused her actions to the present, to those she can take right now to move her vision forward. This is just a snapshot of her discoveries in that one coaching conversation. 

It is critical you act and move forward with purpose. When faced with a crisis, employing the awareness strategies outlined above will help you lead and act with purpose rather than reacting automatically. If there is tension, signifying a potential threat, look at ways to identify it with intent. Pay attention to what you observe, and use your newfound skills of awareness to help you process and address them.

Learn more about these techniques and how coaching can be effective in your journey of self-discovery and in adding more tools to your toolbox of management skills.

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