After 15 years of speaking and more than 1,500 presentations, Dr. Daniel Friedland experienced something he had never experienced before.
Danny was in San Diego to kick off a 10-month engagement of monthly meetings with the senior leadership team of one of the city’s leading organizations. The introductory session was scheduled at the end of a workshop day with another speaker, he recalls in his book Leading Well from Within
At 3 pm sharp, he stood up to begin. He looked around at the audience and could sense the group was tired and disengaged. A couple of the leaders were on their phones. The energy in the room was utterly flat.
“It was the beginning of a long journey together, and instead of establishing credibility and trust, I became afraid that I would lose the group at the outset,” Danny recalls. As his fears began to heighten, he could feel his initial enthusiasm shift to anxiety.
“My mouth became so dry I began to have difficulty speaking. All the moisture from my mouth seemed to have transferred itself to my forehead, armpits, and palms, which were now sweating profusely. My heart raced, and I felt sick to my stomach. Worst of all, my brain began to scramble. I struggled to remember what slides were coming next.”
This week we’ve been exploring how to recognize and manage our reactivity and stress. Today, we look at four simple questions we can ask ourselves to transform stressful situations and reframe painful perceptions. Danny calls this process The “Appraise-Reappraise Method™.”
Question 1. What Happened? (Just the Facts)
We begin by differentiating between the facts and our perceptions about the facts. “While we cannot change events that have happened to us, we can change our perceptions,” Danny writes. “Since it’s all too easy to confuse the two, [we start our] appraisal by making note of the facts of what happened or is happening.”
That day in San Diego, Danny was on the verge of panic. “I knew I was failing and about to blow it. My worst-case scenario was happening right now. The wheels were coming off. Every fiber of my being wanted to bolt out of the room.”
Fortunately, Danny recognized what was happening. He paused. He took three deep breaths. He silently labeled what he was feeling: “fear, fear.” Simply naming what he was experiencing took the edge off his panic. He announced to the group he was having a difficult time and needed to take a 10-minute break.
Danny grabbed a bottle of water and stepped outside. “I mindfully continued to observe and silently name some of my thoughts, feelings, and sensations, bringing a quality of kindness and self-compassion to my experience,” he remembers.
Danny then prayed for inspiration on how he could best serve the group. As he calmed himself, he had a flash of insight. “I could offer myself up as a case study to teach the leaders about the stress response and how to recognize and take the edge off their reactivity,” Danny writes.
Did his idea work? Yes! “This ‘live demonstration’ turned things around, as each person fully engaged in the conversation that followed.”
Question 2. What Are My Beliefs About What Happened?
Our goal here is to outline our underlying beliefs about the facts or events. “Our deepest fears often lie in a cascading set of beliefs—a “fear tree” that [we] can map by sequentially asking, “If this fear were true, what would happen next?” Danny notes. When we ask this question until we can go no further, we may discover what lies at the root of our deepest fear. Danny suggests asking this question mindfully, with curiosity and kindness.
The night of his panic attack and subsequent recovery in San Diego, Danny had trouble sleeping. So, “I began by asking myself what I believed might happen as a result of the event earlier that day,” he recalls.
“My first thought was that I may have lost credibility and trust with the group. If that were true, I then asked what I believed might happen next.
“I feared I might lose my nine-month contract with the group.” And what then?
“I feared it might erode my reputation.” And then?
“I feared I might lose my livelihood.” And then?
“I feared my wife would become stressed, and it could strain our marriage.” And then?
“If it escalated, I could lose my family.” And then?
“I would feel rattled by doubts of self-worth, and I might have a difficult time accepting myself, too.”
“At the height of my panic, for a painful moment, I’d felt completely untethered and lost. My deepest fear was that I might lose access to and feel disconnected from my deepest source of inspiration,” Danny writes. “And if that happened, life would have no meaning and would not be worth living at all.”
Danny had found his way to the very bottom of the fear tree. Our goal is to “learn to embrace and work with [our] deepest fear with curiosity, kindness, and self-compassion,” Danny writes. In doing so, we discover deep confidence to handle whatever challenges we may face.
Question 3. Am I Certain My Belief Is Really True?
At this point, we move from appraisal of the situation to reappraisal, where we challenge our beliefs. “Much of what we believe is distorted thinking or even pure fabrication,” Danny notes.
The challenge? “Many of us hold on tightly to our beliefs, and giving them up is not easy,” Danny notes. Challenging our beliefs often comes down to asking the question: “Do I want to be right?” or “Do I want to be happy?” Shaking our limiting beliefs creates room for new growth in our lives and opens the door to viewing our triggers in more helpful ways.
Question 4. How Can I View This Situation Differently?
After challenging our beliefs and assumptions, we are ready to ask the final critical question of reappraisal: “How can I view this situation differently so that it brings me less stress or self-doubt?”
“Reappraising things does not condone the behavior of others,” Danny writes. “It simply helps [us] view situations in as healthy a way as possible.” The reappraisal process actives the rational part of our brains, giving us time to pause and choose our response rather than react subconsciously from the emotional, fear-based part of our brains. Doing so also allows us to take action to achieve our desired outcome.
Following his experience at the workshop in San Diego, Danny was able to use questions 3 and 4 of the Appraise-Reappraise Method to shake up his beliefs and see things differently. “I realized that I may not have lost credibility with the group and that even if I ended up losing my contract, there would be others. I took solace in remembering that I’d always been resourceful in earning a livelihood. Further, even if I were to enter a difficult financial time, I trusted that my wife would stay with me.
“And finally, when it came to the connection with my deepest source of inspiration, I had faith that while I could lose my way and turn away from my source, my source would always be available and never turn away from me,” writes Danny. “Faith can be a powerful inner resource to deal with life’s most challenging demands.”
Reflection: Think about a recent difficult situation where I reacted emotionally. What happened? What triggered my reaction? How did I feel afterward?
Action: Try working the Appraise-Reappraise Method by answering the following four questions:
1: What happened?
2: What are my beliefs about what happened?
3: Am I certain my belief is really true?
4: How can I view this situation differently?