A Declaration for the Center

Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Allen Slade

Before my first meeting with Bill Gates, I had every reason to be confident. Microsoft had recently recruited me for my specialized expertise. I had conducted similar meetings with other CEOs. I had a good team behind me, and I had practiced the presentation thoroughly.

The first five minutes went well. Then, Bill asked a question on a minor point. I gave a simple answer, but Bill kept drilling down on the topic. On Bill’s third or fourth question, my confidence evaporated. I was in a full scale amygdala hijack. I needed to quickly reestablish my confidence or the meeting would be a failure.

In Getting to the Center of an Emotional Storm, I suggest centering in the moment as a tool for managing your emotions as a leader. When you are in the spotlight, and your emotions are not serving you well, you can breathe, use a touchstone or make a silent declaration. While declarations can be overplayed by motivational speakers or by comedians (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”), the right declaration can help you manage your emotions. I help my clients find declarations that work, and if declarations don’t work, we focus on other tools for managing emotions.

Declarations help direct our actions. Chalmers Brothers points out how declarations help steer things in the right direction:

For organizations and for individuals, declarations can operate like the rudder of a boat. The boat (organization or person) changes directions as a result of those with authority declaring one thing or another. Declarations are how we identify our priorities and commitments to the future and how we bring certain ways of being into existence (self-worth, well-being, dignity, among others).

For the purposes of managing your own emotions, a compelling personal declaration points you toward a different future. For someone with a fear of public speaking, an effective personal declaration might be: “I will speak with confidence.” This declaration would help moderate anxiety before and during a speech.

The “right” declaration hinges on your personal emotional life and the situation you face. Over the years, my clients have come up with a variety of compelling personal declarations: Stick the landing. Rest my hands. Be confident.  Manage my emotions. Re-center. Pause for power.  Speak slowly. Build credibility. Make the sale.

Four things will help make a declaration effective in managing your emotions:

Make it simple. Use short, declarative statements.

Make it positive. Don’t use “Don’t . . .” because the stickiness of the last word. “Don’t fidget” focuses the attention on fidgeting, and that will echo in your mind. Stay positive. “Be confident” or “Stick the landing” focuses attention on the new future you are declaring.

Make it powerful. Your declaration must resonate. It must make sense (impacting decision making in your prefrontal cortex) and it must also have emotional weight (impacting emotions in your amygdala).

Make it memorable. Your declaration has to be on the tip of your tongue. Stating your declaration so it is simple, positive and powerful helps. You also need to practice your declaration, starting in safe settings such as your office or with your coach.

So, how did my meeting with Bill Gates turn out? During my amygdala hijack, when my confidence was at its lowest, I centered in the moment. I took a breath, touched my signet ring and said to myself “I am one of the three best people in the world on this topic. You hired me to fix your problems.” I smiled quietly, and re-engaged with confidence.

One comment on “A Declaration for the Center

  1. It’s in those moments of sudden fear and doubt that weeks and years of good work can come undone. I imagine that even the very knowledge that one has a declaration would decrease the frequency of situations where the phrase needs using. I often tell myself “I always land on my feet” when I’m feeling unsure, and it seems to magically open me up to answers.

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