What’s the leadership equivalent of don’t touch your face?

Things can go from hopeful to hateful in no time.
You’ve been watching it unfold in front of you. It just takes one person to show they’re anxious, to worry out loud, to take a hard line, or to lose their cool.

When they do, it’s easy for others to join them in a downward spiral. You’ve probably been on both sides of this lately. So have I.

Fear is more contagious than COVID19.
And there is NO incubation period. Once one person gets grabbed by fear, it’s easy for others to catch the virus.

The table is set for people to have extra meltdowns, right now.
Daily, you’re moving into unknown territory, hearing conflicting news updates, and experiencing the disintegration of the norms, roles, and rules that used to reassure us.

That’s a cocktail for your brain to react with fear.

COVID 19 protocols: Small actions, big impact.
For the coronavirus, we’ve been given super simple protocols like wash your hands, socially isolate, and don’t touch your face. To do them requires no special equipment or experience.

They help you both AVOID the virus and also RECOVER from exposure so it doesn’t take you down.

In that vein, here are five small, easy protocols that require no extra equipment or experience.

They can have a big impact on AVOIDING the fear virus and RECOVERING from it so it doesn’t take you out.

All five can help you move out of a fear-driven state to a calm and connected state. Yes, it’s really this simple.

Simulate to stimulate. Fake it until you make it.
These protocols are based on one basic flip of common sense. We’ve been taught that external circumstances drive our actions, i.e., outside threats create internal fear-based reactions. It’s true.

But social science and brain science also suggest that when you introduce actions that simulate calm, confidence, and connection, you stimulate calm, confidence, and connection.

Resilience: not waiting for the world to change.
Rather than wait for the world to go back to how it was so you can feel calm, you can incorporate these “don’t touch your face” protocols multiple times daily.

Keep doing your good work. Just let these simple actions clear the path to making the same efforts more effective.

Five ways to keep your world free of the fear virus:

1. Slow things down. Perceived threats (e.g., broken norms, scarcity of resources like food, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, time pressure, conflicting information, etc.) usually cause us to move faster, faster, faster. It’s a natural fear-based reaction.

In this instance, deliberately slow down. On purpose, talk more slowly with longer pauses. Breathe more slowly, walk more slowly. Read more slowly. As you slow down your actions, your body will re-regulate. Over time, you’ll become less sensitive to triggers. It takes practice, but slow down consciously and experience the change.

2. Move and breathe (outdoors is best). When you’re in fight, flight, and freeze, your mind will ricochet between past, present, and future and cycle from this thought to that place to yet another thing.

Why move and breathe? Your mind can go anywhere with lightning speed. But your body and your breath can only be HERE and NOW. If you focus your attention on your body and breath (e.g., work out, go for a walk, take a bath, scratch your dog’s ears), your body must reregulate. Breathe into your belly. Slowly. Your nervous system must follow your actions back toward calm and connect.

3. Listen much more deeply. When you’re under stress, you tend to listen in defense/attack mode or fix-it mode.

Listening this way not only spins you up, but it also spins up the other person. Listening to “fight it or fix it” is like sneezing your stress virus on them.

If you really, really, really listen to understand them…which probably will include slowing down and breathing as described above, you can actually dial both of you back from “infected by stress” to calm.

Listening deeply may seem like a wimpy leadership move during a crisis that calls for heroics. But it is the most positively infectious of all. It can calm and recenter every person who’s in the conversation.

4. Force a smile. Yes, a smirk or a big cheesy grin, even if you don’t want to. Sometimes you must stimulate a better mood. Countless studies (check out one cited in the book Thinking Fast and Slow) report how people who engage the muscles of smiling or frowning felt happier or more sad, respectively, even if they weren’t aware they were smiling or frowning. It’s almost impossible to feel fear when you’re smiling. Try it for yourself.

Why would you not do this often? Set your alarm as a reminder if that helps. Smile like you mean it, starting now.

5. Build your peak playlist. There are songs that always shift your mood in a positive direction. Take five minutes and accumulate all of those songs into a single playlist named Joy. Or Power. Or Dance. Whatever works for you.

Most importantly, listen to it regularly. Driving, walking, working out, cleaning. Music is like a secret brainwashing mechanism. If you play music that you enjoy, your mood will be uplifted. And it will help you build your resilience so you’re less likely to get knocked down with the next dose of bad news.

Fear virus vaccines. Simple but effective.
There are many ways to vaccinate yourself from the fear virus. But remembering to apply these five protocols often will help keep you and the people around you less susceptible to the virus that surrounds us.

Go save the world from the fear virus! We’re counting on you.

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