Why does every safety routine start with "stay calm"?
Wouldn't you want adrenaline to flow through you and make you think faster? After all, it's what we evolved to do right? Our first instinct is to panic.
You are right in thinking that. Adrenaline serves exactly that purpose, to make you move, think, react faster, and it suppresses your pain system too! Perfect right?
A Perfect Response?
Not so fast! (pun intended) while it's true that you do everything faster, there is one key ingredient missing from this almost perfect formula. Clarity.
Thinking and reacting fast just doesn't cut it. We need to think properly. You see, adrenaline actually suppresses clear thoughts. Adrenaline starts the fight or flight response which is reliant on instinct only. However, because of the complexity of the society we've created, most problems we face need rational thought to be resolved. In fact, we often punish rash responses: employers definitely don't like that, the law punishes it, and social norms favor cool-headed individuals too.
Keeping a Cool Head
Keeping calm, instead, promotes rational thinking. It's true, in fact, that the calmer we react to situations, the better we can deal with them.
This applies to every situation we can possibly find ourselves in, from a bad trade deal to an argument between loved ones, even to a fight. If you think about it, this is exactly the purpose of training.
A boxer has an established muscle memory and knowledge to help him fight better, but the greatest tool a boxer has is the coupling of experience and knowledge. With both under his belt, the boxer doesn't need to panic, he knows what to expect and how to react in the blink of an eye, and experience makes sure he knows that fact about himself. This allows the boxer to trust his body and therefore put in more effort in planning ahead.
Planning requires a calm state of being as there is a lot of variables that must be accounted for and suppression of rational thinking is an active deterrent to planning. Similarly, experience in negotiation has the same effect, we can more rationally plan the other party's response to our offers and are therefore less likely to prematurely come to an agreement thus getting a better deal. Next time you negotiate something, a wage, price of an item, etc. Try to notice your stress levels. You will realize that the longer the negotiation has been going on, the more stressed we become and we quickly want to "quit while we're ahead".
The Power of Experiences
Don't get me wrong, adrenaline has its place, we do need to think faster in some situations, but it's important that we find the right balance between fast thinking and rational thinking for each event we're in. For example, driving at 200km/h requires faster reaction times than budgeting, even though we still need to be able to predict what's coming towards us.
That's why practice and knowledge are so highly valued. Without having placed ourselves in similar situations we cannot properly find this balance, which leads us to overcompensate in one way or another. The more experiences we have under our belt the more we can rely on ourselves go into situations many would try to avoid. For example, leaving our home town, city, or country might be scary for some but just a logical next step for others, however, if done frequently, even if we were scared at first, we would become used to it and even look forward to it. I know because I went through exactly this shift.
. . .
Keeping calm can be as bad as panicking, it all depends on the situation. What we should aim for is the right balance between the state of excitement and being composed. This balance can be found through practice, training, and knowledge, in other words, experiences. The more we do something the better we can predict what's coming, and the more reliable this prediction is the better we can plan our reaction to it. And planning requires calm and is actively disadvantaged by adrenaline.
Hi, I'm Matthew, my mission is to spread knowledge about motivation, productivity, and enabling people to achieve the best that they can be! I have a vast background in psychology and a passion for self-improvement. I literally can't remember a time when I didn't have a psychology book in my hands. On top of that, I've traveled around the world from a very young age, and seen many different courses of life, forming friendships with highly successful people, as well as people who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. My own life took me down a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I'm forever grateful that I've been able to overcome everything it threw at me. Now I want to take the opportunity to give back, and help others learn tools and methods for becoming who they were born to be!