A few days ago, thousands of drivers were stranded 24+ hours on an interstate highway in Virginia, due to an unexpected storm. It was dark, it was cold, and there was no end in sight.
How would you react to being trapped like that, to losing control? We’ll get back to those drivers in a minute; they’re not going anywhere.
Loss of control causes stress. Consider a famous psychology study: Two groups of rats were injected with cancer cells and then, later, given mild electric shock.
To me, this combination seems redundant—imagine the rats’ shock over the cancer thing: “You’re injecting us with what???”
Anyway, one group of rats could escape the shock by pressing a lever; the other group had no escape.
The experiment was cleverly designed: both groups got the same amount of shock, and the same amount of cancer cells, but the 1st group had “control” over the shock (they could turn it off), whereas the 2nd group was helpless.
In the 1st group, 63% survived the cancer injection; in the 2nd, only 27% (Visintainer, 1982).
The scientists concluded that being in control strengthens the immune system. Naturally, they were excited about this ﬁnding—after all, they were in control of the lab.
But it was probably a big disappointment for the rats.
Back to those trapped drivers. One was U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, traveling alone, with limited gas. But he did have some control.
“What I would do,” he explained later, “is I would turn on the engine and the heater full blast for 10 minutes, that would heat up the car, and then I would turn it off and see how long I could not turn it on. I could usually go for about an hour or so” (WSJ, 1/5/22).
Senator Kaine emerged from his car smiling, another measure of control. Why was he smiling?
a) he was just deliriously happy to get out of that car.
b) he was just delirious.
Or maybe this: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places” (Ernest Hemingway).
The next time you’re stressed, re-gain some control by asking yourself, “How Can I Use This?
“‘This‘ can be anything . . . from an annoyance to a catastrophe . . . I have become the victim of ‘this.’ How can I turn the tables . . . and make use of it?” (from “You Are Not the Target,” Laura Huxley).
Because even when you lose control of your circumstances, you still have some control over your response.
Best wishes for 2022—and the challenges that await.
© Copyright 2022 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
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PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful.