Staying calm

I’ve had a tough day with lots of difficult situations but I think I’ve managed to just about stay calm about everything.

There’s a good bit in Tim Ferriss’s embarrassingly titled Tools of Titans about how highly valuable a skill staying calm under pressure is. I’m not a military person at all but it’s apparently the defining feature of successful special forces commanders. The ability to step back and analyse a situation when all hell is breaking loose can be the difference between life and death for everyone under your command.

My BGV colleague Melanie once joked that I might be like a duck. Calm on the surface but paddling like hell under the water. Generally I am actually pretty calm — it’s not an act — but it is something that I’ve tried to learn how to do over time.

I guess my top tips for staying calm are:

  • Try to stop stressful situations from happening in the first place — put a lot of work into building relationships in a way that makes it unlikely people would fall out. I’m a strong believer that if it’s got to the point of an argument both sides have probably lost out.
  • Diffuse tension with humour if it does happen — if you can manage to make people take themselves a bit less seriously, they’ll take the situation a bit less apocalyptically. It’s almost certainly not as bad as they think.
  • When bad things do happen, think of it as an opportunity. The first thing to say to yourself is ‘good — this is something I’m going to be able to learn from’. Then step back and try and help people see the bigger picture first before trying to resolve the situation.
  • Meditation helps. If you can find time to practice when you do have time, you’ll reap the benefits in the times when you might not.

If you’re in startup life (or investment life for that matter), your ability to stay calm is not a bad thing to try and improve. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.

From Buddhism to McMindfulness?

There was an interesting programme written and presented by Emma Barnett on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon about mindfulness. I certainly learned a bit about the history of how the practice transitioned from its Buddhist roots to become a Western phenomenon. I think it also came across that while it can sound like a bit like a cult, the benefits do speak for themselves and the academic work on its effects are pretty well established. I also found the backlash against it from some naysayers quite funny — it’s been dubbed McMindfulness by some. The law firms and other companies that have started to introduce it to their offices sounded very level-headed about the whole thing and I can imagine mindfulness in the workplace will be a growing trend.