When I was three years old I fell and cut my forehead on a stone. I was rushed to the hospital to get stitched up. I had never seen that much blood before. My mother was frightened which frightened me even more. I lay on a table in the hospital, screaming and fighting the doctors so hard that I had to be held down. As the doctor leaned over me with the shiny needle he would use to close my wound I remember him saying, “Relax. Calm down.” Thanks for the advice Doc.

When I was in eighth grade I was in an oratorical contest. I was shy and this was my parent’s strategy to bring me out of my shell. I memorized a 5 minute speech. I wasn’t allowed to use notes. The day of the speech I was ready to puke. I sat on the stage and waited for my turn to speak. The girl that went on just before me had gone blank a few sentences in. She stood frozen for what seemed like many minutes hoping for some memory or word that would jog her memory and save her, some lifeline to pull her out of her humiliation. It never came. Eventually, she ran off the stage in tears. This was my worst nightmare. I looked towards my mother in the first row for help, she mouthed, “Relax.” Thanks for the advice Mom.

In my senior year of college we were playing one of the final basketball games of the season and we needed to win in order to go to the NCAA tournament. We ended regulation and the first overtime tied. We were in the final seconds of the second overtime. We had the ball and time for one last play. Coach looked at me and said, “We’re putting the ball in your hands, Pete.” I wasn’t afraid of this. In fact, I wanted the ball and the last play. I nodded to him. As we broke the huddle and began to walk onto the court, he patted my behind and said, “Relax”. Thanks for the advice Coach.

I got the same advice before interviewing for my first teaching job, before getting married, (especially when Liz was late getting there), at Lamaze classes before our kids were born, before important presentations, going to court over traffic tickets, having a “heart to heart” with a staff member who was not “cutting it”, and other major events that have taken place in my life…”Relax!”

I believe it is good advice. The only problem is no one ever taught me how to relax. Now you might say, you don’t need to be taught how to relax; you just do it. It’s like you go out and lay in the hammock on a beautiful day, no one has to tell you how to do it. You just lay there and in moment you’re relaxed. Or you can be on a beach and sit watching the breakers and before you know it you’re relaxed…what’s there to teach? It just happens!

I totally get that version of relaxation. I’m pretty good at it. I can be a little too “relaxed” when there are chores to be done around the house. But the version of relaxation that I have never been taught until recently, is how to relax under pressure, in times of great stress and trauma, when we are in the middle of a situation, and called on, as a leader, to take crisp and appropriate action.

So, yeah…thanks for the advice Mom; but tell me how to relax while a strange man with a needle and thread is about to lace up my forehead like a football. Or I am about to stand in front of a hundred adults to give a memorized speech when my stomach is squished up like a twisted magician’s balloon and ready to explode. “Relax!” is a nice sentiment; but where’s the “how to” manual? Where’s the “Relaxation for Dummies” book?

That’s the trouble with advice, especially leadership advice. It’s all good stuff; but there is no “How to” to it…

Be courageous…be inspirational…love your staff…be a great listener…learning is the work…ok! ok! I get the idea; but how do I become more courageous?, how do I love my staff if I really don’t like some of them?, how do I become a good listener if I mostly like to talk? It’s like how do I learn to “Relax”?

Moving from leadership advice such as, “Relax”, “Be Yourself”, “Don’t Worry” and other useful maxims to actually being able to relax, be yourself, and suspend your worry, especially under difficult circumstances; is something that must be learned.

Now, just how do we do that?



4 thoughts on “Relax

  1. I find that the best method is to visualize stressful times when I’m alone and already relaxed. Having a quiet time of meditation at night to visualize the next day and any possible situations that may arise is a good way to prepare for stress before it happens. If you know you have to give a speech tomorrow or fire an employee the best thing to do the night before is: find a comfortable position in a place where you are free from distractions and visualize the speech or the firing; picture yourself how you will look and what you will say. Chances are this relaxed dry run will make you feel like you have already done what you have to do. When you actually find yourself giving that speech or firing that bad employee it probably won’t be so stressful.

  2. Robert,
    I think your comment is on target and I recently used this technique extensively as I prepared for my 2nd kyu Aikido test which included a randori where I was challenged by two attackers .

    Everyday for weeks I used my imagination to run through a randori. No two were the same and it helped my focus and centeredness when I actually tested.


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