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All About You: Self-managing your emotions during trying times

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Jim is stuck in traffic, and he’s fuming. He’s going to be late for an important meeting at work. Something must be amiss ahead. Jim’s blood pressure is soaring, and he’s been cursing up a storm.

A few cars back, Tom, who works for the same company, also is surprised by the traffic jam – only he’s not nearly as upset. In fact, although he’s chairing the important meeting Jim is scheduled to attend, Tom’s pulse is normal and he’s listening to an audio book he recently downloaded.

Both drivers are in the same situation, yet they’re not reacting the same way. Why?

Because of how they chose to react to the delay.

You can choose how you react to any situation, even if you can’t control anything about what is happening. That’s a large psychological pill to swallow, but an effective one in reducing anger, fear and frustration. Like any skill, abilities vary depending on practice and natural tendencies. However, even if you tend to get upset easily, you still can improve the emotional control you have over yourself.

Picture this scenario: You’re hosting a safety meeting and the group is miserable and not participating. You may not be able to control your attendees, but you can choose how you react to what is happening.

Likewise, if you can’t get the support you need for a project from upper management, there may be little you can do to change that, but you do have complete control over how you choose to react to this reality.

Even when things are nasty, you still can choose how to feel and react. Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” said that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his or her life. They also are from the freedom of choice he or she always has, even in severe suffering.

You and I might not undergo severe suffering at work, but “freedom of choice” is still something all of us have during any trying occasion.

You’re probably familiar with the phrase from “The Serenity Prayer” about being granted the “courage to change the things I can.” Well, one thing you always can change – and control – is how you react to something. I certainly don’t have perfect control of how I react and feel about negative things that happen in my life, but I do use a few tactics that help me make better choices about how I react.

Be ready for surprises

I travel a lot. Although I plan my journeys and do everything I can to avoid pitfalls that could disturb my schedule, I still keep in mind that all kinds of mishaps can happen that I didn’t plan for and that are outside of my control – weather, maintenance problems, overbooking, etc. When they do, because I’ve already considered them, they don’t upset me so much. You can do the same by consistently planning for the unexpected.

You may have expected to get a lot of work done on a project tomorrow, but a surprise inspection showed up. You can grumble and get upset about it or, because you’ve disciplined your mind to realize things such as this occur, you can choose to have a more relaxed reaction.

Avoid thinking ‘I’m super special’

About 20 years ago, when she was in high school, my daughter was energetically complaining to me about a minor problem. I cupped my hands together and rotated them around her head like a planet around the sun. I told her this was the “universe revolving around you.” We still laugh about it. Thinking you’re super special is another reason we easily get upset when things don’t go our way. Sure, you and I are special, but not so special that a traffic jam will clear out just for us.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit


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