Monday at 9 am – what was I thinking.
Well, in fact, I didn’t think it through. I just wanted to have my tooth repaired and be done with it. But… new dentist, strange city, a few experiences with the office that boosted my worry factor, a long history of painful dentistry and I had a headache that started in my waist, went up my back and around the top of my head. The traffic was heavy, the radio on CNN. My teeth were set, my hands clenched around the steering wheel and my thoughts racing as though vying for the inside track at Daytona. On a scale of 0 – 100, I was closing in on 100. This was not a good start to the day, the week or the dental appointment.
I seldom have headaches so when I have a headache I’m alert that something is wrong. I had about 15 minutes before arriving at the dentist’s office to get my mind and body back to a normal state of relaxation and congeniality. After all, not only did this seem like the “right” healthy thing for me to do, it was also in my best interest to be as nice and pleasant as possible to the people who were to have their hands in my mouth and use any number of stainless steel tools and drills to eventually place the crown.
I’ve had years of practice as an Emotional and Behavioral Intelligence coach and consultant so now the rubber would hit the road and I would be able to again test the principles for myself, especially when under extreme pressure.
For the last several years I’ve been using Behavioral Intelligence™ and the STARR© process as the framework for actualizing success. And, yes, I use these skills for myself as well as with others. I’ve studied stress and resilience and know from any number of articles that stress can kill but before it does, it plays havoc with decision making and behavior. I like being my personal best whenever possible whether with a client, on the golf course or going to the dentist so I was first going to deal with my stress levels so I could be as thoughtful and responsive as possible.
(As a reminder, the STARR© process is Stop, Think, Assess, Respond and Review. Stop when you are aware of unproductive thoughts, feelings or behaviors; Think about what you want to accomplish in this situation; Assess – what do I know about myself, the other people I’m with, the skills for success; Respond (not react); Review – what have I learned and what would I change or keep the same next time.)
When I was aware of my panic, the first thing I did to stop the emotions was change the environment in the car from devastating, adrenaline driven world headline news to my favorite Willie Nelson station so I could sing along with something of no consequence. When I sing, I breathe and move. When I breathe my brain and body get some much needed oxygen and then my muscles relax. My thoughts were diverted from the impending catastrophe (the dentist) to Somebody Done Somebody Wrong and gratefully right now it was not done to me.
By the time I arrived at the dentist’s office I was actually able to smile and the death grip on my head was released. My headache was gone but I was not yet through my perceived danger. Even though tentative, I went in to the office greeted everyone, sat in a chair with some breathing, meditative exercises, got back in the moment and was as pleasant as can be with the receptionist, the hygienist and the dentist. I kept visualizing a great smile later on in the day.
I was now relaxed enough to Assess the situation, including personal triggers and responses at the dentist. As a result I asked for as much information as possible as the team worked. I asked questions (not all the easy with a mouth full of cotton) but did what I could to be part of the process rather than sitting passively. I actually Responded well – no tears, some lingering anxiety but overall I was pleasant and cooperative and reasonably relaxed.
In the end, all is well. My tooth is fixed, smile is back and I’m here to write another day with a promise to myself to have dentist appointments at any time but Monday at 9.
Why does this story matter? Well, not all of us relate to the dentist the way I do, but all of us have some situation that comes up when we are least expecting it and an intense emotion grips us. The more practiced we are at self-awareness and stress management, the more likely we are to be creative and effective when these situations occur – we are more likely to use STARR and exhibit Behavioral Intelligence. The STARR process works and as we practice it we may not be perfect but we can be more effective more often.©