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Training Yourself to be Calm

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Several years ago, I attended a workshop by a Harvard professor on the performance mindset. When I signed up for the workshop, I had no idea what to expect, although I had read many books on sports psychology and performance mindset. I figured he would talk about the C's—confidence, calmness, concentration, composure and commitment.

I signed up for the course because I noticed he had studied peak performers from many fields including the performing arts, business and sports. The study of the performance mindset truly interests me, because I have no doubt that we have barely scratched the surface of the mind's potential.

The ironic thing about the mindset is that when I ask any group of athletes or top business executives what percentage of their performance is mental verses physical I have never gotten a reply less than 70 percent. Yet when I ask how much training they have received on how to use their mind and how to develop its potential, most people quickly answer—none!

Yet in this weekend course, we talked about Buddhist monks and all of the mental training they perform over their lifetime of training. One of the most important areas that they seek to develop is their equanimity. Up to this point, in my college classes as well as in the many books and articles, the concept of equanimity had never been discussed. But once it was explained, there was no doubt that this concept was probably one of the most powerful components of a performance mindset.

So what is equanimity? Buddhist monks believe that when something happens to you or when you encounter an event or challenge you have four options:

  1. You could be unaware that anything has happened in which case you would surely not be able to do anything.
  2. You could be aware of what was happening and move away from the challenge (retreat).
  3. You could be aware of what was happening and move towards the challenge (attack).
  4. You could be aware of what was happening and be non-reactive (equanimity—no reaction by choice).

By far, the most enlightened and powerful response is to be aware of the event or challenge and yet to not react. From this position, you are detached enough to enhance your awareness while increasing your options—because you see them all as possible. This position of chosen neutrality is extremely powerful, since you can never be a victim or a hostage. Instead, you become calm, confident, efficient, and composed. You become the master of your own destiny.

Recently, I put this to use, and I was amazed. During a conversation with a co-worker, he decided he had to unload some pent-up feelings he had been harboring. He lashed out with some accusations and demands, and you could tell he was expecting an attack in return. What he received instead was calmness and no reaction. In the brief silence of this non-reaction, I realized I had the time and ability to solve the problem rather than attack the messenger. In fact, I realized that the issue was not the issue and that the solution was actually very simple.

The funny thing was that by being aware and non-reactive, I discovered the C's—calmness, confidence, concentration and composure. What's more, I became committed to applying this lesson every chance I could.

Scott Peltin is one of the founding partners and chief performance officer of TIGNUM, the leading sustainable performance institute for corporate leaders. To learn more, visit



Tags: Stress, Pressure, Focus