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Holding it together when the going gets tough

A guest blog from Nigel Singer

Learning & Development 21st February 2013


Being effective and clear may be your usual state but what happens to you in moments of stress, conflict or crisis; can you hold onto the part of yourself that operates well?

Centering is a simple key to effectiveness. It is a way of taking a moment to check in; of managing what is going on and supporting yourself to make clear choices.

Centering affects your body, your mind and your emotions.  It is a way of looking after yourself in any situation and importantly, it’s a choice.

No matter what you are doing, if you aren’t centered then you will be operating at less than your capacity.

Being centered is the feeling that you have when you are focussed and relaxed at the same time.  There are a range of things that you might do which encourage centering.  Some sports help, being in ‘the zone’ whilst running, playing a musical instrument well enough that you make music rather than notes, gardening, cooking, writing.  Some activities focus on centering like meditation, yoga and some martial arts.

It is the state where you have a sense of relaxed control, where you feel prepared and are breathing easily.  It is a choice and you can bring this state into your moment to moment interactions and activities.

Centering is the ability at any moment to gather yourself together, recognise who is in charge of you (which hopefully is you) and to then make a decision.  It is about having a response rather than a reaction.

A reaction is what happens when you receive a stimulus and instantly get triggered into some form of action.  We will never stop having reactions, we are designed to have them, what we can do is limit the hold that reactions have over us.

A response is what happens when we start to have a reaction and then notice that we are reacting.  We can then engage with our thoughts and feelings and this in turn helps us toward making a choice.

It’s okay to not be centered, but can you choose it when needed?  It’s easy when you are relaxed and things are going well, the challenge is to be able to choose it when you are feeling stressed or under pressure.

Whether you are at home looking after young children, winning (or losing) a game of tennis or running a large business, there will be a mixture of times when our sense of being centered slips. Perhaps you need to have a tough conversation, there is a moment of conflict or you are feeling negative stress.

You may be blaming others for your situation, or doing a great job of avoiding something that you know is going to be tricky.  You might spot yourself getting very busy doing lots of things except dealing with the key issue.  Conversely you may seem entirely unable to focus on anything – -flitting from task to task without focus.

These are all great examples of being reactive – caught by the thoughts and feelings that accompany what we imagine will be a difficult situation.

As a coach I often feel that part of my role is getting people to stop ‘doing’, to take a moment to reflect and think and just ‘be’.  Helping them get off the treadmill of reactive behaviour and moving toward making useful responses.  As a mediator, one of my tasks is slowly to help people gain a bit of perspective, so that somewhere a choice starts to seem like a possibility.

There are lots of routes toward getting centered and the two exercises that follow are an easy start.

Quick centering exercise:

Take a breath, just one, right now.

Let your belly relax and expand as you breathe in and then contract slightly as you exhale.

Now take another, slowly and deliberately

That’s it, you can do it anytime but make it a choice.

Slightly longer exercise:

Take a moment, close the door, and put your phone and computer on silent


Take a breath and then another one.

Try to notice what is running through your mind?

Is your thinking relaxed or tense?

How are you reacting to being asked to pause?

What is going on in your body?  Check it over from your toes to the top of your head.  Which parts are relaxed and which are tense.  Are you still or moving?

What is your body telling you (if anything)?

Take another breath and when you are ready carry on with your day.

For part 2 of this blog click here