March 26, 2020

Reality Testing: An Anchor in the Storm

I’m finding my ability to objectivity assess situations under stress lately.

With COVID – 19, it’s more than shifting sands. It feels like walking on ice sheathed with snow. I’m caught off guard, slipping and sliding, grabbing for a guardrail to avoid a wipe out – or not.  

Thriving on chaos is a core leadership skill, but when we don’t know where to point our compass, it’s stressful. We’ve lost a vital sense of control.

Right now, we need to maintain security and stability – for ourselves and others. We need to predict the unpredictable and make decisions in a void of information.

People are counting on us, and we’re counting on others. It’s the domino or butterfly effect, and it’s the call to serve, the call to leadership.

But where’s the anchor for our problem solving and decision making?

I’ve been noticing the EQ skill of reality testing lately – in myself and in our leaders. When done well, it inspires confidence and trust. 

Reality testing is defined as our ability to assess the here and now of the moment or situation – what’s really going on – and understand how this objectively compares to what we wish were happening, or conversely, what we don’t want to see.

Easier said than done, because under stress our reality testing will suffer from strain. Unacknowledged or unrecognized emotions and biases will fog up our vision and obstruct our objectivity. Often without us realizing it.

When we under-engage this skill, we can be fearing the worst (catastrophizing), sugarcoating the truth (because it’s just too much to take in) or seesawing back and forth between both.

And because EQ skills are observable behaviors, we are likely showing up to others as:

  • Unrealistic
  • Impractical
  • Untrustworthy
  • Biased
  • Dishonest and prone to exaggeration
  • Easily misinterpreting situations

It’s pretty easy to recognize these behaviors in others, not so much in ourselves.  

For example, me, earlier this week.  

My husband, a psychotherapist, is now home and working online with clients, while I’m converting all my clients to online courses and activities also. And our technology appears not to be up to the task (downside of living away from a wired city).

When I went to bed that night, I was convinced that I would not be able to provide courses to my clients for months because with Stay Safe, Stay Home, there is no WiFi alternative. 

I woke up the next morning wound tight and began writing in my journal. I was quite surprised to discover that I was feeling depressed, fearful and worried. Those were the exact words that landed on the paper.

And almost simultaneously, my perspective shifted. I suddenly realized I had irrationally constructed a reality where I would lose all my clients and income – forever.

I actually laughed out loud and thought: Gold star, Deene, for meeting all the criteria for being out of touch with reality.   

However, it’s a relief to know that change the emotion and the behavior will follow.

And my behavior did change. My vision cleared. I reached out to my network and learned three possible solutions for the issue. I don’t know which one will work but I’m back in reality meaning:

I’m in this messy, complicated situation and I’m seeing it as it actually exists. Not black and white, and not how I wish it were, but rather with options. Because in any situation there are three sides to everything: yours, mine and the truth. 
 

How did I get there? When reality testing fails us, research shows us we do have a life line. (I particularly appreciate researched models and constructs under stress).

In fact, we have three life lines directly correlated with Reality Testing:  

  • Emotional Self-Awareness (I can distinguish one feeling from another, and I know what I’m feeling and why)
  • Self-Regard (I like myself and my big-huge-flub-ups and all)
  • Problem solving (I use emotions as an effective problem solving tool, even when I’m upset or in upsetting situations).  

In my case, all three pulled me back from the black hole and anchored me to solid ground.

At least for today. Because like muscles, emotional intelligence is a set of skills that we develop by using over and over again.

So if you’re needing a jolt of objectivity in a currently obscure situation, perhaps some of these EQ skills might also serve you as an anchor in the storm.  

Because the only way out is through and we’re #inthistogether now more than ever.

* Sources: EQ-i 2.0 Assessment; Stein & Book, The EQ Edge; Rutledge, The EQ Workbook

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Emotional Intelligence, Problem Solving, Reality Testing, Self-Awareness, Self-regard
Deene Morris
About Deene Morris
Interpersonal Adventure Guide | Team Think Generator | Emotional Intelligence Facilitator | Conflict to Creative Solutions.

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