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How to Cultivate Equanimity in the Most Stressful Situations

Updated: Mar 31

In the Air Force, I flew low-altitude bombing missions. The dangerous critical peak in every operation lasted just 8 seconds. These 8 seconds required the utmost equanimity.

"Equanimity: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation."

Nothing counted besides these critical 8 seconds. It might have taken 2 hours to reach the target and 2 hours to return. But only 30 seconds in the middle counted.

In the first 10 seconds, we pulled up from 100ft at 600 knots to 10,000ft. We had only 10 seconds to acquire eye contact with the target, about 2 miles to the side and forward.

In the next 12 seconds, we flipped the jet to bring the target to the Heads-Up Display (HUD). It was when we were most exposed and vulnerable at low speed. It was where most pilots got killed in wars.

In the last 8 seconds, we were like a falcon skydiving towards its prey. Thinking nothing. Relating to nothing. Doing nothing but aiming the illuminated, sensitive, computerized 'pipper' (a cross-hairs) on the target. We kept a laser beam focus until we pressed the 'pickle' button to release the bombs.

Lightweight and maneuverable without the enormous drag of the bombs, we transformed from a sumo wrestler to a gymnast. Making a sharp turn to 'clear' the rest of the team from immediate threats. Then diving into the 'safety' of the high-speed, low-altitude journey back home.

We practiced these 30 seconds for years, step-by-step, through Hundreds of briefings and debriefings, and watched flight recordings for endless hours.

But no training could replicate the stress and the fear of a real war when missiles approached us. When wingmen exploded or ejected to face horrors as prisoners of war. Every split-second mistake might cost lives.

Corporate leaders are no different. In some industries, mistakes might cost many lives too.

As human beings, in times of high risks and dangers, our survival instincts take over. We face our deepest anxieties. We experience tremendous stress. The amygdala is in charge. The adrenalin spike drives us to take action. NOW!

It's great at first when a quick response is critical for survival. But longer overwhelm doesn't let us see the big picture, and it doesn't help us make the best decisions. In chaos, we need clear thinking and flawless execution.

Equanimity invites us to expose hard-wired mindsets, limiting beliefs, and predisposed assumptions.

Equanimity invites us to upgrade the operating system that runs the leadership 'apps' for effectiveness, performance, and impact.

An outdated operating system limits our capacity to create outcomes that matter most—to our team, our organization, our customers, our business partners, and the world.

How would you rate your equanimity on a scale of 1-10 during? What are you doing to upgrade your operating system? 

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