I had a great issue presented to me via a private Facebook group I’ve set up just for such an occasion. This is something I’ve dealt with and I’m sure is pretty common. I thought the exchange would make a great post, and got permission from the commenter to use it.

The commenter’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

“Jennifer”: I love this whole other persona and placebo theory because I’ve been doing it to an extent for years…the problem I have is when a major wrench gets thrown in (I can handle little ones) and I feel like I lose it all. I need to figure out how to stay in that place even under dire straits.

I’m so glad you recognize that you have already been doing this to some extent! Really, everybody does…just most people don’t realize it. To provide an example I just used yesterday: Most of us have gone to a party with a significant other or our kids where we were either in an argument or, at least, a tense conversation. Then, the moment we went into the party we were smiling, laughing, joking, just having a good time in general.

When the door to the house/bar/wherever opened up and there were people smiling, holding drinks, yelling “Hello!”, and people in the background laughing, you were triggered by all that stimuli to become the “social” you. That programming has been being reinforced since you were a kid going to birthday parties.

We do the same thing with our kids, our bosses, our parents.

You realized this to some extent and consciously applied it…but have come up against a pretty common problem: Something we didn’t account for happens to that “persona” and, instead of rolling with the punch, we respond in a default way to that stimuli.

There’s really two ways to approach this and they aren’t mutually exclusive: meditation and note taking.

I won’t delve into meditation much other than that it promotes “mindfulness.” Simple breathing in the moment the wrench gets thrown in is very powerful. Even if you don’t know how to respond, you can at least short-circuit the need to respond by default (or through fight-or-flight if it’s a new situation).

The mindfulness aids in the note taking, if you will. Taking a couple breaths after the stimuli gives you a moment to make a mental note of what happened and that you’re not sure how your persona would respond. At that moment, the best response may be to confess–possibly to the other party/ies at that moment, even–“I’m not sure how to respond to that.”

Later on, you can set a rule: “From now on, every time X happens <in this situation/while I’m this persona/etc.> I will do Y.” Or possibly, “JC <just a persona name I’m making up for a particular “Jennifer”> never does X when Y happens. Instead, JC does Z.”

You get the idea.

Then you practice this new behavior whenever you’re in that “role” <manager, mom, …> that the stimuli of that situation eventually triggers the new behavior automatically.

It’s pretty important to do this, too. We can NEVER be ready for all the curveballs that will come our way. NEVER.

Before I became consciously aware of this issue, I BROKE several “personas.” For example, I used my middle name, Warren, rather than Robinson for my stage name beginning in college. “John Warren” became a persona, just like Glad Dad, Mad Dad, and Daddy are for me in different situations with my kids.

For the first year out of college, I nailed nearly every audition I had. Out of about 7 or 8, I screwed one up by not double-checking the address of a call-back location (I’d nailed the initial audition), and the second I’d basically deferred because I had worked with and highly respected the other person in contention for the role and the director was getting really stressed out trying to decide between the two of us.

But when I moved to New York, I would nail auditions for things where there were no stakes: no possibilities to join the unions, no pay, etc. John Warren went to those auditions. I’d put so much stress on how important the other auditions were, I made sure John Robinson, the guy with anxiety, attended those. You know, to make sure I did it all right.

But I still associated the performances in those auditions to John Warren. The casting directors called John Warren into their offices. This continued to happen upon moving to the LA/OC area in SoCal.

Eventually, John Warren was broken.

John Robinson has been broken and rebuilt several times. Same with “Johnny”, which is how my wife’s entire family refers to me. Honestly, I created “JW” for the same purpose that Stefani Germanotta uses “Lady Gaga.” John Robinson has been so wrecked for so many situations that I need to think of myself (in my own head, anyway, and sometimes in the third person) as JW to get many tough tasks done.

So, watch out for those monkey wrenches! If you keep associating certain situations/personas with those monkey wrenches, the monkey wrenches become new stimuli and the reactions become automatic.

To prevent that, create a rule for those roles beforehand that you’ll be mindful when thrown a curveball. Then, when the curveballs come, when you’re alone and able to process what happened, create a new rule for how to handle that kind of problem in the future.

I hope after all that typing that I understood your comment correctly and answered in a way that’s helpful. It’s worked for me. 🙂 Please let me know if I was in the ballpark!

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