As a motivational speaker, a good portion of my time is spent in hotel rooms. And last week I had an experience in one that gave me an opportunity to practice an amazing coping strategy.
After my keynote presentation in gorgeous Mystic CT, I drove back to Providence, RI, checked into a hotel close to the airport and asked for a 5:40 a.m. shuttle to the airport the next morning. Knowing that I needed as much sleep as possible I set my alarm for 5:20 a.m., barely unpacked and crawled into bed. My throbbing tooth (another story) preventing me not only from getting right to sleep, but made achieving actual sound sleep a bit of an impossibility.
And then it happened. The phone in my hotel room rang. I remember my first thought was, "Who am I? Where am I? Why is that phone ringing?" In my blind stupor I picked up the phone and said hello. The lady on the other end said, "Ms. Larsen, are you taking your shuttle? The driver is leaving in two minutes."
Me: "What? What shuttle?"
Her: "The one you asked for to the airport this morning."
Then it hit me. PANIC.
Me: "Two minutes? No! No! Tell him to wait!"
I FLEW out of bed and froze for a second. What do I do? Where's my stuff? Who am I? (Yeah, that one wouldn't go away.) My head started throbbing in time with my tooth. I still couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do first. Brush my teeth? No. Do that at the airport. Wash my face? A luxury I can't afford. Finally, after about three minutes of running around in circles, I realized this wasn't going to happen. I called back the front desk and told her to let him go and call me a taxi.
I hung up and then I saw the clock. It read 4:45.
Huh? 4:45 a.m.? No, no. That's not right. My shuttle was for 5:40 a.m. I looked at my watch which read 4:45 also.
Are you kidding me? Did they wake me up an hour early?????
I called the front desk and asked the woman, "What time do you have?" To which she said, "4:46 a.m." As calmly as I could I asked, "And what time do you have me listed for a shuttle?" She replied, "We had you down for the 4:40 shuttle."
My throbbing head is now cranking up to warped speed. Through gritted teeth I said, "I asked for a 5:40 shuttle for this morning."
The woman said (here it comes), "No no. You are listed here for 4:40 a.m."
Me: "Well I may be listed for 4:40, but I asked for 5:40."
Her: "No, it's written right here, 4:40. Do you want me to put you on the next one?"
Me: "I'll call you back."
First of all, good for me for realizing that, in that moment, if I allowed myself to speak to her, she probably could have had me arrested.
And there I stood in the middle of my hotel room – really, really, REALLY angry. Angry that I had to lose those precious few minutes of sleep and that I was so rudely awakened. I was also angry that the front desk woman didn't fall on her sword, apologize like a crazy woman and try to make it up to me. For a good 60 seconds I went over all the reasons in my head why I was RIGHT that I should be really really pissed off! And then it hit me.
Being RIGHT that she was WRONG was NOT going to make me feel better. It wasn't going to make my headache go away or fix the situation and I couldn't go back to sleep. So I did the one and only thing I COULD do in that moment. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly and fully. And then I took another one. And another one. I focused on only ONE thing – the sound of the air going slowly in and out of my lungs. I did this for, at the most, two minutes.
And then I noticed a miraculous – and I do mean MIRACULOUS thing. When I opened my eyes, I felt calm. My headache was reduced by at least 75%. The whole shuttle fiasco just didn't seem to really matter anymore. I calmly, slowly and effortlessly got dressed and packed.
I'd love to tell you that I do this "breathing thing" all the time – whenever I get stressed. But the fact is that just because I know this is a brilliant calming, coping strategy, that doesn't mean I remember to do it. I have NO idea why I recalled this technique in that moment, but the reality is that it worked like magic.
So the next time you get a rude awakening, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of this free, instant and very effective tool. Just stop and breathe. You might want to try it right now…