I was standing in front of a class of amateur-to-professional level performers and enthusiasts, talking about how we move from “idea” into “I’m doing this!” when we create scenes and events – a shortened version of my Defining Moment process.
I was talking in particular about evaluating risk, and how consequences tend to come in four flavors: foreseen and unforeseen and also positive and negative. “What is a foreseeable risk that could happen in this performance?” I asked.
“Death!” came a voice at the back, and everyone laughed. I smiled; this was a good group, because usually I had to coerce that particular answer out of classes. Not that we deliberately expect death to come out of a performance – but with some things that players do, especially in aerial performance, it’s not out of the realm of imagination.
And that’s the point of the process. After several more realistic suggestions (including “It goes so well that you become world-famous traveling around and teaching it!”) people started to get more outlandish again. “Earthquake!” “Tsunami!” “Tornado!” “Zombie apocalypse!”
The Godzilla Factor
Depending on where you live, any of those first three (and let’s add in hurricane to make things contemporary) could be actual risks you need to consider – not just in terms of performances, but in terms of anything. These are the factors totally out of your control that nonetheless can affect everything around you.
In the class, I lump all of these things together and draw a rather pathetic cartoon of a lizard and call it “the Godzilla Factor.” Because these are not risks you can mitigate – they are consequences you can prepare for, to the best of your ability.
Disaster preparedness drills are common things for law enforcement, for medical professionals, for schools, for the military – and it’s not just for the purposes of knowing what to do in those situations.
It’s also a way to build up resilience. The first time you do a drill, your heart pounds as you imagine the horrible things that could happen, and try to do your part to make it a little less awful. The second time you do a drill it’s still interesting, but you’re usually not so enmeshed in what might happen – rather, you’re working to improve whatever steps you’re taking to deal with the consequences. Your pulse is still fast, but it’s more out of engagement than fear.
The 237th time you do a drill, your pulse is rock-steady and you’re wondering when you can get back to your Twitter feed. Until you find out this time is not a drill, and there really is Godzilla tearing through downtown…and that’s when the magic happens.
Because you still go through the motions that you’ve drilled into your muscle memory. You use the words, you check the lists, and make things happen the way you have 236 times before. The mere act of doing these familiar things helps to keep your adrenaline response from overwhelming you. You have the resilience to withstand the shock of a 250 foot lizard eating rooftops.
Worst-case scenarios serve a good purpose – not because they are likely to apply in reality. In fact, we as humans have been shown to be amazingly bad at predicting future events, in just about every field.
That’s ok, though, because the purpose of imagining “what might happen” is more like developing the “problem-solving” muscle in our brains.
“What if this happens?” you ask yourself, and your imagination comes up with a solution. It may not be a good solution, it may not be a realistic solution, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that we’re getting in the habit of creating solutions. That means that when the real shocks come – and they always do – you are better prepared to deal with it. Sometimes, in fact, your brain is coming up with a solution before your imagination can even start to panic – and that’s when you have the skill of compartmentalization. You are able to look at that part of your brain that is flailing about like Kermit the Frog and say “Hey! I get it. You’re upset. Go in that room in the back of my brain, I promise, we’ll deal with the upset later. I got stuff to do.”
Now, you do have to get to it later. Otherwise that Kermit in the back of your brain is likely to mutate into your own internal Godzilla Factor. But that’s a subject for a different post. In the meantime, I suggest you take a little time now and then to imagine: What would I do if THIS happened? What would I do if THAT happened? Think of it as a kettle bell workout for your brain. It’s a perfect example of a practical tool to make hard times happier.