Reality Testing: A Lifeline in the Storm

Anyone else struggling with how to objectively assess situations under stress lately?

It feels like walking on ice sheathed with snow. I’m caught off guard, slipping and sliding, grabbing for a guardrail to avoid a wipeout – or not.

Thriving on chaos is a core leadership skill, but when we don’t know where to point our compass in what feels like the wilderness, 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.

A Lifeline 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. Our unacknowledged or unrecognized emotions and biases will fog up our vision and obstruct our objectivity. Often without us realizing it.

When We Under-Engage Our Reality Testing

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 to show 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 is now home and working online with his 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 (the downside of living away from a wired city).

When I went to bed last night, I was convinced that I would not be able to provide courses to my clients 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.

Change the Emotion and the Behavior Will Follow

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 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 to Restore Our Reality Testing

  • Emotional Self-Awareness (I can recognize what I\'m feeling and why)
  • Self-Regard (I like myself, huge flub ups and all)
  • Problem-solving (I use emotions effectively, even when I\'m upset)

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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