Did you know that things like will power, decision making, and charisma can get drained? There is a finite amount of these your brain can handle before it gives up and gives in. Recently I was reminded about this after I went through a particularly intensive search and rescue training program. Let me tell you about it.
I'm just going to come out and say it: I like being a hero. Yes I do like helping people but what I really LOVE is the feeling I get after I've helped them get out of a bind. I don't know if it's the level of danger or just the rush of doing something out of the ordinary but I love getting my hands dirty.
I suspect I get it from my parents both of whom are quick to act during an emergency. My mom was an emergency room nurse for many years and would talk about how she stopped some guy from literally bleeding to death as dinner table conversation. No big deal.
My dad who also seems to fall into the role very easily. Most recently he rescued a woman by busting out the passenger side window from her overturned car and dragging her out. When the firefighters arrived they asked him if he knew that the car had a very high chance of bursting into flames. To which he responded: "I know. That's why I had to do it fast". That was about 3 months ago.
One time he put out a house fire with a garden hose. He was just driving by when he noticed the living room of some random house on fire. He grabbed the garden hose, kicked in the door, and put the fire out before the firefighters got there. Naturally.
Another time he singlehandedly caught and held two muggers that had jumped into our backyard as they were fleeing from the police. Apparently they had robbed and beaten up a shop keeper pretty badly. I later found out that a lady from some human rights group had vowed to put my dad in jail for not respecting the rights of the accused (ie: kicking their asses). LOL .
Several weeks ago I finished a course called "Citizens Emergency Response Team" (CERT for short). This is a program sponsored by FEMA where they show you how to take charge of emergency situations where help may not be able to get to you. The purpose of the training is for you to be self sufficient in case of disaster or terrorist attack where emergency response teams are overwhelmed. The thinking is if you can take care of yourself, there will be one less emergency that first responders have to go to.
The course was fairly intense and a real eye-opening experience to the dangers that surround us especially if you live in a metropolitan area such as Houston. They taught us how to handle the different types of emergency situations that could occur here.
What do you do if a train carrying poisonous gas overturns? (Stay in place, shut off AC, and seal all vents and windows.)
If someone is trapped under heavy debris, how do you get them out? (Use the cribbing method, where you quickly but carefully lift the debris by creating a box around the victim)
What do you do if there is an atomic blast? (Nothing. You're pretty much f*cked if you're within 100 miles of the blast)
The 8 week course concluded with a final exam where we would put all of our skills to the test. We weren't told what the disaster would be but we knew we had to walk into a warehouse, find the victims and rescue them. To add to the realism, make up artists had set up the victims with realistic looking injuries with blood and bruises appropriate to the disaster.
It started of simple enough with an actual fire we had to put out. Grab extinguisher, pull the pin and let that sucker rip.
That's when it got intense....
I opened a small warehouse door and went inside with my rescue partner behind me. The door was immediately closed behind us and we were in complete darkness. We didn't know if there was another fire inside, how many victims, their conditions, or even where in the building they were located. All we knew was that it was our job to find, rescue, and evacuate them.
What made the whole exercise even more intense were the constant cries for help. All around us it seemed like everyone needed more help than the other person. Should you go to the little girl that's crying or to the adult that says they're bleeding out? I think what made it creepier/more realistic for me was that the yells were all done in different languages. I don't speak any Mandarin Chinese but I can tell when someone is asking for help.
"Help me! Help me!"
"Ayudame! Mi pierna!"
"Help me find my baby! My baby!"
"Mommy! Please help me mommy!"
I'm not easily frazzled but this exercise really put me to the test. It was so realistic and intense that an experienced professional nurse that was part of the rescue team passed out and had to sit out the exercise. It became too much for her.
Afterwards I found out that some of the volunteers who played the part of the victims were actually actors so they had experience getting into character. They knew exactly which buttons to push. This is going to sound cheesy, but my training kicked in and we went to work. For the next 90 or so minutes we created a triage area, rescued people from under debris, carried victims in a stretcher, made an impromptu stretchers out of a table and a chair, performed first aid, and cleared out the area.
We made some mistakes but overall we met our objectives. They even had a mini "graduation ceremony" with cake for the participants. Everyone was feeling good.
Everyone except me.
While everyone else was chatting and enjoying their cake I was standing around with my hands on my hips. I was just standing there not talking to anyone and not engaging any particular group in conversation. One guy even asked me to join their group. I flat out told him "No". At this point I realized that something was wrong. Why wasn't I being charismatic?
Like in other situations where I know my mind isn't 100% focused, I took a step back and analyzed the situation. I needed to answer two questions: 1. Why was my charisma fuel tank empty and 2. What caused it to drain?
Obviously the exercise had been intense but that didn't explain why I didn't want to talk to anyone. After about a minute or two I realized that what had really bothered me about the exercise was hearing and seeing children being victims in this "disaster". Specifically children around the age of my kids. That really hit close to home.
If you're ever in a situation where you find that your charisma fuel tank is empty try this simple exercise:
1. Find a quiet room/rest room stall
2. Take 2 minutes to figure out what drained your charisma (interview, disaster, networking event)
3. Refill your tank. You can do this by centering yourself. Close your eyes and start by finding the sensation of your toes inside your shoes. Then move on to how your legs feel, followed by your torso, head, arms, and finally your fingers. Don't think about anything else except how your body feels being in that calm, quiet, and safe space.
4. You can do #3 as many times as necessary. I found that once or twice is enough to get me through 30-45 minutes of an extroverted activity.
The difference was like night and day. After I did the exercise above two times I was able to go out to the group and start and maintain conversations with the other participants.
Remember, things like willpower, charisma, self-discipline, and decision making can run out and are affected by our mood, energy levels, and health. That's why even though you're in a strict diet, you find it almost impossible to refuse a cookie after a long day at work or when you haven't slept well the night before.
Do you struggle with low levels of charisma? What do you do to regain it? Email me back and let me know. I'm interested in finding out what method you're using.