Calm is Contagious

Abundance Resilience Well-being


Key Point: I think all people in leadership roles could benefit from training as biathletes. Why? Because learning how to become calm in stressful situations is contagious. I like the way Tom Weede, a former editor of Men’s Fitness, describes being a biathlete: “A man with an Anschutz .22-caliber rifle slung securely across his back swiftly cross-country skies through rugged Alpine terrain, churning his legs forward and back as fast as he can, his heart rate pounding out 200 beats per minute. Suddenly, he pulls up, unslings his weapon, and in the space of a few seconds, slows his heart enough to steady his hands and mind and take aim at a tiny, unsuspecting target 50 meters away. He fires rapidly several times, the bullets tearing into their mark. His objective realized, he immediately takes off again, quickly pushing the lactic-acid levels in his legs back up to dangerously critical levels.”

These superb athletes can lower their heart rate from 200 beats per minute to 50 beats or less in about 20 seconds. They can get calm, literally on command. 

Former SEALS commander Rorke T. Denver knows something about being calm in positions of leadership. The former 13-year Navy SEAL claims the best leadership lesson learned in military training was simple: “Calm is contagious.” As a keynote speaker, according to an article in Business Insider“Denver tells the story of his final training exercise as a Navy SEAL, where students in training have to plan, organize and execute a mission all ‘under the watchful eye of the lunatic Navy SEAL instructor.’ His team was behind the clock, and they were in trouble. He recounts how his ranking officer (also a student in training) was ‘screaming his head off like the Tasmanian devil… The fevered pitch level of everyone’s behavior was just unsustainable.’ Amidst the chaos, the master chief petty officer, the senior ranking enlisted man in the United States Navy — who Denver said is out of central casting and a basic training “god” — came over and told all the officers to gather. His commanding message to the Seal officers in training, according to Commander Denver, was as follows: 

‘As officers, at a minimum, the boys are going to mimic your behavior. In our line of work, based on our personalities, they’re probably going to amplify your behavior, and athletes are the exact same way. As leaders, as captains, as officers, if you keep your head, they’ll keep their head. If you keep it together, they’ll keep it together. And if you lose it, they’ll lose it.’ So I’m going to share with you the best thing I learned as a master chief when I was a new guy from a master chief in Vietnam: Calm is contagious.’ And as he walked away, Commander Denver heard him say, ‘Because if you keep your head in our line of work, you keep your head!’ Denver emphasizes that this advice can be applied to any leadership situation. ‘You can supplant any word you want for ‘calm’ — chaos is contagious, panic is contagious, stupid 100% is contagious,’ he said. ‘So we like ‘calm’ because it lets you keep your head, it keeps you focused on the mission at hand.’”

I really resonate with Denver’s message and want to combine it with the lessons learned from high performing athletes. Under stress, we need to clam our mind and lower our heart rate to put teams and ourselves in a position to win; to stay focused on the mission at hand. Too often I see leaders (and I have been susceptible to this as well), creating more of an environment of chaos versus calm. Yes, we want a winning pace, sense of urgency, and top-notch results. However, uncontrolled speed, or a sense of panic, gets in the way of a winning outcome. The following guidelines can help.

Character Moves:

  1. Learn your stress/panic triggers and how to control your heart rate and breathing to help you “calm down.” One needs to know when to, “Pause, concentrate our breathing for four seconds, and then course correct.” That’s the advice of highly respected author and psychologist Peter Bregman in his book “Four Seconds.” Yup, according to Bregman’s research, we can get in a better, calmer zone in just four seconds if we pause and breathe.
  1. Be aware of your pace and the impact. Like the biathlete, there is the time to sprint and time to slow right down to hit your targets. The correct balance is the key to winning. Go out too fast and you exhaust yourself… Go too slow and you never get across the finish line, or end up last.
  1. Timing is everything, of course, but often the ability to use humor is exactly what you and your team needs. The great calming effect of a laugh helps the team focus on purpose, and reinforces the belief that it’s “going to be OK!”

Calm in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’ve brought up the “Sunday Scaries” before. It’s a very “Millennial” thing. Check out this link to the tongue-and-cheek examination of this phenomenon where users send pictures of their “Sunday Scaries Panic Rooms.” (On Sunday nights, Millennials convert their living spaces into “panic rooms,” which is equally eye-roll and smile inducing). It’s funny because of its ridiculousness, but it’s a real thing! Many console their dread with food, wine, coconut water, premium television, fireplaces, the company of pets, scented candles, and much more; all to calm the storm of tackling the next week (clearly no one is truly in panic). By laughing at and sharing these overreactions, Millennials get a sense of calm… For us, that’s contagious.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis