High-stress situations can provide the greatest opportunity for growth — if you view them as such.
In the Navy and Marine Corps we were always training; always seeking to improve our individual and team performance. Even in combat, under the most stressful conditions, we reviewed our performance carefully and sought improvement.
A while back I was engulfed in a storm. Figuratively, there were clouds that provided some foreshadowing, but the storm arrived with a thunderclap.
I was practically knocked for a loop. The fight-or-flight reaction kicked in and I was paralyzed for a short time with panic, fear, and a strong urge to flee, to give-in, to avoid the pain that was sure to last for a long while.
Fortunately, I have a great truth-teller who brought me to my senses. Who helped me change my perspective.
And then I faced the storm quite differently. Sure, the pain was still there, the anxiety, and some amount of fear, but I saw it as an opportunity to grow my CHARACTER, to demonstrate my COMMITMENT to my family, with the expectation of emerging from the storm with greater strength and, yes, honor.
I won’t bore you with the specifics. But I thought I’d share some of the questions I asked myself and hope they are helpful to you in your next storm.
1. How do I want to deal with the situation?
- Accept it — don’t deny it; don’t think it will go away. (See Character & Commitment: The StockDale Paradox.) Look at it squarely in the face without trying to wish it away or diminish its potential damage in terms of money, time, distraction, and emotional turmoil. What is the worst that can happen? What is the best? What is the most likely?
2. Develop a response plan.
- Mentally — What is the game I’m in? How does it work? What are my advantages and disadvantages? How do I assess the risk? How do I play the game to maximize achieving my objective while staying true to my values?
- Emotionally — How do I respond to avoid having the storm consume ALL my attention with paralyzing distraction from my other responsibilities? How do I avoid having this issue hijack my precious attention from more important subjects, especially my ability to be present? How do I deal with this in the background with minimal distraction? How do I not let it affect my confidence, my esteem, my positive emotional energy and momentum? Who is a role model I can emulate?
- Spiritually — How do I emerge from this life-event, this crisis, this emotional upheaval, this test stronger, smarter, with greater resilience and self-awareness? What example do I want to set? How do I want to be remembered by the people who matter to me?
3. Keep a list of lessons — this is where the benefit resides. Turn a crisis that appears as a huge negative into a positive.
- Rise above the lizard fight-or-flight consciousness and observe this life-event in somewhat of a detached way in order to coach yourself to respond and adapt in accordance with your world-view and values.
In other words, walk your talk; live your values throughout the storm.
Here’s a secret weapon: WRITE about the crisis. Just 10 minutes a day for a few days will make a big difference. Write about anything and everything that comes to mind. Don’t edit, don’t hold-back, don’t judge — just write, write, write in full sentences. Extra credit if you pick up a pen or pencil and paper to hand-write in your own unique, personal “font.”
Note: this is not without some pain as you drill down into the crisis in detail. But it is totally worth it as you will find the swirling thoughts in your head will subside, you will get some cognitive distance from the situation, and will most likely find you are able to file it away for periods of time and even get some sleep.
- Face the truth, no matter how brutal or painful.
- Acknowledge and accept mistakes.
- Don’t deny or discount your behavior and results.
- Never lose your belief that in the end you will prevail.
But also don’t exaggerate — no mountains from molehills. Keep reevaluating in order to maintain a proper perspective.
Life continually teaches us lessons — don’t lose the lessons!
4. Focus on building and managing your energy.
- Eat light/right, exercise daily (even it’s just a long walk).
- Devote time each week to rest and recharge.
- As you lay down to sleep each evening, make a 1-minute mental list of everything and everyone you are grateful for. This will provide perspective and put the crisis in its place.
- Put a positive story to the crisis — you can’t change what happened, but you get to choose the story and the meaning you give to it.
- Ask for help. No matter who you are, there is someone who will listen and help. Don’t try to be John Wayne or Wonder Woman, we all face crises better as a team with wingmen.
The lessons you learn will be new arrows in your quiver for the next crisis.
Thankfully, unlike others who have faced much tougher crises — heart attacks, aircraft crashes, cancer, addiction, wildfires, loss of a child or spouse — my crisis was relatively mild (although it didn’t feel that way at the beginning).
It was a trial-run for bigger challenges ahead.
I tried to see it as a training opportunity. I developed rituals and habits to keep me on top of my game physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, despite my anxieties and fears.
It could have been a long, hard battle.
My goal was to learn to deal with it while compartmentalizing so I could also focus my attention on other important matters, coming back to it now and then to update, take action, reevaluate, and draw more lessons.
My goal was to make the storm ultimately work FOR me rather than against me. Use it to make me stronger and more confident rather than weaker and more fearful.
Be a High-Trust Leader: take advantage of a crisis to build CHARACTER and resilience.