I started my day as I often do, at 5am with a cup of coffee and a blanket, curled up on my couch thinking about the day to come and the work laid out ahead of me. I liken it to a bit of mental house cleaning, sweeping up the debris and leftover missives from prior days, dusting off the cobwebs on projects not touched for a while, and opening the windows to new thoughts and ideas that have yet to filter in. Have you ever noticed that quiet isn’t quiet? Somewhere between the sweeping and dusting I realized that even though I could barely see the rain misting down outside, I could actually hear it. Just barely. I love the rain and so thought to myself how lovely it would be to throw on my flips and a vest and go take a walk.
You have too much to do, Erin. You’ve already wasted away an entire hour sitting here this morning staring out the window. – Meet my alter ego, a Miss Work-First-Play-Later persona who has now, unfortunately, also woken up.
But I get up an hour early every day to do just that, so hush and let me listen to the rain. – I replied to myself.
She wouldn’t stop. – But what if there is an urgent email waiting for you? What if we have a client slipping sideways? What if there is some new bombshell in the news? What if there is some imminent catastrophe just waiting to befall us? What if?? What if?? WHAT IF??? – She was shrieking at me now.
What if…. – I said calmly – ….we give ourselves a bit of grace this morning? What if we start the day thinking of all the good things that can happen and be grateful for all of the good things that have happened up until now? What if focusing on how we want the day to go, even for just 20 minutes, gives us an advantage over whatever may come our way?”
Booyah! Just won my first battle of the day.
I put on my flips and my vest, grabbed the chucker and walked around the yard with my dogs for exactly 20 minutes.
My little self-dialogue this morning reminded me of how I needlessly gave in to the Chicken Little voice in my head for so many years of my life. So, here is the thing I wish to share that has taken me a good portion of my adulthood to discern.
Crisis is simply life unexpected, changes to be managed instead of reacted to in panic, despair or hatred.
We perceive some changes as good and others as bad, but it’s all just change. The kicker is that life happens every day, so whether we want to admit it or not, we must respond to change every day. But how to respond? Depending on the extent of what’s in front of us, it can range from mild indifference to full blown panic. Neither extreme is particularly helpful. How we experience, process, and manage the changes required by the events taking place around us makes all the difference in how we weather the storm.
So, consider this:
- Reaction occurs without thought. I’m not berating spontaneous outbursts of joy or fear that are tied to emotional experiences or true life/death survival moments – these are necessary. I’m talking about everything else where immediate reaction is unnecessary, occurring without considering the all the options or the potential downstream effect of the actions we take. We can become reactionary when we feel powerless, and the minute we accept powerlessness, we give up control. I promise you, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you have control over something within the situation you find yourself. So just control it. The rest will come more easily.
- Crisis Mode is a bad place to be. If you are in true crisis mode, you are reacting and spinning instead of adjusting and moving forward. I would much rather hear that people are in Adaptation Mode, making changes by leveraging strengths and hyper-focusing on priorities to navigate to a new normal. This isn’t just business-talk, it applies to your personal life as well. Do you know your strengths? Your priorities? Have you thought about shoring up the things that you know make your situation vulnerable?
- You don’t have to be reactive to respond with urgency. Reaction can quickly throw you into chaos, actually slowing down necessary and productive change. There is a difference between reactivity and urgency. If we slow down long enough to think the thing through, we can then respond with all due urgency and haste, but with far less rework and backstepping.
- Pre-planning helps, but it’s never perfect. Creating a plan to address an event often misses the mark. Best practice planning, at its core, requires an understanding of strengths, weaknesses and critical priorities. Once we have these pieces, we know what to leverage, what to fix and where our focus should be regardless of what type of crisis comes along. Doing this work ahead of time means that when we need to respond and adapt, we can do so with clarity and confidence.
Please don’t get me wrong – I am in no way asserting that crises don’t exist. They certainly do, at various levels and impacts across the board. It’s personal. However, if we agree that the successful outcome of nearly any crisis is the ability to change and adapt to a new normal, it then follows that the way we deal with these necessary changes is the first best use of our energy and focus. This requires that we intentionally slow down, sort out the impacts and our options, and then move forward with a plan that keeps our critical priorities at level center.
So, take a walk in the rain, bake some cookies, go box in the mirror or whatever it is that you do to get some brain space and think through your next move. Whether it’s your plan for the day or navigating a major event, the time you take will be worth it!