How to think more effectively during a crisis


9, 2020

5 min read

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In times of uncertainty, fear and anxiety, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the world around us. As we seek security and stability, we may face all the things we cannot control: the decisions our legislators make, the state of our health system, whether our loved ones get sick, and dozens and other circumstances. However, if we choose it, we can console ourselves in what we can control, which is a lot.

Times of crisis are full of opportunities to remember that we are in control of our own thoughts, which in turn control our emotions and our actions. Although it takes discipline and intentionality to put this practice into practice, this concept is based on proven research in cognitive psychology. Is that how it works:

You experience the world. Something happens: Your governor issues a stay-at-home mandate, your child becomes ill or cannot pay the payroll. These events are events that have not been shaped by your own opinions, interpretations, or assumptions. They simply exist and have a neutral charge; you only assign positive or negative meaning to them.

You create your thoughts. In an attempt to make sense of your external environment, you consciously and unconsciously unravel what is happening around you. For example, one interpretation that could resonate during a crisis is: “My business is in a state of chaos.”

Your thoughts cause your emotions. If you think your business is in a state of chaos, your feelings will follow suit, causing emotions like anxiety, frustration, and panic.

Your emotions cause your actions. You respond to your feelings by acting, reacting or not acting at all. You can rush to fire employees without thinking about the consequences, or you can refuse and do nothing.

Your actions create your life. What you do and what you don’t do shapes your personal world, and they are all set in motion by the thoughts you created after the initial event.

When we see our experiences through this lens, we see that most of the model is within our sphere of influence; the only thing we cannot control is what is happening around us. What we do in response to those circumstances is where the magic happens.

Your first response in a state of crisis could be: “I can’t work from home, be a parent and a teacher, run my business, be productive, and be well in the end.” But what if you take the time to notice those thoughts and intentionally change them to something else? As a general rule, these new thoughts should not be completely opposite to the original thought; It won’t do us any good to replace thinking with, “This is fun; I love chaos. “Our brains just won’t believe it. Instead, we can make minor changes to a more neutral state of mind with thoughts like:

  • “All I need to do is get through today.”
  • “I knew this would be difficult, but I survived another day.”
  • “I’m doing the best I can.”

With that change of thought, our feelings, and therefore our actions and results, can change. Instead of feeling a negative emotion, we could feel something more neutral or even positive: acceptance, satisfaction or hope.

As those thoughts influence our actions, we face the day with new energy and with more control over that energy. Instead of reacting or not acting at all, we could have the energy to be proactive, feel more powerful, and be in control than before.

While this exercise is certainly useful in our current environment, this universal concept is applicable to any bad situation: the loss of a major customer, a bad year, or other unforeseeable circumstances in your business and personal life.

The next time you feel like everything is collapsing around you, take a moment to breathe. Try to separate fact from fiction so that you can better interpret your circumstances, change your thoughts, and control your emotions, actions, and results. The goal is not to completely eliminate your life of negativity: there is certainly a place for negative emotions and a biological reason why we feel them. Instead, acknowledge them, live in them for a moment, and work to neutralize them so you can move into the future with more clarity, confidence, and control.

Taxpayer Note: This article is co-authored by Aileron President Joni Fedders and Aileron Facilitator and Leadership Coach Erika Alessandrini.