Here are 5 things I've learned from living through a crisis...
As we all learn how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, it has made me reflect on previous lessons I've learned from going through past crises.
You might decide to unfriend me or, at the very least, not stand next to me during a lightning storm after you hear this, but here goes. I have gone through more than my fair share of crisis in my lifetime. From living through hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, getting married during 911 travel restrictions, starting a career in financial planning after the 2001 market crash, working as a stockbroker during the great recession of 2008, having ten significant surgeries as a person with a bleeding disorder, losing a child, extreme financial hardships, the threat of HIV, Hepatitis B & C, and so much more. After all of these events, I can say I have learned a lot, but there are a few things that stick out that I believe might be helpful to us all while we face this new crisis of a worldwide pandemic.
Here are 5 things that I have learned that have helped me when trying to survive a crisis.
1 - Evaluate - Assess the circumstances, take a breath, and organize your priorities
2 - Educate - Remember the resources you DO have, embrace your losses, look for new opportunities
3 - Articulate - Communication is critical, staying positive is essential and defining next steps is vital
4 - Take action - Move forward, pivot away from things that don't work quickly, and set short goals
5 - Rest - Take care of you
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Initially, when we face any crisis, our first reaction is often to fight, flight, or freeze. For me, immediately after a crisis starts, it feels like things are moving in slow motion, and I don't often respond emotionally. I get quiet. I stop, stare, and try to come out of my state of shock. It takes me a little bit to digest what has just happened, but I generally jump into action relatively quickly and start looking around for what I can do to help the situation. This may not be how you respond, and that's okay, but no matter what your response is, its good to take a small amount of time to go through the Evaluation phase and really take inventory of what is happening around you. This phase is critical because you will revisit that moment in your mind over and over again. It's good to take mental notes so you can remind yourself later of why you took the steps you did.
After you take some time to realize what has happened around you, look for the things you CAN do. In any crisis, there will be more things that you CANNOT fix than things you CAN, but identifying the small things you CAN do is critical to formulating your next steps. Once you have identified a few things that you can address, it is essential to take a few minutes to prioritize your action plan. This is not always obvious, and some times things are much easier to decide than others, but if things appear to be equal in priority, just move forward and don't overanalyze. Its easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is sitting still. Getting in motion is critical to getting through a crisis.
Benjamin Franklin said, "An investment in education gives the best returns." Take some time to educate yourself on the crisis itself, the past and/or remaining dangers will significantly impact your next steps. Get your information from trusted sources whenever possible. In every crisis there will be a mix of accurate and inaccurate information and some people will share information based on rumor alone in an effort to get ahead of the curve, but this will not serve you well in making a last plan. Allow yourself the time to investigate and educate, but it is equally important to not get stuck in a analysis paralysis. Embrace your losses. Don't ignore them. Look for new opportunities and a new path forward. If you don't feel like you have all the answers, that's okay. All you need is enough information to take the next couple of steps forward. You will learn new things as you go and that's okay too.
There is a temptation for everyone during a crisis to get sucked into watching the news on tv, social media, or other information outlets nonstop. This can detract from you taking time-sensitive action. It is a good idea to give yourself research limits and try to balance the time you spend listening to others and making your own personal plan of action. Sometimes early action is critical to minimizing your exposure and maximizing your success. Taking too much time to watch media outlets can hinder your progress. Don't allow anything to hinder your progress.
Articulate your plan to your loved ones and close friends. Let them know what you are doing and how you are responding. You may want to make notes and write down your plans so you can reference them in the days to come. This will help keep you accountable to your plan, but also share ideas with others so you can modify based on the success other people are experiencing. This is also the best way to discover new resources and help others. Look for ways to share positive outcomes with your friends and family whenever possible, even if it's only ONE thing. Speaking optimistically will help lift your own perspective and the moral of those people who are most important to you. If you focus on the positive, you will gravitate toward more positive outcomes.
Taking action is the most important step because it's the only thing that can help you change your course. Take the things you have learned, review the plan you have made, and move forward. If you hit a road bump, you may need to take a step back reevaluate and reapproach, but focus on what you can do and not your limitations. Set short achievable goals and celebrate your accomplishments. Sometimes the smallest achievement in normal circumstances might be a huge leap forward when recovering from a crisis. It's essential to allow yourself the ability to enjoy the small victories along the way to sustain your momentum as you move forward.
Lastly, rest. Self-care is one of these most critical things when recovering from any crisis. Your ability to stay the course and experience a full recovery is entirely dependent on you being present, and you cannot be present if you are depleted or worse because you didn't take care of yourself. Mental fortitude, effective communication, and physical energy are not possible without the appropriate amount of rest. Take small breaks throughout the day, try to get a full 8 hours of sleep, and permit yourself to take short naps if you need them. Your success will be directly affected by your ability to allow yourself to rest adequately.
Every crisis is unique. You cannot solve all the problems. You are not strong enough alone. You need others. But, you will get through this. Encourage yourself. Find the things that give you peace and focus on those whenever possible. Find what is working and stay the course. And most of all, don't give up! Your story will forever be marked by the crisis you faced and how you successfully reached a new normal. Get creative, fight to dream again, be generous to others when and wherever possible, prioritize your personal rest, and look for new opportunities. You will get through this! What you focus on you will gravitate toward. Discipline your mind to focus on good things, and you will move toward them. Focus on the negative things, and you will move toward more negative things.
You will survive this crisis if you stay the course! You will look back one day and realize that you were resilient, strong, and determined. On the other side of this crisis, you will realize you have grown and ultimately be more successful if you focus on those things. Stay encouraged, and don't give up! One day you will be glad you did.
Jonathan James is the president and CEO of Hope Charities.
Connect with him more on social media.