In late 1939 after the outbreak of World War II, the British government designed a number of morale boosting posters preempting the eventual mass bombings of the United Kingdom. One such poster read, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and though it was not widely distributed during the war, the slogan has become so popular today that it has inspired innumerable imitations and parodies.
There is a reason this message remains timeless: most of us deal with daily challenges and adversity of some kind in work and in life.
But as James Allen said once,
“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”
This, unfortunately, is easier said than done.
To survive and thrive we need to find ways to deal with pressure and uncertainty. There are any number of scientific studies out there that show the deep connection between staying calm and productivity. Allow me to share what I find helpful on a daily basis:
We don’t always know what’s going to walk through our door, but we probably have a pretty good idea of the general types of pressure we may face on a daily basis. Decide in advance on a few possibilities that could occur and how you will handle them. A simple formula such as, “If X happens, I’ll do Y,” can make all the difference.
For me–and most people–multi-tasking typically leads to chaos. I try to choose one task, see it through, and head on to the next task that needs to be done.
No matter how carefully we plan, there’s always a chance that a situation will pop up that takes precedence over everything we’ve planned. When this happens, I take a moment to regroup and prepare to methodically deal with the new issue.
Not all tasks are equally important. Some of them can remain undone for later with no major consequences. Setting priorities helps me to maintain a sense of control.
When I feel like I am getting bombarded from every angle, I take a short break and then look at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes. Just taking those few seconds to count to 10 gives me the distance I need for a new perspective. It makes me realize, for instance, that the problem I am attacking isn’t the primary issue after all.
Whenever we are anxious, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. This is called hyperventilating, and it can make us feel dizzy, light-headed, and panicky. It can also interfere with our judgment. If you catch yourself hyperventilating, try inhaling a deep breath through your nose, holding it a second, and releasing it from your mouth. Repeat this exercise until you feel calmer. This is a form of meditation.
Often we anticipate the worst possible–and often ridiculous–conclusion to a situation. For instance, “If I don’t get those numbers for the report by the end of the day, I’ll lose my job and starve to death in the streets.” Instead of using our imagination to scare yourself, use it to solve the problem.
There are sometimes good reasons to change our plans, such as a new set of circumstances arising or receiving new information about a situation. In the absence of a compelling reason, however, stick to the plans we have outlined for ourselves. Random changes will only confuse us and put us behind schedule.
Scolding ourselves for all we didn’t get done does not help. Instead we are far better off being grateful for all that we did do. The more we practice looking on the bright side of things, the less frightening and grim a stressful situation seems.
No one succeeds in a silo! This is especially true when the pressure is on. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help when needed, and offer to assist them in return. There is comfort in not being alone in times of stress.
If you’re interested in learning more about the origins of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” check out this a fascinating video:
Adapted from Faisal Hoque’s forthcoming book Survive to Thrive: 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders (2015) with Lydia Dishman. Copyright (c) 2015 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.