I’m a BIG planner.

I like carefully laid-out plans, checklists, and building scenarios to cover as many possible situations as I can.

That means I don’t leave much room for myself for unforeseen stuff. When new things pop up, I just push myself harder to get them done.

This usually makes the process more difficult and adds strain to an already stretched mind. Sometimes it even leads to a personal crisis – the burnout kind or at least some spiralling.

That’s one of the great things about reading, thinking and talking to people making better decisions: I can actually experiment with what I learn and improve my reactions and my relationship with myself and others.

The topic of crises has been a particular focus for me ever since my grandma became bedridden in November 2018, passing away a few months later. Observing what happened then and since then reinforced the importance of preventing crises for me.

You see, I’ve had quite an eventful life so far, with plenty of both powerful positive and negative experiences. Their impact also depends on how I perceive and process these experiences.

In part, this is why I continue to study this topic. Making it a priority helps me understand:

  • how crises happen in my life
  • why they happen
  • and how I can get better at preventing them.

Living through a crisis is a difficult process for almost everyone. It’s especially difficult if your loved ones are in it with you. I, for one, have a strong urge to do something – anything – to restore balance and reconcile the situation (even when it’s not my responsibility, which is something I address in coaching too).

These are a few things that have helped me in recent years to become more resilient and also kinder to myself and the people around me. I hope they can help you as well in your difficult moments.

Slow down

A crisis almost always pushes us to move faster to find a solution, to fix things. When we’re pressed by time or other factors, we tend to override our usual process.

When possible, I stop and slow down. This helps me unpack tense situations (What’s really happening here?), unearth the causes (Why are people acting this way? Why else?), and figure out what might help ease the pressure (How can I reframe this in a way that promotes cooperation?).

For example, I’ve often seen how emotional thinking leads to messy outcomes, confusion, and defensive behaviors. Identifying this bias the emotions that underlie it helps me empathize deeper and find a better way to communicate with the person who can only see their version of the world.

Learn to anticipate

In the last 2-3 years, when I looked at the elements of a crisis in my life, I started to notice patterns. Slowly, I figured repetitive behaviors and reactions. I noticed how certain people adjust their behavior in specific situations and I got better at planning around the things I can’t change.

Throughout it all, I gained a better understanding of what triggers people. I learned what matters to them.

Most people, including myself, need to be seen. They need to feel their actions are acknowledged. Some need more recognition than others for their good deeds.

The more people depend on external validation to boost their self-esteem, the more delicate the situation becomes when a crisis hits.

Telling them it’s wrong to care about what other people think won’t change a thing. At least in my case it didn’t.

Noticing when someone acts independently and has positive results and congratulating them for it is what makes a bigger difference. Everyone loves to feel in control and be self-reliant.

Goethe taught, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” Viktor Frankl – Man’s search for meaning

When you become aware of these aspects, you can start to anticipate where the next conflict might come from. This gives you time to work and ease the pressure that would otherwise build up.

Accept responsibility

One of the big turning points for me that happened a good couple of years back was to acknowledge my own role in the burnouts I kept experiencing (one every 2-3 years).

Once I focused on what I could leverage in thinking and actions to avoid going down the same path, things started to improve. I’ve not mastered this entirely yet but I’ve made great progress.

When you learn to accept responsibility for your role in a conflict, you become less biased and more inclined to find win-win solutions.

You also improve at letting rumours and misinformation influence your actions and reactions. A bit of objectivity is always helpful when settling disputes.

Listen with curiosity

There’s something almost magical about taking evaluation and judgment out of the process of listening to other people.

I’ve seen this work very well. When I was going through challenging moments, my close friends asked me thoughtful questions to uncover what’s going on so they can help. This is much more helpful than just saying “it’s going to be okay”.

What’s more, I used this tactic myself to help them figure their way out of messy situations.

When you listen to explore potential scenarios, you help others cultivate and use empathy to ease tense situations. Bit by bit, you create a more constructive context for discussing issues from a less defensive position.

Listening with curiosity and empathy can open up communication so, for example, you and your partner can discuss things that aren’t working well and solve them before they become deal-breakers.

Identify risks

As I venture deeper into the many aspects of thoughtful and healthy decision-making, I’m more inclined to believe in the importance of mitigating personal risks.

I don’t mean risks like losing money. What I think about are things like the risk of losing someone you love deeply or the risk of damaging the relationship to the point of no return.

When I put things in perspective like that, I realize that some of my issues are petty or simply just in my head.

When you know what the risks are, you can address them one by one, and avoid major conflicts and clashes.

We certainly do not have full control of outcomes in life but we can manage is our mindset and behavior.

“There is beauty and clarity in this truth. When we’re freed from the mythology that we control outcomes and asked instead to concentrate on behaviors, we have a powerful tool to fight against negativity and anxiety.” Rand Fishkin – Lost and Founder

There’s no perfect map to help us avoid all potential crises. We’re certainly going to face them during our lives, both at work and at home.

Increased self-awareness puts us in a much better place to weather these crises and come out on the other side wiser and kinder, not cynical and embittered.

So when the next conflict arises and challenges you in unexpected ways, you can make one (or all) of these decisions to navigate it with more empathy and patience:

I slow down before making a decision.
I pay attention to patterns.
I accept responsibility for the part I play in situations and relationships.
I listen with curiosity.
I try my best to see the risks and find a way to reduce their impact.