The Moment Of Panic

Sometimes you are going to feel a moment of panic. It might be the moment that a server goes down. Or it might be the moment that a supplier calls you up to tell you that they won’t be delivering the shipment that is necessary for you to complete the next phase of your project. When the unexpected event happens that derails your forward progress, it is natural for our first reaction to be extreme stress and even a feeling of panic.

The reason that we have a moment of anxiety is that suddenly we cannot see the future as clearly as we thought that we did just a moment ago. If your boss shows up at your desk at 3:45 on Friday afternoon to drop off more work than you can get done by the time you need to go home, or if every system crashes 10 minutes before a major go-live event, your future suddenly is taking a new perspective. As humans, our first reaction to a sudden change in our future is to try to escape from it. Since we like patterns, we are upset when the design that we thought we had laid out is disrupted. 

How Not To Panic

The next time something seems to be going wrong quickly, take a moment to do these three things: 

  1. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Take a deep breath. — Except for the most extremely dangerous* situations, taking 30 seconds to physically calm yourself down will set the foundation for what happens next. Make it a requirement that you stop for 20 seconds anytime you start to feel your panic rising because of a sudden and unexpected event. [To be clear: If you are in danger: get yourself out of danger FIRST.]
  2. Think through the solution objectively. Instead of thinking, ‘What do I need to do to solve this problem?’ think: ‘What would I advise someone else to do in this situation?’ When you put yourself in an advisory role, it helps you evaluate the situation more dispassionately. As an advisor, you are less emotionally invested in the situation, and you may see solutions that you didn’t see before. 
  3. Describe the change in the future to yourself. Since our fear often comes from not knowing what the future holds, describing the new future to yourself can help in two ways: 
    1. It can help you find solutions that help you keep the future as stable as possible. (Maybe your boss doesn’t need you to finish the work on Friday. Maybe it can be done on Monday morning.)
    2. It can help you see that the new future might not be as worrisome as you thought. (Perhaps you had been hoping for some overtime, and you didn’t have anything planned for Friday evening anyway.)

Our first reaction to change is often a moment of panic. If we can address the change head-on, we can turn the change into something positive. We won’t see every change before it comes, but we can do our best to make sure that our first reaction isn’t panic.