How are you in a crisis? Calm and practical? A whirlwind of racing thoughts and fear? Maybe you just become completely frozen?
All of these are natural physical responses to stressors and perceived danger. I pride myself on being “good” in a crisis. A few years ago I was a victim of a violent crime in my home- a random armed burglary in which the police report listed being “held hostage” among other things. At the time, I was very aware of the danger and even mentally prepared myself for the moment that I was going to die. But instead of crying or shaking or anything I would have assumed to happen in that situation, I found myself somewhat calmly thinking about things like who was going to have to deal with my dirty laundry if I were murdered. I don’t know if it was shock or survival instincts, but my physical reaction was very calm, as if my body was in a complete zen state. My mind seemingly became clearer under the stress and I was able to think very quickly and logically.
I came across this post on Earnest Home Co. about problem-solving that involved brainstorming ten solutions for whatever stressful situation you come across. She uses an example of how, after losing her mode of transportation in a foreign country, instead of spiraling in feelings of stress and negativity, she made a list of ten things she could do to fix the problem. Some of them were extreme or a little ridiculous, but the point was that seeing ten options provides a sense of comfort and control among chaos.
I read it and realized that is exactly what my thought process is when I’m in an incredibly stressful situation. When faced with a chaotic situation, where others around me are very appropriately frazzled or frozen in fear, I’m mentally assessing the situation and coming up with my list of solutions, helping me to feel some sense of calm and control.
It’s quite powerful to know that I do this well. It’s made me a bit unphasable to more common stressors. For instance, if I walked out my front door to find my car stolen, I know that I would just immediately launch into auto-solve and would hardly bat an eye. However, since the big scare, I feel very stuck when it comes to making smaller life decisions. Things like setting a wedding date or choosing an insurance plan and other very common “life” things can make me feel almost paralyzed. This can be a normal side effect after trauma- the start of stress signals your brain’s cognitive decision-making skills to shut down, switching into fight or flight mode.
It’s normal, however, I thought it would have gone away by now and it definitely hasn’t. So I started thinking about that post again and, since I know logical problem-solving is my strength under stress, how I could use this tactic in low-stress situations when my natural fight or flight response doesn’t need to be in control. Times when I’m stuck creatively or professionally without an urgent need for a solution because those are the times lately when I notice I can really get consumed by stressed.
For instance, I’m starting a creative side project with my sister and we’ve been trying to come up with a name. Now, this might seem simple, but choosing a name has been my number one hangup in every project/idea/creative endeavor I’ve taken on in the past few years. I will literally spend days, weeks, months (yes, sometimes it has been months) coming up with a name and will eventually decide on something that I feel like is only “okay,” making the whole process pretty much a waste of time.
So taking this idea, lets say I’m trying to name a pet obedience school, I will start by coming up with at least ten viable name options. This, by the way, is most definitely not the project I’m working on with my sister (sorry Mom), but merely an example of brainstorming. Also a great way to use the animal puns I just googled (some of these are totally real places, by the way). The goal here is not to come up with ten perfect solutions, but simply to force yourself to come up with at least ten options.
When you are experiencing idea overload, the physical act of writing (or typing) your ideas, in my opinion, is crucial. It gets out all of the thoughts that are floating around in your head, therefore allowing you the space to actually think clearly and make decisions.
So I can take this list, for example, and start to examine it to find the best name. Let’s say I decide that I really want the pet obedience school to include all pets, so the first thing I can do is cross off anything that is too cat- or dog-specific. That quickly narrows down my list.
At this point, a favorite may or may not have emerged. If it has, problem solved! If it hasn’t and I just can’t decide between these three options, I could do a couple more things to narrow it down to one.
- I could further the brainstorming into separate lists for each option. For example, take the Royal Academy of Paws & Claws and envision the whole brand- briefly sketching logo designs, pinning color schemes, etc. Do the same branding steps with each name and then see which package is the best overall.
- OR I could channel my inner Peggy Olsen and do some market research. Contact my pet-owner friends and ask them which name they would be most likely to contact and why. Tally the votes and choose a simple majority rules winner.
There are many more options for finding the solution, but I think you get the idea. It seems a little silly to me that I was using this very efficient method for disasters- My car is stolen, now what?- but when it came to something simpler, like a creative project, I was letting my brain kind of shut down and not land on a solution. I think the trick here, whether you thrive in high- or low-stress situations, is to be very conscious about the decision-making process whenever you find yourself feeling stuck.
So, if you are more of a high-stress thinker like me, the next time you find yourself unable to make a decision, try utilizing what I’m calling the “Power of 10″ list method, and pushing yourself to decide on an option that will work. If you are the kind of person who might really panic over how to handle something like a flat tire, the next time that kind of situation comes up, maybe you can be more conscious of trying to calmly go through your list of options and see if that helps you find control.
Are you a high-stress or low-stress problem solver? Have you ever used this brainstorming method? What other problem-solving methods do you use when you are faced with a stressful situation?