How to Make Better Decisions when You're Stressed Out

The hunt for people with this talent is increasing.

April 8, 2020

Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

"I don't remember the world being so scared during the H1N1 pandemic", a fellow pharmacist confessed as we were clicking through coronavirus news snippets. And honestly, I couldn't remember either. Maybe it didn't seem so scary then because I was a green grad and I didn't know the consequences of pandemics. Or maybe I was anesthetized to the feeling of surprise because we never knew what illness we'd encounter next.

As we continued to chat, I realized that feeling calm and in control during stressful situations wasn't unique to us. It was true even of the most seasoned pharmacists and doctors I knew. And it's taken me years to figure out how a person develops this skill.

In college, we don't take classes on how to choose who deserves the medicine during a pandemic. We don't learn how to jerry-rig a mask from a rubber band and a piece of cloth. These situations we simply can't prepare for. But it's exactly these situations that teach us a skill far more valuable:

The ability to examine the entire picture, swiftly make a decision, and take action using the tools on hand.

Examine the entire picture, swiftly make a decision, and take action using the tools on hand.

Foolishly, I once believed that to be great at something, you should know all the answers before you're even asked the question. In reality, we live in an unpredictable world. In reality, talent and wisdom are being able to come up with a unique, logical answer out of thin air.

This skill isn't only useful in medicine. It's been years since I've seen a patient face-to-face, but I've used this gem to survive career transitions, reorganizations, economic downturns, and now, as I build my company, Leksi.co.

The hunt for people with this talent is increasing. A recent survey of the biggest and fastest-growing companies in the United States illuminates this.

Talent and wisdom are being able to come up with a unique, logical answer out of thin air.

Now more than ever, having this skill is going to be the glue that keeps careers intact or the catalyst that creates new opportunities.

It takes less work than you'd think to develop this skill. It actually involves 3 activities you already do every day: communicate, learn, and control emotions. But to improve, you'll have to practice these activities in unfamiliar situations.

Yes, it's uncomfortable. But just like exercise, you have to get over the first mile to feel the rush.

Aim to develop these 3 characteristics and you'll be better equipped to handle the curveballs life and work throws at you.

Impeccable communication

When I was in college, everyone had to take a communications class. Everyone, including I, immediately signed up for interpersonal communication to avoid taking a class on public speaking.

Years later, I stood in front of my colleagues at medical rounds. I was anxious, sweaty, and furious at myself for thinking I can go through life without having to speak in public.

Many of us have a degree of this skill already - we've all convinced an employer to hire us, after only half an hour of chitchat. Entrepreneurs use this skill all the time to convince strangers of their brilliant idea and it's billion-dollar worth. Think about the impact of communication when a team looks to their leader to lessen their fears in uncertain times.

In short, having impeccable communications skills is a superpower.

Lifelong learning

Life is a living thing. We have to feed it new knowledge to strengthen its capabilities and adjust to the times.

A mindset that values lifelong learning gives you an edge and makes you relevant in your space.

If my doctor or financial advisor used primarily information they learned in the 70s to fight the health and economic catastrophes of coronavirus today, I would likely be very sick and very broke.

For most of us, we can easily learn to adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner. Choose a topic, any topic, from the internet. It's exploding with free courses and information on how to communicate better, best practices for using digital tools, and how to eat healthily. Not to mention free tutorials on more complicated topics like financial planning, computer programming, and so much more.

I loathed the phrase "continuing education" for years. But I eventually saw the light and realized that I wouldn't go far with outdated knowledge. When times get tough, which seems to be long-lived these days, I rely on the knowledge I've accumulated over the years to help me critically evaluate my next move. It's also a huge confidence boost to believe that I can learn anything.

Emotional awareness

Helping sick people is hard. Building a company is hard. People do all sorts of difficult things every day. But some people seem to do these things, seemingly, without breaking a sweat. So what's their secret?

Those with high emotional awareness don't allow emotions to spend all their energy.

Instead, they have a skill that transforms strong emotions into energy for action. They acknowledge difficult situations, assess their resources and capabilities, and execute on a plan. Often, achieving their goals or completing the task is more important than ruminating or overanalyzing.

These days, reality is drastically changing every 24 hours. But people are not crumbling; many are stepping up and innovating at unprecedented speeds. The skill needed to take such bold actions doesn't develop overnight. Such talent and perseverance are the result of years of continuous learning, communicating, and strong emotional resolve.

I have good news: you can have that skill too.

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