Last week, the revenue of my website dropped 65%. It’s a train wreck. I have server costs, marketing costs, and a full-time partner to pay. After the initial shock, however, I quickly regained my composure.
I didn’t drop everything and frantically attack the problem, but I took time to gather my thoughts, and it allowed me to recollect myself fast. Then, I was able to brainstorm ideas, make adjustments, and even create fallback plans.
After losing thousands of dollars, I went from “Holy crap, my house is on fire!” to “This sucks, but I’ve got this!” — all in a single day.
Calm in the midst of chaos may look like a character trait, but it is a skill.
You can learn this skill, but it takes emotional labor to do so. In order to form this kind of unshakeable sense of quiet, I practice what I like to call “restful thinking.”
Restful thinking means getting yourself into a calmer, more capable state first.
Instead of giving in to your emotions or spinning in mental circles, you focus on certain thoughts over others so you can then resolve the situation more quickly and efficiently. You make sure you maintain your mental health, then deal with the problem from a point of rationality.
To reach this higher ground of calm and clear-headedness, I jump to certain thoughts in moments of crisis. Here are seven of them you can use to calm yourself down when the going gets tough.
Insomnia: “I can’t sleep, but I can still recover.”
I have spent many a sleepless night in my life. Some because the walls were thin, others because the people were loud, but most because I’m an overthinker who takes forever to fall asleep and not much to wake back up.
For years, I would lie in the dark, cursing all of the above, only getting angrier and grumpier by the minute — minutes I could have spent recovering. Sleep is important, and you should try to figure out how to consistently get the right amount, but there are other forms of recovery, and lying still is one of them.
Even when you can’t sleep, you can still rest. You can keep your eyes closed and steer your thoughts towards calming images. You can choose to not toss and turn, to not grab your phone, to resist the temptation to get up and eat or watch TV.
You won’t always get as much sleep as you want, but you can always try to make the hours you have as restful as possible.
Pressure: “I don’t need to think to exist.”
The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from meditation so far is that, sometimes, it’s okay to just exist. No need to act, move or even think.
It’s a humbling experience to let time pass without doing or thinking, but it also breeds a lot of compassion for yourself and others. Every minute that flies by teaches you that your physical presence in this world is enough.
We don’t consider this, do we? We constantly expect ourselves to be of service, to solve problems, to provide value to others. Those are important tendencies. They can lead to a lot of good in the world. But if we don’t turn them off once in a while, they amount to a crushing pressure to perform.
Forcing yourself to do nothing is a good way to practice humility and non-judgment. “I don’t need to think to exist” is a good reminder when expectations pile up.
Helplessness: “I don’t need the answer right now.”
I’m an entrepreneur. I have three main sources of income. Every week, it feels like one of them is on fire. Something always goes wrong. While sometimes the house does come crashing down, most of the time, it won’t. Eventually, things figure themselves out.
Whenever getting there feels extra stressful, it’s because I feel helpless. When I first discover the problem, I don’t know what to do — and then I panic about not knowing what to do. This second-order anxiety is often worse than whatever worries the original problem might cause if I dealt with it head-on, so I need to remind myself of what really matters — and on what timeline.
Okay, you scratched your car, but do you need to fix it instantly? You got fired, but you don’t need a new job tomorrow. You can’t explain the drop in website traffic, but, chances are, you won’t ever have to. You’ll just need new traffic — eventually.
Problems often feel more urgent than they actually are, especially the important ones. Give yourself time. You don’t need all the answers today. Trust yourself to find one later, and you’ll be calmer and more productive.
Doubt: “If this doesn’t work, what’s the next thing I can try?”
It’s hard to say what’s worse: Not having a solution or doubting the one you have. The way you deal with either is by coming up with fallbacks.
Even if you can’t solve your current challenge, you can still think about how you’d solve one that might follow, and that provides a sense of relief. Backups and fail-safes are like extra straps on a safety harness: Whether you’ll need them or not, it’s comforting to know they’re in place.
You don’t need to map out solutions to all kinds of post-apocalyptic scenarios in great detail. Just briefly consider the different avenues you could take if your existing plans don’t pan out. This way, you’ll have a new crossroads to start from after you hit rock bottom and will spend less time in the helplessness-stage.
Fear: “Who needs you to see this through?”
I’m human: Most of my goals are fueled by selfish motives. However, that doesn’t mean they’re the only motives, nor that they’ll be my strongest motivators.
I can’t think of the last time I wanted something that didn’t involve helping others to get there. This is a wonderful dynamic. It inspires you to become a better person for other people in order to get what you want.
You know that famous line, “If you want a billion dollars, help a billion people”? When you’re on a quest to help everyone you meet, you don’t really have time for fear and paralysis.
Every time you freeze, ask yourself who needs your help. Who depends on you to go on? Who needs you to be honest with them, to try that bold idea, to take the leap you’re scared to make?
Dream up a business for the money, but start it for your family. End the relationship for yourself, but have the break-up talk to set them free. Write because you have something to say, but hit publish because someone needs to hear it.
Emotional pain: “This feels bad, but I don’t have to react right now.”
One quality of emotionally mature people is that they don’t run away when others hurt their feelings. Instead, they sit with the discomfort.
It’s okay to have impulses, to want to scream, take revenge, or act out — but it’s also your responsibility to pause before acting on those impulses. When you wait until you can sort your feelings and assess them clearly, often, you’ll find you don’t need to react to them at all. You can just let go.
Even if you choose to respond, your response will be clearer, more thought out, less hurtful, and likely yield a much better reaction in whoever else is involved. Who knows? The other party might seek to make amends in the meantime.
Wait a day before you send the angry email. Don’t jump into a new project out of desperation. You can get hurt at any time, but you rarely have to counter immediately.
Impostor syndrome: “I love myself.”
It’s only human to spend a large chunk of your time feeling inadequate. Even though we’re one big community, we all feel out of place at times.
You might think you’re not talented or qualified enough to be friends with the professionals you hang out with. You may want to create, share, and be recognized for it but wonder, “Who am I to speak up?” Sometimes, impostor syndrome is as simple and nasty as a flash of, “I don’t deserve this person’s kindness, generosity, and love.”
Often, there is no rational counterargument to these feelings because they weren’t based in reality to begin with. Of course you’re good enough. Right now, you just can’t see it. That’s okay. I want you to say “I love myself” anyway.
You don’t even have to believe it. Not right now, at least. It’s one of those fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of things. Maybe the most important one. No matter how strong your doubts, it’s hard not to smile when you think you love yourself.
Find the courage to have that thought, and you just may find the smile is real.