Stay Grounded / Prioritize Everything

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Today I offer two pieces of advice in this time of increasing intensity. The first is to try and stay grounded. To not panic. The second is to prioritize everything.

Now here's more.

Stay Grounded

There are a lot of reasons to try and stay grounded in this crisis, but one of the biggest is that we make better decisions when we're not panicked. Trauma causes a fight, flight, or freeze response. If we can find other ways to react, we can make better decisions for ourselves and for those around us. For our organizations and families. And so on.

That's not to say that there won't be panic. Or terror. Or fear. Sometimes it's just going to come. Sometimes you have to let it. But the key is to not *stay* in it. I had a full afternoon of terror one day last week. I managed to get myself out of it, and I'm getting better at doing that as this goes on.

Lots of ways to stay grounded. There are about a million resources online for meditations and staying calm and what night. You can hire a coach to help, like me. There are a ton of tools. I have a bunch of free ones on my website for countering fear. I'm trying to remember myself to use them. They're pretty good, and built for exactly this kind of thing. But like anything... tools work better if you use them.

You can also figure out the things that trigger panic and fear, and avoid those if possible. Fully recognizing that no one can avoid a pandemic.

Still... there are some things we can avoid. As much as I hate to admit it, watching the news is one of them for me. I want to catch a certain amount of it. But it's like watching a train wreck. Of society. It's a sign of what's coming, but it's not what's happening right now in my place, and in what I can see out my windows.

One of the tools to stay grounded is to try and work on or focus on the things that are within your sphere of influence, or the very, very small number of things that are within your sphere of control. There is that poem about serenity... recognizing the things that you can influence, accepting those that you can't, and knowing the difference. There's power there. Strength. Peace. Or something like peace.

Prioritize Everything

All of which brings us to priorities.

Priorities are everything in a crisis. People who are professionals at incident management show up at a big disaster... and one of the first things they want to know is what the priorities are. They design absolutely everything they do around the objectives and priorities. For example, you want to put the fire out. That's an objective. You want to do it in a way that protects lives and property, and maybe infrastructure. Those are priorities.

Years ago when I was new to working in disasters full time, I read the Stephen Covey book about the 7 habits he recommended to be effective. Well, that was nice. Not so helpful where I worked, in the busiest interagency disaster coordination center in the world. Everything we did was about making disasters less bad. Responding better. Fast. And while we were working on getting better at the disasters, there was always another disaster. Most of the 7 habits of Stephen Covey's just weren't helpful. However, one emerged: the most important one for me since has been to put first things first.

What I learned is that everything was about priorities. What I was working on every day. What my boss is cared about. What the region cared about. What the different teams I was on cared about... nationally, regionally, and locally. It was my job to distill the priorities out of all of that. Sometimes hourly. I learned that I had to talk with my bosses about the shifting priorities. Sometimes a couple of times a day. Usually at least weekly.

Plus, my job was all about priorities. In a disaster, you want your most critical resources to go to your highest priority places. Which means you need to have the most information you can possibly get, about what those critical resources are, where they are, and what's going on with all of the disasters. Plus, you want to know what's likely to happen. All of that compiled together is the situation, the resources, and the risk.

You make decisions about priorities based on all of that. It might that you want to keep new wildfires from getting bigger and needing even more resources, so you make sure to hold resources to put new fires out. What we're doing right now in this pandemic to flatten the curve is all about that. It's about lessening the incident load at any given moment so we have enough resources to treat a huge number of patients when that happens.

That's a lot of discussion about priorities for disasters, but you can do it where you are, too.

Priorities aren't just about resources and money. They are also about time. They are about where we put our attention.

Priorities are about values.

Clearly in this crisis, we have some major values and priorities conflicts. Definitely a shortage of moral courage by some. Just a complete deficit. There is selfishness, greed, and a hold on power. Those things are true.

At the same time, that there are literally millions of people with their priorities on doing their jobs, saving lives, serving their fellow humans, helping people who are helping other humans, and generally taking care of each other. There are a freaking ton of people with some pretty amazing priorities right now.

It's even more amazing when we recognize that a whole lot of those people focusing on all of that are risking their lives to do it. To do the right thing. To do their jobs, for any of an array of reasons. To care for people. To try and heal people. To feed people. To keep infrastructure running. And you can damn well bet that most anyone doing any of those things now has made a very conscious decision to do so. There are priorities there.

But priorities can be in the smallest things. They don't have to be in all of that. They can just be in where you spend your time over the next few hours.

They can be in what you teach your kids. Who you talk to. What you eat. What you watch. Where you spend money.

I spent some time last year with someone dear to me in a hospice situation. It's difficult to watch from outside, because what I think the priorities would be are very different than what the person chose. But that was their decision. And I watched some very specific priorities unfold. Because where you put your time and energy is where your priorities are. It speaks volumes, when you know your time is limited. It speaks to values. Where we put our very precious, very limited time is at the very core of who we are. I have nothing but the deepest respect for the person I watched last year. I learned more about who they were at their core. As will we all, as this pandemic unfolds.

And here, in this situation, any one of us could face something like that. We don't know.

Priorities - and the values that sometimes go with them - can help define what we do if that kind of a moment happens.

But even if we don't all have to face our own mortality, or that of someone we love, which we might... we do have to face this disaster. It will continue to intensify. Probably for months. If not longer. Lots of crazy stuff will be happening.

Knowing what's important to you will help you make the best decisions in the midst of all of that.

Keeping your wits about you while you're doing it will help, too. Staying grounded.

Find Ways Through

Be well. Be safe. Hold the light. Hold the line. Take care of yourself, and take care of people. It's what we're here for.

We find ways through this together. That's how we get it done.


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This post was originally published on the founder's personal Facebook page here.

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