Don’t Choose Panic When You Can Choose Calm
Trying his salad, the man yells: “Oh my god!” Five feet away, a woman goes: “Oh my god! That man just said, ‘Oh my god!’” That’s how panic spreads.
We don’t hear the muffled “This is the best salad I’ve ever had” that follows. We just hear a noise and create more noise because of it. We fill in the blanks, and we fill them with horror scenarios. The news taught us how.
A few months ago, I was waiting for the subway. A drunk man walked around the platform, trying to start conversations. He seemed misunderstood. Irritated. Angry. He was looking for a fight. Of course, everyone walked away.
Eventually, he sat next to me on the bench. I was on my phone. He kept mumbling. Then, with one loud roar, he smashed his beer bottle on the floor right in front of us. Splash! Beer runs down the train tracks, broken glass everywhere.
To my own surprise, I didn’t flinch. I just kept texting. The world was still turning. Maybe, he noticed it too. Maybe, he was disappointed at the lack of engagement. Either way, a few minutes later, he left the station in peace.
There’s a difference between panicking and being alert. Alertness is about realizing a situation’s gravity. Is it serious? Urgent? Important? If so, calmly assess the important factors at hand, consider what actions and resources you have access to right now, then make a decision. None of this requires throwing your arms up, running around, or yelling “Oh my god!”
Panic floods your body with cortisol and adrenaline. It’s a physical response to a physical threat. When’s the last time you had to literally run away? Panic ups your stress level, not your problem-solving capabilities. It creates energy that is doomed to dissipate into thin air from the start. Lots of movement, no progress.
Calmness is the opposite, and it leads to the opposite outcome: Sometimes, there’s lots of progress without any movement at all. Calmness is about thinking. Focusing. Acting with clarity, direction, and, therefore, force.
You stop. You zoom out. You mark the important pillars of the situation. Then, you zone in as you draw those pillars with you — until your will is sharp like an arrow, aimed at one goal — the only possible outcome — relentlessly zipping towards it.
Calm isn’t hard to find, but it requires discipline. Don’t trade your peace of mind for every loud noise. When your ears perk up, pause. Do you really need to investigate this? Can you really infer anything from what that person just said? What if you scroll right past this headline? Often, the only consequence is that your mind is quieter — and that’s a good thing.
Breathe. The world will keep hurling stones your way. Breathing is how you deflect them. They’re stones made of information, information designed to poke you — because your frenzy is how the hurler makes a profit. Don’t sell your emotions. Use them for good. Collect them. Curate them. Cherish them.
No matter how raging the storm, we can decide where to stand in it. Will we pick the calm eye or get carried away? From inside is how we shush the tornado, how we soothe the beast.
We can do a lot of good with our minds on firm ground. We can even offer sure footing to others. Don’t choose panic when you can choose calm. You’ll rarely be mistaken.