Hardship and loss have a way of adjusting one’s focus when it comes to what really matters. Sometimes life presents you with challenges that require all that you have to give—and sometimes way more than that. At least it can sure seem that way.tranquilsunset

If you’ve ever faced a true housing or job crisis with a family under your wing, or cared for a seriously infirm loved one, or been in a major car accident, or survived through any of life’s other true crisis experiences, then you’ve probably experienced that key uncomfortable moment: the feeling of total helplessness, of having come to a place where things are literally beyond what you can handle. Beyond your comprehension, or beyond your power to fix or help…I’m talking waaaay outside the comfort zone. Where life puffs up as big as it can and gets right up in your grill, with a big ‘ol mean smirk on its stupid face, just daring you to buckle and quit.

Tough times is what I’m talking about. The proverbial “trials and tribulations” of life. I’m not a statistician, but I’m pretty sure that unless one is especially blessed or very wealthy and lucky, the average adult is going to have X number of seriously F-ed up situations to deal with in his or her life. (Where X is a number between 1 and “count your blessings”.)

So what do you when there’s nothing you can do? How do you operate when circumstances render you helpless? How do you plan when you have no idea what will happen next?

As dedicated readers of these e-pages know, I recently got my butt whooped a bit by Ma Nature, in the form of a huge tree falling through my roof. And in my last column, when I wasn’t busy eliciting pity and compassion, I talked about how I resolved—in the very first shock-enhazed moments of that snowy morning—to accept that I had lost control, and to not freak out no matter what.

At the time I made that resolution, I literally had no idea what I was going to be doing a day later, or even a half-hour later. I hadn’t managed to get more than two feet away from my bed yet, I had no idea where my cat was in all the rubble…I still hadn’t even seen exactly what had happened!

I had never dealt with anything exactly like that situation—like I said, I didn’t even fully know what the situation was at first—but I had gotten through a lot of things that shared crisis elements with it in the past. Enough to know, as I mentioned in my previous column, that I absolutely needed to keep my cool if I wanted to be able to play the cards that had been dealt to me in the best way possible.

Without any conscious intention, I ended up following a few main guidelines in my efforts to stay sane, to keep my pets and I safe and sound, and to get through the whole experience with a minimum of disruption and damage. As it turns out, most of them can also be applied in some way to situations that aren’t full-fledged disasters—and even situations that aren’t disasters at all, but just kinda suck. (In other words, many of life’s events.)

Whether your car breaks down in a back-country no-cell-service area, or nature pours tree branches and sleet through your ceiling—or even if you’re just getting pounded by so many phone calls and emails that you’re about to explode…any time life pulls the rug out from under you and leaves you scrambling to recover, these tough tips gleaned from tough times might help you stay focused so you can make sure you’ve got your back.

Stop thinking that you have the right to an expectation of comfort
Immediately stop worrying about things like dirt, and cold, and wetness…just stop whining about comfort. This follows immediately from accepting the fact that, at least for the moment, you have lost control of things. At least in the earliest parts of a crisis, expecting to have the creature comforts you’re used to is just going to end up annoying you. You can’t have those things—you have more important things that have to come first—and so just forget about it for the time being. Deal.

You’ll save yourself (and anyone around you) a headache, and you’ll work harder to make things right faster. In any crappy situation, easing up on the whining always helps.

Protect yourself from the elements
Start with the basics – find or create a sheltered area. Keep the people, the food, and the blankets safe and dry. Then add layers of protection. You’ve seen LOST, or Cast-Away, or Robinson Crusoe…we’re talking about the fundamentals of survival in a wild and/or unknown landscape here. Go “caveman” at first, then build your way back to civilization from there.

Obviously, most crises don’t leave you literally exposed to the elements and needing to create shelter. But they can definitely leave you feeling exposed and needing security. Same difference, as the kids in grade school used to say.

Burn anything that doesn’t move
You didn’t think I was going to make you freeze forever, did you? You may not have had firewood (or even a fireplace) before, but if you’re in a multi-day disaster—or even a mid-day mini-crisis—you probably have more resources available than you thought you did. To paraphrase an old saying, one man’s collapsed roof rafter is another man’s firewood. (Except I’m both men in that scenario.)

When the chips are down, a quick gut check will help you set new standards on what’s valuable and important to you. (Hint: taking care of the essentials and living are much more important than material things and anything you aren’t really using.)

Figure out your weaknesses, and prioritize your repairs to increase your strength
When there’s three feet of snow and no access to a store or electricity, your choices about what to do when start counting for a lot more. When nighttime and darkness are coming on strong, you need to be dialed in. So focus, make a list, and get the essentials covered in time. Once they’re covered, spend some time battening down the hatches and stocking up, until you start to feel like you’re in a position of strength again.

This rule really can be applied to all challenging situations, whether critical or not. And the more you exercise those muscles, the more you’ll be on top of things when you really need to be. Stronger people can lift more weight. That applies to figurative weight too!

Go to alternative forms of utilities
There are a surprising number of alternatives available when the switch-based utilities are gone. This includes candles for light and heat, car batteries for electricity, snow for refrigeration, fire (and the outdoor grill) for cooking, and so on. Disaster can set you back, bit there’s no need to let it set you back to the stone age.

Beyond the realm of actual disaster, we modern types have all sorts of other “utilities” we rely on, like computers, the Internet, smart phones, etc. And it’s all too easy to feel debilitated when one of those things breaks down or gets lost or won’t connect. But there are alternative ways to do almost all the important things in life. In other words, if you use your imagination, you can probably find some way to satisfy your Angry Birds fix even if your iPhone’s in the shop. (Thinking more practically: why not print out your address book onto actual paper every now and then? Crisis You will thank you later.)

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Make a list of items you need, and if you see anybody that might be able to help you get them, let them know. So simple, yet so easy to forget to do. And equally easy to shy away from…but do not shy! That’s an order. Ask for what you need. At the very least, it’s a good way to meet your neighbors!

Note: I didn’t say anything about a crisis for this one (though it helped me immensely during my looong weekend with the tree). This is another rule that applies just as well when things are going fine. You still need help then, too! (No offense.)

Now, you’re most likely not going to print this out and carry it with you as a crisis (and life) survival guide, like you probably should. I understand that. You’re a risk-taker, a renegade. You need to go your own way. You’re wild! You’re frisky! You’re—well, you get the idea. (Or maybe you’re just low on toner.)

But I think that there is a take-away notion that you can put in your back pocket for later, which is that crisis situations, whether large or small, provide an opportunity to focus, get stronger, and perform at your best. And if there’s room in that pocket for two thoughts: don’t forget that those same powers of focus, strength, and high performance are available to you all the time, whether there’s a crisis or not.

Lance Brown can be found at http://lancebrown.org. Archives of his column can be found here.

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Photo credit:
Tranquil Sunset by amandabanana87