We can all think critically, until the situation is critical

May 31, 2023 | Jarrod Saxton

Group of business workers screaming to stressed partner at the office.

Can you separate what is happening right now from a problem you expect to arise in the future?

I invite you to critique some of the statements below and ask yourself, are the below associations always accurate 100% of the time?

– My car broke down on the way to my appointment, so I will be late.

– I didn’t get into a prestigious university, so I will have fewer opportunities in life.

– I missed one day of building a new habit or diet, so I am unable to be consistent.

– I didn’t get the promotion, so my career will stagnate.

Let’s take the first one. 

If someone’s car breaks down on the way to an appointment, will they always be late, without question? 

Probably not. Depending on how much time they have until their appointment and how far away they are, there might still be plenty of time to come up with a solution.

They might be able to get a taxi in time.

They might be able to walk there.

There might happen to be a mechanic around the corner. 

Fight or Flight

Now, it’s easy to question these associations and come up with reasons why they are not valid when you are relaxing behind a computer screen, removed from the situation. We all have some capacity to think critically and identify gaps in thinking when we are not under pressure.

However, in the heat of the moment, we unconsciously make many associations between an unexpected or undesired event and what it will mean for us in the future. This is because when we are in the thick of it, we will often be in a state of panic and urgency or feeling regret or disappointment. Our stress and worry will increase, and our ability to think clearly about the situation will be hindered. It is as if we have already accepted that this bad thing has happened when it hasn’t.

I like to compare it to the typical horror movie, where the frightened protagonist tries to put the key in the ignition to start the car and escape. Something so simple, but their trembling hand cannot perform the task in their state of fear and panic.

So even though we are more than capable of questioning these associations in a relaxed setting, we never think to do it in the heat of the moment. 

Thinking fluency

I decided to write about this after a recent experience running a mentor session for one of our courses. 

The other morning I had a power cut. That meant no WIFI for the call I was meant to be having with clients. There were only 15 minutes before the call was supposed to happen.

Instead of panicking I was excited about using this as a teaching opportunity on my session. I knew I was going to make the call – I’ve had too many experiences now where I have seemed to overcome difficult situations using the BBIT tools, and this situation was no different.

I approached the situation calmly, almost playfully, which helped me think of a few different ideas.

I thought about going to a nearby café and using their WIFI, but I didn’t want to run the session with music in the background and families talking over brunch; it would be too distracting.

Then I thought, “Well, I’m not going to a café to enjoy their food, perhaps I could search on Google for cafes with a one-star rating and go there. No, it would most likely take too long to find the right place.”

I checked my phone to see how much time I had before I had to act – and that triggered the now-obvious solution. “I will just use data on my phone and hotspot to my laptop. The phone battery is 62%, and the laptop is 100% charged. Easy.”

The solution felt fast, and if I had been in a state of panic, I might have rushed off searching for a café.

There was now 12 minutes to go, I had already solved my problem. As I was sitting there waiting for the session to start I thought, “What else am I assuming about this power cut? Well, I usually have a coffee with me, but the jug needs the power to boil. How else can I boil water? I know, on the gas stove. I will go over to see if the stove will light up.”

As I turn the knob on the stovetop, I see we have gas but no spark to light it. “Where else can I get fire? Do we have any lighters around? Yes, we do. I found it.” I lit the stove with the lighter. I then put just enough water in the pot for a cup of coffee to boil faster, and within a few minutes, I had hot water for my coffee.

With 5 minutes to go, I sat back down in front of my computer, during the middle of a power cut, about to run a mentor session with clients, coffee in hand, and I just thought to myself, this is awesome.

If I had stressed out, my ability to identify solutions would have been limited, and I would have (probably) missed the call. So I approached the situation calmly, almost playfully, which helped me think of a few different ideas.

What this means for you

One of the biggest payoffs for our clients who continue to practice the BBIT tools is that breaking associations becomes habitual to them. They can rest assured knowing they will think this way no matter how stressed they are or how urgent the situation is.

This is a benefit of continued tool use that isn’t obvious in your day-to-day. Still, it shines through in those high-pressure, make-or-break situations where how you think and process information matters most.

So remember, when you are in the heat of the moment, to stop and think about your situation and get clear about the associations you are making so that you can challenge them. The more you make a habit out of thinking this way, the more likely you are to think this way in times of great need.

If you want the opportunity to drill and ingrain some excellent thought processes, so they can help you respond appropriately when you need it most, the best place to start would be our Thinking Foundations course. Sign up now before the next unexpected event happens!