“Don’t Panic”

“Keep Calm and Carry On”

Are these two pieces of advice equivalent? No. If “Keep Calm and Carry On” is your mantra, you are more likely to maintain your equilibrium in turbulent times, such as the current coronavirus crisis.


First, “Keep Calm and Carry On” tells you what to do, rather than what not to do. The advice “don’t panic” doesn’t point you in any specific direction. What should you do instead of panicking? Get angry? Deny or ignore the threats? Ask for a bailout?

Negative advice is minimally helpful. The advice to “eat less” doesn’t help many people to lose weight. The challenge is to figure out how to eat less. Positive advice such as, “Eat only during an 8-10 hour window,” or “Keep a food diary,” or “Plan your meals,” is much more likely to help you lose weight.

Second, “Keep Calm and Carry On” appropriately addresses your feelings.

You do not have direct control over your feelings. If you own stocks, you will feel some panic when the stock market drops by a third. If you hear that you are at high risk for dying from Covid-19, you will feel some panic. If your employer cuts your hours/salary by a third, you will feel some panic. It is no help to say, “Don’t Panic.”

It would be a bit more helpful to say, “Don’t Feed Your Panic.” You don’t control your emotions directly, but you do control them indirectly. If you obsess over everything that could go wrong, you will feed the panic. You’ll put yourself into an overwrought state, from which it’s difficult to take constructive action.

I am not suggesting you ignore the panic. On the contrary. Feelings are alerts, signaling threats and opportunities. If you feel panic, you need to take a breath, examine the facts, and identify the threats you face. You need to get clear on what’s under your control and what’s not, so you can make an intelligent decision about your next steps.

You do this, so that you can figure out how to gain your values in the situation — how to gain positives. You look at the threats so that you understand the terrain, then you map your way to your goal.

I like to use a golf course analogy for this point. The threats on a golf course are the sand traps and water traps and the rough. Rather than obsessing over them, you simply plan your shots to avoid them. You stay focused on getting your ball in the hole.

If you do get stuck in a trap, it matters what you focus on. If you obsess over how awful it is that you landed in the sand, guess what? You’re likely to muff the next shot.

In contrast, if you keep calm with the intent to carry on taking positive action toward getting that ball in that hole, your next steps are clear. You size up the situation, use an appropriate club, and aim to get your ball to the green from where you are.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you adopt “Keep Calm and Carry On” as a mantra per se, though feel free to do so if you find it useful.

Rather, my purpose is to show that your morale in turbulent times like these depends on you. It depends on how you choose to deal with existential threats. By all means, take threats seriously, but treat them as leads to facts to consider, as you keep your focus on your goals. The focus on goals will get you through.

For example, I am extremely concerned about the economic situation, as well as the risk of the virus to my loved ones. But as I write this, I am in a calm, focused, positive state. I took stock of the full situation and concluded that my long-term interest is served by creating more value for my customers and potential customers, right now. I’m deliberately choosing timely topics to write about for this newsletter. I’m adding extra sessions to the Thinking Lab, to support my members. I’m reaching out to my corporate clients to see if I can support them with virtual programs. I’m working on my book. By focusing on how to pursue my top goals in these changed circumstances, I am able to maintain my equilibrium and my productivity during these turbulent times.

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