Photo by Philip Warp

What to do when you are too panicked to think clearly.

You are one decision away only from a different life. Your choice can affect a lot of things—creating a butterfly effect. That is why it is human nature to avoid making bad decisions. But, when you are under pressure, you often do not have the time to examine your options. So, below are some tips on making the right decisions, even under pressure.

Making The Right Decisions Under Pressure

Humans are not great at making intelligent decisions under pressure, whether trying to put out a fire at work or deciding which coat to buy when a dinner reservation is in seven minutes. As soon as something puts a person off-kilter, his common sense goes flying out the window, replaced by his hardwired “fight or flight” response. It has helped humanity survive life-threatening situations throughout history, but it also keeps them from making thoughtful choices that consider the consequences beyond the immediate moment.

Luckily, as people in high-stakes jobs like firefighters and ER doctors already know, it is possible to train yourself to make better decisions under pressure. Here’s how.

Keep Yourself Calm. When you are under pressure, your body releases stress hormones. While it can be positive, it can also cause adverse physiological and mental reactions. Your heart will pound, and you can feel anxious, scared, angry, or sad. And, as the experts say, emotions are so powerful that they can influence your thoughts, behaviors, and decisions. So, when under pressure, you need to keep yourself calm to make sure that you make the right decisions.

Breathe. When you panic, you short-circuit your brain. Your heart rate amps up, your blood pressure rises, and adrenaline floods your system. That is why it is important to pause before taking action. Controlling your breath will help you regulate your body’s response and regain clarity. While shallow “chest breathing” can keep your body in a state of stress, taking slow, deep breaths can help you calm down. When you are feeling it, do some breathing exercises. 

Carefully examine the situation. Despite the urgency, thoroughly inspect your circumstances. Knowledge is power. The better you can decide when you know more. You want to know the big picture and everything that will affect it. With those, you can now think clearer, evaluate the options available to you better, and make the right decision. Also, when under pressure, you have the additional challenge of making the right decision at the right time. 

Limit your options. Many big-box supermarkets offer rows and rows of every type of cereal, almond butter, and canned corn imaginable. It sounds great in theory, but psychologists and marketing experts have realized that having a dizzying number of options makes consumers stressed out and miserable, a phenomenon called the paradox of choice. To prevent it, some markets are now removing options to help people have a calmer experience. When you are trying to decide under pressure, what you need to do is purposefully limit yourself and your options. Give yourself a time cutoff. The enforced parameters will keep you from spiraling into indecision and second-guessing your choices.

Panic plan. The difference between winners and losers is not the desire to win but the desire to prepare to win. It is impossible to plan for every crisis, of course, but exposing yourself to mild doses of controlled stress can help you get ready for a worst-case scenario if it occurs. Think of it as a stress vaccine. When you control the circumstances in which you experience stress, you can train yourself to react in a constructive, positive way. 

Closing Remarks

Decisions are a considerable part of your daily life. And it can go from simple things such as deciding what to eat during breakfast to life-changing ones. And with uncertainty always there, you don’t know when you’ll need to decide under pressure. With the tips above, you can make the right ones.

Also, try getting a copy of DeWald’s book on decision Making under fire. The story is about the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Division serving in the Republic of South Vietnam from 1967-1970. The story is derived from operation reports, battle scenes, magazine articles, interviews, and experience incurred in battle conditions. The book describes the events and shows how unselfish and brave the unit responded to overcome enemy advances. It also shows the difficulties of decision-making under fire. The pressures of battle forced quick decisions and movements. Each man earned their grey feather, which was a symbol of each being brave in adverse conditions. They all watch each other’s back and ensure that all hostilities are met honorably and with force.

Share This
Skip to content