3 Ways to Stay Focused During Times of Crisis


Current events, controversies, crises, a global pandemic—it all weighs on us. And the daily cocktail of uncertainty taxes our cognitive abilities to the point of exhaustion.

With everything going on, it’s important to remember that we can choose how we respond to uncertainty. What’s more we can respond in such a way as to remain effective, despite the headwinds.

Accordingly, we’ve compiled three of our most insightful and important reads to help you and your team remain focused and resilient.

Manage Your Mindset

While 2020 has hardly been a predictable year, our brains react to threat in predictable ways.

Research has shown that our brains—and, in turn, bodies—react to perceived threats according to their legitimacy and immediacy. For example, consider the difference between seeing a hurricane warning on the news, and seeing the hurricane out your window. The more threat we experience, the fewer resources we have to commit to actually thinking.

Knowing this, there are practical measures to manage our mindset in order to remain alert, yet focused. At NLI, we call these measures buffers. Buffers are anchored in the science of social threat and reward, an area of research defined in NLI’s SCARF Model®. Buffers can help us mitigate threats and manage our mindset day to day.

To explore the science of threat more fully, and understand what you can do to mitigate it, check out our recent blog post.

Be Optimistic and Realistic

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership, like that exhibited by Vice Admiral James Stockdale when he spent seven years as a prisoner of war in one of North Vietnam’s most brutal camps during the Vietnam war.

His mindset and leadership style, later popularized by Jim Collins in Good to Great, demanded striking a paradoxical balance between realism and optimism; acknowledging the peril of the circumstances while maintaining the belief that things will get better.

This mindset allowed Stockdale to take steps to make his, and other people’s, situations a little better, by taking steps to reduce the overall pain of the experience, often in subtle ways.

Read more about Stockdale’s extraordinary story, and how you can develop his adaptive mindset in our blog post or our article in ATD.

Honor Your Cognitive Capacity

We all can only do so much. Just as a sponge can only soak up so much water, and a computer can only process so much information, our brains have finite holding power.

Research from NLI can help organizations understand these limits of our mind—a concept known as cognitive capacity—and work within them for successful problem-solving, optimal learning, and effective communication.

Designing your people strategies around this core science can alleviate the demand on people’s brains, while maximizing their efficiency and avoiding burnout.

To dive deeper into the science of cognitive capacity, check out our recent blog post on the science of cognitive capacity, or this post with helpful tips to manage your own.

Things are moving fast, and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. Use these strategies to adapt your brain, your team, and your organization to the new normal.


Authors: Cliff David , Dr. David Rock


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