Career Development / Changing Workforce

4 ways to conquer critical moments

Tom Moriarty says be more productive and satisfied by taking responsibility for your circumstances.

By Tom Moriarty

Have you ever been bummed out because you were in a hurry to get somewhere and you got stuck at a traffic light because the car ahead of yours just got through the intersection after driving the past 3 miles under the speed limit?  Did you get mad at the other driver? Or did you think, "If I had left the house just 30 seconds earlier, I wouldn’t be stuck at this traffic light?" This is a very small example of a critical moment. There are many critical moments that combine to help determine your level of personal satisfaction.

A critical moment can be thought of as a triggering event or situation that presents a challenge and requires you to respond. Critical moments can occur when you’re driving or when you're at work – as when you’ve been informed about a major change in your job. Something has become a reality and you will have to respond to it. 

To productively deal with reality, you must recognize that you have choices. The way you choose to respond to a reality will determine how you view others, how you feel about yourself, your motivation level, and your willingness to be engaged and productive. What determines how you will react? That depends on how you set yourself up to deal with realities. 

Reality doesn’t care what we think about it; it just is what it is. We can choose to resist it, or we can accept it. Resisting reality tends to be a response to feeling that we cannot control or influence what is happening. It’s a coping mechanism. Resisting reality is a way of avoiding responsibility for our being in the situation; it’s usually not very productive. 

Embracing reality is a more healthy and productive way to deal with critical moments. To be sure, it takes more effort. You have to be aware of your own role in putting yourself in a given situation. When you take personal responsibility, you are acknowledging that the choices you’ve made over the course of your life have helped put you in the situation to be experiencing the critical moment that you’re in.

There are four big-picture views or general outlooks that inform how people deal with reality:

1. Anxiety – The least productive way to respond to reality is with fear and an avoidance of taking any responsibility for a situation. When you react out of anxiety, it is because you feel powerless and like you have no control. You don’t like what is happening and you’re unable to change it. Life feels like a hassle; you blame others; you drag your feet; and you try to find ways to escape or even lash out at others. This results in very low productivity and personal satisfaction.

2. Compliance –You accept and conform to what is happening. You act as a "good soldier" and do what you are asked to do. You submit to the rules and avoid problems. This is somewhat more productive than the anxiety perspective because you recognize you have some role to play in shaping your circumstances. You do what is needed to keep your job, but you haven't committed. You’re going along to get along; it results in low to medium productivity and personal satisfaction.

3. Achievement – When you react from an achievement outlook, you are productive, goal-oriented, and committed to improve your performance. You take responsibility for circumstances and look to move beyond compliance to obtain importance and meaning through accomplishments. You have high personal satisfaction, and you have significantly more productivity and personal satisfaction than compliance-driven people.

4. Integrity – The most productive outlook is unconditional acceptance of responsibility for your circumstances. You see endless opportunities. You are confident and you like making the right choices for yourself and for others. You thrive; you are more likely to have extremely high levels of productivity and personal satisfaction.

People respond to critical moments consciously or unconsciously. They respond in ways that are based on how they view their circumstances. Whether someone resists reality or accepts it depends on the amount of personal responsibility he or she takes for the circumstance that brought him or her to the critical moment. The key to conquering critical moments is to recognize that you’re in one, take responsibility, and have an outlook that provides the highest productivity and personal satisfaction. Life will be great.