What to do When Things go Wrong, in 15 minutes

businessman checking watch as of being late
by Vance Larson

I want to be explicitly clear. Sometimes the next 15 minutes is what matters most.

I wrote a piece a few days ago called 3 Weeks. I spoke of the importance that many people place on the time between December 25th and January 15th. There is hope in the air and resolutions on the mind. People are generally excited during this time of year. But what happens to those who are not hopeful? They can’t get excited for 3 weeks, let alone 3 hours. Sometimes, all they can do is think about now. So let’s talk for about 15 minutes. 

15 minutes for most everyone is doable. Spending 20 years as a crisis counsellor, my primary function was to get them focused, get them to control their breathing, and make sure that they are safe. In other words, make sure they aren’t in imminent danger, start trauma breathing {in through the nose and out through the mouth} and start laying down steps for an Action Plan. {Do we need to get you to a doctor? Is there someone you need me to call? Do you have a safe place to go to?} From there we could get into very specific actions items. But, for this article, I’m not talking about the 15 minutes after the trauma. I am talking about the 15 minutes after our mini breakdown.

We’ve all had days where we just want to give up.

You, me and everybody else that has a pulse have had them. You woke up late for work. The car wouldn’t start. You spill your coffee on your laptop, and the list goes on and on. Admit it. We’ve all had days where we just want to give up. These are the 15 minutes that I am talking about today. So how do survive? 

When life kicks us in the stomach, our first reaction is to push back. Like we have to power through. Meet force with force. But one thing that I have learned over the course of 20 years of crisis work, and 30 years of meditation, is not to force, but flow. I have spoken about this principle on many occasions. Every major crisis I have experienced in my personal life was made exponentially worse by acting out of immediacy. I cannot think of one scenario that played better by meeting force with force. But had I practised the pause, the damage would have been far less bad.

We cannot pour from an empty cup.

Again we’re not talking about 15 minutes after the crisis. We’re talking when a grey day starts going black. Like when the storm hits. The pause brings peace. I love the saying “If all you did today was breathe, that would be enough.” I embrace this practice in my personal life, and I strongly encourage my clients as well. I think we grossly underestimate to power of not responding. Everyone talks about hustle and work, work, work. This leads me to another favourite saying of mine “We cannot pour from an empty cup.” If there is nothing inside, there is nothing to give.

Learn to breathe after life kicks you in the stomach. There may not be an end in sight. But there is an end. The only thing that we can control, is how we respond to the 15 minutes after the kick. And for me, and what I tell my clients is “If all you did today was breathe. That would be enough.”

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