Stay Calm to Make Better Decisions


You’re going to perform better in the next hectic situation at work, if you stay calm and clear headed. Yet creating more inner peace is hard to do. I’ll go over a handful of approaches that you can use that will help you stay at ease. But first, let’s look at why it’s important to stay calm.


Cluttered Mind

When you’re assailed by a barrage of distractions it makes your mind cluttered and clumsy. On the other hand, you’ll employ more reasoned thinking by creating a sense of calm in your head. Don’t know what I mean? Do a quick mental experiment. First, recall two or three times when you were very harried at work or at home and you had to make correct responses to complex problems. Then, recall two or three times when you were calm, at rest, and had to handle complex problems. In your experiment, weren’t you better at making decisions when you were calm and free from bothersome distractions? Keep your mind clear and calm, and you’ll process information with more efficiency.


The How-To

Here are five approaches to use during stressful moments when you want to come-up with effective work solutions:

·      Reduce external noise. If you can manage the right amount of visual and audio distractions in your environment, then you’ll be able to hear yourself think better and keep your eyes more trained on the task. There are some people who prefer background ambient noise, because it helps them concentrate. Others, however, need absolute quiet. Consider moving your work station to the right place to optimize the amount of noise. I know people who wear headphones while they work, because it prevents the intrusion of unwanted noise and signals colleagues to not bother them. If there’s too much visual noise, then look for a place that gives you blinders on either side to enhance your perception of being in a tunnel. Also, my hunch is that if you can maintain sufficient focus on an interesting task, then you’ll create your own tunnel vision without the need of physical props.  

·      Take a break. Any student who is successful at studying will tell you that taking regular breaks from work is key to improving performance. Play around with periods of sustained work. See for how long you can work before feeling fatigued, falling into an unhelpful pattern of circular thinking, or becoming frustrated. Then, experiment with breaks from work that consist of different periods of time and various activities. Figure out the work – break formula that functions best for you.

·      Re-focus using stimulation. An effect of becoming stressed and besieged by distractions is to lose focus on the task at hand. The loss of focus can result from having fragmented thoughts, circular thinking, and frustration. But, an interesting thing happens when you give yourself some reasonable amount of physiological stimulation. The physical sensation will snap you out of your mental fog by immediately focusing your mental sight toward the physical sensation. And then you can reset your thinking back onto task.

Here’s a step-by-step:

  1. While seated at your desk, use your hand to grasp a metal object (e.g., side of chair, ballpoint pen, leg of desk).

  2. Focus on the cool sensation of the metal on your warmer skin.

  3. Concentrate on the gradual change in perceived temperature of the metal object as the temperature sensation approaches equilibrium with your skin temperature.

·      Practice proper breathing. Admittedly, mindfulness breathing has become something of a trope. Yet careful and practiced breathing is, in fact, very helpful in calming down your central nervous system. The result is an immediate sense of peace in your mind. It’s not a magic bullet, but it takes the edge off of your amount of stress.

Here’s a step-by-step:

  1. While seated, plant your feet firmly on the ground.

  2. Sit with good posture.

  3. Rest one hand on your abdomen.

  4. Now, focus on breathing with normal sized breaths. Don’t worry about deep breathing. Inhale through your nose and make sure that the air goes into your belly region. Your hand rests on your abdomen so that you can make sure that your stomach distends with air.

  5. Then, exhale via your mouth, while feeling your stomach flatten like an inflated beach ball that is being decompressed.

  6. Repeat several times or more.

  7. One last thing. Practice with your eyes open. If you close your eyes, your co-workers might think that you’re sleeping and the breathing exercise might actually induce unwanted sleep.

·      Chunk. It’s easy to become frustrated with a task, if you don’t know where to start or if it seems like you’re not making any headway. Chunking is a simple way to alleviate those problems. To chunk, break-up a complex tasks into multiple, manageable pieces. Chip away piece by piece. You’re bound to make objective progress and get the subjective feeling of success (with the side benefits of increasing how good you feel about yourself and how much you believe you can do). Another way to think about chunking is to make the distinction between goals and objectives. Goals are overall targets and are usually somewhat vague. In relationship to goals, objectives are specific, quantifiable, and measurable targets that lead to goals. So, your goal might be to complete some complex project, but the objectives are the chunks.


I just offered five different ways to create more calmness in your mind so that you can set the stage to use more reasonable thinking in addressing your decisions. Those five approaches are: reducing external noise, taking a break, re-focusing by using stimulation, practicing proper breathing, and chunking. There are plenty of other ways to stay calm, but I think that starting with only a handful ideas is a good place to start.

Remember: No one can make effective decisions, if their minds are a mess.


Matthew Siegel, Ph.D. is an executive coach. He is the founder of Matthew Siegel Consulting LLC. He fosters active learning through collaborative and temporary relationships in which enhanced self-awareness and skill lead to desired behavior change. Connect with Matt: