Sometimes there isn’t time for careful deliberation. The clock is ticking, and a decision must be made. But when stress levels rise, the quality of our thinking often declines, resulting in poor decisions. We’re too stressed to think straight, let alone do something.
We’ve all faced high-stress moments such as these, but few of us face them as regularly—or with as much on the line—as Navy SEAL leaders in battle. That’s why SEAL combat leaders have a straightforward strategy for problem solving under pressure.
It’s called “Prioritize and Execute,” and it works like this—step back from the firing line…make a quick assessment of your situation…identify your highest priority problem…develop a solution to this problem…communicate it to your team…focus your efforts on this priority…and then and only then worry about other priorities.
Unfortunately, even this seemingly simple plan can be difficult to put into practice under pressure. I mentored a young platoon commander who froze up when he had to make decisions in combat. So for him I wrote an even more basic version of Prioritize and Execute in Sharpie on the window of the man’s Humvee: “1. Relax. 2. Look around. 3. Make a call.”
Armed with these instructions, the young officer performed admirably. I watched as the man took a deep breath to relax, turned his head from side to side to see and understand what was unfolding on the battlefield, then give an order.
Sound simplistic? It should—when we’re under great pressure, simple instructions often are the only ones we can process. So next time you’re faced with a stressful situation, take a deep breath to relax. Then calmly assess the situation and make your call.