A few months back, I had an unexpected late-night scare.
It was about 3:18 AM, and I was fast asleep. My wife woke me abruptly, concern in her voice. She had done this to me about an hour earlier to ask if I’d given the dog her medicine, so I was already mildly disturbed. But I didn’t expect what she said next:
“DAVID, THERE’S SOMEONE ON THE ROOF!”
Now, I’m not one for idle speculation. Especially at three in the morning. But I know my role as husband and spouse. I diligently got out of bed and joined her in the kitchen, to listen for a noise I was already convinced was probably just the wind.
After 60 seconds, still nothing. I started off back to bed… until I HEARD IT.
Footsteps from above. Slow, deliberate, and not all at once.
Alarmed, I ran across the hall and grabbed my flashlight. I grabbed a jacket to brace against the rainstorm and dashed out the door to see what was going on. It was pitch black and the rain was starting to pound on the pavement. The nearby motion lights didn’t help much, but I could hear tearing noises against the roof and the sound of metal scraping. After a few LONG minutes, I could slowly make out the identity of our midnight invader:
I was livid. I did NOT need this right now. But since I could see what looked like torn insulation scattered across the roof, I felt certain that this couldn’t wait until morning. The rain kept pouring and our intruder showed no signs of being in a hurry to leave. This HAD to be dealt with.
Now, in afterthought, this had all the elements of a BAD decision:
- It was dark and 3:00 AM at night
- It was pouring down rain
- I wasn’t thinking straight
Naturally, I did what any impulsive, illogical person would do in these circumstances: Me, in a jacket and soaked in the rain, climbing the roof to chase off a raccoon, armed only with a flashlight and a wiffle bat.
My wife tried to persuade me to wait until morning, but I wasn’t having any of it. I grabbed what turned out to be the wrong ladder and climbed up to the roof. What ensued over the next few minutes is unclear even to the best of my recollection. It involved a lot of running on a wet roof, gesturing wildly with a wiffle bat, and making loud, threatening noises.
Our friend the raccoon weighed his options more thoughtfully than I, likely calculating the odds of survival against a human armed with a wiffle bat versus the odds of my slipping off the roof. He promptly scattered to a nearby tree to observe the likely logical outcome while I surveyed the damage….
… Which turned out to be a beehive. Pulled out from under one of the metal vents on our roof and scattered in pieces. My mind began to clear. The roof looked intact, and I couldn’t find any more damage. I headed back to the end of the roof, and…
Where was the ladder?
Little did I realize that not only had I chosen the wrong (short) ladder, in my haste to get up on the roof I had knocked the ladder away. It was cold and wet. And the rain showed no signs of letting up.
The raccoon, now on a neighboring roof, glared at me. Was that triumph in his eyes? I didn’t care. I called out to my wife to find the ladder and secure it to the side of the roof. What, this was the wrong ladder? Wait for her to retrieve the extended ladder from the shed. More cold, more rain.
Finally, once I was safely on the ground, I calculated some of the risks I had taken:
- It was a stressful event
- I didn’t want to pause and think
- I had wanted to solve this problem RIGHT NOW
Unintentionally, I had met all the criteria for making an impulsive choice. Which meant that because of my haste, I had left myself (realistically) only three choices:
- Fix the problem if it’s fixable
- Make it worse (my ultimate choice)
- Survive the impulse to make it worse
I SHOULD have chosen option number 3.
Fixing it right then was POSSIBLE, but INSANE at the face of it. Me, on a slippery roof, impulsively swinging a wiffle bat in the rain. There went option 1.
When we biological life forms lead with our emotions, our bodies are often are overwhelmed with chemicals that put us into CRISIS MODE: Adrenaline. Cortisol. Norepinephrine. One of the side-effects of these chemicals is that we start thinking fuzzy. Unfortunately, when our thinking is fuzzy, we don’t REALIZE that our thinking is fuzzy. It’s a catch-22.
And I fell right into it.
These same choices are before us every day when we’re confronted with a sudden and unexpected crisis:
- We experience a stressful event or traumatic moment
- It’s a short term situation
- We want it resolved NOW
This is the bona-fide definition of a CRISIS. Check off all three items, and you can say with a fair degree of certainty that you’re in a crisis.
There are three main rules for surviving a crisis. The first rule is, if you’re in a crisis and you can solve the problem now, SOLVE IT. The second rule is that you can always MAKE IT WORSE. The third is that if you can’t solve the problem, SURVIVE IT. We call this, “what’s behind door #1”:
- Behind Door #1: Solve the problem if you can solve it
- Behind Door #2: Make things worse
- Behind Door #3: Survive the event
So remember: If you’ve got a problem you can’t solve (raccoon) and you don’t want to survive the event (disruption in the middle of the raining night), your only move left is to make it worse (climb the roof, wiffle bat in hand).
So, the next time you’re in a similar situation where you just want to ACT and NOT THINK, pause for a moment and recall the harrowing tale of David, the wiffle bat and the raccoon.
It might get you some actual mileage.