When things start to feel impossible, take action!

Six simple steps to taking back control by taking positive action

Stuff happens when you're building a company.

❌ The star of our show tragically died whilst we were in production for a major US network.
❌ A trusted employee stole so much money from our company, we had to lay people off to survive.
❌ Our biggest-ever TV series was cancelled just before delivery.
❌ We faced running out of cash shortly after we got our first major documentary commissioned.
❌ Our content servers became deeply corrupted when we were at our busiest.

For thirty years I was determined to make my mark, to deliver something really impressive.

That meant taking on multiple tough challenges, all at once.

As you’d expect, lots of things went wrong.  Sometimes, it felt like everything was going badly.

And that is when I would start to feel desperate.

Disappointment is the feeling you get when things turn out differently from the outcome you were hoping for.

If you get disappointed again and again in short succession, you can develop a sense of negative momentum.

That can take you into a downward spiral, which is an emotional response rather than a factual one.

A few times during my life, I've felt that things couldn’t be fixed, that I was doomed to failure. I was a regular passenger on the downward-spiral helter-skelter.

And now I've learned that with practice, it's possible to quickly reverse that feeling.

In fact, as a wise stoic once said:

The obstacle is the way

The antidote to fear is to take positive action.

Taking positive action when you feel scared or stressed is the best way to improve your situation.   It helps you regain a sense of control.

It reminds you that you have agency.

It signals to others that you’re willing to dig in and fight.

And it focuses you on what is possible, rather than what is impossible.

I have found taking swift, positive action a really powerful tonic when facing some really challenging moments.

It just makes me feel a lot better!

Here's my six-step plan for taking positive action:

  1. Accept you’re in the situation you find yourself in.

It is what it is. It's important to figure out exactly what is happening.  Write it down factually and objectively. Get comfortable with the reality of what is happening, and remember, it is unlikely to feel this bad forever. Breathe, and take a moment to centre yourself.

2. Identify what your best likely short term outcome is.

What's the best realistic result that you could deliver quickly? Is there a simple move you can make which will start to positively address the situation? A call you can make? A decision that you can take? Do you have some options to work through? If so, write them down. Figure out what your most confident self would do to improve the situation.

3. Decide on your best options.

Try to go for those that you know you can achieve without outside help. Here are a few examples:

- Calling an unhappy client to discuss next steps
- Cancelling projects that aren't showing promise
- Speaking to the bank manager when cash is running low
- Removing unsuccessful people from roles
- Admitting shortcomings and apologising for negative actions
- Calling in expert help

4. Sense check your plans with someone you trust

When things feel scary, our minds play tricks on us.  We slip into fight-or-flight mode at times of stress.  Therefore, explaining your issue and your potential next steps to somebody who isn't going through it offers valuable external perspective.

5. Implement the best action that is within your control

Suck in a big, deep breath. Harness your courage, and carefully take action.  It may well be less of a big deal than you thought.  And even if it does trigger further challenges, at least you will be moving things forwards.

6. Learn and adapt for the future.

If you're not winning, you're learning. Most of the best lessons we receive in life feel really tough in the moment.  But they are so very valuable if used wisely.  

Making it through your toughest moments means you will grow as a person, and as a professional. Remember, you've made it through 100% of your toughest days so far.

And just keeping going during a crisis can be enough. Sometimes, it's OK to step back and get some help too.

Addressing your big problem might even turn out to be something that you use to change things for the better.

Phil Knight discusses this in his excellent autobiography Shoe Dog. He explains how the Nike sweatshop scandal forced his company to address issues around worker conditions.

A lot of people talk about grit being the number one personality trait amongst successful people.  But what does grit actually mean? For me, it’s the ability to keep moving forwards, despite challenging conditions.

And that really comes down to being brave enough to consistently take action.

Often, it’s about separating your emotional response from the physical reality.

If you can observe how you’re feeling, and focus on taking positive action despite the fear, you'll likely get somewhere near to your best possible outcome.

None of these suggestions will be a fix-all.

They all require courage, determination and drive.

But taking action will definitely help you feel like you're regaining a positive trajectory.

If you are feeling worried about your own wellbeing, you should also speak with your doctor, or with the Samaritans

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Sam Barcroft

Sam Barcroft

Creative entrepreneur and strategist with over 30 years experience of building media businesses
Herefordshire