How to stay calm and cool in a crazy uncertain world

In the hit TV show Breaking Bad, Gus Fring is a drug lord and one of the most prominent meth distributors in the southwestern United States. At one point, Gus is brought in for questioning by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He doesn’t know why until they start asking him about his connection with the murder of Gale (who they don’t know was his former employee). Watching the scene and knowing Gus is sitting there right under the nose of his enemy is nerve-wracking. And yet you can’t tell from his expression or his response whether he’s surprised, nervous or angry: He is the epitome of calm and collected.

You may not be dealing with angry cartel members or rogue chemistry teachers, but I’m guessing your life provides its own brand of uncertainty and volatility. Whether you’re an executive in a Fortune 500 company dealing with global strategies or a start-up entrepreneur calculating whether you can make next month’s payroll, the key to staying in – and winning — the game is how quickly you recover from the unexpected.

Sports psychologist Don Green says: “The ability to move on – to put a poor judgment, a wrong answer, a weak moment, a physical lapse, behind you instantly – is the thing that makes winners out of the merely talented.”

You can’t change the up-and-down nature of life, but you can change its impact on you. What it takes is mastering your psychology so you’re able to think clearly and take decisive action under pressure.

Let’s start with your current M.O. when things go awry. Do you panic and freeze, blow up at your team, do nothing — but feel nauseous?

Whatever you’re doing, it’s because you’ve trained yourself to react that way. And you’ve been reacting that way so reflexively for so long that you may not even realize there are alternative ways to behave that might serve you better. But once you become aware of what you’re doing, you can train yourself to practice different reactions and attitudes — here’s how:


Yes, skip the part where you see what happened as good or bad, fair or unfair, wanted or unwanted. Skip the “I can’t believe it” or “This sucks!” We judge because we think we KNOW what should happen and what’s best for us – it’s normal but not actually necessary or useful.

Okay, you may not be able to skip the judgment entirely. You can, however, train yourself to shorten the time between “what happened” and “accepting what happened.”


Maybe you know this story:

“An old Chinese farmer had a mare. One day, his horse ran away into the mountains. All the neighbors scurried over saying, “This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see, it’s too soon to tell.”

A few days later, his horse came back, bringing with her a wild stallion. Once again, all the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, ““It’s too soon to tell.” One day, while the man’s only son was training the stallion, it kicked him and broke his leg. All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “It’s too soon to tell.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken leg prevented him from being drafted. All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The old man simply said, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Our lives ebb and flow in just the same way. And yet, we want so much to know how things are going to work out that we try to control circumstances when, in fact, we never even have to decide whether something is to our advantage or not.

As the old man said: “How do you know if this is a blessing or not? Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of one phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?”

As a first step, start to notice the extent you want to pronounce something as good or bad and see if you can train yourself to be okay — just for now — with not knowing.


Thanks to our evolutionary ancestors, we’re conditioned to look for what went wrong, why something won’t work. And, typically, we spend too much time focused on the problem: justifying why something should or shouldn’t have happened, how it happened, whose fault it was, explaining why it’s not ours.

But as Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. The longer you focus on a problem, the more you delay relief. An array of potential solutions are waiting for you but you need to shift your consciousness — your focus — to have access to them.

The training is simple (though not easy). Take the hit and ask: “Okay, now what? What’s one thing we can do to improve this situation?”


You didn’t train your current behaviors overnight so be patient with yourself — it takes vigilance to change what’s automatic. Practice with less important things – mastering your reaction when you just missed the train or a colleague doesn’t have the information you need. With each instance, you’ll train yourself to master your reactions and develop a calm composure that will give Gus Fring a run for his money.