How to Thrive in a Crisis: 7 Effective Habits to Learn

As a kid, my dad occasionally took me fishing in his small, rusty tin boat. Sometimes, in the middle of the lake, he’d put duct tape over a leak to keep the water at bay until we got back to shore. He used to say that boats don’t sink from the water around them. They sink from the water that gets in them.

I’ve drawn on that saying many times, particularly during the stormy seasons of life, when I’ve felt like I might be pulled under by the fear and negativity swirling around me. For instance, back in March of 2020.

The irony was not lost on me that the week my new book was released was the same week my husband was hospitalized for COVID-19 and I was put in a two-week quarantine and my book tour and much of my income stream for 2020 was canceled. Talk about road testing my own advice!

So I kept heeding Dad’s words: “Margie, don’t give what’s going on around you the power to determine what’s going on inside you.”

Of course this is easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. It all boils down to habits, those well-practiced patterns of thought and behavior that have the potential to help us show up as the person we most aspire to be when dark clouds gather overhead. And when we fall (as we all do), habits can help us quickly pick ourselves back up.

How to thrive in a crisis

Here are seven habits that set apart the people who thrive in crisis, able to weather life’s storms and emerge from them better off.

1. Start with who.

I know Simon Sinek said to “start with why,” but sometimes our why can be elusive. In that case, start with who. Take five minutes to write down the traits of the person you want to be right now and the story you want to tell about how you showed up during this turbulent time in your work, family or broader community. When so much is uncertain, look within yourself for the certainty you can’t find elsewhere.

There is a whole lot outside your control right now. I get that. But when you decide to take control of how you show up in the world, you empower yourself to handle everything else better.

I am committed to embodying purpose, gratitude, grace and generosity through this turbulent time. What about you?

2. Practice daily rituals with radical self-discipline.

Resilience isn’t what you have, it’s what you do. In tough times, it’s important to double down on the practices and rituals that help you nourish your best self—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Set your alarm, move your body, eat well, prioritize your schedule, take time to read, stay connected. The small practices you engage in each day can make a profound difference as you navigate uncertain times.

3. Stand guard on your energy to thrive in a crisis.

Emotions are contagious. It’s easy to let the fears of others become your own. So remain diligent in setting firm boundaries to keep the negativity of others out of your emotional field—for example, avoiding certain people or limiting time online. On the flip side, be intentional about staying connected to those people who “fill your cup” rather than drain it.

4. Connect to your spiritual self.  

Albert Einstein once observed: “When you examine the lives of the most influential people who have ever walked among us, you discover one thread that winds through them all. They have been aligned first with their spiritual nature and only then with their physical selves.”

Being grounded in the spiritual dimension of who you are enables you to face your challenges from a place of faith rather than fear. While this may not remove your problems, it changes your relationship and response to them. A 2021 study published in PLOS One found that students who experienced higher levels of spiritual well-being “in the personal and communal, environmental and transcendental domains” also experienced decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

How would you speak, behave, interact, live and lead today if you were operating from faith over fear? Think on the answer, and notice how your outlook, motions, actions and interactions shift. If the change improves your day, even by just a little bit, do the same tomorrow.

5. Look for ways to turn every loss into a win to thrive in a crisis.

I’ve become a whiz at using Zoom this year, and I’m now far better at connecting with virtual audiences. My guess is you’ve had to learn some new ropes, too. The reality is that even the hardest of times hold opportunities for us, if we’re looking for them. However, the problem is that many people are so preoccupied with the doors that are closing that they fail to see the doors waiting to be opened. So look for the wins.

6. Make plans, but use a pencil.

Setting goals may get more difficult during times of crisis, but don’t let disruption keep you from moving forward toward a sense of purpose. Just don’t get too attached to how things should unfold. This pandemic has taught us that plans can unravel in an instant, but it’s also taught us to make the best we can of each day, no matter what curveballs come our way. So set goals and make plans, just with a pencil rather than a pen. As Dad used to say, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape.”

7. Be kind to yourself, particularly when you fail, to thrive in a crisis.

We all falter. We all fall. Even the most evolved among us can fall prey to fear and the baser inclinations of human nature. So when you fall short of the person you most aspire to be, get into the habit of treating yourself the way the most loving person you know would treat you. After all, beating yourself up doesn’t lift you higher, it does just the opposite. 

When you commit to prioritizing what empowers you, you come to realize that you are bigger than any problem you will ever face. Not only that, but those storms you thought were ruining your path forward? They’re really just revealing it.

This article was published in October 2020 and has been updated. Photo by Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Best-selling author and mother of four, Margie Warrell is on a mission to embolden people to live and lead more bravely. Margie’s gained hard-won wisdom on building courage since her childhood in rural Australia. Her insights have also been shaped by her work with trailblazing leaders from Richard Branson to Bill Marriott and organizations from NASA to Google. Founder of Global Courage, host of the Live Brave podcast and advisory board member of Forbes Business School, Margie’s just released her fifth book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself. She’d love to support you at .

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