Finding the Upside in Any Circumstance—Including a Pandemic

 Finding the Upside in Any Circumstance—Including a Pandemic

Three tips for weathering the storm 

Coronavirus is just the latest, and certainly won’t be the last, global threat to humanity. But have you noticed a certain predictable, highly flawed pattern of response? Hint: It’s pretty much the same pattern of response we see to any impending disaster. 

We humanoids seem to have a distinct craving for shock and awe, even as we feel the anxiety about what it brings for our future. We’re addicted to “Have you heard the latest?!” and “Not only that, but . . .” The constant news fans the flames of dismay and depression. In today’s 24/7 digital news onslaught, it’s easy to get sucked in, pummeled, and overwhelmed by “disaster porn.” 

As developer of the Adversity Quotient (AQ), the most scientifically robust and widely used method for measuring and strengthening human resilience, I’ve seen how leaders overcome crises like the one that began last March. As we continue move forward—and prepare for future crises—here are my top three tips for staying resilient. 

Tip #1: Contain Then Maintain 

When there’s an oil spill, the first response is to lay out the booms to contain and limit the spread. Don’t wait to “see how this all unfolds,” leaving your destiny to that special breed of headline-hungry crisis junky-journalists. 

The moment you get the first wisp of potential disaster, dive in by courageously asking two questions: 

  • What is the worst-case scenario? (Start with a bad scenario and go down multiple levels, deeper and deeper.) 
  • What can I/we do now to minimize the potential downside?  

Here’s a variation on that second question that I use all the time: “If like everyone else, we just wait and watch while this gets worse (and it clearly may), what would we wish we had done now, that we can’t do (as well? as cheaply? as easily?) later, to limit any potential downside to this adversity? 

Tip #2: Maximize the Upside 

When China first got locked down due to coronavirus, I spoke to a colleague there who was in tears—because it was the first time in her memory that the relentless pollution cleared enough for her to see the stars! It may sound irreverent, but even the most serious adversities have a significant potential upside. The bigger the adversity, the bigger the potential upside. 

While acknowledging that you and your employees may be going through very real times of adversity, imagine if you, because of this crisis: 

  • Got more rest 
  • Had more chill time with family/friends 
  • Got to read an actual book 
  • Could focus on some really meaningful, back-burner project 
  • Grabbed the lowest mortgage rate in history 
  • Divorced your devices for a day or two 
  • Play a board game—uninterrupted! 
  • Got to spring clean your closet, priorities, headspace, aspirations 
  • Finally engaged in some focused, long-term strategic thinking, or radically honed your plan 
  • Let an entire day go by without looking at a clock, even once! 
  • Did that special health-fast you’ve been putting off 
  • Got organized 
  • Came up with the killer “the moment this starts improving” upswing plan, for gaining insane momentum when the storm clears!

Those who come out of the storm better and faster will win! 

Tip#3: Step Away 

Sometimes less really is more. And sometimes more is way, way less. So it goes with news and ongoing crisis. You don’t have to track these developments by the micro-second. If you get the smartest, best situational update once a day, that will free up incredible time and energy to put your plan in action. Immediately, upon getting your update, simply pause and ask: “As a result of these new developments, what, if any, adjustments can I make to our plan to help us get through this better, faster, and more completely?” 


I admit it. I’m seriously weird. Adversity energizes me. And if I’ve done my job here, it can energize you, too. Why? Because real adversity is an opportunity for each of us to shed our complacency and mediocrity and rekindle our best selves, when it matters most, and for whoever matters most. 

Paul Stoltz, PhD

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz is Founder and CEO of global research and consulting firm, PEAK Learning, Inc. Voted “One of the Top 10 Most Influential Global Thinkers of our time," Dr. Stoltz coaches, teaches, and collaborates with top leaders, thinkers, and influencers in organizations from start-ups and NGOs to the Fortune 500. He is also the founder of the GRIT Institute and Global Resilience Institute, worldwide research collaboratives for advancing the frontiers of human endeavor. Also a #1 New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Stoltz has served as faculty for MIT’s acclaimed entrepreneurship program, Harvard Business School’s Executive Education and MBA programs.

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