There are countless justifiable ways to respond to a less-than-ideal situation.

We can get angry. We can get anxious. We can get sad or vengeful or solution-oriented.

We can clam up or get loud. We can make a sharp, strident offense our defense. We can reinforce our walls and throw rocks from behind the parapet.

None of these options, or any of the others we might choose, consciously or unconsciously, thoughtfully or reflexively, are inherently wrong or right. They’re all different and they achieve different things.

Some of them achieve results that are internal in nature: they allow us to feel vindicated, they grant us the sweet taste of revenge, they help us feel safe from further harm.

Others fulfill external needs, perhaps bolstering what we might perceive to be our flagging social status, perhaps setting the record straight, perhaps filling in gaps that have been publicly called out.

There’s no absolute right or wrong response, but one heuristic to consider, whatever the specifics of our less-than-ideal situation, is to ask what we hope to achieve and how best to achieve that outcome.

After asking myself this question, I often find that my gut instinct about how best to respond is wrong, or at best incomplete, and another path is far more optimal based on the metrics of success I’ve identified.

There’s something to be said for moving quickly in some such circumstances, but moving fast in the wrong direction isn’t ideal, and thus, taking the time to figure out which is the correct direction and which is not is time well spent: it’s time spent sharpening the axe before you start chopping.

I also find that my initial, gut-granted insight as to what I should hope to achieve in such situations is often off-kilter, directing me to do something that is viscerally or emotionally satisfying, but by all other metrics less prudent than what I eventually decide to do after allowing myself to take the time to think it through with a focus on productive outcomes.

“What do I actually want to accomplish here?” I ask myself. ” And what’s the best way to achieve that outcome?”

It’s a shockingly simple formula that is remarkably difficult to implement in a moment of frazzlement or frustration. But it’s almost always worth the time, effort, and energy to consider.

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