Picture this ordinary scenario: you’re cruising merrily through your day when all of sudden a big unexpected problem pops up on your radar screen. What do you do?

How you respond to a problem situation has a lot to do with the outcome that you get. In problem panic situations most of us don’t have enough presence of mind to be “able to respond” appropriately—in other words, pharm we can’t be responsible. Here are three typical (but not effective!) ways that we respond to problem situations and their natural outcomes:

Take Action!
For those of us who don’t feel comfortable unless we’re doing something, the natural response is to dive in and do something! Unfortunately this doesn’t give us much time think through the situation and plan a response. We end up “doing” as fast as we can—often in completely the wrong direction! Result? Lots of action and not much positive achievement.

Obsess and Complain
The obsessive-compulsive ones among us will start running on the hamster-wheel of worry, complaining all the while. The problem will be on our minds while we work, eat, sleep and have sex (what a time to worry!). And not only will we worry obsessively, we’ll talk compulsively about it too. But we won’t take any action—we’d rather talk and fret. Result? Smoke pouring out of our ears and hot air coming out of our mouths. Not much else!

Ignore It
Finally, there’s the classic ostrich response of ignoring the problem altogether. We think that if we don’t look at the problem it will eventually go away on its own. In fact, we might even try to keep ourselves otherwise occupied with slightly obsessive eating, drinking, or playing. The problem with this response is that we keep peeking at the problem subconsciously so we’re continually aware of it anyway. Result? Possibly some weight gain or hangovers but no progress in solving the problem.

These three responses all share the common characteristic of avoidance. All three responses take us out of the present moment and into action, obsession, or ignorance. The truly odd part is that if we can manage to stay in the present and really look at the problem, we’re liable to find that the problem isn’t as big or nasty as we originally thought.

From a shaman’s perspective, the appropriate response to a potential problem would be:

1. Stop Everything. To prevent initial reactions from blowing the problem out of proportion, the shaman practices what’s called the “cortothalamic pause,” in which she stops all internal thoughts, feelings, and associations so she can take in the present situation without any prior ideas or emotions.

2. Research. Before taking action the shaman uses various tools of divination, such as pendulums or tarot cards, and consults with her guides to research the situation. Although she may be very thorough, this step often takes no more than a few hours.

3. Plan and Take Action. Based on the information she’s gathered, the shaman then makes a plan and takes action. At this point there is no hesitation or doubt. The course has been plotted, contingency plans have been made, and it’s all about moving forward with strength.

While the shaman has many tools and guides available to her, the most important step in the above process is the first one—the Stop. What gets most of us in trouble in that we dive headlong into our usual reaction to any problem situation without taking the time to stop and clear our minds. If we can train ourselves to take a cortothalamic pause when a problem rears its ugly head, we’ll find that solutions are much easier to find and implement. It’s such a simple step and so very effective!