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Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Grace under pressure is a gift. Those who can stay poised under adverse circumstances have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They widen the lens, get perspective, and fend off the body’s efforts to move into fight-flight-freeze mode. They can be thoughtful and decisive when it matters most. Sometimes, however, the crisis is bigger than even the most mature adult in the room.

When life gets disrupted by a traumatic event, a calm state of mind can disable the ability to act with urgency. Our bodies move into fight-flight-freeze for a reason. Health and safety become paramount. Zooming out lessens the stress that gives us our fuel to perform.

It’s a delicate balance. Not enough stress subtracts from engagement, while too much stress causes anxiety or even a total meltdown. Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Both detached calm and intense focus are valuable in a crisis and there’s an ideal time for both. Knowing when to narrow or widen the lens is the key. Zoom in when all other input must be blocked out in order to attend to the top priority on the triage list. Zoom out when you need to see the bigger picture and develop a strategy.

Families need both skill sets every day. It doesn’t require a trauma for our grace or our focus to get activated. It simply takes a diagnostic appraisal of the challenge, followed by a decision about which self to bring to the moment. Engagement or distance? Zoom in or zoom out?

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

You Have Issues

You Have Issues

This might be tough to hear, but you have issues. It’s okay, though. We all do.

Our issues arise from our imperfect, very human, histories. Sometimes they come from singular events and traumas. Sometimes they build slowly over decades or they’re based in generational trends. They can be on the edge of our awareness or hidden in our blind spot. In any case, we carry them into every meaningful relationship in our lives.

Here are some things to roll around in your mind next time you find your issues floating to the surface:

  • Can you name them? You probably have at least a vague sense of the emotional trap doors that become activated in you on a regular basis. If you haven’t already, bring that fuzzy sense into sharper focus. Put some definition on your patterns.
  • Are they predictable? Our issues are triggered in the context of the historical events and relationships where they began. Recognizing their origins puts you in a better position to know when they’ll emerge so you can prepare for their impact. 
  • How are they impacting your family? That’s one of the hardest questions any of us face. The answer comes from allowing difficult observations to seep in. Consider how you might be making relationships harder and what you are teaching the next generation in the process.
  • How are you working on them? Chipping away at our issues is a lifelong project. Change has a way of slipping backwards. Continual progress only comes from being vulnerable, staying open-minded and moving knowledge into action – again and again. Learn, plan, execute, assess, repeat.
  • What happens when you work on your issues, but other people in your circle don’t? You can only do what you can do. Here’s the thing about families, though – the people in them tend to influence each other in powerful ways. Resolving to stay on an upward trend will create ripple effects, with you at the steady center.
  • What would it be like if they were resolved? Issues don’t form by accident – they serve functions. Letting go of them would result in the loss of the secondary gains they provide (escape, avoidance, etc.). But through making the unconscious conscious, you can turn them into strong footholds for your growth.

Our issues are what make us human. Striving toward simple understanding of them goes a long way to lessen their magnitude. At our best, our issues lend us genuine compassion and empathy for others – a sense of humble humanity that wouldn’t be possible without them.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinical Director at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Is it nature or nurture? Poise during the final seconds of an expiring clock in a sports contest often separates winners from losers. Hitting the high note in a solo during an orchestra performance in front of a packed house distinguishes the virtuoso from the amateur. Making the tough decision at the head of the leadership table usually differentiates the effective chief executive from the ineffective stuffed shirt.

Are these leaders born with such composure under pressure or are these learned behaviors? It’s probably a little of both. So, assuming the gift of nature – the lucky wiring handed down from generations of genetics – is part of the package, where does the nurture – the learned ability to remain graceful when it counts most – come from?

Let’s look at the three most likely sources.


The acquisition of coping skills happens when situations require us to adapt. A child learning to ride a bicycle discovers balance just as the bike begins to topple over. If the kid’s dad never lets go of the seat permitting the bicycle to tip, his son or daughter never knows to compensate to the left when the bike falls to the right. This is the beauty of struggle – it forces the need for problem solving.


Most athletes and musicians know what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Parents and business leaders find the zone, as well. The zone is the perfect blend of stress and performance that makes competency look effortless. This is a skill set that can be taught and practiced. It’s basic psychophysiology. Learn the early warning signs your body communicates under stress and employ any of a variety of relaxation techniques to reboot your focus.


Managing change effectively builds resiliency. While instinct may clamor to avoid change at all costs, saying goodbye to the old while saying hello to the new is a reliable problem-solving method. Everything cycles if you don’t waste energy getting stuck. As quickly as you can finish trumpeting how awful a change is, get committed to the task of figuring out what to do about it.

Some people are born to keep their cool when the heat is on. They get a small head-start in the leadership race. The rest of us find a way to channel the people and events of our lives into a moment of clarity when our teammates aren’t sure what to do in a crisis. Were you born to lead with calm or will your poise need to be learned?

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.