Never Waste a Good Crisis

Most people won’t change course until something traumatic happens that gets their attention. Maybe it’s the loss of a job or a marriage. Sometimes it’s a health crisis. It happened to me.

An Emergency Room Sign - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #522737

Photo courtesy of ©

Several years ago, I was in New York City on business. I was having a relaxing dinner with one of my colleagues. Suddenly, as we were finishing our meal, I started to have chest pains.

Initially, I tried to ignore them. But then I began quietly to panic. I felt that the room was closing in on me. I sat there for probably five to ten minutes, debating what I should do next.

Finally, I overcame my embarrassment and blurted out, “I think I may be having a heart attack!”

My friend immediately took control. He paid our bill, hailed a cab, and got me to St. Vincent’s Hospital, which happened to be the one closest to our restaurant.

After some preliminary tests, the doctor said, “All of your vitals look fine. You are not having heart problems. But, just to be safe, we’d like to keep you overnight.”

Then they strapped me to a biometric bed and let me rest. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

The next morning, the doctor came in and said, “I’m not sure what happened last night, but your heart seems fine. I suggest that you go to your primary care physician when you get back to Nashville and follow-up on this.”

My regular doctor didn’t find any problems either. Nevertheless, I ended up in the hospital twice more over the next year, thinking each time that I was having a heart attack. No one could find anything. I even saw a counselor, wondering if perhaps I was experiencing stressed-induced panic attacks.

Finally, in desperation—and thinking I might be going crazy—I made an appointment with a renowned cardiologist here in Nashville. He had saved the life of one of our authors, who raved about him.

The cardiologist ran me through a battery of tests and then called me back into his office. “Mike, your heart is fine. In fact, it is in great shape. Your problem is two-fold: acid reflux, probably as a result of a small hiatal hernia, and stress.”

He continued, “about 30% of my patients who think they are having heart problems have an acid reflux problem. The symptoms are very similar. Fortunately, it is easy to treat.”

He then warned, “Stress is also something you need to address, primarily through rest and exercise. If you don’t make this a priority, you could be back in here with a real heart problem.”

That got my attention. It was a great reminder that I needed to be more intentional about the health account in my life plan.

Because of the demands of work, I had let it slide. I wasn’t working out regularly, resting as much as I should, or eating very well. But suddenly, I was motivated!

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for a health crisis—or any other crisis—to motivate you to live your life more intentionally. Instead, why not avoid the crisis (to the extent you can) and plan ahead? This is what life planning is all about.

Here are a couple of questions to get you focused?

  • If you suddenly had a heart attack, what would you wish you had done to avoid it?
  • If your spouse suddenly announced that he or she wanted a divorce, what would you wish you had done to avoid it?
  • If you suddenly discovered your child was on drugs, what would you wish you had done to avoid it?
  • If your boss announced that you were being terminated, what would you wish you had done to avoid it?

Most of us intuitively know the answer to these questions. Crises don’t usually happen suddenly. Instead, they are the result of hundreds of choices we make daily that eventually culminate in a crisis.

The key is to see trouble coming and avoid it (see Proverbs 22:3). A life plan is one tool for doing so. It won’t make you bullet proof, but it will help you avoid a lot of self-inflicted pain.

Question: In what area of your life do you need to become more intentional and thus avoid a crisis before it happens? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Dave Hearn

    I think of it like defensive driving — we need to be “defensive living” — be ready and prepared for multiple situations and outcomes… 

    • Daren Sirbough

      Well you know what they say. The best Defense is a good Offense.

      • Dave Hearn

        What do you mean by that?  

        • Daren Sirbough

          The fact that you’re prepared for multiple situations and outcomes whether good or bad puts you in the “Offense” of life instead of reacting to the good/bad things that tend to be the way of everyday living.

  • Craig Jarrow

    Great thoughts, Michael.

    Reminds me of my Navy days… the military has a system called “preventative maintenance.”

    All machinery gets regular “preventative maintenance” to ensure that it is kept in top shape. Conditions are examined and parts repaired before a “crisis” occurs.

    The same is true of our lives. We need to take care of ourselves before we hit an emergency. Whether it is our health, our jobs, or relationships.


    • Michael Hyatt

      Perfect metaphor. Thanks!

    • Abby Janis

      Love this! It’s vital to take care of ourselves before we wait til sickness, disease just happens to us when actually 95% of cancer, heart disease and diabetes are lifestyle enduced! Our bodies already have these genes for cancer, heart disease and diabetes but it’s a choice to turn them on or off. God made our bodies amazing, we need to get to the real cause of the problem!

  • Joe Abraham

    After reading this post, I am analyzing multiple areas of my life where I got to work in order to avoid crisis. Thanks for the powerful reminder!

  • Chris Patton

    I think you can take this a step further and learn from someone else’s crisis as well.

    My parents divorced with almost no warning when I was a senior in high school.  We had grown up in the church and they were the last couple I would have imagined would divorce.  I was shocked to see how easy it could happen – they just grew apart.

    Fortunately, I was old enough to see a clear picture of the various causes and I determined I would not face the same fate.  

    I am not the perfect husband by any stretch, but I am intentional about “investing” in my marriage and prioritizing time with my wife over work, hobbies, and even our children, if necessary.  Again, I still struggle, but I have taken my parents’ crisis and used it as a motivator to do differently.

    So far, so good!  Seventeen years this past weekend!

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s a really good point, Chris. “Don’t waste someone else’s crisis!”

      • Eleanor Pierce

        I love this addition.

        A friend of mine has recently been having a lot of trouble with her mother, who is in denial about her declining health. She posted on Facebook something to the effect of, “please remember how your choices affect your family as you age. Not all decisions are your own.” It really got me thinking … and now that I’ve seen this post, too … well, I really feel like I’m hearing the message!

      • Anonymous

        My grandmother was passionate about this.  If she saw someone in the community do well, she would hold them up as an example to emulate.  If she saw someone mess up, she used it as a teaching moment.  She would talk a lot about the small decisions over time that led to either “sudden” success or failure.

        Wish I’d listened more…

    • TCAvey

      Congrats and good job!

  • chris vonada

    good post Michael!

    I think the most important thing we can do is keeping a healthy balance in life, centered on God and His word.

    • TCAvey

       I agree!

  • Eric S. Mueller

    Mike, I know this isn’t the main point to your post, but I liked your comment about letting it slide, followed by the examples. That’s something I struggle with. A problem that is a result of long term neglect suddenly can’t be denied anymore, and I want it fixed immediately. Then I get discouraged when I can’t. I didn’t develop a weight problem overnight, and expecting it to go away in the short term is silly, but I’ve struggled with the discouragement that it won’t for a long time. When I was finally able to see it as a long term process, I took your advice to use Lose-it. When I keep up with it, I can see the “little wins”, and that helps a lot.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Excellent. That’s the great thing about weight-loss—at least you have some way to measure progress. For me , that is important. It gets trickier in other areas that aren’t so measurable.

  • Fran Carona

    In my work with couples, especially in the area of affair recovery, I talk to them about doing marriage intentionally.  Otherwise, that drift that you described earlier this week sets in.  Couples find themselves leading separate lives without even realizing how they got there.

  • John Richardson

    I can really relate to your chest pains episode. I had similar experiences back when I was forty and in a high stress service manager job. What I ended up doing, when the HMO couldn’t find anything, was to have a Body Scan. When I did the first one in the mid nineties, the technology was rather crude, but it showed clearly that my heart was in good shape and that the chance of having a heart attack was very low. I had another one at 50, and the technology was much better. It showed a 3d view of my heart and gave me peace-of-mind, that there was no plaque build up. 

    A full body scan is usually in the $400 range and not covered by insurance. It can give you a clear view of any minor problems that can be acted on before they become a major crisis. I’m sure I’ll probably have another one at 60. The peace of mind is well worth the charge.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I did the same, John. It was helpful, primarily because it gave me peace of mind.

  • Amandaherrold

    Great post!!!!

  • Cynthia Herron

    I so appreciate your transparency here. By sharing examples from your own life, you continually grow us.

    Presently, I need to concentrate on getting more sleep. I’m not overweight, don’t smoke, and I eat healthy. But getting enough rest? That’s a bit more difficult because life seems so busy right now. Thank you for giving me pause for thought today!

    So thankful that the Lord intervened in your situation!

  • Jamie Clarke Chavez

    This all sounded so familiar. I developed GERD while working for your company (!), but before I finally went to the doc I told my coworkers I was having a heart attack. :) You were probably prescribed Prevacid or Prilosec (both OTC now) as I was but I offer this in case you haven’t been able to regulate it yet. Even while taking drugs there were many things I couldn’t eat, but once I started taking simple probiotics, my life changed. My preference is always for a holistic solution, rather than resorting to drugs. Sometimes dairy causes GERD flareups so until it’s under control, yogurt, sweet acidophilus, etc aren’t necessarily a good solution, although once you normalize digestion they should work fine. My sympathies!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I have been on Protonix and have no issues since then. Thanks!

  • Lautsbaugh

    Great questions to ask ourselves about the truly important things – health, marriage, family, and ministry or career. Can you make this a daily reminder? :) Reminds me of Billy Graham’s biography where he says his only regret was being away from his family so much. At the end of your life, what will really matter?

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s precisely the perspective to view this stuff—the end of your life looking back.

  • Tom

    Your questions hit me hard. Since I kind of have a “going away from” personality these “avoidance”questions are powerful for me. What would I do to avoid living a life not well served? What do I do to avoid not using my gifts? What would I do to avoid not fulfilling God’s call on my life? Wow, I see I have some work to do and first is to intentionally make a list of avoidance questions as a major part of my life plan. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Rob Sorbo

    The hardest part (for me at least) is motivation. Sure, I know that my hefty weight will be bad for me when I get into my 30s, 40s, and older, but it’s hard to be motivated about it now.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You might want to make a list in answer to the question, “What’s at stake?”

  • Susan Gaddis

    Great article @MichaelHyatt on planning ahead for the unexpected in life

  • treydarbonne

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Mike. Your post is a timely reminder for me in this season of my life.

  • LindaS

    Great reminders Michael!  We must intentionally make the choices we want for our life or by default we have allowed others to make those choices for us.

  • Gbmoneymatters

    Great thought provoking questions Michael. Everyone should lead a life of purpose.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Russ Pond

    Thank you, Michael, for a great article! I can relate to your story. One day while driving to a job, my heart started pounding and racing. The world was closing in and I thought I was dying. I learned later that it was stressed induced panic attacks. Like you, I had to make some life adjustments.

    Today, I run an online ministry for people struggling with anxiety, fear and panic attacks called “Season of Peace” –

    Stress and anxiety are so prevalent today in our culture. I hear story after story after story of people struggling to find balance in their lives.  Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the link to your site. I’m glad to know you are out there.

    • Jeff Randleman

      I think that this is so needed.  Thanks for doing this!

  • Gayle Veitenheimer

    I can relate. I’m coming off a cancer scare. Thankfully, everything was fine. The struggle now is to find the new normal, to have balance without legalism, and to truly live without living not to die. I appreciate your words today.

  • Carolyndyck

    Thank you Michael for the pertinent ‘heads up’.  I have suffered from the same thing & it is a wake up call, truly.
    At the moment, my life has relational issues & they HAVE to be resolved – no ifs, ands or buts.  They consume too much of my thought life & I need to let them go.

    Thank you again for the comments.

  • Tobby

    I’m having chest pains after reading this weeks posts!!
    I am beginning to realize I have drifted from my dreams to the point where I don’t really know what they are anymore. How do you rediscover your passion? How do you know THIS is what God intended for me to do? When do you know it’s God talking to you not ego?
    I appreciate the posts and the way they are making me look at myself. Thank’s Michael!

    • Larry Galley

      Tobby, you might consider getting in touch with Jeff Caliguire.  I definitely think he could be of help.  He can be reached at  jeff.caliguire@convergencepointbiz . 

      God Bless,
      Larry Galley

  • Victor Dumitriu

    Great reminder, Michael. So many times we care about everything else around us, but we neglect ourselves. 

  • Shannon

    I have found your theme for the week to be very thought
    provoking. For today’s topic, I can answer your questions fairly clearly. I am now eight months post-cancer treatment. The type of cancer I was treated for has a high likelihood of coming back at some time.

    I have been thinking about your posts from Monday and Tuesday. I don’t know if this is the right place to post my thoughts. I know I am drifting and am having difficulty finding the focus to
    move forward. Life circumstances over the past two years have been challenging
    and have made me realize what is important. Now I wonder if these challenges
    are a part of His plan.


    I have wanted to change careers for several years and have
    not been able to make the transition. (I can make plenty of excuses and I am
    not a big risk taker.) Looking back I can see that I needed to stay where I was
    for the sake of my family. Career wise, I am trying to be content where I am
    even though I don’t think it is the right place for me. 


    I am looking for perspective from others. How you have discovered what your passion is. And, in today’s economic environment, how do you find the balance
    to follow what you want to do with the needs of your family.

  • Melindatodd

    Great questions. Mine revolves around my health and a few personal areas. I wonder if our lack of care for ourselves has something to do with our American society. We like instant gratification and maybe as much as we like instant drama to motivate us.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • Kay Wilson

    This is good post to remind us we are not super humans, I have several customers who suffered from acid reflux, thought it was heart attack also, relieved to hear not as serious as a heart attack and now controlled without tums or rolaids.  ;)

  • Bonnie House

    I need to do things at a slower pace. Be organzied and be firm once I have made a decision.

  • Larry Galley

    Michael, thanks for the nudge.  I’ve had my life plan in the “Ought to” basket.”  Shoulda, coulda and woulda are  sad and unnecessary laments.

    Larry Galley

  • davinabrewer

    Like @TimeManagementNinja:disqus Navy example, I think of Disney World always shutting down attractions to update and refurb, make sure everything works. Also about the ‘sudden’ nature of a crisis; yes disasters happen and we can be blindsided, but at the same time .. there’s that planning thing. We had fire drills in grade school, when you live in hurricane country you’re told to pack that ‘what if’ bag of documents and essentials. We can and should prepare yet often, don’t take the time and blow it off; thanks for the reminder to look ahead. FWIW.

  • Constance A. Buckley

    As a writer, I need to submit articles and book proposals when the time comes, instead of stashing them in a filing cabinet. I need to read Scriptures about God being for me, then who can be against me? Not that I think editors are against me, I’ve met some wonderful folks at writers conferences. I need to get past any fears, decide it’s the best it’s going to be, and mail it out. That would be a healthy response to all the work I’ve been doing. :)
    I promised my husband I would send out a query letter and three devotionals this week. I just posted the query and it didn’t hurt at all!
    Tomorrow it’s the devos’ turn. 

  • Monte King

    Thanks Mike, always a good word.  I find that most people I talk to tend to only be able to focus on one or two areas of life at a time, at least very well, and then other areas tend to deteriorate.  Any tips on balancing?  

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think the key is having a written life plan and reviewing it frequently. It ensure that you have visibility of every aspect of your life and consider how your doing in those areas that you might tend to overlook.

  • Spencer McDonald

    My deal in life is similar to flipping and flopping around like a carp out of water.One day I have an idea. The next my idea shifts and I start down that road. Then the next day I am back on idea number one. It is hectic living inside my jumbled up head. It is insane.I know where my passion lies and what I should be doing. The hardest part is convincing myself of my worth to follow through on that real passion. Even with solid plan and steps forward I resist the notion that I am good enough to own my own life and outcome. I struggle daily to remain on course.Drifting here and there is robbing my time. This is time I can never rescue or get a mulligan on. More and more I think about living my life all the way to the end and screaming, “Wait, I never did what I was here to do!” I can literally feel the frustration that creates in my mind now and how much I will be letting myself down at that moment in between life and death. I have lived and never given… that will be a tragedy.It is time to bring my crisis into today because tomorrow may be the day I face the thin line between life and death and need to own up to my regrets.

  • James Pinnick

    I need to be more intentional on what I want out of the next 24-36 months. I need to focus more on me and less on situations that are not helping me get where I want to be. Intentional Thinking!

    Author-The Last Seven Pages

  • Mherr1026

    I need to re-evaluate how I perform as a supervisor. I recently was enlightened to the fact that my staff don’t trust me; feel threatened by me; and think that I don’t care. I can see that I haven’t been communicating as well as I thought I was; showing as much empathy as I had intended and lost the overall confidence in my staff. It was an insidious process that I didn’t realize had reached the level that it appears to have reached.

  • Ngina Otiende

    Great article Michael, as always. 

    I had a bad case of acid reflux induced by stress a couple of months ago, a flare-up after many years. The stressful season has however passed and am back on normal diet without medication

    I think sometimes, we really do learn things by hindsight :). We don’t have to, but sometimes that’s the only way that the Lesson will stick. Right now, I see how I could have stressed less about the situation but back then, I could not see any other out but carry the burden beyond endurable limits 

    Nevertheless and as I continue to be changed by Him,  I now see how not to allow things to escalate to certain points.

    Thank you for the reminder once again

  • Denise Green

    Thanks for sharing your story. I coincidentally posted today about my own near crisis and the importance of facing the thing that scares us (before it eats us). Hope you enjoy it.

    I’ve also been meaning to tell you that as a result of your post about the iphone, you saved me hours I would have spent cleaning up duplicate contacts and events. The cost of the contact cleanup app you mentioned is now only $.99!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Really great metaphor in your blog post. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Reut

    What a great post…it’s truly amazing how we don’t make changes until it’s too late. As I read this I remembered running into a statistic that A 2001 HRIQ worldwide
    survey found that 81% of professionals admitted saying “yes” to organizational
    change projects, but then failed to take any action to support the needed
    change. I know the numbers are equally high with people who actually went through a heart attack and did not change their life style as a result.It is interesting to learn about implicit memory vs. explicit memory in this context and a good read about it is Joseph LeDoux’s book: Synaptic Self.Thanks!

  • Nikole Hahn

    A human trait–ignoring all the little choices we made leading up to the crisis. Then, America’s new culture hit: blame it on someone else.  Great blog.

  • StephanieB

    Hmm… I think I could prepare more for my departure from active duty service two years from now. I could get closer to finishing my degree, and make more concrete plans to develop some business ideas.

  • Christopher Annan

    I need to exercise. I just retired from the Ghana Public Service on reaching the compulsory retirement age of sixty last August. People have started saying I look good which means I ‘m growing fat (that’s what most people refer to in Ghana).

  • Chris Jeub

    Mike, I missed seeing you at DCW primarily because I, too, had been rushed to the hospital with chest pains a week prior. Similar prognosis: my heart was in great shape, but I had been hit with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, from a virus.

    Scary stuff, makes you sit up straight. I’m recovering now. I resonate with your thoughts: PLANNING. I’m doing much of that right now, reorganizing priorities, setting things into place. It’s good for the heart.

    Thanks for posting this…it is very timely for me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am glad you are okay! Blessings.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    I think I should be more intentional in the area of physical fitness  in my life to avoid a crisis before it happens.

  • Gmpresley

    You are right. Hindsight is always 20/20

  • Louise Thaxton

    I thank God (literally) that I developed a Life Plan through the coaching of Building Champions and Tim Enoch several years ago – and Tim keeps me on track, constantly directing me BACK to my life plan – and not on the next “shiny object”.  Thanks for a great post and a reminder to us all that life is short – get a plan. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Tim is a great guy. I was just with him at another conference a few weeks ago.

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  • Elizabeth Arbogast

    I need to be real with myself about what I really want and to express my true self.

  • Jeff Randleman

    Easy.  Eating healthy and exercise.  That’s always been my tough one.

    Implemented into my life plan, but struggling to make it work right now…

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  • Juan

    I would want to focus even more on my health, I run 3-4 days week, but I want to run 6 or 7 a week around 5 miles daily, but more importantly I want to change my food intake habits and lower my stress level. 

  • Brian B Baker

    I need to do more stuff with my wife. We always spend time with us and the kids, but we hardly get time for us. 

    We have two small kids, 3 and 8 and finding time for us is the hardest. I’ve done better in the last six months, but I know I should be doing more. I also need to spend more time focusing on spirituality, something on my plan for 2013.

    I haven’t had a crisis in a while, but I want to prevent it before anything comes up. Great post, thanks Michael.

  • Erica s.

    Thanks!!! Love this!! It is so true! Hope people listen & Really take this to heart.

  • Brigitte Cutshall

    Great Post. It also shows that it’s important to listen to your body and keep pushing for the cause. I was having weird symptoms for almost a year, aches and pains all over, headaches.  Turned out I had a benign 2cm tumor in my head pushing on my stem. First few doctors just wanted to give me strong pain pills, one said I was depressed!?  Glad I didn’t listen and kept looking for an answer.

  • Brigitte Cutshall

    I meant to say brain stem. 

  • Scott Ross

    This is good stuff.  To me it’s all about living with the end in mind.  If we were to approach every day as if it were our last, for most of us, every area of our life would like different.

  • Cos Davis

    Michael, the point you make about crises being the result of a series of poor choices is a good one. While we can’t avoid all crises, especially those brought on by the reckless actions of others, we can be proactive in those areas in which we have some choice. The late Steven Covey had much to say about this in Seven habits of Highly Effective People. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in intentional living.

  • Abe S.

    Yep, been there on the divorce side.

    Having a coach is something that helps to keep that balance and awareness in our lives.

  • Claire McCarthy

    So true! When my daughter died and my 10 year marriage disintegrated, the outcome was a profound understanding of crisis and tragedy. I became a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist – because while those events were tragedies, as I saw it, the real tragedy would have been not sharing them to help others.