A few months ago, our world was turned upside down as we had to rapidly adapt to a “new normal”, in the midst of so much uncertainty and fear. For many, it has been a time of great disruption, deep reflection, and also, perhaps, of personal growth.
Many of us are still adapting to and figuring out what this “new normal” really means; will it prevail forever, for the next 6 months, or will it be a blip in our memories one year from now as life returns to the way it was?
The truth is that none of us really know. We are making it up as we go along and trying to figure out what we need to do to get through this, and hopefully, thrive again.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you what I believe to be the most important lessons that we can learn during this defining moment in history.
1 – You cannot lead effectively from a place of fear
Fear will always be a part of being human, it exists to help us survive as a species. However, living in this state for long periods of time does not serve us, and can lead to physical and mental conditions, poor decision making and addictions.
When we feel threatened by something or become stressed, the chimp or reptilian brain will almost always react and take us into one of the three states of fight, flight or freeze:
Am I bigger than the problem? Fight it.
Is the problem bigger than me? Run from it (Flight).
Do I feel totally helpless and overwhelmed? Freeze and do nothing.
We always have a choice as to how long we spend in these states, though at times it can feel like quicksand; once we are struck by fear, it can suck us in further and further, making it harder and harder to get out.
When we are operating from a place of fear:
- Our vision becomes limited as we lose the ability to think rationally and objectively
- We disconnect from our empathy and the emotional needs of those around us
- We feel like we have to do whatever it takes to win (survive)
- We make poor decisions
There are simple techniques that we can implement in these situations, to help us stay centered and grounded. By practicing them, we can cultivate greater levels of self control that will benefit all aspects of our life and allow us to thrive in even the most difficult and testing situations.
How to manage stressful and challenging situations
Change your physiology
When we are in a fear based state, adrenalin courses through our body and results in a change to our physiological state: tightness of chest, sweating, increased heart rate and changes to our posture which ALL in turn impact our mental state. This creates a vicious circle.
So the most powerful thing you can initially do to interrupt this negative state, is to radically change your physiology by doing things like:
- Moving your body - stand up straight and adopt a powerful pose, walk, run, dance, jump up and down (you get the jist!)
- focus on your breathing and specifically try 4/7/8 breathing for at least 6-8 rounds where you inhale deeply (from your belly first up to your chest at the end) for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale gently (humming as you do) for 8 seconds
Use the following simple techniques by having a dialogue with yourself where you bring into your awareness your current state, let it go and focus your attention on a more positive state and specifically feelings you want. Try this simple process:
- What was I just doing? Label what you were doing… “I was catastrophising, I was bringing up bad memories from the past”
- Is this helping me or hurting me? Answer with an emphatic “it’s hurting me, it is not what I want and I chose to let it go now!”
- What do I want? Answer by focusing and saying out loud (if you can) the feelings you want to feel more of now (i.e. calm, safe, centred, happy, powerful etc)
- Celebrate. Use your body to celebrate and congratulate yourself on how you have shifted your state (pump your fists, clap your hands, jump in the air..)
Yes I know some of this may sound a little crazy, but trust me it WORKS! Just do it consistently and see what happens.
2 – What you focus on will grow
Whatever you focus on, you get more of, even if your focus is on something you don’t want.
The best way to bring this alive is through metaphor: When you are driving fast on a race track, approaching a sharp corner with a wall around it, where do you focus? On the wall you don’t want to hit, or through the apex and onto the next straight?
It sounds so glaringly obvious and simple, but can take a lifetime to master.
When you apply this mantra to your life and, most importantly, start to pay attention to the conversation that you are having with yourself, you will start to see the patterns that emerge and likely be shocked.
To help bring this alive, imagine if your friends spoke to you in the same way you do yourself. How long would they be your friends for?
If we want to feel better, have more positive experiences and allow greater abundance to enter our life, then we have to make greater effort to stay focused on what we want, and take consistent action towards it.
One great way to train your focus
Keep a journal
- Spend 10 minutes every day to make a note of all the negative thoughts cycling around your mind. For each negative thought, find a positive outcome that you can instead focus on.
- For example, if you are stressed and worried about a financial situation, rather than focusing on all the things that could happen as a result, make a list of the things you can be doing to change it - and take action!
3 – Your power is in the present
You have no doubt all heard of or read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now”. It was a bestseller for a good reason - it is one of the most powerful lessons in how to live a more fulfilled and content life.
The question is: Were you able to translate the core message into action in your life, and if not, why not?
I would like to take a moment to address the why not part, as most people find it very hard to put this into action and live more fully in the present.
We are wired to survive
As mentioned above, our reptilian brain is constantly searching for threats to our existence and safety. When we believe that we are in danger, we have a tendency to project ourselves into the future and catastrophise the worst that could happen, otherwise known colloquially as ‘make shit up’!
We may also flash back to past experiences when things did go badly wrong and convince ourselves that the same thing is happening again.
In some situations, fear can bring us into the present moment, but this often happens unconsciously. For example, if you are standing in the road and a truck suddenly comes flying around the corner, adrenaline is released and you will instinctively move out of the way.
We are taught to live in our head, not heart
As we grow up and progress through school, university and into work, we are taught to live primarily within our minds - through logic, reason and thought. There is very little education or awareness brought to our emotions and feelings, or any knowledge of the heart.
It is only when we are living in our hearts that we are truly in the present moment. The heart does not judge and is simply open to receiving and experiencing life as it is, in each moment. It is here that we can find our true power and the essence of being ‘in the flow’ of life that so many of us are searching for today.
Everyone is trying to win
We live in a world where the majority of people are taught to believe that we are competing against one another for resources. Whether that’s money, oil, food or otherwise. We have become obsessed with achieving or buying the next big thing. This mentality creates a great deal of anxiety as we are constantly living in the future (trying to make more money, so that we can buy this in the future).
There is nothing wrong with having a goal to focus on, it’s natural that we want and need to progress and learn. But we need to learn to detach from the outcome and what we think it should look like.
If we are searching for happiness in material possessions, or in the temporary moment of achievement that comes with reaching our next goal, instead of simply enjoying the experience and journey of getting there, we will never reach it. We will always be left wanting more and missing out on the best of what life has to offer.
How to be more present in daily life
Quit striving for perfection
By accepting the fact that nothing in our lives is ever going to be perfect, and that there will always be a sense of “incompleteness”, we can let go of the constant need to control every outcome and relax more into the natural flow of life.
Pause and listen
We can get so wrapped up and focused on where we are heading - where we think we want to be - that we stop listening to ourselves (and those around us). In other words, tunnel vision.
Be more vulnerable with those around you
As part of this need to survive, we create false personas or identities to ‘fit in’. By being vulnerable and showing ourselves, we can connect with others on a human level and find more ease in the present.
4 - You can’t control everything
COVID-19 is a great example of this… There is only so much any of us can control here, and yet we can still get sucked into the drama and obsess about things that simply are beyond our control such as:
- Whether and how soon a vaccine will be available
- How soon restrictions will be reversed
- How well our politicians serve us
- How our clients will react, and what this means
- Whether our lives will ever be the same again!
You get the gist, I’m sure!
Key points to take on board
The only thing you can control, is you
The only thing that you can ever truly control is yourself. We can choose to move away from situations, old ways of thinking, behaviours that don’t serve us and people that don’t value us - but we can never change another person. The way that we choose to respond to a situation (rather than react) is up to us.
Letting go is liberating
Learning to let go of the things we cannot control and laughing when we catch ourselves trying to is liberating in itself. But what is even more liberating is focusing on what we can control and putting all of our focus and energy into that - our goals.
People who have a high need to control every situation (aka “control freaks”) are usually stressed, anxious and difficult people to live with, for a good reason. They live in their heads, acting frequently from a place of fear and they can rarely (if ever) find any time to be present!
Change, or be changed
Whilst there is uncertainty within change, change will always be a certainty. We cannot avoid it, so it’s best that we learn how to adapt, work with it and take the opportunities that present themselves.
We can either learn to surf the waves, or be swept away by them.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to connect with me on Instagram and stay updated with new content.