I’m writing this blog in self isolation after coming home from Vietnam.
Like pretty much every other human being on the planet this past week, I’ve experienced my share of logistical challenges, worries and financial upsets caused by the crisis. But I’m also feeling intensely grateful for my daughter’s and my safe return to Canada, the clean, non-polluted air I get to breathe here, the 14 rolls of toilet paper in my cupboard, and the protective measures governments are implementing everywhere to keep us all as safe as possible.
I’ve been keenly interested to watch people’s reactions to the dramatic unfolding of events every day. After all, I’m a life coach and my jam is helping people become aware of their thinking patterns and beliefs, and the results those create for them.
A highlight for me during the past few days was a video circulated on social media. You might have seen it: a deserted square in Italy, quarantined people in their homes all joining in song from their balconies. The power of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Showing us that we always have a choice about how to react to any circumstance.
It’s my belief in the human spirit that has me loving my coaching work so much. I get to prove to my clients that they’re not powerless victims. Even in extreme circumstances, like the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing now, I get to show my clients that it’s not the actual statistics, facts and government policies presented in the news each day that are causing them distress. It’s how they’re choosing to think about all of it that creates their suffering, or lightens their distress.
Sometimes I need to remind myself of these things too. From time to time over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself drifting into worry and fear about the latest announcement. But I eventually remember to notice it’s my thoughts, not the news about our cancelled flight or the rapid spread of the virus in the country I’m now apparently transiting through on my way home, that are creating my distress. And that awareness gives me a chance to explore more helpful ways of dealing with the news.
Awareness lets me make deliberate choices about how I want to show up. Is it best for me to give myself some time to experience the distress? To not resist it? To think my thoughts and feel the grief or fear? Or is it better this time to say no; to decide I don’t want to indulge in worry; to explore how I might shift my thinking in a believable way that would help me decide the best course of action in the moment? There are no right answers. There is just awareness of how my thoughts are serving me, or not.
If I get stumped, it’s because I’m confusing my thoughts with facts. I talk to my own life coach so she can help me clarify my thinking and I can be more deliberate.
We can’t control what’s happening in the world. But regardless of how good or bad external circumstances seem to be, it’s our thoughts about them, and not the events themselves, that determine how we feel and act, and the results we produce in our lives.
I believe the most important thing we can do in this time of crisis is for each of us to become vigilant about noticing our thoughts. And to be deliberate about our choices.
So Try this Exercise
One of the best things to do if you find yourself feeling particularly worried is to write down all your thoughts about what is happening. Then identify the specific thoughts that are troubling you the most. Circle them.
Examine each circled thought, one by one. Notice what each specific thought is causing you to feel. Notice all the actions you take or don’t take when you feel that way. Notice what results your actions or inaction produce.
This practice of writing down and examining your thoughts will help you develop a much sharper awareness of your thinking. Be sure not to skip the writing down part. This exercise won’t work well if you just do it in your head. I guarantee that when you start writing everything down, you’ll find at least one surprising thought you didn’t even realize you were thinking. So often that is the most important thought causing you to create results you don’t like.
After you’ve finished this exercise of examining your thoughts and noticing the feelings, actions and results you’re creating, you’ll be able to evaluate whether your thoughts are serving you or not. Ask yourself whether you’re taking action that feels productive to you. Ask whether you’re allowing yourself to process the feelings that are surfacin.
Did You Know that Your Thoughts about the Future are Always Made Up?
One of the most challenging things about building self awareness is that we often confuse our thoughts with the facts. We often believe our thoughts are just the truth.
For example, we might think we’re going to get sick and die, or a family member or friend will, or we’ll lose all our money or be fired or stuck alone, or some other disaster will ensue.
We might believe that these thoughts are just us being “realistic”. We might believe that thinking these things somehow helps us protect ourselves.
But this is never true. Our thoughts about the future are always made up. The future hasn’t happened. It exists only in our imagination. No one can ever know what will happen. The future is always a thought.
We need to think about whether the dire predictions we’re making up about our future serve us. Is our thinking helping us to take measured, preventative steps? Or are we simply creating a feeling of panic or fear that causes us to spin, obsess and ruminate?
It’s useful to notice what your own worried thoughts are producing for you.
As a lifelong worrier, one of my biggest takeaways from life coach training was that worry is an emotion that only pretends to be useful. This was such a huge revelation for me. I was brought up to think that worrying was essential to prevent bad things from happening. That worrying was the only responsible choice.
Worry was so instilled in me that our family doctor x-rayed my stomach to see if I had an ulcer when I was five years old. Yep. A true story.
In fact, worry serves no purpose. Our imagined future circumstances deflect us from calmly evaluating the facts today. What are the facts? What are our choices? What is the best action we can take today?
Try this Exercise Too
One really useful exercise that I like to use to shift myself out of worry is to ask myself positive questions and then answer them. What productive thing can I do right now? Who can I reach out to who might need my help? How can I be kind to someone today? How can I create a great experience for my kids who are home from school today? What can I learn from this? What can I create as a result of what I’ve learned? What can I give to someone to make an impact?
I write down all the answers that come up. And my focus shifts to productive thoughts, feelings and actions.
So much better than stewing or joining negative group chats on social media.
It takes a bit of practice to learn how to do all of this. And sometimes it’s hard for us to separate the facts from our thoughts about them. That’s why, even though I’m a life coach, I often reach out to my own life coach to help me clarify my own thinking.
I’m Here to Help You
If you’re struggling with the crisis and feel lost, worried, anxious or afraid, I can help. In addition to my regular coaching program where we focus on creative expansion, for the next few weeks I’ll also be offering coaching by the hour for people who need a little extra help coping right now. We can coach for as little as one hour on any aspect of the crisis you’re struggling with. You can sign up for a one hour session by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll let you know the cost and we can arrange a time outside my normal coaching schedule that works for both of us.
Or if you’d like to sign up for a free strategy session where we’ll explore your issues and discover whether you’re a good fit for my creative expansion coaching program, you can cut and paste https://gracedcanvascalendar.as.me/freestrategysession into your browser or click on one of the scheduling links throughout this website.
In the meantime, keep well.