3 STEPS TO FIND CLARITY AND CALM IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
In these disruptive times, life is imposing many challenges on us. Whether you are a CEO, entrepreneur, small business owner, freelancer, leader of a community or family – we all face many questions. And we have to make possibly far-reaching decisions despite minimal sight.
How do we respond to the steadily increasing flow of news, uncertainties, and the related fears and overwhelm? What can we do to remain calm despite the disturbing experiences and move forward from a place of clarity and intention? How can we respond responsibly to the challenges ahead?
I would like to share some ideas and insights, which helped me navigate through professional and personal challenges. It’s a synthesis of the most useful and actionable ideas and strategies that I have learned – which I hope will prove to be of value to you, too.
Let’s get started.
There is a saying that ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it’.
While I absolutely agree with the claim – the BIG QUESTION is: how to live up to it while life seems to be falling apart? How can we be resourceful? How can we choose to respond proactively instead of being reactive and waiting for circumstances to unfold? How can we ensure that our lives and actions are not dictated by the conditions we face but by our decisions?
Here are three steps to move forward with more clarity and calm.
STEP 1 – MASTERING EMOTIONS
Based on my experience, one of the key hurdles we have to overcome to master this (or any other future) challenge is to master our emotions. Why is that so important? Because our emotions have a huge, often subconscious effect on how we experience life and its challenges and how we assess any given situation. Emotions influence our behavior. They either trigger us to act or, sometimes, they hinder us from moving forward. And, very importantly, they can launch us into an either upward or downward spiral of our emotional reality – depending on what emotions we allow our focus.
Two very prominent and potent negative emotions that are hard to pass by these days are fear and overwhelm. The issue with negative emotions is that they are quite catchy and tend to stick to the forefront of our awareness, waiting to be triggered. Once triggered, they typically cause a fight or flight response. These emotions, which have proven to be life-saving from an evolutionary point of view, are often one of our biggest challenges today. Why?
Because when fear or overwhelm master us, we virtually become somebody else. We lose access to our resourceful and solution-oriented self. Our thinking narrows, our ability to find creative solutions, to assess and to judge prudently, and to show empathy shuts down. When negative emotions take over, we humans typically don’t function at our best. As our ability to find new solutions diminishes, we fall back on and stick to problem thinking and non-productive thought and behavioral patterns.
So, given our evolutionary preconditions, how can we consciously change the way we look at and experience a situation? How can we handle fear and overwhelm more proactively and constructively?
Let’s look at fear and overwhelm in a bit more detail.
What is fear, and how to tackle it? Fear is nothing else than a call to action for us to realize that there is something for which we have to get prepared to avoid any harm or loss. So, what to do about it? If we surrender to fear, we might become trapped in worst-case scenarios and lose our ability to think clearly. Pretending it’s not there also puts us at risk. What if instead we take a careful look at our current situation and ask ourselves: What exactly is causing the uncertainties and triggering the fear? Once we understand, we can evaluate what we must do to prepare ourselves and which actions need to be taken to deal with the situation in the best possible way. There is a saying that if we take fear out of a crisis, it becomes a chance. How can we tap into that opportunity?
What is overwhelm, and how to approach it? We typically experience overwhelm when we perceive that a problem or challenge is too big for us to master it. Or when there is simply too much going on at the same time. It’s a signal for us to reevaluate our priorities. What is the most important thing for us to focus on? The key is to list everything which comes to mind, prioritize, and then begin to start taking action after careful consideration (see STEP 3). As we move forward, we will start to feel a sense of ‘being in control’ again and develop confidence and momentum as we progress through our list.
Depending on the level of stress, fear, and overwhelm we experience, it might be challenging to immediately put the above suggestions into practice. If so, STEPS 2 and 3 can be of tremendous help.
STEP 2 – TAPPING INTO YOUR RESOURCEFULNESS
In life, it is not so much about the resources which we have available but more about how resourceful we react and engage. How can we tap into this resourcefulness and broaden it to navigate through life’s challenges?
Here are two ideas.
Using the power of positive emotions: I know, it is very tempting to say ‘go away with this positive thinking woo woo’. But science proves us differently. According to renowned scientist and psychologist Prof Dr Barbara Fredrickson, the frequency with which we experience positive emotions in our lives does have a huge impact. It affects our ability to change perspective, broaden our thinking, and enhance our awareness. Positive emotions change the way our brain processes information and help us to tap into our creative potential to find solutions where we first saw none. We become more flexible, creative, and resilient.
What is interesting in this regard is that it is not so much the intensity but more importantly, the frequency of the emotions experienced. Prescribing to a daily dose of positive emotions can indeed make a huge difference in our ability to cope and enhance our immune system as well as the quality of relationships. At the same time, positive emotions help to mitigate or even counterbalance the consequences of negative emotions. Like pressing the reset button, our ability to access positive emotions helps us to reduce our reactions to stress and consequently look at things more objectively and resourcefully.
So, what are positive emotions? Barbara Fredrickson has defined 10, namely: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and finally, love, which encompasses all of the others.
How can you bring more of these into your life? Take a moment to pause and ask in which situations you experienced these emotions. More often than not, it comes down to tiny moments in our day-to-day lives. How can you harness them now?
How can you be more thankful for the little and big gifts life is offering? This could be anything from the kind ‘Thank You’ note you received from a colleague or friend to the online systems working perfectly smooth allowing you to finish your work on time.
How can you be more intentional in your relationships to experience love and connection? Whom could you reach out to today to check in how they are doing? How can you acknowledge somebody for the contributions they have made or the strengths they display? How could you be of service to somebody in need without expecting anything in return?
Tapping into our strengths: I am pretty sure that for the vast majority of us, the current situation is not the first significant challenge in life. Think about the obstacles you mastered in the past.
Which of your talents, strengths, and skills could you rely on to navigate through these times? What did you learn as you grew through past challenges?
List everything which comes to mind and how it helped you.
From this position of strengths and resourcefulness – what would your best-self recommend you to do or think right now?
STEP 3 – ‘STOP’ TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AND CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND
In times of crisis and uncertainty, it is easy to lose sight or move off track. How can we stay focused and move forward with intention? Sometimes, the best we can do is take a step back. To STOP and disengage from the burning pressures, threats, and challenges and the emotional intensity of it – to think clearly and to make conscious and deliberate decisions to then move forward with confidence and courage.
STOP is an easy to follow coaching process, which was introduced by Tim Gallwey, one of the pioneers of coaching. Here’s how to do it:
STOP – Pause, take a breath, and disengage from the tunnel vision of the moment. Give yourself the time and space to think and sharpen your awareness so that the world around you becomes understandable.
THINK – Ask yourself the right questions. Choose carefully, the wrong questions will get you misleading answers. So, what are you focusing on? The problem or the solution? Here are a couple of questions for your exploration:
- What is the priority here?
- How will I look at this in one year / five years from now? Does this perspective change my priorities?
- What is at stake? What are the likely consequences? Now and in the future?
- How can I – if at all – mitigate today’s / future’s consequences?
- What resources could I access?
- What attitude do I want to bring to this?
- How could I grow myself/my team/my family/my company stronger?
- How can I find meaning in all of this? How can I be of service to others?
- What is the most important question I should be asking myself right now?
ORGANIZE YOUR THOUGHTS – If you look at the findings of your exploration – what are these telling you? How much is a fact? How much is a story you are telling yourself (and we all love to do that)? What do you want to focus on? What plan do you want to put forward? What will be your sequence of actions?
In this phase, focusing on what you can control or influence is absolutely vital. Don’t spend your time and energy on things entirely outside of your circle of control or influence. Also, it might be invaluable to check in with a person you trust and to him or her to challenge you on your thinking and conclusions.
PROCEED – Focus on those things which you can control or influence, decide to proactively respond to the challenge ahead, and move forward with intention and impact.
I recently read a quote which goes as follows: “Peace – it doesn’t mean to be a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all these things and still be calm in your heart.” I hope that the ideas in this article help you in finding calm and clarity and living and leading with intention and impact.
Sabine is an Organizational Psychologist & Expert in Positive Psychology, Leadership & Personal Development.
It is her mission to empower leadership across all levels of an organization and to inspire & enable individuals to thrive at work & in life.
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© 2021 Sabine Renner