A lot can change in a year, can’t it?
Could we have guessed how out of control life could feel?
Looking back, do you wish you’d appreciated your life more or wish you’d taken a different path?
The pandemic has attacked every part of what it means to be human. A WHO study showed that the pandemic has disrupted or stopped critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for support increases.
With a long road ahead, we need to fill our heads with good stuff to support us (not the endless bad news and devastation that stand to monopolise our lives).
On top of the global deaths, financial stress and isolation, the coronavirus has caused a surge of divorces in the United States, China, Britain and Sweden.
Even before the pandemic, mental health issues were a massive drain on the world economy costing $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
So, when you face something that’s out of your control, what can you do?
1. Understand that you could be suffering from a lack of control and not knowing what it’s doing to you.
If you experience any of the following, a lack of control could be impacting your personal and professional life, your happiness and even your success.
- A need to gossip and find out what everyone else is thinking.
- Reduced productivity at work or at home (or both.)
- Unable to drop a subject or walk away from a discussion/argument.
- Overworking and burnout.
- Illness – physical and mental.
- A feeling of Them and Us mentality – “People don’t get it!”
- Lack of creativity.
- A lack of interest in hobbies and chores.
- Feeling angry and resentful.
These are just some of the things that a lack of control can do to you.
2. Ask yourself: Is it really true?
Start with you and what you think. It’s not an easy thesis to appreciate or accept, however, the way you see the world, shapes your world. So if you feel like you’ve no control, then that is the way the world will be.
Look around you, everything you can see started as a thought in a human’s head. That screen you look at, the shape, color, design were conscious decisions people made.
It’s hard to see the connection between what we think and what we get. If you’ve read my books, you will have read about negative spirals (and positive ones).
Take a moment to think about something that upsets you, that feels totally uncontrollable. Use the pandemic as your example – or something personal to you)
Now create a spiral like this one:
For each bubble, write a feeling, an emotion, an action, or result. There is no set pattern to this. Write what feels natural to you.
Notice how there is an arrow after the last bubble?
That’s because unchecked a negative spiral can spiral out of control, keeping you trapped, feeling bad and getting poor results.
We can’t magically make the issue disappear, but we can control how we feel about it.
You don’t need to know how you will do this, but acknowledging how you see the world and what it does to you physically, emotionally and mentally, you can then decide “I’d like something better than this!”
3. Create a mental health tool kit.
I recommend people create a mental health tool kit.
For me, I like learning, so to boost my own, I’ve learned a new practice: Dialectical behavior therapy. In DBT, you learn the first thing to do when things are too much for you is to R.E.S.T – relax, evaluate, set an intention and take action.
Work out something that makes you stop in your tracks. Maybe it’s a song, playing hide and seek with the dog, mediation or something else. What might it be? Something where you stop thinking.
It’s difficult to alter what you do if you are entrenched in what life looks like, so take a moment for you. You don’t need to sit on a mountain cross legged saying “Om” to find a minute of inner peace.
4. Challenge what you know to be true.
Working from home has featured in many coaching sessions often with clients stating there’s “Nothing I can do about this” or (my pet hate) “It is the way it is.” When I hear this statement, I know that this is often the root cause of why people are experiencing issues and suffering.
You need to challenge what you believe to be true. Statements like:
- I must work that many hours to get it all done.
- Everyone is stressed out, there’s nothing that we can do about it.
- It will be better when the pandemic is over – we’ve just got to put up with it.
These are signs that you need to challenge what you believe.
You don’t try to stop the sun from rising, why? Because you know it to be out of your control.
Do you try to get out of the way of a stampeding bull? Yes, but why? Because you believe you have control.
These are obvious examples but it’s not always obvious. In life, the statements that take away your control are likely to be more subtle and are the statements that no one pays attention to. So, learn to!
5. Remind yourself there’s another way.
To change what you get, you must change what you think. So before you get to the next strategy, what do you need to be true What do you need to believe?
This is called reframing. The ability to find potential in the harshest of situations. It takes practice but if you persevere, you can find something good in anything and it will help you have more control of your thoughts. More control of your thoughts leads to better thoughts and better actions and results.
- I miss going out – becomes – I’ve saved so much money.
- I miss working in the office – becomes – I don’t miss that commute and I adore having hugs from the children/partner/dog/cat in between meetings.
- I feel isolated – becomes – I am learning to appreciate my own company and the person I am.
At this stage, you don’t need to believe it is true, you just need to be able to reword your thoughts.
6. Let’s go on holiday!
This is a strategy that is a powerful way to honor the person you are and not try and make changes in life by copying others. That approach doesn’t always work because you are unique.
Imagine I was taking you on holiday in 5 hours time. All paid, anywhere in the world you like, no pandemic, just fun, relaxation, excitement, adventure; whatever defines your perfect holiday we leave in 5 hours time. What do you do now?
For some, they tell me they’d panic “I can’t be ready in 5 hours time!” others would say “I’ve got my credit card and passport let’s go!”
What is your natural response?
Whether you’re a list writer – go for it and worry about it later, or get everyone involved and plan kind of person. Think what process you would use.
Use this information to help you understand what you need to do to be able to make a difference to how you feel.
When you get stuck as often happens when an issue is too close to us, consider something you excel at, and how you migrate those skills. This is a strategy I teach, because the more you can understand about your natural way of handling life, the better the results you can achieve.
7. Turn your brain around.
Remember that as you create solutions to the way you think and what actions you will take, your brain is going to prove you right regardless. If you say 1 + 1, your brain proudly jumps in with 2!
The disadvantage of this is that it stops you from finding new better ways of working since your brain wants to keep you safe – believing you’ve done all you can and there’s nothing more that can be done.
Imagine you had a magic wand that can fix the uncontrollable in any way with no restriction on cost, time and skill, what would you do?
Ask yourself questions like:
- “And what would that give you?”
- “And why would you benefit from that?”
- “And what would that lead to?”
A great example of this in action was someone struggling with working from home. Working longer hours, they were exhausted and felt like quitting. Eating poorly and helping the children with their homework was the final straw.
They felt like they had no life and couldn’t see it changing. They held on firmly to the belief that they had to wait for the pandemic to go to have “their life back”. This took all their control away and ensured they would be stuck for an exceedingly long time.
Using this process, they joked they’d have a housekeeper, a nanny, a therapist on hand for massages and a chef. Their bank balance wasn’t suddenly the size of the rich and famous so this wasn’t an option. However, it enabled them to see that in their life they were making all the sacrifices and no one else’s life had altered!
What madness to assume you have to do it all? They started asking for help and getting the family involved. And now they work a lot less hours and even manage to stay awake in the evenings to watch a film or read a book, which leads us onto the next point.
8. Share your goals.
If you’ve had enough of a situation, trying to fix it on your own will always be harder. We’ve all heard the saying a problem shared is a problem halved. The process of talking about something helps bring it to the front of our mind and work out what we want instead.
So tell people what you need and ask for help.
By now, you can see that control is not always about control but your perception of it. When you bring everyone together to a common goal that they feel invested in, they are more likely to persevere and keep going for each other. So don’t be shy to say:
- On Thursdays, I need 2 hours to myself to work on yoga/gardening/me time.
- I need everyone to choose a night when they will cook.
- I need you to help me with this once a week so that I don’t end up doing too much and exhausted, unable to find the time to recharge before the working week.
These aren’t always comfortable conversations, but they help restore a sense of control if boundaries are respected and enforced. Enforced sounds like a harsh word, however, to restore a sense of control in any environment, everyone needs to create the rules and lives by them.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois studied occupational stress and well-being, those who have greater “boundary control” over their work and personal lives were better at creating a stress buffer that helped protect them from falling into a negative-rumination trap.
After a few weeks of questioning if the boundaries are working, don’t be frightened to go through the process again and see what’s working and what needs to alter.
Lastly, remember nothing stays the same.
This golden nugget is essential knowledge we all need when we lack control. Good or bad, everything changes.
More Tips on Taking Charge of Life
Featured photo credit: Riccardo Mion via unsplash.com
|World Health Organization: COVID-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey
|New York Times: Manage Your Divorce Expectations
|World Health Organization: Mental Health And Substance Use
|Mandie Holgate: How To Create a Mental Health Tool Kit
|VeryWellMind: Overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
|Mandie Holgate: Struggling to produce solutions for you and your team?
|MD Advices: Control over work-life boundaries creates crucial buffer to manage after-hours work stress