Growth from Crisis: Part 2.

Jun 28, 2020

Expanding in the Face of Contraction: 3 Steps to being happier and to making your life better.

Most of my posts in this series have been about dealing with different types and aspects of stress related to Covid 19 and the disruptions it has caused. In my last blog post - Growth From Crisis Part 1 - I asked the question: how do you grow from a situation of crisis and disruption, rather than just manage it?

Covid 19 or, more specifically, the societal responses that this pandemic has necessitated, has forced change into all of our lives. It has been disruptive in specific and unique ways for each person, forcing some specific changes and creating specific challenges. Maybe you enjoyed some of the changes it caused in your life, such as a slower pace, more time for yourself, more time with family, more time to engage in activities you enjoy, or being more relaxed. Maybe you're doing a lot of things that you never had time to do before. On the other hand, maybe you haven't enjoyed the changes that have been forced on you, changes such as: loss of a job, or job insecurity; financial stress; being unable to carry on with life as normal or to have a social life, and being unable to see family members.

Regardless of whether or not you have enjoyed the changes to your everyday life that have been caused by this situation, there is a huge opportunity in this disruption of your “normal” to actually make your life better, and to be happier.

I've previously talked about how this disruption is an opportunity to work on how you react to stress, and to change. I’ve talked about how the whole social reaction we've had to engage in – isolation, lockdown, working from home, etc - to contain the pandemic is a contraction, and how the challenge and the opportunity each person is faced with is to expand in the face of this contraction, rather than to contract in reaction to it.

If you contract, you feel like your life is smaller and less than it was. If you expand, you seize opportunities and grow. You become more of yourself.

I’ve talked about how this has been an opportunity to identify and focus on what is important to you. I've also talked about how the disruption of the automatic, habitual patterns by which you live your normal life is a huge opportunity to review those patterns and to fine-tune them, or even to make life-changing decisions.

As a result of the changes in your day-to-day life, you may have become more aware of certain patterns in that everyday life. Maybe you have noticed that you were much too invested in work and that home life has been suffering. Maybe you've noticed that you don't know what to do with free time, or that you don't know how to relax. Maybe, as a result of spending whole lot more time together, you realize that there are patterns in your relationship that aren’t working. Maybe you realize that you have certain patterns in terms of eating or self-care or self-discipline that aren’t working for you.

These are just a few examples. There are all kinds of patterns that you might have unconsciously or even consciously been living by day-to-day, even though they are not necessarily good for you, or working for you, and that because of the ways that Covid has disrupted them, you might now be much more aware of.

Maybe you became aware that your default when you have lots of time on your hands is spending way too much time on screens and devices, instead of doing something else, something you really enjoy or something that makes you feel productive. Maybe at the beginning of this you saw it as an opportunity to get caught up on all sorts of things and over time you realize that you never got around to it. A pattern of procrastination, or not committing to your goals. Maybe you realize you don't handle stress well, or have trouble spending too much time in your own company.

Step 1

Awareness of a “problem” pattern – repeatedly doing something that is not contributing to your happiness or well-being, or to the realization of your goals, is the first step. Paying attention and noticing what there is to notice, and acknowledging it.

Step 2

The second step is about choosing to do something about it: taking control. That is actually about mindset. The concept of expanding in the face of contraction, instead of contracting, is a matter of mindset; the decision to grow rather than to shrink, to become more of yourself rather than less of yourself, is a mindset. The choice to not allow the things that you can't change, change you, is all about mindset and about taking control.

But this is not about taking control in the conventional sense, which is ego-driven, and based in an idea about being in control, being self-sufficient, etc. In that mindset you are set up to feel that you have lost something in this situation.

For example, if you enjoyed the changes that Covid forced on you, such as more time at home, then you might also think that when the situation comes back to some sort of “normal” you will lose that benefit. On the other hand, if you haven't enjoyed the changes brought on by the Covid disruption, if you have found the way your life has changed to be stressful, then you are already experiencing the feeling of having lost something. Both of those are a mindset of not having control and of being at the whim of circumstances and events beyond your control.

This is about shifting from a mindset that focuses on how external circumstances are happening to you, to a mindset focused on how you are happening to yourself. To having control over your internal well-being, on being aligned with yourself, on being truly happy.

With this mindset, your focus on external circumstances is on adapting to what you can’t control, and in the course of adapting, finding the opportunity to grow, to change how you live your life for the better. With this mindset you don’t believe that you have lost anything. (That isn’t totally true – there is a part of us that is always focused on hanging on to the status quo, and we have to deal with what feels like loss of the status quo. The difference is in choosing to let it go for something better.)  If you adopt the mindset of opportunity and choice, you will look at this situation that you did not create, and that is largely out of your control, and find opportunity as you adjust to it. As I noted in my last blog post, you will welcome the fact that this disruption is bringing things to your attention that need to be dealt with. Your mindset will determine what happens next and whether you grow or shrink, open or close, expand or contract, become less of yourself, or more of yourself.

But to put that mindset into practice, you will need to do more than just make a little change here and there. Tweaking the status quo (individually or socially) is just keeping the status quo going. To really seize the opportunity to grow, to make your life better, you have to have a vision of where you want to get to. A vision that will motivate you and give you a sense of purpose and direction.

So, I’m going to show you an exercise you can do to make that shift.

I would invite you here – right now! - to actually take the time to sit down and write out two lists. (Doing this mentally, just in your mind, is not going to help you at all as much as actually writing these things down, so I really encourage you to take the time to do this in writing.)

 

List #1:

Identify what aspects of life in the Covid lockdown you have enjoyed, and wish you could keep. For example, things like having more time, a slower pace, working from home, more time to explore interests… Make sure to take the time to make the list complete. Really think through all the ways your life has been different, the ways you have been functioning differently in this time, and write down everything that is relevant, no matter how small or trivial it seems.

Also, what have you been reminded, or become more aware of, in terms of what makes you happy, what you enjoy doing with your time and energy, what is really important to you?

List #2:

What are the things that you have become aware of that make you unhappy, or aspects of your life or patterns in how you live your life that aren’t working for you? Again, name everything you can think of.

Now, take each item on the list #2 (things that aren't working for you or don't make you happy) and for each item, write down what you would have to do, what you would have to change, so that that aspect of your life, that thing, is now no longer a problem, no longer impeding your happiness, so that it is in alignment with your happiness and well-being.

Imagine a life in which you have found solutions to each of these things in list #2, in which you made choices that allow you to have what is important to you and what makes you happy. In other words, imagine that for each item on the list #2, you have made a necessary change to eliminate that item from the list. Don't adopt the idea that this is a fantasy (such as “winning the lottery!”) in which things magically change in a way that you don't actually believe is realistic. That is actually still coming from a mindset of not having control, a mindset in which you don’t have the power to make changes. Instead, notice what changes in your lifestyle, (or work, or beliefs, or values) you would make to achieve that.

So you may notice that you’ve now done Steps # 1 & 2 of the process: 1) identifying what patterns you want to change, and 2) actively imagining yourself making that change – a mindset of growth and possibility. Now, Step 3 is about strengthening that mindset and acting on it. Just as athletes use visualization to strengthen both their psychological and physical performances, this is a tool you can use on a regular basis to actively take on a mindset of realizing your goals. So…

Step 3

Step three of this process is in the accompanying guided meditation called Envisioning your Life. I invite you to download that meditation and do the exercise. Make sure you have done Step #1 and Step #2 first, though!

 

Keep in mind, these things are practices. The principle of practicing anything is that you do it repeatedly so that you get better at it and you develop confidence and belief in yourself. Trying any of these meditations once is dabbling; using them repeatedly and regularly is doing.

As always, I invite you to leave comments and to share this with anyone you think might enjoy it!

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