I’m just checking in to say hi in that slightly strange limbo time between Christmas and New Year. I hope you had a great festive time, despite the lockdown measures! What with Covid restrictions in place, winter weather, and long dark evenings – there’s a lot of time to think and reflect on the year gone by. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been bandied around a lot this year – but there really is no other way to describe the impact the pandemic has had on our societies, communities, our working and personal lives. None of us could have predicted what 2020 had in store for us, and the continuing crisis could make us fearful and uncertain about the coming year. But what can we take from our experiences this year? Are there any lessons to be drawn from them and how can we approach 2021 with hope and positivity? Let’s have a look back at some of the blogs from 2020 and see whether living through a pandemic has taught us anything valuable.
1.Forget FOMO – do you have the FONK?! (The Fear of Not Knowing.)
We are all having to experience a high level of uncertainty at the moment and it is a very unsettling feeling. Many of my clients – (high-achieving female lawyers) – struggle with this issue generally – having extraordinarily high expectations of themselves and constantly striving for perfection. But living with this fear can cause stress and anxiety, and prevent you from moving forward.
Top tips for tackling the FONK.
– Face the fear – get to the core of what your fear is about.
– Review the evidence – is ‘not knowing’ really as catastrophic as you think?
– Shift your focus – concentrate on the positives of your knowledge about the issue in hand.
– Articulate (to yourself) what you don’t know – it will help you anticipate questions.
– Prepare – anticipate questions, practise articulating your answers to the toughest ones. Decide what is the single most important piece of information you need to convey on the topic.
– Rehearse responses
– Apply the same standards to yourself as you do others – i.e. cut yourself some slack!
– Re-examine your fear – is it really fear or is it discomfort because it’s new, hard and you’re learning something? Embrace the discomfort and use it to your advantage.
A phrase I have come back time and again during my life. It brings reassurance in challenging times and is a reminder that there is always an end to pain and hardship.
When it can be useful:
– To cope with hardship – the COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to be a huge challenge for us all, but we will get through this incomparable hardship and emerge on the other side – perhaps wiser and more resilient.
– To manage stress at work – think about what aspects of your situation are in your ability to control and focus on those. Your circumstances will change – do what you can to make that happen.
– When experiencing emotional pain – know that the acute and unbearable feelings of fresh grief will always give way to a lower-level ache that is more manageable. You will be able to cope and move on.
– When raising a family – a tantrumming toddler will not be one for very long. If you know the tough times will end, you will have the strength and resilience to get through them.
– When homeschooling your kids – some of us may be about to experience this challenge again in the new year but as before, we will adapt, adjust our expectations – and it will get easier. The kids will eventually go back to school and we may have learned something about ourselves (and our children) from the experience!
How do you feel about flexible working? And how has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your idea of what flexible working really means? Although many of us are now working seemingly ‘flexibly’ from home, the reality of working during a pandemic is that you’re pretty likely to be feeling pressurised, distracted by other responsibilities, working longer hours whilst feeling less productive, suffering a loss of structure, accountability and boundaries, and perhaps feeling isolated and less connected to your colleagues and others. You may need to reframe your idea of flexibility. In such challenging times of uncertainty, where you face a loss of control and anxiety about the future, you need to flip the idea of flexible working on its head. It’s no longer the job that needs to be flexible, but YOU.
How to be more flexible:
– Learn to live with uncertainty – notice when you are worrying, focus on the present and think ahead only one step at a time.
– Review and reset – check in daily. What is happening right now? Does the plan still work today? Where am I at this moment – do I need to alter my plans or do things differently because something has changed?
– Have moveable boundaries – boundaries are necessary – but be prepared to move them to adapt to changing circumstances.
It’s been super intense for many of us this year – working, homeschooling, coping with staying at home and living restricted lives. With extreme pressure and long hours working, it’s easy to head towards burnout without really realising it. If you are beginning to feel that nagging sense of anxiety, exhaustion and disconnect from your work – take action – before you reach crisis point.
– Take regular breaks
– Hydrate and nourish
– Exercise – even if only for 10 minutes, it reduces stress and increases energy.
– Practise relaxation techniques – mindfulness, meditation or breathing techniques.
– Write things down – it reduces overwhelm.
– One step at a time – don’t focus on the enormity of a challenge or the outcome, concentrate on the next one thing you need to do.
In these physically and mentally testing times, it’s only natural to worry. But why not switch our minds from self-defeating anxious thinking to valuable self-reflection? Making a concerted effort to let go of the things that aren’t serving us can only be beneficial for balancing our minds and helping us cope in dark times – as well as preparing us to restart with a refreshed sense of purpose and clarity when we return to some semblance of normality.
– Examine your idea of ‘self’ – what are your beliefs about yourself and are they serving you? Examine them with intellectual rigour and do your research. Seek evidence to counter them. Clear the obstacles from your mind and open the way to new possibilities.
– Examine your relationships – take the decision to remove toxic or unhelpful relationships from your life – let them go and allow yourself the freedom to move on.
– Examine your resentments – dwelling on resentments keeps you stuck. Liberate yourself from its draining effect. Concentrate on things you can control and change and you will have the space and energy to progress.
– Examine your assumptions – Think about all the assumptions you make about yourself and about others’ motivations. Are they really true or are they based on old, biased information and experiences? If they are – try letting them go. Think of other solutions and possibilities.
– Examine your physical space – Ditching the physical distractions from our lives is hugely important for achieving balance and calm and for giving us both the physical and mental space to move on. Clear out what you can. Pare down your physical surroundings and in turn, your mind will quieten.
“An optimist is one who sees an opportunity in every difficulty. A pessimist is one who sees a difficulty in every opportunity.”
Our brains have a big role to play in whether we view events and circumstances as positive or negative. They often stop us from perceiving things as neutral, objective facts. When we are looking for certainty or solutions to problems, our thoughts can spiral out of control, often in negative circular patterns of rumination and worrying. This can lead us to ascribe negative values to neutral events – “I didn’t get the promotion because I’m not good enough at my job”, My friend cancelled our lunch date so she must be upset with me”, “Our lives have been ruined by a global pandemic”. These statements are no longer factual. You have no hard evidence to support them other than your negative thoughts and feelings. You have made them mean something detrimental to yourself. And this detrimental thinking will negatively affect your future thoughts and actions (or inaction).
Change your thinking.
– Examine your thinking – what are you making this mean?
– Examine the facts – what are the objective fact about this experience? What do you have evidence for?
– Switch to a more positive and useful interpretation – “I didn’t get the promotion, I should use the next 6 months to get constructive feedback and hone my interview skills”. My friend cancelled our lunch date, she must be really busy right now. I’ll invite her out next week”. “Our lives have changed because of a global pandemic. I’ll try and use this time to learn something new and work on my relationships.”
– Practise – this is not necessarily easy if you’ve been in a pattern of negative thinking for a long time. But you can train yourself into making positive interpretations, and keep practising until your brain becomes rewired, and positive thinking becomes habitual.
This strange time of crisis and lockdown has afforded us all a bit of time for reflecting on and reassessing our lives. Some things that seemed important to us no longer seem to matter. Our priorities have changed. Some of us may have a renewed sense of purpose and others may be struggling to find meaning and make sense of what is happening. If you’re one of the many who feel that they’ve lost their sense of direction, a great way to start the reflection process is by understanding your motivations. In order to work out what you actually want from your life and career in the future, you need to know why you want it. And that means knowing your values.
– Review and reflect – cast your mind back over your life experiences. Think about the times when you felt most excited and energised. What was going on then and what were you doing? Conversely, reflect on some occasions in your life when you felt enraged, frustrated or devastated. Again – what was going on at that time and what were you doing? Write down your thoughts.
– Assign values to those experiences – think about the values that are connected with each of those experiences and write them down.
– Pick the values that closely align with your best experiences
– Write a statement for each of your values – eg, Independence – ‘It is important to me to earn my own money and have control of my finances’.
– Order your values – which is the most important to you?
– Plan some positive actions that correspond with your values
– Review your why regularly – keep yourself on track by regularly checking in with how you are doing in relation to living a life that aligns with your ‘why’.
This period of upheaval combined with a new year is a brilliant time to re-examine what’s important to you and to recommit to your goals.
– Remember – what were the reasons that led you to make the decisions you made at the time that you made them? Write them down and consider all the ways that they still apply.
– Assess the benefits – think of all the things you have already gained by being on this particular path and all the positive points about the goal. For example, if you have an exercise goal, how has your health and energy already increased? If you are feeling lacklustre about your career path, what are the upsides to the job?
– Make a plan – add some smaller short-term goals to your wider life plans to give you something tangible to aim for and an extra boost of motivation. Perhaps at work you could aim to add some extra value to your company – contribute some writing, or run a workshop? Sign up to a charity event to help you train and recommit to your fitness goals.
– Make some small changes – think of small ways you could introduce some variety and interest in your life. Take up a new sport, or find a new group to train with. Join a networking organisation at work and meet some new people – anything that will reignite a bit of passion and help you recommit to your long-term goals.
– Be accountable – tell someone! Being accountable is the best way to stay motivated. Speak to a friend, partner or colleague about your intentions and ask them to remind you of your commitment when your motivation wanes.
And with that, I’d like to wish you all a happy and much improved year in 2021! We’ve all come a long way through this crisis, and though it’s not over yet, with vaccination now happening – there might just be some light at the end of the tunnel. Stay positive for the year ahead. I’ll be here to help you learn, grow and become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be – to take ownership of your life and career and to achieve the balance and success that you desire. Stay tuned for more podcasts and blogs – and look out for my new book, coming out in January! If you’d like more information on my ‘Having it all’ coaching programme – contact me Caroline@babyproofyourlife.com