When will this crisis be over? When can we get back to school, back to work, back to life?
The unpleasant truth is, no one knows. Harder still is that even when we declare this crisis behind us, the life we ‘get back to’ will not be the one it was.
This is not pessimistic thinking (as I wrote last week, I’m a hard-core optimist.) Rather it is simply our reality.
Of course, no one enjoys uncertainty, even at the best of times. As cognitive neuroscientist Archy de Berker from University College London found in his research, our brains our wired to look for patterns, to make plans on a future we can predict.
“Knowing for sure that your plane is cancelled can be less stressful than being kept in nervous suspense as it is repeatedly delayed,” said de Berker.
In the midst of this pandemic, our stress isn’t because we don’t know if things will be cancelled. It’s because we don’t know when they’ll be uncancelled.
Which begs the question:
How do we handle the psychological discomfort this uncertainty triggers so we can navigate through it?
The answer is as difficult as it is simple – to embrace the discomfort of this moment and to trust that in within it lays the opportunity to discover within ourselves strengths we may otherwise not have known.
Ground yourself in self-certainty
Adversity does that. It introduces us ourselves on a whole new level. Unable to skim busily across the surface of our lives, this collective upending of the usual predictably of our lives is compelling us to ‘dig deep’ and confront an intense mix of swirling emotions we’d much sooner avoid.
Let’s be clear: this ‘digging is not comfortable (no worthwhile endeavor ever is). Yet by allowing ourselves to lean into the uncertainty of this moment – to feel our vulnerability and embrace our discomfort – we can access new realms of courage and creativity, resourcefulness and resilience, we may never have otherwise.
That said, no one says it’s a walk in the park when you’re in the middle of the mess; when you have no idea what the immediate future holds. In fact, when it comes to sitting with uncomfortable emotions, our instinctive default response is to avoid them.
And so in the midst of this moment of collective vulnerability, we have to make a choice between two fundamental options.
To rant against the unfairness and awfulness of it all. To lay blame, soak in self-pity and let fear of the unknowns consume our thinking and dial up our stress. Or just distract ourselves as best we can (‘happy hour at every hour’).
Or (my recommended route)…
To look within ourselves for the certainty we seek, embracing the rawness of our emotions while aligning ourselves to values we want our lives to stand for.
So if the uncertainty ahead has left you unsettled, take a moment to get fully present to the emotions swirling within you. Own them. Label them (a study by UCLA found that doing this helps us to regulate our emotions.) Notice where they’re constricting in your body and really breath into them. As neuro anatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor found, even 90 seconds of breathing into where we feel emotions sitting in our bodies can loosen their grip and help us harness our full cognitive horsepower.
The space that opens up will free you to double down on what lays within your control, grounding yourself to your core intrinsic values.
Kindness. Community. Integrity. Compassion. Service. Love. Hope. Family. Courage. Purpose.
As I discovered while researching my latest book You’ve Got This!, studies validate the efficacy of anchoring ourselves to internal values like those listed above (versus external values like wealth or social status). A study at Stanford University found that when we operate from a place of ‘attitude certainty’ it acts as a form of psychological safety net that fosters resilience and courage.
In other words, deliberately aligning your behavior to your core values enables you to feel more centered – mentally, emotionally and spiritually – when the world around you feels shaky.
In recent years, I’ve had to deal with immense levels of uncertainty as my husband has been relocated around the world by his employer, resulting in my four children being spread across the globe. In recent weeks, my own sense of vulnerability dialled up further when he was hospitalized for this lethal coronavirus (while still in hospital, I’m grateful to report he is making a good recovery). The first day I felt decidedly off-center. But then I got out my journal, a long held practice that always grounds me, and recommitted to getting back ‘on purpose’ in my work and showing up as the person I most aspire to be.
Of course this hasn’t changed anything else around me, but it’s changed everything within me.
And so while my future remains decidedly uncertain, what I do know with absolute certainty is this:
Whatever happens, I’ll be okay and I’ll figure it out.
One day at a time. One moment at a time. One choice at a time.
The same is true for you.
When we trust in our innate capacity to meet each moment as it arrives, we reclaim the energy lost to our ‘fear-casts’ of worst case future outcomes, and liberate our energy to bring the best of ourselves to the challenges at hand. To think more creatively, respond more constructively, connect more compassionately, communicate more authentically, and lead more courageously.
There was never a night that did not end with dawn. Likewise, every significant crisis throughout history – pandemics, depressions, wars – has been followed by a rebound of the human spirit and an intellectual, social and cultural blossoming.
When will this crisis be over?
It’s a natural question to ask. Yet the better question is
How can I bring my best and bravest self to every moment from now until it is?
As I have written before, ‘growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.’
As uncertain and uncomfortable as this crisis may be, it holds a powerful catalyst for profound transformation, individually and collectively.
On the personal front, it holds a silent invitation for us to peel back the layers that keep us from knowing our true strength and blossoming into the fullness of the person we have it within us to become.
Collectively, it invites us to transcend the divisive, ego-dominated paradigms that keep us from rallying together to create a more sustainable, compassionate and courageous world.
But first… discomfort.
It holds the key to new beginnings and to a brighter future than the one we’ve left behind.
Some of the most significant chapters of our lives won’t get a title until much later.
A speaker on courageous leadership, Margie’s has just released her fifth book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself with Wiley publishing.