WHY COVID-19 PRESENTS US ALL WITH A HUGE OPPORTUNITY
Part 1- Getting Started
Thanks to the coronavirus it appears many of us we’ll be spending a great deal of time at home in the days and weeks to come. Being forced to stay in may seem at first to be a real drag for most of us, but I promise you this can also be the opportunity of a lifetime. Of course, it may be tempting to spend the night time vacillating between social media feeds, YouTube videos, and binge watching whatever series on Netflix, but if you’re someone looking for more, this just may be your chance to put the devices away and get to work on bettering your life!
As the CEO of a company that specializes in life improvement, I know what the mechanics of change look like. Strangely enough much of what is required to begin the process just got a whole lot easier thanks to the COVID-19.
Being forced to take the ‘time out’ we are all a little desperate for, a type of forced attrition, could be the turning point needed for much brighter days ahead.
Most of us are used to living our lives like crisis managers. Everyday what we think, how we feel, and how we act is determined by whatever we happen to be dealing with at that time. We grab our phones before our feet hit the ground in the morning to check email, texts, and social media — and what happens from there, depends entirely on what is happening then, in front of us, at that moment. Whether I open my eyes to a loving text message from my partner or get a frantic email from my boss, what I think, feel, and do next is always a reaction to whatever chance happens to have had in store that day.
The problem with living this way is it’s too easy to lose sight of what it is we’re truly after. This is how life passes us by. We make promises to ourselves that we’ll start the new business, that writing project, finally lose the weight, change our diet, go to marriage counseling, whatever it may be – “later”, “tomorrow”, “next week” – and, in the mean time, distract ourselves from the nagging lack of fulfillment that we don’t want to face. Unfortunately, to cultivate the life we want most we have to start to look long and hard at what it is we want and don’t want, then begin to move in the general direction of a change.
No matter what it is you’re after, taking time alone, away from others, is a well established and significant part of the process of change. “Why is alone time so important,” you ask? Alone time is important for two key reasons! First, taking time to focus on what you want requires a period of sustained attention. No distractions, no interruptions — just you and your focus! These days, especially, could there be any more distractions? Having “me” time is critical to the self improvement process. All successful people make time for themselves. Whether it’s 4:30 a.m. or late at night, taking time for yourself each day uninterrupted, to hear yourself think, is absolutely invaluable! This kind of time, though, can be really hard to come by. There is no doubt we all have to fight to make the time, and fight even harder to keep it!
That’s what makes the coronavirus truly an opportunity for us all. It’s being handed to us on a silver platter.
The second reason is, ironically, not so different from the idea of being quarantined to begin with. It’s to allow you the opportunity to get away from the negativity bias of others, and the triggers in your day to day life that keep reinforcing your maladaptive habits. Often colleagues, friends, and family will encourage you to“play it safe”, or try and convince you the status quo “is fine” the way it is, to try to get you to keep things the same. Friends and loved ones can be a little dangerous when change is the goal. They reinforce your fears, and help you to rationalize all the reasons why it’s okay to stay the same. It’s not that others don’t want you to succeed. It’s that your effort, your success, reflects back to them their failures, their guilt, a reminder of what they think they should do that they’re not doing. In other words, it makes them feel bad. This is part of what makes change so fundamentally difficult.
We will have to go against the life we’ve carefully crafted thus far.
Mechanically changing your life is simply a process of learning something new. Just like learning a new language or taking up a new hobby, making life changes, improving your habits, finding ways to achieve at a higher level requires learning how to do something you do not know how to do yet. That means building new wiring in the brain. It’s the difference between trying to learn Italian attending a class one hour a week versus living in Milan for a year. Learning it one hour a week doesn’t work because the moment you can return to speaking as you always have, you will, and do. Where as in Italy, you have no choice but to use the new thing you’re learning. When it comes to learning something new, building new positive habits of mind and body, friends and family have the same effect. The challenge here, though, is unlike learning a new language, when you’re trying to incorporate new habits of thought and behavior, the old thoughts and behaviors can hijack the system at any time. The brain is always looking to conserve as much energy as possible. That means that it will often default to the path of least resistance — the easier way. For those trying to make a full scale life improvement, sustained motivation, focus, keeping your eye on the prize, and effort will be required to make it happen. You will have to fight for it!
So take this time at home as an opportunity. There are four keys to change. Motivation, Focus, Knowledge (as in having right information), and the hardest one of all, Discipline.
Remember this! Change only happens one way. We have to step into this moment, the here and now and make a different decision than you ever have before. That’s it!
Now that you have the ingredients let’s start with these basics. These are just the beginning steps to position you for the harder stuff that is all to come. Stay tuned.
1) Get Clear… Journal!
Take some time — uninterrupted. Start earlier in the day, if possible. Just write! Write about what you want! Write about what the ideal looks like! Write for clarity. The idea is to take the much needed time to clarify what it is you are after! Get as clear as possible. The brain operates like a GPS system. If you wanted to drive from here to Los Angeles, you’d plug in the address and follow the directions to get there. That’s precisely how the brain works, too. Without the destination, if you don’t know where you’re going, there will be no clear path to getting there.
There is a reason why the only book in Steve Jobs library was an autobiography of a Yogi. Meditation works. At this point, you almost have to be insane not to be using it. I know, I know, I hear the excuses all the time. Most people have the wrong impression about what meditation means. People say to me,“Oh, I wish I could meditate. I just can’t stop thinking!” News flash folks, no one can! In fact, the first thing that we do when we close our eyes and stop moving is start thinking! The point is none of us can just stop thoughts! They call meditation a practice for a reason. It takes a lot of it! The idea is not to stop thought, the idea is to learn how to take back your mind! The idea is to make an effort not to have to give into every urge you have to think about something. The idea is to learn how to find the present, rather than to live constantly in the past or future. When we close our eyes we turn off the majority of sensory input coming into the brain. That then allows for us to begin to hear our voice. We simply don’t realize how utterly bombarded we are with information from the outside world. Messages about who to be, how to be, where to be, what to do, what not to do — the list goes on. It’s just too easy to get lost. To not hear our true voice. The biggest gift you could give to yourself is meditation. It is a game changer.
As a starting point try guided meditations. YouTube has 1,000’s of them. Find your flavor. Start with five minutes a day and work up to 15 to 20! You don’t have to become Buddha to get the benefits from mediation. Believe me. It’s worth it.
3) Controlling the Message
Although we may not be aware of it, our attention is the great commodity of the modern age. Everyone is after it! All day, everyday, billions of dollars are going into just trying to get your attention. Everything around you, every app, video game, and billboard, is strategically placed to get one thing — you to act! You feel compelled to action, to buy more stuff! The point is here if you aren’t aware of or being deliberate about what you give your attention to, someone else surely is!
Complicating matters more, all your music, favorite TV shows, and sports teams, all act as prompts, triggers, cues to your brain for you to be, do, say, and think, as you always have. These all activate the old wiring — keeping you stuck in the past! Tethering you to what was! That means it’s time to get deliberate. So how do you want things to be? Is there someone that you’ve always admired? How do you imagine their life is different than yours?
To get started, expose yourself to something different. New sites and new sounds. New music and different types of media. Begin to think about the way your home looks, sounds, and smells. Everything around you serves as a trigger. A trigger for bad habits of thought that will keep you stuck exactly where you are right now. It changes what you see, so you’ve got to send a different message. A message to the brain that things are different now! Maybe it’s a new paint job. Pick up some incense and essential oils. Maybe it’s time for a new linens, plants — anything you can do to tell your brain that times are a changing. It may sound small, it may sound trite, but I promise you the importance of this cannot be overstated!
It’s now time for you to develop some awareness. Awareness of your inner dialogue. How do you talk to yourself? Are you grumpy? self-critical? Do you complain a lot? Do you expect bad things to come? Or are you happy? Do you laugh often? Can you be silly? Do you always try to make the best of it? The tone and tenor of your inner dialogue is the single most important determinant of your success or failure. Now is the time to begin to learn what it sounds like! Once you have that information, you can begin to change your inner dialogue to what might serve you better. Remember, you are the only person you can’t ever escape! You are with you every waking moment for the rest of your life!
About the Author
Samantha Benigno is the CEO of MYND MVMT, a program that offers an alternative approach to mental health and addiction treatment. MYND MVMT www.myndmvmt.com uses an integrated, health and wellness model where mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, and long term goal attainment are built into the rehabilitation process. Mind Mvmt specializes in the treatment and recovery of depression, anxiety, substance use and abuse, behavioral addictions, and working with those who struggle to feel fulfilled in their lives.
Samantha is a career mental health professional, educator, and consultant.