No better time to work on ourselves
There hasn’t been a better time in recent history to work on our flaws that have been nicely tucked away during ‘normal’ times, and be better versions of ourselves. But how the heck is self-improvement supposed to be on our priority list, amidst news of the novel Coronavirus – given it’s darn scary and highly contagious nature – surrounding us these days? How are we supposed to work on ourselves when we feel uncertainty and anxiety for ourselves and our loved ones, especially those who are vulnerable?
Adversities and Challenges
We look at the stats and see those numbers rising and as time passes, we grasp the grim reality and severity of the situation more and more. The majority of us, either by choice or via a government enforced lockdown are now at home, living and working around our families, partners and/or kids or alone. We face novel challenges these days. Novel challenges that accompany our novel reality.
During our confinement, tensions can flair and exacerbate existing problems within ourselves. We will become more irritable, anxious and reactive. BBC reports that the UK’s National Domestic Abuse hotline has seen a 25% increase in calls & online requests for help and a 150% increase in visits to the website in the past week.
Challenges that arise from staying at home can range anywhere between:
- Loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety if you live by yourself
- Young kids who are constantly asking for things or wreaking havoc or screaming all the time
- A noisy partner perhaps, who’s operating the vacuum cleaner to sort out a mess created by those little hellions (guilty!), or clanking away at cutlery in the kitchen nearby, as if doing so on purpose to interrupt you from a task that requires concentration.
- An obsessive-compulsive partner who dictates that things be done a certain way
- Many of us will turn red with rage or pull our hairs while helping our kids study and trying to get them to focus with distant learning and all.
- A lot of us who are lucky enough to still have jobs and are now working from home will face many challenges from technological issues to distractions that demand our precious and elusive attention. The quiet refuge of being at work (even though it’s a break from seeing your Hitler-esque boss and some annoying colleagues) is temporarily off the table.
The above is just a sample of annoyances that could take place. If your kids are all grown up or you don’t have any, well that’s just swell isn’t it!
“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family”. ― Ram Dass.
The seemingly undesirable situations that occur at home are actually chances to grow in disguise.
As previously mentioned, staying at home long enough will definitely bring up some emotions and reactions we thought we had at bay. Areas in ourselves that need improvement are highlighted this way.
Emotionally intelligent people who are thought to have good control of themselves do so by managing their reactions. Notice how I wrote reactions, NOT emotions.
Reactions are the Run commands of pre-programmed thinking habits in our minds. With time and effort, emotions can become more regulated the more we control our impulses to react negatively.
Lashing out at the kids or partner (or stomping on that stupid printer) might seem like a good idea at the time but you can surely see how avoiding that is better in the long run.
Why do you think Zen monks are portrayed as those super chilled out people who are unaffected by external circumstances? (Not that monk who fought Adam Sandler in Anger Management). It’s not because they aren’t affected emotionally by adversity, but rather, they don’t let their emotions dictate their reactions. They are very good at keeping their emotions at bay and thinking of them as just that. Fleeting emotions.
This is where growth and self-mastery lie.
It’s about going the hard way. It’s about calmly resisting what you are used to doing when a negative stimulus takes place because of less helpful thoughts. These thoughts can cause our emotions to run high and get us into a fight or flight state. During that state of “not thinking straight” we act on what seems like an appropriate response at the time.
It could be extremely hard to resist but here are powerful tactics you can use when you find yourself getting worked up:
- The very first thing you need to do is know that this is happening. Make it conscious.
- Calmly resist every urge to react with all you’ve got. (This gets easier to do with practice)
- Notice which parts of your body are tensing up and how fast and short your breathing becomes. (that’s your body preparing you for fight or flight, not the most pleasant feeling in the world now is it?)
- Consciously breathe more slowly and deeply in a paced manner. According to Harvard Health Publishing “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange… Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”
- Ignore that dumb egocentric gremlin in your head that’s blowing things way out of proportion. An example of something your gremlin would say to you is “how dare they say/do that to me, I don’t deserve this. I’ll show this punk.”
- Think of the most appropriate response that’s coming from a place of centeredness and respond accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, if someone is purposely trolling you or being abusive, stop them in their tracks, but do so elegantly.
- Understand that this takes time to master and you might not get it right the first few times, especially if you have a deep-rooted habit of responding negatively right away. It gets easier with time but you have to keep at it.
The funny thing is, it’s more difficult to remain centered and calm in tense situations than to lash out, even though the latter requires more energy physically.
Your Choice, Boss!
“When you react, you let others control you. When you respond, you are in control.”― Bohdi Sanders
Will it be worth the temporary inner torture you have to go through? The internal clashes of your demons, battling to get out?
It is always worth it. You come to learn that you have options to choose from. To choose the correct reactions that serve the higher purpose of propelling you forward in life.
Well, the quality of your life mostly depends on how you react to situations that are outside your circle of influence.
But guess what…
Your reactions are within that circle.
You learn that there’s an awesome gap between a stimulus and a reaction.
Let other people be. Understand that people are different. Accept that the other person is dealing with the same information from a different stance. Don’t think of them as a threat.
Instead of “minding the gap”, I would say, jump right into it and stay there for two seconds before you react. It’s always better, 100% of the time.
This applies to any situation, whether at home or elsewhere, and with practice, the positive results will ripple through your life far into the future.
* Just a side note to acknowledge the unbelievable efforts of those uncaped superheroines out there called mothers, who are taken for granted and for me personally, after staying at home for so long, could not be more aware of those efforts and could not be more grateful for the existence of this incredible human!
Ahmed Shaikhon is a Canadian architect who was born and brought up in Dubai, UAE where he currently resides. Ahmed’s passion for personal development and positive psychology began 14 years ago while working on a university project, which called for the design of a meditation sanctuary for people of all faiths. The research for this project formed the basis for more investigation, extensive research and a deeper understanding of the human psyche. Ahmed sees himself as a personal development explorer and coaches people to overcome mental scripts that impede them from living fully, reaching goals and being sustainably happy. To learn more, visit Ahmed’s website: ahmedshaikhon.com or Facebook page: facebook.com/ashaikhon