London, United Kingdom
I was looking at a picture in a magazine this week, underneath the caption “Inner Voices”. It was of a man dressed in a suit. Sitting on his right shoulder was a tiny figure with a radiant smile. This figure was whispering lots of positive, supportive statements to the man, such as: “You are great, you’ve got this, you can overcome anything”. On the man’s left shoulder, a scowling, angry figure was taking great delight in telling him: “You are useless, you can’t cope, give up now!!”
I realised that this could easily have been a picture of me in the suit, particularly at this time of huge uncertainty and change. If I look at things rationally, I know – as I’m sure you do – that we live in a volatile and uncertain world, with so much that is outside of our direct (and indirect) control. But when I look back over my life so far, it is only at times of fundamental change that I realise how powerful these “inner voices” can be.
I run sessions on ‘Leading Through Change’ for a variety of clients all over the world, and coach lots of people who are looking to navigate through challenging periods in their professional life. But let me give you a sample of the internal dialogue which has often occupied my thoughts, particularly over the last few weeks: “Why am I so concerned about this change and uncertainty? What is wrong with me? I teach people this stuff for goodness sake!! Does that mean I’m inauthentic as a facilitator or coach? What a fake!!”
In short, the scowling, negative figure on my shoulder was shouting louder than the smiling, positive one.
Because these ‘voices’ are not new to me, I’ve developed a couple of ways of trying to ‘turn the volume up’ on the positive voice.
I’ve thought about the things that are truly important to me and I’ve written them down. I found it helps to think about the times when I was most happy/fulfilled/proud/content. What was I doing? Who was I with? What was it about that situation that made me feel that way? This then helps me to compile a list of the things (some people call them ‘values’) that are essential for me to be able to live a fulfilled and happy life. And I’ve found that this list can help when I’ve got key decisions to make.
I’ve considered the things I can control and the things that I can’t. I can’t control how long this current period of lockdown will be, but I can control what I do with my time. This period of self-isolation has enabled me to read more books, finish some of those time-consuming DIY jobs and learn some new skills (e.g. becoming slightly more adept at video conferencing). And one day I might get around to finishing that novel!! But not having to worry about missing my train, or negotiating traffic on the M25, has been strangely liberating.
I’ve also started to look at mindfulness. There is loads of stuff on the internet about this and I’ve found some of the tools and techniques helpful, particularly in helping me to keep positive. We are all different, and we react to periods of uncertainty and ambiguity in different ways. Some of us will breeze through this period. Others will find it hugely challenging and stressful for a variety of reasons. There is no one ‘right’ way to cope with change and uncertainty, but the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Do all you can to turn up the volume on the positive, supportive figure on your shoulder.
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