Paddy Upton

Thriving through uncertainty


When we find ourselves in difficult situations, such as the current one we’re all experiencing, our vision tends to narrow onto the problem and we lose the bigger picture perspective on our lives. This happens to an athlete who for example sustains a sudden career-limiting injury at the peak of their career. They can only see the injury, and their career in tatters, whilst losing sight of the fact that the situation is temporary, and that they will recover.

One way I help them navigate this situation is to take a helicopter view of their life, seeing their new situation from a big picture perspective, and then to dive down into each area where they can be proactive and productive.

Like that athlete, we awaken each day with a certain amount of hours and energy to spend in that day. How we choose to spend that time and energy will determine how smoothly and successfully we progress through this situation. We all have the choice to move ahead in various areas of our lives, to stagnate or to even regress.

The following are eight common areas I suggest to assess and proactively addressed at this time, any of which can be re-labeled to be relevant to your situation.

Regarding the mental aspect, our thoughts, which run incessantly throughout our waking hours, can be in one of three places. Focused on a) things that happened in the past, either good or bad, on b) things we think might happen in the future, also good or bad, or c) on what’s happening right here, right now, in this moment.

For many of us, as much as 95% of our thoughts dwell in the past and future, with very little time focussed in the present. When it comes to memories of the past, thoughts that will deplete your energy include; dwelling on things that went wrong, on things that we wish never happened, or any similar though that leads to experiences such as guilt, regret, resentment or similar.

What does work is to deliberately recall fond memories of people, places and experiences, and to remember those special people who have touched our lives. Reach out, connect with them, and share your gratitude for their part in your life. These uplift our spirits.

When it comes to thoughts about the future, many us will be pondering and maybe even worrying about lies ahead in the coming weeks and months.  The more time we spend worrying about what might go wrong, the more stressed, anxious, and even depressed we will make ourselves. What’s important is that we will be doing this to ourselves, and it does not energise or uplift us.

In order to energise ourselves with regards the future, we can deliberately spend thinking about all the possible value, opportunities and blessings that lie ahead. In the early days these blessings might be hidden from obvious view, but thoughts about them will uplift or spirits and charge our batteries.

What is possibly most realistic with regards future thinking, is to have a healthy balance between planning for the difficulties that may lie head, and at the same time looking at the gifts that we are currently being given through this awakening.

Better still, the more time we spend being fully present, focusing on what we’re doing right now, in this moment, the more we will sail through this experience. A few activities that aid this include meditation, yoga, hobbies, exercise or being attentive whilst in conversation with others.

On the emotional aspect, and just like that injured athlete I mentioned earlier, there are some common experiences that many of us will encounter.

We may initially experience feelings of denial, thinking that this virus is not coming to us, that it’s a hoax or that it isn’t that bad. When the reality hits, the next emotions that athlete (or ourselves) might experience are frustration and anger. We might think, “why me, why now, why does this have to happen?” and we might even take that anger and frustration out at others, maybe even others close to us. This does not serve anybody. Fear might also be experienced, which naturally happens as a result of spending too much time focusing on all the things that we think might go wrong in the future.

It’s a sensitive topic to discuss in such a short synopsis, but it’s worth mentioning that many athletes go through a period of depression some days or weeks post their injury. This also happens to many soon after their retirement. We are also susceptible to depression under the current situation. But this does not NEED to happen, especially if we approach the situation with awareness.

It has been clinically proven that when healthy-normal people spend a high percentage of time focusing 1, on themselves and 2, on negative things, that they actually become depressed. If we focus almost exclusively on ourselves and our problems in the coming weeks, we too might think ourselves into a depressed state. The way to avoid this is firstly to focus on others by reaching out to help, care for or to serve those who need help, and secondly, to focus on the silver lining around this current lockdown cloud. Mother nature for one is benefiting hugely from the break from human pollution, and we will all benefit from this improved environmental health.

Like that athlete, we will all emerge from these initial low emotions with a comfort in acceptance of what is, will become proactive and will go on to find a deeper purpose our lives and in the situation. Let’s all help each other get to the light that is definitely there, at the end of this tunnel.

On the physical aspect of our lives, we need to be diligent in attending to two main areas, to be energy IN, and energy OUT. Energy IN relates to the food and liquids we put in our mouth’s. Ensure to eat and drink for healthy body and elevated immunity, and not to over-eat, eat unconsciously, or make poor choices in what we consume. Energy out happens through movement and exercise. Like with what foods to best eat, there are plenty of online resources to support you with whatever exercise suits you best. I hope many of us will make strong choices with regards energy in and out, so that we emerge from this experience fitter, stronger and better off for the time we’ve have had to attend to our health.

Spiritually, I certainly won’t prescribe what to do, only that you attend to this aspect of your life, which can be a significant source of internal energy! If you can’t go outside, go inside. Be diligent in following whatever your chosen practice or religion, consider doing regular meditation or mindfulness sessions, all of which are available online, and ideally follow a daily gratitude ritual.

Finances might well be an area of stress for many – which is understandable. Suggestions are to ensure that you have a financial plan to navigate this time, get good advice that you can trust in formulating your plan, and then allocate time to act on that plan. Not taking action, and sitting worrying about finances, will only lead to stress.

As for hobbies or pastimes, use this opportunity to take your current hobby to the next level, or to learn a new skill. Allocate a certain amount of time each day to do this, and in time you will have gained a significant proficiency in whatever interests you. Of additional value, is that almost all hobbies provide a great way to focus your mind into the present.

Intellectually, this is a great opportunity to deepen your learning in an area that is of interest or importance for your life. Pick a subject within a very specific niche and spent say 30 minutes 5x per week online learning about it.

Finally, two things are important regarding the social aspect, those close to us and those in need. Many of us are already building connections with people we haven’t contacted as often as we’d have liked to. Make a list of the people you would like to connect with over the coming weeks, and reach out to one or two old friends each day. And secondly, there are people who will not be able to earn money to buy food. This is a precarious time for many countries and communities, and we do not want to have hungry people who are desperate for food for themselves, and especially for the children. There’s enough people, money and goodwill to feed everyone out there. Make whatever contribution you are able, to support the organisations who are tending to feeding those who are unable to do so for themselves.

This is not a time to ‘sit and wait out’ this so-called lockdown period, but rather to be proactive about adjusting our lives to meet this new set of circumstances. The athlete who gets injured does not just wait to heal and get selected again, they change their daily routines to get their careers and lives back on track. Spend your time wisely now, and give yourself the best chance of emerging from this better off, and stronger for the experience.

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