The goal is to change your response to what you can’t control. To grow so strong on the inside that nothing on the outside can affect your inner wellness without your conscious permission.
“Tough times don’t last—tough people do.” Repeat that to yourself as often as you need to in the days and weeks ahead, as the world gradually comes to grips with the hard reality of COVID-19.
There’s a saying in Tibetan philosophy, “Tragedy should be used as a source of strength.” My grandmother always repeated this line to me when I was growing up. Every time I dealt with some kind of unexpected struggle, she would graciously remind me that it was helping me grow, so long as I was willing to open my mind to it. Over the years I have learned just how right she was, and how relevant her wisdom is for all of us right now.
Remind yourself that the mind is our biggest battleground. It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. And with COVID-19 occupying so much of our present attention, we need now more than ever to keep ourselves in check.
In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.
Obviously, with the COVID-19 virus spreading rapidly around the world right now, we are all facing a tough reality. We are occupying an uncertain moment in time, on the cusp of a seemingly historic event. And while human lives are the primary concern, it’s also wise to consider the impact it may have on your mental health—to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself.
Thinking Better in Tough Times
Thinking better is all about learning to respond effectively. When you can’t control what’s happening in the world around you, you must challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. Because that’s where your power is!
Of course, that’s much easier said than done, for all of us.
So, let’s practice together.
We can do hard things!
We can make better choices…
We can choose how we spend our time in the days and weeks ahead. We can choose gratitude and grace. We can choose whom we socialize with—and perhaps more importantly, whom we don’t (social distancing). We can choose to love and appreciate the people in our lives for exactly who they are. We can choose to love and appreciate ourselves, too. We can choose how we’re going to respond to life’s surprises and struggles (COVID-19 being one of them), and whether we will see them as curses or opportunities for personal growth.
And, perhaps most importantly, we can choose to think better about our present circumstances, and let go of what we can’t control, so we can consciously make the best of what’s ahead of us.
When we think better, we live better, and peace becomes us.
Let’s not try to just “be positive” right now. Let’s not try to fake it. Instead, let’s simply open our minds to the unknowns in front of us. Here’s how:
1. Ease the immediate resistance.
(Note: This is an excerpt from our New York Times bestseller, “Getting Back to Happy”.)
You might be surprised by how often you subconsciously resist life.
If you evaluate your body and posture right now, I bet you can find some kind of tension. For me, it’s often in my neck, but sometimes it’s in my back and shoulders.
Where does this tension we feel come from? We’re resisting something – perhaps we’re annoyed by someone, frustrated at life, overwhelmed by all our obligations, or just bored. And our mental resistance creates a tension in our bodies and unhappiness in our lives. Therefore, Marc and I often recommend this simple strategy to our course students who are struggling to relieve themselves of their resistance and tension:
- Locate the tension in your body right now.
- Notice what you’re resisting and tensing up against – it might be a situation or person you’re dealing with or avoiding.
- Relax the tense area of your body – deep breath and a quick stretch often helps.
- Face the same situation or person, but with a relaxed body and mind.
Repeat this practice as often as needed today. Face the day with less tension and more presence. Change your mode of being from one of struggle and resistance to one of peace and acceptance.
2. Find your beginners mind.
(Note: This is an excerpt from the newest edition of “1,000 Little Things”.)
Imagine you had a ripe, juicy tangerine sitting on the table in front of you. You pick it up eagerly, take a bite, and begin to taste it.
You already know how a ripe, juicy tangerine should taste, and so when this one is a bit tarter than expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment, and swallow it, feeling cheated out of the experience you expected.
Or perhaps the tangerine tastes completely normal— nothing special at all. So, you swallow it without even pausing to appreciate its flavor as you move on to the next unworthy bite, and the next.
In the first scenario, the tangerine let you down because it didn’t meet your expectations. In the second, it was too plain because it met your expectations to a T.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s either not good or not good enough. This is how many of us live our lives . . . unhappily and unsuccessfully. It’s why so many of us feel let down, disappointed, and unexcited about almost everything.
Because nothing really meets our expectations.
Now, imagine you try this instead: remove your expectations of how the tangerine “should” taste. You don’t know, and you don’t expect to know, because you haven’t even tried it yet. Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial, and open to a variety of possible flavors. You taste it, and you truly pay attention. You notice the juiciness, the texture of the pulp, the simultaneously tangy, tart, and sweet flavors swirling around on your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew. You didn’t know how this tangerine would taste, but now you realize it’s different from the rest, and it’s remarkable in its own way. It’s a totally new experience—a worthwhile experience—because you’ve never tasted this tangerine before.
Mindfulness experts often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really, it’s just the result of a mind-set free of needless, stifling expectations.
The tangerine, of course, can be substituted for almost anything in your life: any event, any situation, any relationship, any person, any thought at all that enters your mind. If you approach any of these with expectations of “how it should be” or “how it has to be” in order to be good enough for you, they will almost always disappoint you in some way, or be too plain and unexciting to even remember. And you’ll just move on to the next disappointment or unworthy life experience, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth, until you’ve lived the vast majority of your life stuck in an endless cycle of experiences you barely like or barely even notice.
A Moment of Opportunity for Us
The bottom line is that every situation imaginable has hidden beauty in it if we are willing to open up to it. For example, in the past, even as Marc and I have coped with the death of loved ones, we’ve discovered opportunities for us to appreciate life more, to appreciate the lives of those we’ve lost, and to appreciate the priceless time we had with our loved ones.
We do our best to embody this same mindset in every difficult life situation we encounter. When we get ill, it’s a chance for us to rest. When some unforeseeable event—like COVID-19—postpones one of our business projects, we spend more time with family. When our son, Mac, throws a temper tantrum, we see that he’s expressing himself, asserting his individuality and being human.
We choose to find beauty even when it’s buried beneath struggles and pain. And you can do the same in the days and weeks ahead.
Again, we can practice together.
This is truly a moment opportunity for us.
The floor is yours…
Please leave a comment below and let us know:
Which point above resonated the most?
Anything else to share about COVID-19 or your present circumstances?
Marc and I would love to hear from YOU. 🙂
Also, our podcast, THINK BETTER, LIVE BETTER (yes, it shares the title of our annual live event) can be used as a tool to keep your mindset grounded while you’re socially distancing, etc. You can listen to the whole first season—30 episodes—on your favorite podcast player right now (M&A on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts).