How to Regain a Sense of Calm and Control in Uncertain Times
One of the things I love best is to wake up early on a Sunday morning and come down to a clean kitchen counter where I can sit in peace with a cup of tea and read the Sunday paper.
It’s peaceful for me to have the whole place to myself yet knowing that I’m not alone in the house since everyone’s still sleeping.
But sometimes, we’ve left the kitchen in a mess on Saturday night. And when I walk in the next morning to see the crumbs on the counter and dishes in the sink, it feels like all is not quite right in my little corner of the world.
In fact, I can’t enjoy my Sunday morning until I’ve cleaned the counters, washed up and put everything back in its place. Only then can I properly focus on my morning activities.
The same thing can be true of our ability to focus on our work. With so much up in the air in today’s environment, things can feel out of control and distract us from focusing on what we’ve set out to do.
Just as I need to feel in control of my kitchen to properly enjoy my Sunday morning, you might feel the need to get a grip on what’s going on around you before you can focus on your work and other things that are important in your life.
But with things so up in the air these days, how can you feel in control?
Here are three things you can do to regain your sense of calm and control even when the world around you feels out of control.
- Focus on your sphere of influence
- Stick to your routine
- Do things that give you a sense of comfort
Let’s start with the first.
Get clear on what’s in your sphere of influence and what isn’t
One of the most draining things is to worry about things you can’t control. It leads to feeling weak, vulnerable and hopeless. But while you know it’s pointless to worry, it’s also hard to let go.
This is when it’s useful to get clear on what you have some control over. Think of this as your sphere of influence. Unlike the things you can’t control, things in your sphere of influence are the pieces of bigger issues that you can do something about.
You can’t single handedly stop the pandemic, rev up the global economy or create world peace. But sometimes, there are things you can do to help influence outcomes.
For example, if you’re a scientist, you could work on a vaccine and if you’re a regular citizen, you can make sure you’re not spreading the virus. If you lead a team, you can do your bit for the economy to keep people employed and get creative about ways to redeploy your resources to generate better returns. And as for world peace, you can make peace with colleagues and family members as a starting point.
The key is to get clear on what’s in your sphere of influence and what isn’t. To feel more in control, you can take action on the former and ignore the latter.
I’ve found that when you do everything you can do to influence the outcome, it’s much easier to let go of the result and move on to something more productive.
It also helps to stop exposing yourself to needless reminders of all that’s wrong with the world that you can’t do anything about. For example, you could set boundaries around reading the news feed like setting aside specific times of day to read it. A friend of mine has gone as far as deleting all social media and news apps from his phone.
This brings us to the next item.
Create a routine and stick to it
The beauty of routines is that they’re soothing. They give you a sense of safety and normality in a world where everything is upside down.
If you have a morning or evening routine, this is the time to double down and make sure you make time for it. It will help keep you on an even keel. Even if everything else goes pear-shaped in your day, the steadiness of that routine will help you return to a feeling of calm and being in control.
And if things have changed so your routine no longer works, it’s time to create a new routine and stick to it. For example, if you used to work out at a gym on the way to work, could you squeeze in a HIIT routine in the living room before the kids get up? And if you used to journal in the morning but you’re on child duty then, could that become part of a new bedtime routine?
Whatever it is, choose one thing you can reliably do no matter what the world throws at you, make it a priority and stick to it. Even if you have to adjust it along the way, keep figuring out how to make it work. You’ll feel more in control and that leads to feeling better about yourself.
Which leads us to the third item.
Do things that give you a sense of calm and comfort
These can be simple things that don’t cost much either in financial or time measures. Like treating yourself to a latte instead of a regular coffee. Putting up a piece of artwork you love looking at. Spending quality time hanging out with your dog. Watering the plants or tending to your garden.
For me, having a drawer full of kitchen towels color-coded and folded Marie Kondo style that brings me calm and comfort. The other day, I pulled open the drawer and to my horror, there were only a few towels left! I rushed to the laundry area and found some in the dryer and immediately folded them and placed them in the drawer. And all felt right in the world again.
I hadn’t realized how much I valued having a full set of towels available and how distressed I felt without them in place.
Such a small thing, but it gives me a sense of abundance and being in control. At least I have my towels at the ready!
What small things help you feel calm and in control? How could you lean into them more?
But what if things are happening around you and there’s nothing you can do?
If you feel buffeted by the changes going on around you and helpless to do anything about it, then it’s time to do what I call “T’ai Chi” your way through. It’s my term for going with the flow rather than against it. While I’m no T’ai Chi expert, I imagine their moves are about absorbing the incoming blow and gracefully redirecting it back out in a different way to avoid harm.
Like the time my mother fell and miraculously escaped injury. As she felt herself get off balance, she decided to roll into the fall instead of trying to prevent it. She figured it would probably have resulted in greater injury to use force against an immovable object (the ground). As a result, she was just a little shaken up but nothing was broken.
How could you go with the flow rather than against it?
Just don’t make the mistake of “powering through”
When you keep pushing yourself to do the impossible and control the uncontrollable, you’re punishing yourself. When you’ve done what you can in your sphere of influence, it’s time to allow yourself to let go of the result.
Put yourself in a position to go with your flow, not against it. Or as a colleague says, “ride the horse in the direction it’s going.”
Your life will go much more smoothly as a result. And you just might see some new places and opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise! But you have to be open to it.
So when the world around you feels out of control and you can’t focus on your work or relationships, it’s time to regain your sense of calm by doing the following:
- Focus on your sphere of influence – when you’ve done the things you can, you can let go of the result
- Stick to your routine – even if you need to adjust your old routine or create a new one altogether, having a routine will give you a sense of greater security and control
- Do things that give you a sense of comfort – find the small and precious things that make you feel good and whole in your life and lean into them.
What will you do to create a greater sense of calm and control for yourself in this out-of-control world?
Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!