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Author Kate Swoboda: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Taking the long view of what’s happening right now, can be helpful. I think sometimes, people forget that before COVID-19 dominated the news headlines every single day, it was always possible that people could die. Always. Nothing has actually changed. Illness and pandemics are part of being a human being on the planet. I’m not […]

Taking the long view of what’s happening right now, can be helpful. I think sometimes, people forget that before COVID-19 dominated the news headlines every single day, it was always possible that people could die. Always. Nothing has actually changed. Illness and pandemics are part of being a human being on the planet. I’m not diminishing the power of this virus — it’s bad — I’m just pointing out that there’s nothing happening on the planet now, that wasn’t happening before. Pandemics, taxes, death, illness, are all part of life. Good things are part of life, too! But you weren’t actually any more assured of having a long and healthy life before January 2020 — no one knows when their time is up.


As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Swoboda.

Kate Swoboda is author of The Courage Habit, Director of the Courageous Living Coach Certification, and creator of YourCourageousLife.com. She is also a meditation teacher for the Simple Habit app, and her work has been featured in multiple outlets, including USA Today, Forbes, and the BBC.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Iwas working in a job that looked good on paper but didn’t feel great to show up for every day. I was sitting in a meeting when I realized that I absolutely needed to make a change — it was that immediate, and it scared me to know something so clearly, so suddenly. As I tried to figure out what my next move was, I started to get curious about my experience of fear, and that had me start to look at what helps people to cultivate courage.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It was interesting to discover that fear actually shows up with the same few things to say, for everyone. Everyone thinks that they aren’t enough, in some way, when their fear is activated. Everyone thinks that worrying about the future means you’ll control it when their fear is activated. When our fear is *not* activated, we understand that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. When our fear is activated, that’s when things get skewed, and it’s fascinating to see that actually, we’re all running around doing the same thing when we’re afraid, even when we think that we’re so unique. We are unique individuals, but how our fear plays out isn’t particularly unique.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Read books about it, and talk to people about it. I think that when I was trying to wing it on my own, I was mostly just acting like a labrador puppy, sort of bouncing around with the team like, “Yay, we work together, it’s going to be great!” That’s a positive attitude, but then when conflicts arose or when it was time to deliver negative feedback, I was completely awkward. So — before things get awkward? Do a bit of work to try to figure out how you’ll handle conflicts that could arise.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart is a classic. It’s about getting real with the difficulties that we face, while also holding a space that we can actually withstand the things that we think we can’t be with.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Willingness to be with what arises, even the negative things or the things that are uncomfortable, while keeping perspective.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

I don’t think we become mindful so much as we regularly practice mindfulness — the more we practice it, the more we experience it, and the less we practice it, the less we experience it. Physically, mindfulness helps your nervous and immune systems, and you’ll sleep better. Mentally, you’ll think more clearly and be more able to keep perspective when difficulties happen. Emotionally? You’re less reactive. You slow down. You evaluate before you react, and start responding with intention and from a place of your values.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

There’s got to be a commitment to wanting to be more mindful. We’ve all been that person who said they wanted their lives to change, but then didn’t actually make the time for it. In reality, making the time for it is just one piece of the puzzle. You’ve got to actually commit to it, deciding, “This is who I am and how I’m going to live my life, and my commitment is an expression of that.”

We can become more mindful when we don’t decide that it “has to” look a certain way. I resisted meditation for years because I thought there was only one way to do it. When I began to experiment with different styles of meditation, I learned more about what I was drawn to. I particularly love guided meditations. Something about the guided aspect of things helps me to slow down and focus more.

Finding time is another piece. We don’t need long stretches of the day, but a good fifteen or twenty minutes is where we start. I know that right now, many people are cooped up with their families — who they of course love, but no one likes being stuck inside and limited around work and school. So if a lot of space and privacy isn’t available to you, consider that you could use times like when you’re in the shower for mindfulness.

Enlisting others is another way to become more mindful. If your partner is open to a simple breathing or meditation practice, great! Kids actually have a lot more ability to slow down and be mindful than you’d think. Five year olds can be given instructions to focus their minds on things, and adding in a few stretchy poses and counting will help them focus for small increments of time.

Tying your activities for more mindfulness to a certain time of day is what is more likely to make it consistent. I struggled for years to get a set meditation practice together — until I decided to make the time after waking up my meditation time. That’s when I decided that I’d just be consistent with things, and since then, I’ve been meditating regularly. It happens after I wake up, and it’s tied to that. Now it feels strange to wake up and not meditate.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

First, let the person be anxious and validate that yes, we are living under anxiety-producing circumstances. No one likes to be told to calm down. I believe the saying is, “In the entire history of calming down, no one has ever calmed down by being told to calm down.” People feel feelings, and we don’t need to make them wrong for what they feel.

At the same time, it’s helpful to know what kind of support they are hoping for — because endlessly holding space for someone who is anxious, isn’t really effective. So, a question like, “What kind of support can I offer?” might help.

Taking the long view of what’s happening right now, can be helpful. I think sometimes, people forget that before COVID-19 dominated the news headlines every single day, it was always possible that people could die. Always. Nothing has actually changed. Illness and pandemics are part of being a human being on the planet. I’m not diminishing the power of this virus — it’s bad — I’m just pointing out that there’s nothing happening on the planet now, that wasn’t happening before. Pandemics, taxes, death, illness, are all part of life. Good things are part of life, too! But you weren’t actually any more assured of having a long and healthy life before January 2020 — no one knows when their time is up.

Reframes are also helpful, and right now, we need a reframe to remember that there is still a lot of good happening. People are fighting to come together. The world may finally take coronaviruses — of which COVID-19 is just one! — seriously enough to truly develop vaccines so that these particular illnesses can’t hurt us again.

Last, part of people’s anxiety is tied to resources, and that’s very real. Let’s all ask ourselves how we can pool food, toilet paper, money, whatever it is that we might have to give. We support people emotionally when we listen, but sometimes people’s emotions are heightened because they don’t have access to what they need. Let’s do what we can to help with that.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Small, short meditations. And if not meditation, then willingness to periodically take a long, deep breath and come back to what’s happening in this moment — which is likely for anyone reading this, that they are breathing and alive and mostly okay.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“‎Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” — Miller Williams

This has long been my favorite quote because it reminds us all that there are things going on beneath the surface that we cannot know. I know that any time I’ve ever been full of “conceit, bad manners, or cynicism” it was because I was in deep pain. I appreciate the compassion extended to me at those times. I’d love our world to think of people’s pain from this lens.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In light of the current circumstances, I’d love it if we all started to really push our leaders to make universal healthcare a reality in every country. The fact that there has been so much disorganization throughout this entire process has hindered testing and people’s care and people without health insurance might be hesitating to go to the hospital. We need nationalized healthcare, both because it’s less expensive for everyone overall and because we’re seeing the consequences of not having an organized healthcare system right now.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

YourCourageousLife.com and TeamCLCC.com, or @katecourageous on Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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