I thought that being a coach who uses mindfulness tools with his clients would somehow insulate me from the challenges that arose from the pandemic. After all, shouldn’t having tools to stay present, accept life as it is, find joy and celebrate life be what we need to get through something like COVID? But I found myself continually in dark and depressed places that using even the simplest of the tools seemed difficult.
What I realized is that these tools are indeed great resources in tough times. What was missing, however, was the attitude that was optimistic and interested enough to use them. Tools without the interest, attitude and energy to employ them are just ideas.
That is where I found myself. Disappointed that I was blessed enough to know how to be okay and help others be okay in tough times, but I still couldn’t do it. It was humbling. It was disappointing. It was enlightening.
See, I was raised to put my superhero cape on and swoop in and solve things. My siblings and I were raised to pay attention to our world and ask the question, “What could I do to make this better?” That thinking has guided me in most of my career decisions, including being a coach. But the pandemic introduced me to a version of this question that I, until now, had not considered. And when I finally took the time to consider it with a new mindset, I realized it was my way to deal with pandemic fatigue.
The revised question that has guided me to more successfully weather this pandemic is, “What could I do to make me better?” I have always been more focused on my environment and helping others without ensuring I was on solid ground. This question reminded me of the instructions we hear in every flight safety instructions, put your mask on before you help others.
So, turning inward was the start of dealing with my dark moods and continual depression. I started to name my moods and emotions. I started to link them to things that were activating them. None of this was to blame – rather, it was for understanding. In doing this, I found I started to be gentler with myself, realizing that the pandemic messed with my head, feelings and emotions. Seeing this helped me become capable to use the tools that I so quickly offer to others.
Each day, often multiple times a day, I ask myself this scaling question: “On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is happy and content and 1 is unhappy and depressed, what number am I, and why?”
Stopping and noticing where I am, and why, has helped me get clear of the feelings that are affecting my attitude. The faster I can shift my attitude from anger or avoidance (getting upset or feeling like a victim), the more energized I feel and the more capable I am to use the mindfulness tools of yoga, gratitude, breathing, journaling, spending time in nature, reading, connecting with friends, or many of the other tools that remind us that life provides no guarantees – just opportunities. And to see and connect with the opportunities requires someone who is upbeat and energized. For that, I had to take inventory of my feelings and the attitudes they inspired.
Now, I use my scaling question many times a day, particularly on days when I can feel my attitude and mood are depressed or even sour. I am better at identifying it, understanding it and making a commitment to shift it to something better.
As has been said, attitude is everything. Notice the feelings that are affecting your attitude and how your attitude is affecting your thoughts and actions. Address the feelings. Modify the attitude. Get to work on the thoughts and actions.
After all, all we get are these moments. It is up to each of us to fill them with joy instead of letting the challenges rule them. And this can best be summarized by the wisest thing I heard from a flight attendant in my 25 years of flying. He said, “Sit back and relax or lean forward and be tense. Either way, we are going to Dallas.” In other words, pandemic or party – you choose how to be in both. Choose something that makes life the best it can be. And, it will always start with the attitude you choose.