Let's just start with the obvious: It's been a tumultuous week. Over the past six months (at the very least), the tension surrounding the presidential election grew increasingly worse on a daily basis until it seemed as if it had reached an untenable peak last Tuesday. Shockingly, things only got worse from there.
Confession: This election wrecked me. I felt as if the foundation of all my ideals as an American, a woman, and a mother came under assault in ways that I'd never imagined. In the aftermath, I've felt deep sadness, frustration, anger, and fear (particularly when it comes to thinking of the results in the context of my 4-year-old daughter, Zoe). Regardless of which side of the coin you fall on, the general mood of the country seems to be one of confusion regarding our future.
So, where do we go from here? How do we deal with everything that's going on around us? The answer, of course, is that we have to find ways to move forward. For me, that means doing what I do best — coaching. I've spent the last twelve plus years helping people feel empowered in their careers, and during that time, I can't tell you how many people have come to me feeling overwhelmed… hopeless… paralyzed. Believe me, that's not hyperbole — one of the most common things I hear at the beginning of a coaching relationship is, "I feel stuck and I have no idea what to do. Everything feels out of my control.”
Going through this past week, I eventually came to realize that so many people were saying the same thing about their lives. At this point, there's been so much written about the election and the current state of our society, and some of it is VERY good. But what I've found is that it's mostly emotional or theoretical. And while that's great from an intellectual POV, it's difficult to actually "do" anything with all of the commentary floating through our heads. I think that what people are really searching for right now is tangibility. In that spirit, I'd like to offer you some practical tools and tips that are PROACTIVE rather than REACTIVE — small-scale actions that will not only give you a sense of control over some part of your life, but will hopefully empower you with the feeling that positive change is still very much possible. Let’s get to it.
UNPLUG, JUST A LITTLE…YOU’LL BE FINE…REALLY
First, let's state the obvious: We live in a digital world. Unlike elections of years past (particularly anything pre-Obama), we had wall-to-wall coverage of this campaign season seeping into every area of our lives via our TVs, computers, and phones — it felt impossible to get away from it. After last week's outcome, that barrage hasn't lessened a bit and I think we're all feeling shell-shocked because of it.
While you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) hide from everything 100% of the time, you are ultimately in control of what you are exposed to. You don’t have to watch the kinds of television programs that traffic in post-election analysis, nor do you have to visit the websites and blogs that are filling their posts with doom and gloom. You can keep a low profile on Facebook and Twitter. You can read the headlines on your way to other news, but you do not have to click on every election-centric article.
Is this difficult? Yes. But can it be done? Absolutely. And, look, I think it's important to acknowledge that there are a lot of great resources that you can find online. Many people are finding solace by speaking about their anxieties in Facebook groups and online communities. But, being immersed in nonstop rhetoric all day long is just not healthy. Set limits. Turn it off. Engage with the world around you. Go on a walk if you get antsy. Call a friend. Remember, the amount of social media you expose yourself to is IN your control. So, take control of it.
WATCH THAT NASTY INNER CRITIC: FEAR
One of the major impacts that this election has had on people is conjuring up some serious anxiety over the future. This is completely understandable, as we're talking about the kinds of things that have ramifications across our entire society, now and into the future. For 50% of the country, those ramifications feel necessary and welcome; to the other half, they feel downright dangerous — that's how divided we are.
If you fall into the latter group, the future likely seems bleak, and that can conjure up all kinds of inner critics, particularly in the form of FEAR. Fear is powerful; it can do a LOT of damage (see: fear as major campaign tactic in 2016 election). And while it's a good thing to understand fear and why you're feeling it, it's all too easy to give in to it.
I love this beautiful parable by the very wise Pema Chodron about a young warrior who is told by her teacher that she must enter into battle with Fear. The warrior is terrified do to this, but follows her teacher’s orders, and before going into battle, she asks Fear: "How can I defeat you?"
Fear says: "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power."
Given what we're facing as we move forward, I think it's absolutely important to understand and respect any fear that you may be feeling. When we're talking about things like racism, inequality, women's rights, gun control and climate change, we're talking about things that scare a lot of people in terms of the direction that we're headed in. But, it's crucial that you don't give in to that fear or allow yourself to take action in the name of it. For some of you, just being mindful and identifying fear when it strikes will be enough to tame it. For others, you may need more help. We've got a lot of good blog posts on how to deal with Inner Critics, so make sure you check them out.
TAKE CONTROL BY TAKING ACTION
Technically, the first two tips above are forms of action. But, let's talk about how to focus your life on a daily basis with a Daily Action Plan. The idea here is simple: Decision-making takes up valuable brain power — which we now know is finite — so the less decisions we give ourselves to make throughout the day with regards to our schedule, the more additional energy we will have for the things that matter.
- Pick 1-3 priorities for your day (any more than that can feel overwhelming and divert your attention your focus). The point of identifying these priorities is that you commit to doing them regardless of all of the things that may come your way (emails, needs of other people, last minute plans, etc…) so you can be intentional rather than reactionary.
- Time out how long you anticipate it will take you to complete these priorities and schedule them into your day — literally enter them into whatever calendar you use for your daily schedule, whether your phone, your computer, or a good old fashioned daily planning book.
- Honor these scheduled priorities. Like, for realz.
The mindfulness involved in identifying/scheduling your priorities and the satisfaction of having completed them create a sense of control that is truly empowering. It may seem like such a small thing, but the result (especially on a continuing basis) can have a major impact on your daily life, both from a productivity POV and a mental/emotional POV.
I know that these tips aren’t the cure to the nation's ills — we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and I truly believe that there’s a part for all of us to play in our country’s future narrative. But, we also have a lot of personal scars to heal, and I think it’s of absolute importance that we take care of ourselves. By getting to a place of clarity, beyond the fear, we’ll all be in a better position to create the change that we desire not only in this nation, but in our lives as well.