One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with the current disruption to our lives due to Covid-19, must surely be the lack of structure we suddenly find ourselves struggling with. I remember three years ago, when my father-in-law retired, having worked most of his life in a highly structured job with managerial responsibilities, what massive adjustments he had to make in order to get used to a life where he had to structure his days himself, rather than having this done externally by his work duties. Three years on, and there are still aspects of his new life needing a different type of structure and focus, he can’t get used to. Likewise, when I moved from Slough to South Wales a few years ago, I also found myself in a position where for many months I had to find a way to not only structure my daily routine, but also figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I regularly attended business networking meetings to create a semblance of normality, and attempted to use the rest of my time as constructively as possible engaged in creative activities, learning and self-development.
The human mind doesn’t like chaos. It likes regularity and routine. And when there are none available, then anxiety and doubts emerge. Negative thoughts emerge, brand new ‘enemies’ to think and worry about are created, and suddenly the mind has spawned a whole new vicious circle of worries and problems to be preoccupied with. Our minds are designed to avoid lack of structure, but also to avoid a vacuum. Sensory deprivation research has revealed that people who spend time in an environment where a combination of isolation and lack of stimulation occurs, develop symptoms of agitation, tension and restlessness. They also experience disturbed and obsessional thinking, and eventually panic.
Helping people to develop a set of strategies creating structure and positive routine in their lives, is one of my regular challenges as a life coach and psychologist. Goal setting, breaking down ‘big’ thoughts into smaller ones and developing positive habits are all powerful ways to take control of your mind, and create your own rhythm and routine, rather than relying on external events and stimuli to bring them to you. But we are not always prepared and ready to work on the ‘big’ stuff. Sometimes we just need a small task to focus our brain on the positives of the day. Such a positive routine can be easily created, if we spend a short time a day, perhaps not even longer than 15 minutes, to focus on what we decide has mattered in the day that has just passed.
I remember how during my transition period after moving from Slough to Wales, during one of my coaching sessions, my coach asked me to keep a gratefulness journal. This was met with initial reservation from my side. I always thought of myself as a grateful person, someone who doesn’t take things for granted. Most days of my life I do take some time to reflect on the things I am grateful for, such as a lovely wife, supporting family, two fluffy Birman cats and musical inspiration which allows me to lose myself in a self-created universe, and temporarily distract my mind from the minor woes of daily existence. However, what hadn’t occurred to me, is the power of actually committing these thoughts of positivity and gratefulness to paper.
The human brain is a wonderfully flexible instrument. It quickly gets used to new routines and sets new goals and expectations when you train it to do so. Having had to force myself for the first few weeks to keep that journal, I eventually started to see its benefits. My mind started to long for the daily moment of introspection, where I sat down and wrote on paper the three positive things I would keep from the day.
I see some of you frowning at this stage, and questioning how you can find positivity in a day where nothing positive has happened. How can you be positive in a world where you are reminded every moment of the day by TV and social media that there is a global pandemic going on, destroying people’s health and livelihoods and restricting their daily lives and sources of entertainment? The answer lies within yourself. You can find positivity when you decide to reframe your life experiences as positive. You can decide now that one of today’s positives was the fact that you have made a resolution only to check the news once a day, on the most reliable news source of your choice. You can decide that it has been a good day, because both you and your family are still in good spirits at a time of a global pandemic. You can decide that the day has been good after all, because despite the fact your business is currently closed and your don’t have an income, you and your loved ones are still in good health.
Thinking in positives is like medicine to the brain. Soon you will have it trained to think spontaneously in positive terms, and to not resort easily to catastrophizing. Even at your darkest of days, you will have the ability to pull yourself together, start reframing your experiences and change the narrative in your mind.
I recommend you set aside some time during every day, perhaps just before going to sleep, to sit down with your gratefulness journal and write three positives that have occurred today. They don’t have to be life changing experiences, I made myself and my partner the best cup of tea I remember in a while will do. By doing this, you will start training your mind to reframe your experiences in a positive way, and at the same time you will gift yourself some of the structure and routine you need to get through the social distancing isolation during the lockdown. Moreover, having committed your thoughts to paper, you will be able to return to them at a later stage and remind yourself of your strengths, resources and coping strategies during some of your difficult times.
Act now, and start changing your life.
Kostas The Coach is a Psychologist, Life and Small Business Coach and NLP Practitioner based in Llantwit Major, Wales. I help people of various backgrounds find the ideal intersection between profit, joy and values in their lives, and I assist businesses to grow sustainably while remaining aligned to their why.
If any of the topics discussed here has intrigued you, I would love to hear your thoughts. You can email me on Kostasthecoach@gmail.com or contact me via telephone or SMS on 07725653870.