These are challenging times for everyone. Everyday routines broke overnight, and we are forced to rebuild life out of pieces that don’t fit. We want to go back, even to the parts that we hated before. “I miss my commute,” a client told me last week in our session. This is how we are – wanting the same to stay forever. But, failing to adapt costs more than making changes.
Ponder this equally true fact: Adaptability is in our genes. It’s a package deal. We are the product of a long line of winners, who scrapped along and survived whatever was thrown at them. We share their DNA.
Still, there’s no kind of shortcut. We can’t avoid the discomfort of missing memorized routines.
The key is to stop fixating on the disaster and start doing something. It helps to begin by focusing on things we can affect:
See What Hasn’t Changed: Our brains are prediction machines, guessing the end of every sentence and the taste of each mocha. Disorganized times (today) throw off the program and create a manic attempt to reset the system. But habits don’t form that fast. Instead, we can focus on the parts of our lives that haven’t changed, and the pieces that are operating just fine. For instance, the time we get up in the morning and that exercise routine we do weekdays can stay. Reading emails over coffee as we organize for the day happens just the way it used to. We live with our families, we wash our clothes, we joke with our colleagues. Focusing on what hasn’t imploded reminds us that many pieces remain intact.
Engage with People: Focusing on relationships brings energy (not to mention dopamine) and settles the fight-or-flight switch that seems stuck in the on position. Making time to connect with friends and coworkers safely also dispels the belief that we are alone. Innumerable studies show that strong social support predicts well-being, resilience, and even longevity.
Shift Our Physiology: Stress begets stress and sends our emotional circuit boards into overdrive. It can also leave us just a tiny bit hostile. Thinking triggers cortisol when the images revolve around loss. But, thinking is influenced by the body, not just the other way around. Moving regularly sends the counter hormones, the same ones boosted by creativity and love. Saying, “I’m too pressured and busy to exercise,” means exercise is exactly what your body needs today.
Reframe: Any question you ask yourself triggers an avalanche of neuro-connections as your brain scrambles to find data for answers. We control the inquiries we make of ourselves. Ruminative “why” questions simply mean we are stuck not accepting the facts on the ground. Shifting to open questions prompt new insights. “What?” and “How?” are particularly useful, as they focus on actions and root us in the moment. What can I do today to make my work easier from home? How can I help the woman living two doors down who cares for a husband with Alzheimer’s? What is a way to structure our day around the kids’ online classes and the standing meetings at work?
Practice Gratitude for What You Don’t Have: Anytime we are stuck worrying about what might happen starts the spiral. Instead, reflecting on things that didn’t happen for which we are grateful shifts the perspective immediately.
Remember, adaptability is in our genes. Looking back at our lives, we recognize this by remembering the insurmountable things that we have overcome. One day, this experience will remind you that the upheaval dangling in front of you is nothing compared to that time in 2020. You’ve got this.