You can’t control events, but you can control how you respond to them. One proven technique to try.
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Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles, is founder and CEO of both Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders, and Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency. She’s also an author and the host of EO Wonder podcast. On a recent live-stream episode of the podcast, Kalika interviewed Brian Shiers, a senior mindfulness teacher for the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and a psychotherapist specializing in mindfulness-based interventions, about techniques to cope with the global pandemic. Kalika shared some highlights:
Unless you’re old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis or the Great Depression, Covid-19 is likely the worst global calamity you’ve experienced.
As a result, you’ve likely noticed some stress-based reactions. Maybe you’re having trouble concentrating, or you’re binging news, Netflix and junk food. Some people even wake up at night to a wall of worry.
Mindfulness coach and therapist Brian Shiers has strategies to help you cope with the pandemic’s emotional fallout. Shiers started meditating when he was 25, and he was among the first practitioners trained at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. He works with individuals and companies, including Salesforce, Disney and Nestle.
Coping with Covid-19 worry and fears
Shiers’s solution in one word? Mindfulness.
In three words? Be here now.
In more words, he recently shared an insightful presentation called The Neuroscience of Now on the EO Wonder podcast.
“There’s a lot to be scared about,” Shiers says. “There are real things to be concerned about right now, from your personal health, the health of your friends, to the economy. No one’s going to tell you that it’s not real. But the question is: How do you relate to it?”
You can’t control events, but you can control how you respond to them. One key to that is being smart about the future. Shiers divides the future into two categories: the strategic future and the psychological future. The first is useful. The second is toxic.
“Strategically, I know that tomorrow I have to go to (grocery chain) Ralph’s,” Shiers says. “I’m going to wear my mask and my gloves. I’m going to remind myself of some basic practices that help me socially distance, and remember not to touch my face.”
That line of thought represents a healthy way to think about the future.
“What I’m not going to do is imagine being in the store and feeling anxious,” he explains. “I’m not going to imagine a psychological future where I think, ‘What if someone coughs on me? What if there’s a long line and I can’t get into the store? What if there isn’t any toilet paper?’ I’m not going to imagine the future as a narrative, psychologically, with all of these fears and anxieties” prominently featured.
Avoiding the psychological future is, of course, easier said than done because humans are genetically coded to be on the lookout for dangerous situations–like plagues and pandemics, for example.
How to short-circuit your psychological future
Mindfulness meditation is the tool that can short-circuit the psychological future. Sitting in stillness for even a minute and noticing your breathing, the sounds around you, and the myriad thoughts floating through your head will bring you back into the present, where you are safe. That’s what “Be here now” entails.
“Whenever you find your mind diverting your attention to your to-do lists, and all the things that impulsively grab attention, that takes you away from the breath–away from the now,” Shiers explains. “And, noticing when your attention is being taken away is a moment of clear awareness. We want that. We want to notice how the mind wanders here and there, taking your attention with it.”
Noticing is the key.
When you notice such things, Shiers says, you are paying attention to your attention. By doing that, you can focus on spending more time in the present and less time getting hijacked by fear and worry over a future that likely won’t materialize the way you imagine it.
The power of just breathing
Mindfulness meditation might be the hardest simple thing to do. Concentrating on your breath–and nothing else–is challenging, and Shiers acknowledges that. But even focusing on your breath for one single minute has benefits.
“The research shows that one minute, several times a day, actually will help. You can set a timer for one minute, and just do the breath practice. Just keep coming back to the sensations of your breath for one minute, let the timer go off, and then move on with your day. If you do that four, five, six times a day, it will have a big benefit.”
You can control the “second arrow”
In troubled times like this, it’s also helpful to reflect on the Buddhist concept of the “second arrow.” The first arrow is the negative event that happens–such as seeing your startup’s sales drop for the quarter or losing a client–or having Covid-19 show up.
The second arrow is how we deal with the first arrow.
“If I get stuck in resentment, and I’m angry about it, and I don’t accept it, then I feel victimized. I want to blame people for it–and that creates a mental state of suffering, which is the second arrow,” Shiers says. It’s the second arrow that you can control.
“With mindfulness, you can learn how to let it be momentary, take it apart, look at it, and ask if it’s really productive to stay in that mental state, or are there different ways of looking at it that will help you accept what’s true, and be more effective in moving forward,” Shiers says.
Strangely, the best place to be during troubled times like this, and any other time, is in the moment. Meditation, Shiers says, can help you get there for longer.
So, do you have what it takes to just breathe and stay in this moment?
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