When I ask my friends and family what they are struggling to most with in the current situation, under stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, the answer I hear repeatedly is uncertainty.
They are worried about the future…what will happen, how long with this last, when will we get back to normal, how bad is it going to get…you get the idea. They are burdened with making wrong decisions amidst constantly changing information. They are feeling out of control. Uncertainty is the word that they use to describe their feelings.
The interesting thing about this term is that I feel much more certain these days than uncertain. On a normal day, I would encounter a lot more uncertainty and lack of control than I do in the shelter at home environment that I am currently in. Sure, there are definitely unexpected things that are occurring in the world around me, but I have never been in control of each individual day more that I have been in the last 30 days.
While I do feel more certainty, I also know we don’t have 100% certainty over anything, but we didn’t have it before the crisis either. And, we won’t have it after. I guess what is different is what we are choosing to focus on, and the attitude that we take as we focus. Thoughts are a choice. And thoughts, like worry or acceptance, can drive our reaction. If I chose to think about those things that I can control, instead of worrying about the things I can’t, then I can influence an outcome of my choosing, instead of one that is fraught with worry and stress.
On any given day, before the crisis, we likely chose to think that things were going to remain relatively the same as they are today, or that they would only be impacted by a decision on our part. The reality is that any number of disappointing, negative, or tragic things could have happened on any given day before, during, or after the crisis. And likely, disappointing, negative, and tragic things did happen before, probably more frequently than we care to admit.
How many times have we chosen to accept the weather report as certain, only to discover that it was wrong? Is there anything more uncertain than the weather report? Yet, we continually chose to accept it as true and plan accordingly. However, if we were to step outside, into the present moment and check the weather, we would have 100% certainty of it. Can focusing on the present help us to gain certainty in uncertain times?
When I reference the present, what do you think of? Do you think of this exact moment you are in right now? Or, do you think of the season or situation you are in? The present is actually a moment, it is fleeting, but it is the only time that is certain for us. The future is usually thought of as days, weeks, or months down the road. But the future is also one minute from now, or later today. The only certainty we have is in the present…this exact moment we are in right now. We will never be certain about the future and no amount of wishing or planning can change that. By focusing on the present, and the moment you are currently in, you can make the best decisions for yourself and your situation.
If you find out in the future…tomorrow, next week, or even later today, that you have new information, or something has changed, then focus on that information, in that present time. Don’t worry about what you decided in the past, or what might happen in the future. Those are things that you cannot control or change. Focus on what you can control, and that is this moment. Everything beyond this moment is the future and by definition is uncertain. The virus, or stay at home orders, do not make this reality any more or less true.
For example, if we decide to accept that our current situation will last for the next 30 days, we can then make decisions about each individual day that will help us to feel in control and accept each day with a level of certainty that eases our minds. When the situation changes, we can reassess, make new decisions, and build a new plan forward.
If you’re feeling uncertain, and you want to establish some certainty over the coming days and weeks, I have a few recommendations.
Start by focusing on the current moment. Take some time to be thankful for what you do have control over. It maybe helpful to even make a list of the things you can control. In the midst of worry or anxiety, you can return to this list and find something to focus on that will give you peace in the current moment.
Now that you are aware of what you can control, use that information to create a vision of your ideal day. Focusing on the components of the day that you can control and that support the goals that you want to achieve. For example, if you need to work from home and also homeschool your children, outline a schedule that will allow you to do both and give everyone involved a set expectation and pattern for the day. Maybe you let the kids sleep in while you get some work done in the morning, or maybe you get them started on a project and check in every twenty minutes or so. The ideal will likely be slightly different for everyone, and probably not an ‘ideal’ in normal times, but don’t let that unrealistic expectation hold you back from creating the best possible scenario for the current moment. Instead, create a vision for how the best possible day, in this situation, could look and use that to craft your way forward.
Next, either on a day by day or weekly basis, map a schedule that moves you toward the vision of ideal days you previously established. What do you need to rearrange or schedule that will allow you to achieve that vision? This might be best accomplished with the cooperation of your family. Sit down together and outline a schedule that works for everyone, on some level. Reference the list you made in step one to ensure that you build in the components that you can control. Don’t try to schedule things that are out of your control.
While you arrange this schedule, consider where you can build in time for deep and focused work, instead of multi tasking or working amidst distraction. Studies have proven that setting aside, and executing, time for deep and focused work with improve your productivity and actually allow you to accomplish more in less time. In your schedule, don’t try to find a solid eight hours to be your ‘work day’ instead, find the pockets of time in your schedule to accomplish the tasks that need to be done.
Now that you have a plan for each day, you can bring certainty in your life, and the others in your household, by consistently and purposefully executing according to that plan. When you are able to accomplish your goals by following a plan, you will create a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and drive that will allow you to feel in control of your current situation. This is the only way to eliminate the uncertainty you were otherwise struggling with… to take charge of the things you can control and make certain that they are accomplished.
Of course, this plan won’t change what is happening in the rest of the world, and won’t allow you to go back to the same routines you had before this situation, but that wasn’t a realistic option anyway. What you may find are new ways of working and being that allow you to bring balance and adaptability into your future state.