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Personal development: eight ways to be more proactive during a crisis

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When everything feels so out of control during the pandemic, our tendency is paralysis and to ‘wait and see’ – but this won’t get us anywhere in the long-term. What we need is to focus on what is within our control and be more proactive.  

6th Apr 2021
Director Unimenta
Columnist
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As we move towards whatever is coming next in this pandemic, perhaps it has never been more vital to be proactive – but how do you maintain the energy to do that when there is still so much happening that is outside our control? Sometimes it can feel like the very best thing to do is sit back and wait for things to get better and somehow muddle through. Actually, what we need to do is drive our energy into being proactive. That means focusing on what we can control and being sufficiently motivated to keep moving forward positively.

It’s easy to feel that we are powerless, but allowing that to take hold only feeds into stress levels and feeling worse. 

When we are surrounded by uncertainty and finding things difficult, however, what we tend to do is place our energy right onto the very things that we cannot control. We feel compelled to do this because we like being in control. We do it by talking about it, posting about it, thinking about it, dwelling on it and worrying about it. This is natural and we (almost) cannot help ourselves.

Where you place your energy is vital to being proactive. When you place it only onto what you feel you have control over, you immediately feel better (yes, really!), you move towards solutions and sometimes you can even start to influence what you cannot control – and it is easy to do.

Coping with change

While we may not wish to acknowledge it, uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. Very little about our lives is constant or totally certain, and while we have control over many things, we can’t control everything that happens to us. As the Covid-19 outbreak has shown, life can change very quickly and unpredictably.

To cope with all this uncertainty, we expend our energy worrying. This makes us feel like we have some control over uncertain circumstances. We believe that it will help us find a solution to our problems or prepare us for the worst. Maybe if we agonise over a problem long enough, think through every possibility, or read every opinion online, we’ll find a solution and be able to control the outcome – unfortunately none of this works. Being proactive and instead, focusing on what you can control does work. We also know that being proactive is strongly linked to two other vital skills: optimism and resilience.

So what is within your control in the middle of a pandemic that is far from over yet? Lots of things. It’s easy to feel that we are powerless, but allowing that to take hold only feeds into stress levels and feeling worse. The very best thing you can do is to focus on being proactive every day.

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Eight ways to become more proactive

1. Deal with emotions

When circumstances are out of your control, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by fear and negative emotions. You may think that bottling up how you feel, trying to put on a brave face, or forcing yourself to be positive will provide the best outcome. No! We need to acknowledge emotions and give ourselves space to process change. Journaling is great for this, as is walking and being out in nature.

2. Take action

Taking action helps you move towards acceptance and helps you to not feel completely powerless. It also means dealing head-on with our natural urge to want to avoid things and not actually get on with things that need dealing with.  It’s all about refocusing the mind on taking action over the aspects that are within your control. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and isolated working from home, you can look for support, make sure you’re prepared for online formats and platforms and reach out to others. This is a great exercise to do with your team or family too – stating the issue or problem and working out together all the things that are within our control.

3. Identify uncertainty triggers

A lot of uncertainty tends to be self-generated, through excessive worrying or a pessimistic outlook, for example. Some uncertainty can be generated by external sources, however, especially at times like this. Reading media stories that focus on worst-case scenarios, spending time on social media amid rumours and half-truths, or simply communicating with anxious friends and colleagues can all fuel our own fears and uncertainties.

4. Manage your triggers

Once you’ve identified them, the next step is to manage them. That means setting boundaries by setting up better smartphone notifications, deciding when and how you will consume news and other information and creating an environment that prioritises your wellbeing. Even better, replace triggers with positive, informative and inspiring podcasts, talks and articles. This is another great exercise to do with family or colleagues so that you can share helpful ways to manage uncertainty and stress triggers.

5. Reflect more

Consider your responses, how you feel, how a day went, how a meeting went and get better at assessing situations accurately. This is one of the hallmarks of optimism and helps you to better separate emotions from facts. We don’t spend nearly enough time reflecting or even giving ourselves that space to reflect. That’s why journaling is so very helpful. Even some quiet time at the start or end of the day can be beneficial.

6. Move

Physical movement every single day helps with moving yourself mentally and emotionally, too. Try to get as much physical movement as possible into your own life and into your work life (e.g. walking meetings, anyone). Yoga, walking, being outside, stretching and any kind of movement also encourages stronger body/mind connection and builds awareness.

7. Cultivate presence

One thing that is within our control every single second of every single day is breathing, yet we don’t do it well and we underestimate its huge positive benefit. Get into the habit of strong, deep breathing and regular mindfulness practice. It calms your sympathetic system and means you are always responding from a calmer place and bringing your attention and focus back to the present moment.

8. Have a great morning routine

This is linked with optimism and it’s a really lovely proactive habit to encourage. This has to mean a stronger focus on wellbeing, setting intentions, hydration and nutrition, movement and reflection before heading out into the stressors of the day. A strong morning routine is like your steel armour, setting you up for the day and something entirely within your control. 

Whatever it is, begin it. We are all prone to procrastination and possibly even more so at the moment. If you can just take the first step towards what is in front of you, however – whether that’s a big project, learning new skills, prioritising wellbeing or getting to grips with technology – you are more likely to immediately feel better and are much more likely to take the next step.

Interested in this topic? Read How to become more proactive and less reactive.

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