A second lockdown looms. Whilst ominous, to me it feels a little different to March. At that point I felt panicked, a sense of no-one knowing what was about to happen, quite what impact it would have or what to do about it. Feeling trapped in your accommodation and seemingly less able to control what happens in your life can be hard mentally and physically.
We’re living through an unwelcome part in history and it is hard to take positives. The last few months have seen me cogitate more and, importantly, conclude that to maintain a sense of control I need to be self-aware, adopt an optimistic mind-set and have a semblance of goals beyond those in work.
I recently stumbled across the notion of self-contracting and was drawn in. Often we promise ourselves that we will do something but, depending on what it entails, it can be brushed under the carpet and delayed or forgotten about. Now, we could argue that if this is the case in work it may be because it wasn’t an urgent or important task but what about outside of work? That exercise you were going to do, the desk you were going to buy to make homeworking more comfortable, the promise not to let work seep into your relaxation time? Where does your self-care sit in your list of priorities? It’s time to take back some control.
The interesting thing about self-contracting is that it involves you writing down your goals (maybe even just one) and signing it. That may seem strange – after all what’s the difference between thinking or saying something and writing it down? In his book 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot, Professor Richard Wiseman asserts that writing “provides a more systematic, and solution-based approach”. Expressive writing such as keeping a diary or noting five things for which you are grateful each day resulted in research participants who were “happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more” than those who noted things that annoyed them or simply noted events that had taken place the previous week.
Naturally, not every good intention works. Thinking I would brighten my days with laughter and positivity, I decided to flood my Twitter account by following a large number of comedians. I anticipated humour and witty ripostes yet whilst the initial posts were generally sound I found myself frequently angry with the ensuing public responses - a tirade of righteous bickering. So, what about my self-contract? Whilst my own writing may provide structure and help me feel more in control, I don’t think venting on social media is for me. Instead, my self-contract includes averting my gaze from social media comments unless I wish to spiral down a rabbit hole to a cesspit of negativity (ok, that might count as venting).
Coming back therefore to the notion of staying in control, this got me thinking about our spheres of influence. It is something I usually mention in coaching sessions when someone is struggling with a situation. Shining a spotlight on the things they can influence (opportunities) and worrying less about the things they can’t (threats). This is normally a verbal interaction rather than actively writing thoughts down. However, this spheres of influence document presents an opportunity to change that, creating greater headspace for positives.
I was mindful of this during the recent school half-term – I would normally be travelling to a new destination with my family but was instead faced with the kids communicating excitedly (for that, read loudly) with their friends on the X-Box. About to go and ask them to keep the noise (the ‘threat’) down for the umpteenth time I pondered on an alternative.
I could use headphones but listen to what? When trying to work, white noise or the noise of a desk fan has always sufficed on You Tube (I’ve known for a long time that playing my favourite songs can act as a distraction rather than helping me focus). Then I remembered that my wife pays for Amazon Music but I have rarely used it. An opportunity for instrumental music beckoned - time to give it a go! Without warning, the band name Tangerine Dream appeared from the dark recesses of my mind. I’ve never listened to any of their music before but a few clicks later and I was pleasantly surprised. With the kids' noise nullified and work fruitfully engaged with I felt back in control and starting to relax.
I was onto something. What other opportunities were there? I know I can’t travel far and wide just now. Instead I have been having lunch with Michael Palin. Not in person of course but watching him globetrotting on the iPlayer (something which I’ve been underutilising along with the other apps on my Smart TV) has helped to satisfy the travelling itch. I have developed enthusiasm for my non-work self-contract which currently looks like this:
- recognise this is an historic moment and it is temporary
- stay safe and look for the opportunities at home and online
- combat excessive sitting down by standing regularly and exercising outdoors
- give my eyes a rest and try podcasts or radio programmes on catch-up
- peruse destinations for an ice cream when the pandemic has receded
Something to look forward to rather than a focus on restrictions and matters which I cannot influence. I hope that we are all able to spot some opportunities in the coming weeks and have a greater feeling of control. What might your self-contract have in it?