What’s the secret to staying anchored when life keeps moving? Is there a magic formula to accomplish success? Picture this: An 80-year old gentleman passed away unexpectedly. He had been married for 45 years and his 70-year old wife has never known a world outside of him. An ex-colleague was let go from an organization she had worked tirelessly, for 18 years. A family member recently separated from his spouse of 25 years and is looking to re-build his life, all over again. A dear friend sat alone in a lab room awaiting a contrast-enhanced CAT scan for suspected colon cancer. She cried tears of rage and helplessness, betrayed by her own body’s inability to hold in the 700 ml of rectal contrast that was administered. Broken. Humiliated. She was suddenly in a place with no boundaries, no privacy, and no control (over anything).
Transitions and upheavals happen all the time and change is the only constant. But how do you navigate them? What helps you stay anchored? How do you quietly embrace ‘what is‘ before you can get hopeful about ‘what can be‘? The answer(s) may begin with your sense of identity.
Who are You, Really?
A few weeks ago, I had a great coaching session with a fabulous coach: Beth Huebner. It got me thinking on what defines our identity. Is it our relationships? Socio-economic-family-status? Education? Faith? Our social media profiles? Jobs? Life experiences? And, what happens when you take away all the facades and your life becomes an image with #nofilter? Who are you, then? Untethered. Free. Liberated. Or lost?
The Upanishads emphasize that the Atman or the ‘soul’ or ‘inner-self’ is the true essence of all beings. But I’ll save my views on that for a future, blog post. As a student of life that’s grappled with more than my share of dramatic change, I will share 5 strategies that have helped me stay anchored when life kept moving.
1. Accept Reality Quickly
The Kübler-Ross model famously illustrated the 5 stages of grief namely: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The model isn’t necessarily in that order and neither is it a linear or predictable progression. That said, it’s fair to say that all of these elements exist in times of grief and loss.
An approach that has served me well to stay anchored in times of extreme stress is the conscious decision to accept reality, quickly. The faster I accepted everything (good and bad), the less I swam against the tide. Therefore, it helped manage my energy differently. It was the “new normal”. In that continual state of rapid prototyping, I adjusted my mindset to the reality in front of me. Every time, my mind played the ‘what if’, ‘why me?’, and ‘if only’ games, I had to be mindful and bring it back to ‘what is’.
2. Plan (the Being and the Doing)
During trauma or intense stress, the reptilian brain kicks in with the fight-flight-freeze responses. The brain does what it does but what I found is that, the harder I worked to stay present in the moment, it enabled me to stay calm and think with greater lucidity.
A dear friend always says:
If we can master the art of observing all the drama of the mind without letting it consume us, we can overcome the emotions overpowering us.
In a previous blog post called The Choice of Leadership: Being vs. Doing, I discussed the importance of how your being informs the doing. The willingness to confront, discover, and examine the truths for what they are holds the key to managing emotions in a crisis. If I had only 2 post-it notes on my desk, it would be a daily, running list of To-Be and To-Do. Of course it’s not zen-like, all the time. The loss is real and sometimes, only you know what you’re going through. But staying in that state for a long time doesn’t serve you. Just as the body does everything it can to be in a continuous state of homeostasis for survival, it’s critical to allow space for inner equilibrium, as well.
3. Build Several, Little Worlds
One of the best pieces of advice I received from my first boss and therapist was to build several, little worlds. This way, if one of them came crashing down, you still had a few others going. Yes, it’s a kind of hustle but for a different purpose, entirely! The foundation of this strategy lies in 2 things:
- discovering yourself
- enabling joy
A few years ago, I was on a business trip and we visited Los Gatos to play Bocce Ball. On first glance, I thought this was the silliest sport ever. The court was abnormally long (91 feet x 13 feet). The pallino was ridiculously heavy for a tiny ball. I’m Indian and love my cricket (especially Test Cricket), but this seemed too slow even for me! However, when I started playing, I discovered that I’m a wicked Bocce Ball player and loved the sport! Today, I watch videos to learn more. It’s one of the several, little worlds I built to help me discover myself and enable even more joy.
4. Focus on the Future
Vision boards, 30-60-90-day plans, making intentional choices on your To-Be and To-Do lists etc. are a few of many strategies to focus on the future. Even if the present hurts! Be intentional about focusing your energy. Focusing on the future need not translate to more worry and anxiety. Instead, you could be intentional about:
- what is the future you wish to create?
- on a scale of 1-10, where are you today in relation to that future state?
- which 3 things can you influence in your current scenario to move towards the future state?
- what doesn’t serve you anymore?
- how might you consider letting go of that?
- what is the first step you can take to move closer to the future state?
- how will you feel when you take that first step?
- what support or resources do you have to stay engaged to your vision?
goes a long way in helping establish clarity around those first, few steps. A journey of a thousand miles, does indeed, begin with a single step.
5. Never Lose Hope
Going back to strategy no. 3, one of the reasons I’m anchored amidst carnage around me (and inside of me) is because I never lost hope. And my hope came from different things: my own grit and resilience, my passion and hobbies, my faith in a better future, the love of family and friends, and importantly, the awareness that I’ve been through the ring of fire and I’m still here. I hung on to every, little, thing that offered even a tiny, sliver of light. I felt grateful and truly expressed thanks to all that was, all that is, and to all that will be.
How do you stay anchored in times of change? What can I learn from you? Post a comment below or any social media account you read this post!
Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.
THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS.