In the middle of March 2020, the province of Ontario (where I live) went into official lockdown responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew it was coming. Many businesses had already started closing down, going online, and so on. It was just a matter of how severe and what we would or wouldn’t be able to do as per Federal and Provincial guidelines.
Those first few weeks were an emotional rollercoaster for all of us, and not just for Ontario and the rest of Canada, but for the countries that were already in more severe lockdowns like Italy and Spain. A few lines from the first few weeks stand out in my journal:
I’ve almost started to cry the last few times when I was out for a walk in my neighbourhood. So few people out, businesses closed until further notice, hand-written reduced hours signs, restaurants only open for take-out, an urgency bordering on panic in shopper’s eyes at the grocery store.
It’s starting to feel disorienting, as in, what should I do? Everyone else is in the same boat, worried about when this will end, what’s the worst-case scenario?
This feels like a slow madness. There’s been too much change and disruption at once. And with my mom’s news of lung cancer, there’s been too much to process. I’ve been trying not to shut down, like a computer getting a software upgrade, it slows during the download and then it needs to update itself to create new algorithms for prediction and response. How do I find peace and contentment in this?
On the page in my journal following the last snippet above, I posed a question to myself, “What’s out of your control, right now?”
My response: “Prediction and response lead to certainty and trust. Control is what you can trust and what you know to be true or believe to be true, which allows you to respond to difficult situations instead of reacting.”
What follows is a process I created to understand and manage prediction and response in disruptive times. I recorded the original video on March 28, 2020, and while it speaks to many of the circumstances of COVID-19, this is a valid and useful process to deal with disruptive change and getting clarity about what you can and cannot control.
General Definitions of Control
Control is an idea about what we feel we can trust and what we know or believe to be true or for certain. With knowledge of past events we have a set of predictions and responses that allow us to create certainty and trust in our lives; in other words, control.
Control can mean other things, but in this specific sense, this is about the control you believe you have over your life, specifically your available choices and responses.
The more control you have in your life, the more easily and efficiently you can respond to events that show up in your environment, instead of reacting.
Having a sense of control gives us certainty and trust which comes from previously established predictions. These predictions allow us to respond with logic, to plan for future events, and to come up with creative solutions.
When we have certainty in life, we don’t feel under threat.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is a massive social disruption for which none of us have any certainty. This is a perfect and current example that explains why many people are acting — or rather, reacting — as if they are completely out of their minds.
For example, people are arguing and sharing triggering articles on social media mostly as a knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to validate the insecurity they are feeling. They are doing this because there is no trust at the moment; there is no prediction and response. People are acting belligerent by not follow physical distancing or mask-wearing guidelines. Conversely, other people are shaming and yelling at those same people who are not acting in ways we would label as morally acceptable.
Personal Evolution Practice: How to manage prediction and response in disruptive times
To get the greatest benefit from this Personal Evolution Process, I invite you to do this by hand — in your journal or by using the PDF download (available below). There is no right or wrong answer. Take your time to answer each question with as much clarity, precision, and specific examples as possible. This is important because you want to describe exactly what is out of your control so that you can make sense of it in the subsequent questions.
To make this process more concrete, I have provided brief answers of my own. These are only for guidance. Your responses may be similar, but please think about answers in your own words to get the most benefit from this process. Let’s start by getting clear about what is specifically and exactly out of your control.
Part 1 — Define What’s Out of Your Control
#1. Describe exactly and specifically, what is out of your control in your life right now.
I can’t control if I will get the virus. I can’t control if people will invest in coaching with me. I can’t control people who are making things worse.
#2. For each of the things listed, what meaning or understanding do you give to each of those things that you cannot control?
The virus, as I understand it, is more contagious than the flu and there’s no certainty as to whether you will get sick if you get it. Many of us are challenged financially at the moment. People don’t know how to handle themselves because this is unprecedented.
#3. What about each of those things out of your control is important to you?
I don’t want to catch the virus and I certainly don’t want to give it to anyone else. Having someone pay for my work is validating but it is also necessary because I need to earn a living. I want to help people, including myself, understand why we are reacting and how to manage that.
#4. Why do you think you’ve assigned importance to each of those things?
I value my health, those I care about, and I think it’s important we respect physical distancing out of personal and civil responsibility. Coaching fulfills my mission and not being able to do it makes me feel weakened. Understanding human behaviour has been a life-long pursuit and is also a part of my mission to better understand how to help myself and others overcome adversity.
#5. Is the importance you’ve assigned to each of those things true or not true? Why is that?
True: without my health, everything is much more difficult. True: coaching brings me contentment and the satisfaction I have helped someone else improve and transform their life. True: reading my mission statement helps me realize that I’ve responded in the last two weeks by creating new podcasts and this mini-coaching program to help people overcome their struggles.
Part 2 — Refine Your Understanding of Reaction versus Response.
#1. For each of the things you wrote that you cannot control, have you experienced a real-time reaction in the last week? How did that show up? Was it expressed in something you did or how you communicated with others?
For physical distancing, I have found myself annoyed with people who don’t move to give enough space. I find myself accusing them of arrogance and stupidity and want to yell at them to move.
#2. How did feel to you after each reaction? Specifically, what was your emotional response or self-judgment and why?
I realized this was a pure reaction and an assumption on my part that everyone should be doing the right thing. This made me realize I was being overly judgemental and in some cases privileged.
#3. How could you calmly respond with logic and reason to the things you can’t control? How would that look?
I realized after this happened a few times that these were mostly individuals who live on the street and might not know the latest information. My judging them was my issue and it was simply easier for me to move out of their way to protect myself.
#4. How do those RESPONSES make you feel compared to your past reactions?
I feel more caring and understanding with this mindset and I also don’t feel any tightness in my body as a response to anger and frustration.
#5. What strategies could you come up with that will remind you to RESPOND to those situations instead of reacting?
Look. Look and observe. What do I see about the person? How can I know their truth, fears and frustrations? Could I ask them a question, instead of assuming they are behaving in an uncivil manner?
Part 3 — Review and Align.
- Go back over your answers until you feel you have answered them completely.
- How you feel about what you wrote and have experienced in this process? Do you feel any differently about what you can and cannot control?
Download the PDF worksheet
Share your insights in the comments below or contact me if you’d like to dive deeper into this process.
Originally published at https://darrenstehle.com on December 16, 2020.