For over twenty years I’ve been writing and speaking about the subjects of change, resilience, leadership, and dealing with uncertainty. So, as we all learn to navigate unchartered waters in unprecedented times, I wanted to share four ways we can cope.
1. Understand how your brain works
In his bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about two systems in our brain. Our Fast system is our primitive, emotional brain. I often represent this brain with a red baseball cap. It’s the oldest part of our brain and its primary purpose is to keep us alive. Its number one priority is our survival. It’s this part of our brain that triggers our fight, flight or freeze response.
However, because it’s super-fast in how it processes information it often reacts to situations without having the full facts. If it had a motto it would be ‘Act first, think later.’
There are times when this part of our brain is incredibly helpful. If a driver suddenly swerves into your lane, you brake immediately. (A string of expletives may normally follow!) You don’t think, or weigh up your choices, you just react. But your fast response could save your life.
In the current Coronavirus crisis, our Red Cap brain is on high alert. In fact it’s on overdrive. Our very survival, and that of our loved ones, is under potential threat and this is dominating how we engage with the world right now.
We are living in uncertain times, equivalent to walking through a maze blindfolded. No one is sure what the future holds exactly, and to compensate we crave information. Sadly some of that information is neither helpful or true. It’s fake, and it can make us lose our ability to think and respond calmly under pressure.
That’s where our Slow brain, which I represent with a blue baseball cap, comes in.
It’s the logical and rational part of our brain. It helps us to analyse data, to reflect and to plan. Unfortunately, it’s the slow part of our brain that we need to consciously and intentionally access. While Red Cap brain reacts impulsively and on auto pilot, accessing Blue Cap brain takes longer.
As a result, we need to acknowledge and recognise that at times we may all react to the Coronavirus crisis irrationally.
We can lose perspective and panic.
When we’re in survival mode our first thoughts, perhaps understandably, are about our needs and the needs of our close family. We don’t really need all those toilet rolls and paracetamol. By stocking up excessively we may create a degree of security for ourselves, but also potential pain for others.
So it’s important we recognise the impact of Red Cap brain: that it is operating instinctively, in a reactionary (and often illogical) way to the challenges we face. That’s why learning to slow down and taking a moment to pause and access Blue Cap brain is vital at this time.
2. Manage Your Mental Diet
The ocean is full of water, but it’s possible to be lost at sea and die of thirst. In fact, drinking salt water is not only detrimental to your health, it also makes you thirstier.
The same can happen with our consumption of information. We crave certainty but this can lead to us feeding our minds with more and more news that isn’t always true. Stories that can, on occasion, exaggerate the real picture and provide a distorted view of reality.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a member of the happy clappy brigade. What we are facing is incredibly serious and unprecedented. In no way do I want to downplay the huge impact this virus has had and will have on peoples’ lives. I know that from my own experience.
Speaking at events is how I predominantly generate my income. All my events for the next few months are cancelled. Some will be rearranged, but a number won’t. My two elderly parents are vulnerable and live alone, so I’m not writing from a place of cosy comfort. I’m writing from a place of reality. A few days ago I discovered that, given my current symptoms, it’s likely that I have the Coronavirus.
But if we are going to remain resilient and strong for ourselves and others, we need to manage our mental diet. We need to consume water that is pure, not salty.
We can’t control what is going on in the world right now, but we can influence what’s going on in our inner world.
A really great question to reflect on, and one that will engage your Blue Cap brain, is this:
‘Who’s in charge, the thinker or the thought?’
Here’s the deal. You’re in charge. Remember that.
But feasting on a diet of negativity and despair will only exacerbate your anxiety.
Now I’m not suggesting we play the denial card and pretend everything is fine when clearly it’s not. What I am asking is simply this: how balanced is your mental diet? We need to be prepared and we need to be informed, but we also need to avoid feeding our fears.
I know that’s easier said than done. But here’s one idea that will help. Having struggled with my own anxiety issues, even before this global crisis began, it’s something I practice every day. And it’s something I will continue to do, even when this current situation is under control.
Every day I ask myself the following three questions:
Question One – What Am I Thankful ‘Four’?
That’s four specific things you’re thankful for that happened the previous day. They don’t have to be life-changing or amazing, just four simple things that could be easy to take for granted, but which you are grateful for. It could be a cuddle with your cat, an easier commute to work, a catch up with a friend, or managing to find a shop that had some toilet rolls!
Question Two – How Am I Showing Kindness to Others?
This could be as simple as asking a harassed checkout operator how they are, smiling, and saying thank you. It could be checking in on a neighbour to see if they need anything. It could be donating to a charity that will be under particular pressure at the moment. Again, it’s not about life changing actions, just simple acts of kindness.
Question Three – How Am I Showing Kindness to Myself?
Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s crucial to our success and sanity. So apart from looking out for others, don’t put yourself and your needs at the bottom of your priority list. Perhaps it’s going for a walk, having a nice long bath, or choosing to do something that either relaxes or revitalises you.
Either way, make sure you look after yourself if you want to be a support to others.
3. Connection Counts
Our current situation might limit the physical connection we have with others, but let’s get creative – there are still plenty of ways to connect. Perhaps some people might rediscover the lost art of talking on the phone, writing a letter or sending a card. Join a Facebook group, start a WhatsApp group – when it’s appropriate, spread humour. We live in serious times, but sometimes it’s really helpful not to take ourselves too seriously. I know I’m not finding having to self-isolate easy, but I’m connecting with lots of people and those funny memes and videos they share are definitely lifting my spirits.
4. Hippo Time is OK
What do Hippos do in mud? They wallow. And we all need to give ourselves permission to do the same. We need to allow ourselves the time to digest what could be the huge disappointment of cancellations and schedule changes, whether that’s a holiday, family birthday party, a graduation, or even a postponed wedding. It’s OK to be gutted, frustrated and seriously hacked off. In fact, it’s normal. The only crumb of comfort is knowing it’s not just you facing these setbacks.
However, the next point is crucial.
Hippo Time is Ok, but it’s temporary. If you look at China and see how the country is slowly (but cautiously) returning to normal, it’s an indication that what we’re facing now is not permanent.
So be careful of becoming too stuck in the mud.
One question I often ask myself is ‘How important will this be in six months’ time?’The aftershock of this crisis will, I’m sure, be felt for months and potentially years to come. But I’m also hopeful that the picture in six months’ time will be a better and more hopeful one than it is now.
I hope you find the above helpful as we all navigate uncharted territory. If you know anyone else who might benefit from it, please feel free to forward it to them.
The SUMO Guy
I was working in the US recently when I discovered something that both surprised and delighted me.
I learnt that my SUMO book had reached the Sunday Times top ten bestselling business books. (It actually reached number seven, even outselling the iconic book ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’)
So why did discovering this fact in late July 2018 surprise me?
Because my book was actually a bestseller in July 2015.
But no one told me.
So for the last three years I’ve been a Sunday Times bestselling author and not realised it.
But I do now.
And you know what? I actually do feel different.
Why? Well I have a confession.
For years I’ve suffered a mild form of ‘imposter syndrome.’ I’ve never truly believed what others have said about my work. Not deep down, anyway.
But strangely I do now. This external validation has impacted me internally.
Is that something you can relate to?
Maybe we’re all on a similar journey, despite the different routes we take. And it’s worth reminding ourselves that there’s something unique and amazing about all of us. We just need to wake up to the fact.
And hopefully you don’t need the Sunday Times to tell you.
Until next time.
The SUMO Guy
A friend of mine recently asked if I knew how to make videos go viral. I’m no expert, but one involving babies or cats might do the trick.
But it’s interesting how we can be caught up in the trap of chasing the numbers isn’t it? How many ‘likes’ on Facebook and Instagram, views on YouTube, and followers on Twitter.
I tweeted the following recently:
A lot of people engaged with it, and the tweet was featured in both the Evening Standard and the Evening Times in Glasgow. But my life hasn’t changed, and I’m guessing neither have the lives of the people who read it.
I’m reminded of a quote from the sociologist William Cameron (although it’s often wrongly attributed to Einstein):
‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’
I do post a lot on social media, and have some new videos on YouTube (see below for more details). But my focus is not ‘How can I make them go viral?’ but ‘How can I best add value?’
In our day-to-day lives both in work and at home what we do can make a difference to others.
What we do counts.
It might not get many views or likes from others, our actions may go largely unnoticed by the masses, but believe me, they matter.
Bite-size motivation for everyday life
Don’t forget to check out my latest videos. Recent topics include:
They might not go viral, but I hope they add value. I’ll be releasing more videos regularly, so make sure you subscribe here to see them first.
Keep making a difference.
The SUMO Guy
How prone are you to ‘the curse of comfort’? That place where you feel good, feel comfortable, and maybe even feel you’ve arrived. It’s an alluring destination. But I think a dangerous one.
Complacency can creep up on us. Our routines can become ruts. We start coasting through life unaware that we’ve grown flabby on familiarity.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to feel comfortable. I enjoy the familiar. Sometimes.
But I’m also aware that although change is inevitable, growth is optional.
Sometimes I need a wake-up call. Someone to rattle my cage and help me overcome the curse of comfort.
You see, it’s so easy to stick to what you know. To play safe. But perhaps the biggest risk to us leading fulfilling lives is when we stop taking risks. Have our comfort blankets become straight jackets?
Only you can decide, which is why your answer to this question could be incredibly revealing.
‘Where do life’s opportunities really lie? Inside or outside your comfort zone?’
It’s good to take care. But do you know what?
It’s also good to take risks.
Until next time….
The SUMO Guy
I don’t get annoyed so much these days. My road rage is a thing of the past and I gave up stressing about the state of my daughter’s bedroom years ago. But a quote a friend posted on instagram recently did annoy me. It went as follows:
‘What does it feel like to be so weak that mere words hurt you?’
You see, I don’t subscribe to the motto ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ Try telling that to someone being bullied at school, home, or their place of work.
Words are powerful. Words change worlds. They can damage and devastate, but equally they can inspire and motivate.
Please don’t fool yourself that they don’t matter. They do.
I had to have a rather dodgy looking mole on my body checked out recently. My doctor was worried about it. Imagine how I felt when I heard the words of the consultant after the examination.
‘It’s not malignant.’
Even though the words were positive I still felt emotional hearing them.
So be more mindful of the words you use, not just with others but also with yourself. Of course we need to challenge and be critical when necessary, but allow space for kinder, more compassionate conversations too.
Words matter. Massively.
Until next time.
The SUMO Guy
Now if you’re an England football fan reading this, you’re probably already thinking you know the game they’re guaranteed to lose.
When England play Germany.
And it goes to penalties.
But I was thinking of a different one.
It’s when you play the comparison game.
That’s the one you’ll always lose.
Perhaps rather than comparing ourselves with others (which the influence of social media seems to exacerbate) we’d be best served by focusing on being the best version of ourselves instead.
And that’s it.
Be the best version of you and make sure you’re having some fun in the process.
That seems a far more worthwhile game to play.
And it’s one you can win.
Enjoy the summer if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, have a good winter, safe in the knowledge that it’s still probably warmer than an English summer.
Not that I’m comparing.
The SUMO Guy
I’m sure most people don’t wake up in the morning and intentionally think ‘Who can I annoy today?’
To some people it just comes naturally.
An individual who I can find to be particularly annoying is what I affectionately call a TOAT. They’re people who Talk Only About Themselves.
You rarely have a conversation with a TOAT. It’s more like attending a one man (or woman) show, where the spotlight is solely on them and you are merely the audience. You end up knowing a lot about them – but it’s unlikely they know much about you.
Now I understand that for a lot of people their favourite subject can be themselves. But perhaps it would benefit our relationships with others if we at times withdrew from centre stage and allowed someone else the spotlight.
You see, TOATs have one big problem. They lack self awareness. Maybe they’re blessed with friends who are good listeners, or whose lives are less exciting than theirs.
But I’ve yet to come across a relationship that wouldn’t have benefitted from some mutual sharing, and where listening isn’t just simply waiting for your turn to talk.
Maybe we’ve all fallen into the trap of being a TOAT at times. I know I have. But hopefully it’s only occasionally.
I don’t want to make a career of it.
What about you?
Remember to share the spotlight.
The SUMO Guy
A bit like my physical stature, I’ll be fairly short this month (clearly my physical stature is fairly short every month).
The more I experience life (nearly 53 years on the planet now), and whoever I work with, in whatever country, I’ve come to the following conclusion.
If you want to avoid criticism it’s simple. Be bland. Be boring. And blend in. If you want to stand out and make a difference, be bold.
Whatever time I have on this planet I’ve decided I don’t want to skim over the surface of life, pussyfooting around in the hope I don’t offend people. What legacy is that?
Give me living life boldly any day.
Of course I’ll mess up on occasions, and maybe upset (however unintentionally) a few people along the way. But hey, it’s better than the alternative.
Wouldn’t you agree?
Until next time, remember to be bold.
The SUMO Guy
Ever heard phrases such as these?
‘It’s a total nightmare.’
‘I’ve had the day from hell.’
My guess is that if you have it wasn’t because you’ve been working in a refugee camp or delivering foreign aid to a war torn country – you’ve simply been eavesdropping on conversations at work.
It does seem that increasing numbers of people have developed a taste for the melodramatic. But so what if they have.. it’s not doing them any harm is it?
Well, actually it might be.
Creating mountains out of molehills can make us lose perspective. Our internal and external conversations can actually fuel our anxiety and ultimately disempower us.
Life throws enough challenges at us as it is, but if we’re not careful, how we frame these challenges and talk about them can weaken our ability to tackle them.
Yes, I realise there are days from hell, and nightmare scenarios, but thankfully for most people these are rare.
So let’s not create a drama and a crisis out of a situation that, at worst, is probably only tricky or challenging.
And if you are going to abdicate from the role of drama queen, perhaps take up the part of the hero. Most plays only have one hero… but I prefer David Bowie’s take on this:
‘We can be heroes.’
You see, it’s the small daily actions and decisions each one of us make that will ultimately make a positive difference. And no rehearsals are required.
Looking for a speaker for your next conference or event?
A friend once said to me, ‘I don’t know why people moan – it never changes anything.’
I was inclined to agree. Whilst having a moan can help get things off your chest, perpetual moaning without actually ever taking action never results in any change.
And on one level I still believe that.
But I’ve also come to realise this.
Continual moaning does change something extremely significant.
It changes you.
You see, what I think and talk about on a regular basis will affect how I feel. That’s why recalling a positive memory from the past can cheer you up in the present.
Likewise, thinking and talking about something negative will also affect you.
The reality is that in some cases we can be the biggest sources of our own misery. And all because of what we choose to think and talk about.
And moaning doesn’t just change you. It can affect those around you – the people you live and work with.
We’ve become aware of the dangers of passive smoking, but be aware we can equally be affected by passive moaning.
So a good old moan occasionally is probably healthy and helpful. But when it becomes a daily habit you’re not just damaging yourself, but others around you too.
Until next time.
The SUMO Guy