I don’t know about you, but I’m already exhausted by the avalanche of motivational quotes online right now.
Advice everywhere. Everyone talking. It’s kind of numbing.
But I think there are some very manageable ways we can feel a little better right now, and release the pressure of the unrealistic expectations many of us are putting on ourselves in what is already a very difficult time. I explain them in the video…
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So it feels like, by the day, we’re all coming to terms with the fact that this situation right now is going to last a lot longer than perhaps most of us anticipated or we were told. There’s a lot of emotions that come with that. I am seeing people in my own life who normally have zero problems with motivation finding it difficult to get going, difficult to get motivated, feeling really apathetic. Other people who just feel like they’re not… they keep thinking they need to be super productive, but then they’re not even close to being as productive as they are in a time when they’re 10 times more busy.
And of course, the low-level anxiety that we feel and the uncertainty that we feel, the frustration that we feel, in many cases, the anger that we feel – all of that going on in the background of our minds, whether consciously or unconsciously, is draining. And many of us wonder, “Why do I feel so tired right now?” And it’s, well, aside from the fact that we’re a lot less active right now, we’re also exhausted emotionally from having to process this every day in ways that we don’t even realize.
And whenever I put out something right now, there are always comments that say “What’s everyone so worried about?” “Why are people making such a big deal?” “This is the greatest time ever.” “Is it bad that I’m not feeling bad at all, that I’m actually enjoying this time?” There’s those kinds of comments, which I find either emotionally numb to the situation or reflective of someone in denial where they don’t realize that those emotions are coming for them and they’re kind of in this blissful state of unawareness or ignorance right now. Or honestly, just lacking in empathy for what other people are experiencing.
Right now, I was on a run and I stopped by a place that was still serving coffee, this place that normally is a fully functioning restaurant that is just serving takeaway right now, and I said to the guy behind the counter, I said, “How you doing?” And he said, “Well, we’re trying, and we’re still making things. And we have these meal plans. If you want us to, we’ll literally do free delivery at home for you. We’ll send you the meals and you can pick what you want and have it customized to you.”
And as I’m hearing this guy talk, my heart breaks because I think, “God, this poor guy.” He started a business. These kinds of businesses are hard, even when they’re easy, even when times are good. Right now, they’re hanging on for dear life. And my heart breaks for those people.
And so whenever people say right now, “Oh, what’s the big deal? This could be the greatest time ever.” I think we’re almost not accessing the breadth of experience that’s happening right now.
And I also get a little frustrated right now, whenever someone voices something they’re struggling with and the comments underneath are littered with, “You should remember to be grateful. Other people have it this bad,” and so on. And I think, well, of course, that’s true, that’s always true. But we have to allow people their pain. We have to allow people their truth, their suffering. I think of it as pain shaming. I almost want to have an environment right now where people feel a bit more free to be human without being judged for being human, without the self-help world telling them, “You should be so productive right now.” “This can be an amazing time.” “Step up and be a hero right now.” “You’re going to come out of this a winner or loser.” We have to get out of that mindset and get into just acknowledging each other right now.
I actually think that what’s even more important than advice right now is just humanity. So much of the motivation that’s thrown at us constantly, grates on me a little bit. I feel like there’s an avalanche of motivational quotes that drive me a bit bonkers. And I realize the irony of that in the context of this video that I’m making right now. I may well be contributing to the problem.
But I struggle with it myself right now. When I come to post something on Instagram, I’m like, “Oh, god, I don’t want to put up a quote right now and just become part of that platitudinous abyss of mind numbing motivation.” That when you see it, sometimes the instinct isn’t, “You’re right,” the instinct is off, “Oh, fuck off.” Like it’s hard, I’m having a tough time and you’re telling me it’s got to still be my best year ever. It becomes annoying.
And we also have to remember that this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. We can try and white knuckle this and I’m going to make this the greatest week ever, but we’re also going to have next week and the week after. And if we don’t start setting ourselves more modest ideas of what success looks like during this time, we are absolutely going to burn out before we’re even halfway through.
What I wanted to talk about today is how we can deal with the emotions that we’re feeling right now, and how we can have perhaps a slightly better experience of this. This isn’t a video about how to be blissfully happy during this time, but how do we have a better experience of this really challenging chapter of our lives? I don’t claim to have this figured out, but there are things that in the past in my life, I’ve used to deal with situations where I feel very much out of control, where I don’t feel like I can just fix the situation. And this is one of those situations, I think, one of the things that a lot of people are feeling uncomfortable with right now.
And in some ways, some of the things that the self-development world is struggling with a bit right now, as an industry, is that so much of it is used to controlling things, is used to fixing problems. And part of this is a problem that we cannot fix. We, as individuals in our homes, don’t have control over. And for the problem solvers out there, and the people that are used to making things happen and taking charge, they’re deeply uncomfortable with this feeling of being out of control right now.
So how can you deal with those feelings and how can you deal with the negative emotions you’re feeling right now?
Number one, surrender. My boxing coach, Martin Snow, told me a long time ago, “Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. Surrender means acceptance. Making peace with.” We, right now, have a situation that we can either fight against – and many of us are fighting against it. You can imagine that image of a child kicking and screaming and crying. Eventually, that child might realize, if they have a parent that doesn’t respond to that behavior or if life doesn’t change because they kick and scream and cry, that they stopped crying. Because that’s our way of lashing out against the situation.
What we begin to realize is this isn’t a situation that kicking and screaming is going to change. We’re all going to have our kicking and screaming moments, right? I’ve had mine in one form or another already. Moments where I’m angry about the fact that we’re having to make all these changes. Moments where you just get very sad about the whole situation and sit there and don’t do anything. We all have those moments in our own way.
At a certain point, we have to surrender to the situation and say… It’s almost like I’m going to give this situation permission to exist. Instead of fighting against it, I’m going to… “OK, this is where I’m at right now.”
And interestingly, and paradoxically, hope isn’t always a good thing in a situation like this. Hope can be a good thing when we say, “Three weeks from now it’s going to get better because we know that blah, blah blah.” But we know right now that everything that’s being said to us is just an estimate. The goalpost for when this ends keeps being moved. And the living in hope of the moment when this changes stops us being here now in this moment, stops us making peace with the way things are right now. It actually stops us living because it puts us in this perpetual state of waiting. “I’ll be happy when this changes.” “I’ll start living again when this changes.” And then of course, when an authority figure says, “We said it was going to be on this date, but actually now we’re going to loosen up these restrictions on this date,” the reaction to that is anguish, is huge pain and disappointment.
Paradoxically, the way to get through this is for us to make peace with the way it is right now and to focus on, “OK, maybe I’m not going to be able to do everything I want to do. Maybe all the goals I wanted to achieve can’t all be achieved. Maybe while I’m dealing with the stress of all this, I’m not going to be as productive as I normally am. Or getting the best workout. Or do this… But I’m going to make it my own little work of art in whatever way I can. Even if just that’s a modest way.” My work of art could be just me navigating my way through this emotionally. But surrendering to that. We cannot live for the day that this moves on.
Number two, we have to focus on the emotional component of this, not the circumstantial component of this. In this case, the circumstantial component is the virus, is the restrictions we have on our movement right now. Social distancing, quarantining. For some of you, it’s the loss of a job or the breakdown of a relationship during this time. We can’t always change or exert control over the circumstantial component of something, right? And even if you can, you learn that you might be able to manipulate it by 1% or 2%, like, “Oh, I can’t go out, I can’t do a lot of things, but I can still take a walk.” OK fine. So we are able to manipulate it to some extent, to alleviate some of the pain that we get from the restrictions we have right now. But it’s still small percentage shifts.
Then there’s the emotional component, which is the way that we’re relating to this situation. Now, what’s encouraging is the emotional component is both the source of the pain that we’re feeling, and it’s also the part that can be the most heavily manipulated. One of the things that can help us manipulate the emotional component to this is a lesson that was passed on to me by one of my mentors when I came to him about a chronic injury, something that was causing me pain on a regular basis that I could not make go away. He said, “So, right now, you see it as a foreign invasion. And every time you notice that that pain is still there – it might be that you lose yourself in a flow-state working or you’re able to distract yourself for an hour or two – but the moment your mind goes back to that pain that you’re feeling, you instantly get upset because it’s like there’s this foreign invader that’s there right now that’s back. ‘There it is again. I thought it was gone. Now it’s back.'” He said, “As crazy as it sounds, we have to start seeing this as an old friend, as a kind of companion in your life that you actually make space for.” And he said, “That may seem so ridiculous to you because you hate this thing.” He said, “But we have to start taking that energy out of it and start seeing this as an old friend.”
This isolation that we’re feeling right now, the loneliness that comes with it, the social distancing, all of this, can be seen in the context. Even though it’s new and many of us are struggling because we see it as a foreign invasion, we could start to actually make friends with it and wake up into a new day. And instead of going, “Is the nightmare over? No, I’m still in isolation. I’m still having to quarantine. I’m still having social distance.” Instead, we could wake up into this and go, “Oh, here we are again. Another day, another day of quarantine, another day of social distancing. There you are.” There’s this sort of companion I’ve made space for now. “Oh, loneliness. There you are. Welcome. Welcome back. We had dinner yesterday, didn’t we? Well, let’s have breakfast this morning. Hello.” It’s a much more… There’s a lack of resistance there that actually makes it hard for that thing to wrestle with you and exhaust you the same way.
Number three, we can benefit from placing the pain of this in a larger context. Right now, this seems like everything. It seems like everything has been leading to this and this is the great big, painful moment of our lives right now. But seen in a longer context, it will be part of the fabric of a life of many different moments, many different emotions, and it certainly won’t be the only painful moment of our lives.
We can, therefore, see this as a kind of training for other situations that we’re going to confront in life anyway. That this is actually useful for the purposes of that training. And we see it that way when we go into the gym. We see the pain we create in the gym as being valuable pain. Sam Harris talks about this. He talks about how pain is contextual. That if you were to wake up in the middle of the night feeling the intensity of pain that you feel at the height of a difficult gym session, you’d think you were dying. And yet, when you feel it in the gym, you’re perfectly relaxed about it because it’s pain that you’ve not only chosen, but accepted as an acceptable part of your growth. We can actually frame this up in the context of this being a gym right now. We’re training, and the pain we’re feeling is an acceptable part of the growth of who we’re about to become. And everything else that’s coming, we’re going to be more equipped for, because we did our training here, now, in this gym.
So look, we’re all finding our way with this. I have bad moments in my day and my goal is not to have no bad moments or even no bad hours or, in some cases, no bad morning or evening, but to try to use these techniques I’m sharing with you. These are very personal to me because I use these for myself all the time. To use these techniques to try to prevent a bad hour from turning into a bad day or a bad week. Because these are techniques that allow us to kind of, when there’s a fork in the road where we can spiral into something even worse, there’s actually an off ramp that takes us somewhere more positive.
The one thing I know that is going to be universal from this, is that we, as human beings, are going to be reminded of how adaptable we really are. And many people who have never learned how adaptable they can be, are going to learn for the first time, perhaps, just how adaptable they can be. And no bad can come from that.
I’ll leave you with this. There was a comment that was left by someone called K.M.M. Healy on my last video. She said, “I’m blind, and I find it fascinating that this pandemic is forcing sighted people to have a taste of physical and emotional isolation. It’s the same isolation that many members of the blind community experience with or without shelter-at-home orders. Though most people considered blind legally have some residual vision, we don’t necessarily see people while out running errands, which means we often have fewer casual conversations with strangers. I never see smiles or any attempt at eye contact from my own friends and family who forget I can’t see them, much less strangers who have no idea (apparently, I don’t look blind). It can feel very isolating. And blind people have to take deliberate steps to change that feeling. It’s interesting to me, how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the sighted people in my life. Many of them are taking their isolation hard. But as you said in this video, it’s a matter of perspective and resilience. But they’ll adapt, just like every person I’ve met who suddenly lost their vision. It’s what humans do.”
It’s what humans do. And it’s what we will do, as we go through this situation. Not alone but together. I love you and I’ll see you in the next video.