We change our lives, for the good or not, in the direction of our self-talk, our story.
Our families, our companies, our neighbors, all benefit, or are harmed, by the stories we tell ourselves about the circumstances of our lives. We are all story tellers, to ourselves and to each other, and with that comes a great deal of accountability and answerability.
If we want to move forward, onward, upward, we have to be sure the stories we propagate are ones of positivity. If what we are publicizing is negativity, obstacles, hurdles, the sense that nothing is going well for us, we’re surely moving in a damaging direction.
I have had to do some serious soul searching during this "coronavirus lockdown", and figure out why I was so angry, and sad at times. Drastic change can create all of that, but for me, it is clearly understanding the whys and where fors, making sense of daily decisions that are affecting millions of people. I am still working on my understanding, but am trying desperately to think, live and speak in the realm of positivity.
By all accounts, we have yet to reach the peak here in America of total coronavirus infections. I don’t know if you will contract it. I don’t know if I will contract it. But one thing is certain: we don’t have to be victims. And victimhood is a choice.
Victims passively live with what others do to them. Victors make counter-cultural decisions that take them to a different place. Right now, fear is rampant. It’s easy for that to be our default response. But stomach ulcers and sleepless nights don’t make for good living. That’s not the life of a victor. And believe it or not, fear is a choice.
Let’s be clear: just because a choice is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. But our lives are still the sum total of our choices. That was true last year, before any of us had ever heard the word coronavirus, and it’s still true today. If you’re not happy with your life—if it feels heavy or stressful or draining—choose differently.
If you’re feeling victimized by the coronavirus, I believe our best weapon is to choose differently. Below are four places to start, better decisions we can make today, to help gain victory over this illness.
Choose Today Over Tomorrow
Jesus said some incredibly counter-cultural things. Right now, this little gem, from the book of Matthew, feels like it might take the cake:“Stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I love the honesty of Jesus. He’s not teaching a Pollyanna, pie in the sky approach to life that insists nothing will ever go wrong. If you have trouble today, you should look it in the eyes and go after it. Today’s troubles and worry should be dealt with—just not tomorrow’s.
If you’re sick today, do something about it. But don’t spend time worrying that you might get sick tomorrow. If you need help today, ask for it. But don’t spend time rubbing your hands about what you will do if your furnace goes out, if your waterline bursts, or if you (gasp!) run out of toilet paper.
But what if my paychecks stop? But what if stores shut down? But what if the gas stations close? What if we face an international recession? What if businesses close for good? What if the hospitals run out of space? What if… what if… what if.
Not everything we worry about will happen. Therefore, it’s wasted energy. It’s prepaying interest on a debt you may never owe. Victors choose to confront the problems of today, and leave tomorrow’s for tomorrow.
When it comes to accepting the reality of life, we’d be wise to eliminate what Byron Katie refers to as the single theme of every story: “This shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be having this experience. God is unjust. Life isn’t fair.” Inside every negative story we tell ourselves lies a magnified misperception in our contemplation of what’s going outside of ourselves. Yes, it takes self-awareness, what Daniel Goleman described in his 1997 work, “Emotional Intelligence,” “a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions.” But as he reminds us, “There was an emotional brain long before there was a rational one.”
Choose Gratitude Over Worry
The human brain is incredible. It runs all of your functions for living, processes thoughts, and is capable of handling the most difficult tasks in the blink of an eye. But it does have limitations—it can’t multitask. It can toggle rapidly, but it cannot think about two things simultaneously. Your brain can’t be grateful and worrisome at the same time.
Just like pulling weeds in a garden, gratitude will push worry, fear, and anxiety out of your life. Seriously, try it right now. Begin to make a mental list of the people and things that are blessings. The longer that list gets, the farther worry will be from your mind. If you have your health, then you have something money can’t buy. If you have a job, a home (no matter the square footage) and a car, you are among the world’s wealthiest people. We have so much to be thankful for. Victors allow that to occupy their mind space instead of being victimized by worry.
Proverbs 12:25 says,“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Stop waiting for someone else to speak the kind word. Speak it to yourself by choosing gratitude when anxiety starts to build. It’s a better choice that will change your life.
Choose Outward Over Inward
Culture’s message in the midst of this crisis is clear. Isolate. Close the door. Lock it tight. Start running the Netflix queue. Avoid people at all costs. While those actions might help in containing a virus, ultimate isolation will destroy your spirit.
The safe move might be to move inward, like a turtle going into its shell, but you won’t survive this crisis that way. You must remain connected to other people. We need each other. When we aren’t able to win the battle in our mind, we need someone else to talk to. When we’re having a hard time feeling gratitude, relationships are the thing that reorients us. When we’re spiraling out of control about tomorrow, it’s going to be a person who shoots us straight and gets us back to a good place.
We’re the loneliest generation in the history of the world and it’s literally killing us. Every metric, from mental health to suicide to drug and alcohol abuse, is on the rise. The lone wolf doesn’t survive, he is malnourished and normally gets destroyed. We need voices and influences outside ourselves.
So when this crisis gets overwhelming, and you can’t win the fight on your own, make the choice not to move those thoughts and feelings deeper inside yourself—move outside. Pray. Call a good friend. Write a letter. Talk to your spouse. Listen to your children. Offer a smile and a kind word to the mailman. Check on your neighbor. Every victor has a backstop, and is able to be the same for others. Only victims try to survive alone.
Choose Reality Over Fantasy
Former vice presidential candidate and naval officer, James Stockdale, was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. His time of captivity? Seven years. During this time, he stumbled upon a truth that kept him going until his rescue. Known now as the Stockdale Paradox, the main gist of the idea is that you need to balance optimism with realism.
Optimism says we will get beyond this sickness. Coronavirus won’t be the final defining act of humanity. In all reality, you may not even get it, let alone die from it.
On the other hand, we have to approach this problem with realism. The coronavirus is highly contagious. It has a lengthy incubation period that makes it hard to trace. It is dangerous, especially to the elderly and immunocompromised. And perhaps hardest of all, it’s not going away anytime soon.
In the POW camp, Stockdale observed that the prisoners who lived by optimism alone never made it out. They would put all their hope on getting out by Christmas, and then Christmas would pass. Before long, it was Christmas again. Stockdale explained it this way: “They died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”
Victors choose reality, even when they don’t like it, over a fantasy that does more harm than good. We are not victims. We are victors. We can do this.
Dr. Michael Mantell
Byron Katie, Author, "Loving What Is"