This experience we’re living through is tough

Over the past few weeks I’ve hit upon a way of handling some of the day to day challenges brought about by the toxic combination sustained remote working and restricted isolated living.

Nobody should allow themselves to be misled by this weird time. We are led to believe that we should be able to cope with circumstances which are unprecedented. There is a duality that goes unsaid about our day to day experience: on the one hand everything appears quite normal and quite familiar. This experience should be manageable because we are used to it.

The reality is quite different. What we would have normally brushed aside pre-COVID is now amplified to monumental and catastrophic status because our normal escape routes are closed off to us.

I’ll be quite honest (because I think it helps others) every day of 2021 has presented a new challenge. What I’m hoping is that the efficacy of this stumbled-upon mind management tool remains as useful to me at the end of the year as it has over the past couple of weeks.

What this tool is useful for

If you’re experiencing a moment of intense stress, this written process will help uncover what’s happening and (if you follow the process carefully) help you iron out things in a matter of minutes.

What’s important here it to follow the path of the exercise. It starts with asking what you’re feeling because often its easier to identify emotions first before understanding exactly what the challenge is. So its important to ‘go to’ the feeling, then access the thoughts that underly them.

It will feel like a clunky process to begin with, but with practice it will become habitual.

This method will

1. shunt the mind out of habitual negative thinking
2. capture internal voices and make them ‘accountable’
3. heighten awareness, giving space and time to interrogate thoughts and feelings
4. categorise feelings first, then thoughts
5. promote the instinctive reframing of thoughts
6. focus the mind of real outcomes
7. promote a growth mindset and develops resilience
8. promote change

Instructions

1. Take a situation you’re struggling with now – it could be a task, a project, or a relationship for example.

2. Grab a piece of paper, an envelope and (ideally) a second-class stamp.

3. For the next ten minutes you’re going to write a note to yourself. You’re going to put it in the envelope. You’re going to put your address on the envelope, put a stamp on the envelope and then put that envelope in the nearest postbox.

4. On the piece of paper, respond in one word or short phrase bullet point answers to the following prompt: “At the time of writing, I’m feeling …” Write only about how you’re feeling in the moment of writing. Be honest. Remember, only you will read this.

5. Next, on the same piece of people respond in one word or short phrase bullet point answers to the following prompt: “I’m thinking that … ” Same instructions as before: be honest. Only write about the thoughts that you perceive underlie those feelings.

6. Next, respond to “You know that …” with one word or short phrases which are known facts to you in this moment. Not perceptions. Not assumptions. Only facts (ideally, relating to the situation).

7. Keep responding to this prompt for as long as you can possibly bare it. Then write a little bit more.

8. Finally, respond to the prompt “Tomorrow I will … ” in one word or short phrases.

9. When you’ve finished, put the paper in the envelope, address the envelope to yourself, and put the envelope in the nearest postbox.

10. When your note arrives in the post, open it and read it. Observe how you feel when you read it. Observe how important you perceive the thoughts and feelings documented in the note as you read them, compared to how you recall their importance when you wrote the note.

Summing up

It’s my bet you’ll find the process of documenting the feelings, then the thoughts, the facts, and the intentions for tomorrow liberating. This model has been invaluable over the past few weeks.

As an example I’ve included an adapted version of the method I used this week using a situation from thirty years ago.

Example

Am the time of writing I feel:

– angry
– hurt
– exposed
– trapped
– demotivated
– disempowered
– skewered
– judged
– humiliated

I think that

– X wants to get rid of me because she doesn’t know how to manage an orchestra
– X doesn’t know how to manage an orchestra herself
– I need X to help me
– Doesn’t know how to help me
– I know that I am on my own
– I just need to get through tomorrow
– I will learn from this

I know that

– this will come to an end
– I am supported by (other) great people who are kind, intelligent and warm
– this experience is part of one long ongoing experience
– I am resilient and determined

I will

– do the best I can tomorrow
– give myself credit for getting through tomorrow
– share my insights with others to help them
– strive to be better than the person who makes me feel the worst