Show Notes - What you can control

Hello, Peggy Moore, here with the Discover Your Personal Power Podcast. 

How are things? How are you guys holding up my friends among all this coronavirus craziness? It's been a little painful here.  So, you guys know I live in Okinawa, Japan, and work for the department of the defense school system here.  I am a school Nurse and my husband teaches 6th-grade math.  We both love our jobs.  Our jobs pay for our beautiful home on the beach and they also pay for us to go home every summer.  This was one of my conditions for keeping a job overseas.  If I can go home and be with my kids for three months in summer and we can find some way to be with them at Christmas, we could make this work. And so far we have been overseas over twelve years and always been able to make that work. With our kids coming to us in the summer or us going to them.

Well, of course, this year with the coronavirus ­čśĚthat is not happening. Japan has been very strict with quarantining.  If we went home for the summer, to get back into Okinawa, we would have to quarantine for 14 days in Tokyo, and then 14 days in Okinawa for a total 28 days of Quarantine and then if we went to the states, we would have risked the chance of getting sick and taking it to one of our precious families members so we decided to stay put. 

 We were doing well here on our little island, staying at home and we hadn’t had any cases for over 2 months, so some of our restrictions were lifted. Then bam, we had a group of military members from the US come in and now within a week we have over 100 cases and we are back in lockdown. So, I have been a little upset with this and frustrated and maybe even a little bit angry.  Every day, I sit down at my computer, to work on school stuff. My husband and I both have home offices across from each other.  So, I’ll be in my office doing my work, find out more information. And I will run to his room all in a tissy and tell him what I just found out.  Our poor little already skittish dog has been shaking and hiding under daddy because mamma is going crazy.  The first day I took myself out for a jog to burn up some energy-positive coping strategy, but yesterday we were told we could not exercise outside unless we were on base and I didn’t want to drive to the base, just to run, so I just paced around my house again freaking my dog out when my husband finally said, babe, you need to coach yourself. 

I'm like babe, your right.  I need to do something fun and creative and find more positive coping strategies.  I need to recognize what I can control and let go of what I can’t. So, today what I wanted to talk about is what we can’t control and what we can control. We can’t control circumstances, situations, events, or people.  Unfortunately, a lot of crazy things are happening all around us.  We are in the midst of a crazy pandemic that is taking between 1000-2000 lives a day in the United States.  I have friends all over the countries working in ICUs risking their lives every day, making hard choices and working till they are exhausted. 

There are a lot of things that we can not control right now and it is very frustrating.  I get it.  This is one of the reasons I decided to talk about this today.  I need to remember this. Coaching teaches a model similar to Cognitive Behavior Therapy.  There are circumstances or events or situations that happen in our life.  These circumstances, events, or situations are not in our control.  What we can control are our thoughts which create our emotions which drive our behavior and our results.  

Circumstances, Situations, and events are also neutral.  ­čśĚCoronavirus is a situation or an event. It is a virus.  It is neutral.  The thoughts we attach to it are what gives it meaning. We can’t control our circumstances.  This is a brutal truth for some of us. Many people who resist this truth become control freaks. They micromanage, refuse to delegate tasks and try to force other people to change. They think if they can gain enough control over other people and the situations they find themselves in, they can prevent bad things from happening.

I just read Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed and she describes this perfectly.  She describes her incessant need to control her body by her food intake and output, and her incessant need to control those she loves because she loves them and wants the best for them.  I can relate, for years I just thought if I can control this situation or my children or my family, then everything will be alright.  Everything will go smoothly.  I thought if bad things happen to us, it is because I wasn’t in control enough.  I didn’t do enough, I didn’t sacrifice enough, I should have worked harder. My parents came to visit for my thirtieth birthday, I had just graduated Nursing school, I had a ten-year-old, an eight-year-old, and three-year-old and life was hectic and my dad made this comment “that I was wrapped tight.”  And a the time I thought, how dare you, of course, I am wrapped tight, I have a career where people’s life is in my hands every day, I have three children trying to learn how to navigate this crazy world, a husband who hates his job and if I don’t control everything who will. 

It was too many years later that I realized this is not the way to live and there is a better way. No matter how hard I try to control things, sometimes circumstances are out of my control. I had to learn that I cannot control the world around me.  I can only control myself. Much like Glennon, I thought me controlling every situation was about love.  Love for my children.  I wanted them to have the best life possible and by working harder and giving them all the opportunities that I could then they would have an easy life. But I had to learn that controlling is not what love is.  Love is accepting and trusting and having faith.  My children, my husband, and my family make decisions on their own.  They will make mistakes just as I have made mistakes and they will learn and grow just as I did.  That is why I believe we are here on this earth., in this world. 

I am now an empty nester and I read many posts from empty-nester parents who are still trying to control their children and how frustrating that is for them and for their children.  I think this is why God made me live on the other side of the world than my adult children. So I could let them be adults.  I could let them make decisions on their own, mistakes on their own, and learn to be the people that they want to be. And you know what, they are all doing amazing things.  

So matter how hard we try and how much we want to, no matter how much we love,  there are just some things that are out of our control. So, what can we control?  We can control our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, and our behaviors. We can control thoughts, which create our feelings and drive our actions, and our results,

When we try to control our circumstances it makes us crazy.  We get angry, frustrated when we try to control other people when we try to control the universe when we try to control whether we get sick or not when We try to control the government when we try to control our neighbors. It makes us crazy and simply doesn’t work. 

I think this is something we can understand intellectually, but it is much harder for practice.  But it can be done. Yes, the world may seem to be out of control right now. We can’t control the wind, but we can adjust the sails. We can make choose our thoughts, 

Circumstances have meaning by the thoughts we give them.  It's important to get clear about the thoughts you are giving the circumstance. 

My thoughts about coronavirus give it meaning or give it context. Circumstances like coronavirus are neutral because it depends on the thought we give it.  For example, my thoughts are that coronavirus is a deadly virus.  It makes people sick, obviously, if you read social media at all, you know some people don’t believe this. Because circumstances are neutral.  We each get to choose for ourselves what thoughts we attach to that circumstance

So, let’s take some time together and talk about thoughts.  

Let’s start by taking a moment to identify thoughts and feelings about this situation. There is a balance between feeling your feelings and also managing your mind. I could ask myself why am I angry about this situation.  Maybe I am angry because it is inconvenient for me to stay at home.  Maybe I am feeling sad because I miss my family.   I know for me there is a lot of fear of the unknown.  What is school going to look like when I go back in the fall.  What if we have kids with coronavirus in our school, what if I get sick. What if my kids, or grandkids or family members get sick?  

 As we are thinking about all these thoughts, it is important to Stop. Take a breath. Notice all that chatter in your mind. Notice how often our interpretation of events is automatically negative.   Many of our thoughts are fear talking, negative conclusions based on interpretations of the world do not serve us. And yet as they occur to us, we tend to believe them without question.  Becoming aware of these thoughts is the first step toward changing them.  Once we notice, we stop automatically believing and acting on our thoughts. We have a choice.

Now I get to talk a minute about the brain. All humans have an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe called the limbic system, if you listened to podcast #2, I call it your elephant or the emotional system of your brain.  This part of your brain is responsible for primitive thoughts like survival.  Its job is to keep you safe.  All information is processed by your brain passes through the limbic system or your primitive brain. The limbic system keeps you safe, by evaluating whether or not something is threatening.  If your limbic (aka ‘threat system’) perceives something as a threat, it has the power to reorganize the mind and body by triggering a cascade of neurophysiological responses (like the fight-flight-freeze response!). 

This then completely reorients your mind’s focus and its attentional resources, and your motivations and your actions. These will then all work together to protect you from the perceived threat.  We need our limbic brain, we need a healthy and functioning threat system or our species would be in serious trouble – we would not be motivated to protect ourselves from danger and we would likely take risks with catastrophic outcomes – humans would probably not have survived as long as we have if it wasn’t for this part of the brain. 

However, although all information flows through this system, often your threat system does not know anything about the quality of the source of the information flowing through it.  Your limbic system is only concerned with one thing: “Is this thing a THREAT… or NOT?” if an event is considered to be a THREAT, this starts a cascade of physiological processes that have evolved to protect you from harm. These are ‘survival’ instincts like your fight-flight-freeze.  On the other hand, if no threat is detected, we remain calm then we rest. 

In other words, your limbic system does not discriminate between external or internal threats. Generally, people are pretty good at dealing with external threats like paying bills, crossing roads, or specific work deadlines.  Rather than external threats causing people trouble, it is in fact the ‘internal threats or the threats from our minds that are causing us the most trouble. 

Most of the time, it is the information being focused on you by your mind that triggers threat: Thoughts, imagery, negative predictions, shame-based memories, self-talk, self-criticism, negative appraisals are the thoughts causing an internal threat to your fight or flight system.  Your primitive brain sees these thoughts as a threat.  This is when we just think of a stressful situation, our heart rate increases a little, our respiratory rate increases and our muscles may start to feel a little tense. 

 This is important to understand, because if we can consciously shift our focus away from these negative thoughts then our primitive brain or our limbic system will know that there is NO threat and we can get to using our prefrontal cortex or rational brain to analyze our thoughts. This threat system in the limbic center of the brain is ‘always ON’, meaning that it is always monitoring – it is always scanning for trouble.  We can’t turn it off. This Is why it is so important to be deliberate and conscious about how we use our minds – what we attend to, and how we use our attention can either trigger threat systems or can keep our threat system at bay. This process is neither good nor bad, It is simply how our threat system works. But it is extremely powerful. 

An important question you should be asking yourself is: Is what you are attending to in your mind activating your threat system or is it helping you to keep calm and focused? Instead of arguing with your mind, we want to acknowledge and accept that our minds are very busy and are capable of all kinds of unhelpful thoughts, while at the same time cultivating a posture of detached curiosity.

The first step is just to become aware of our negative thoughts.  to become aware of automatic thought processes and what makes negative thoughts run amuck. Images, predictions, negative self-criticism.  Notice and determine what are your most common negative thoughts. 

 The best way to do this is to use your journal.   simply write down the string of thoughts that emerge when you give your mind free reign for one minute. 

Second, provide some meaning or context.  Use your rational, logical brain to evaluating, or judge and criticize.  Play detective and be curious. “I am noticing my mind is having the thought that… When we put these thoughts on paper, we can then look at them objectively.  It is more difficult to argue in your brain when your brain is the problem.  Get those thoughts on paper and you can more easily use your rational or frontal brain to choose your thoughts. 

 Next, we can Reframe negative thoughts, because our thoughts are what we can control, right. We can control - Our thoughts.  If you notice a negative thought, hit your pause button.  Stop and be curious.  Try to Transform that negative thought. Even if it is true,  " There is ALWAYS another, more empowering way to see the situation, which is at least as true. The mind tends toward negativity, but it also has neuroplasticity so it changes in response to repeated experience.

You always have a choice. Will you feel worse, or will you feel better? Choose a thought that makes you feel better.  Notice that as you reach for more positive thought, your perspective shifts. Your mood lifts a bit. There is a strong mind-body feedback loop.  What we focus on results in feelings in our body. For instance, daydreaming about something positive might make you feel calm, optimistic, or motivated. Similarly, daydreaming about eating your favorite food might make you salivate. This is because there is a strong relationship between how we think and what we feel. Thoughts are simply propositions (or ‘invitations’) that our brains can utilize to stimulate physiological processes that result in emotions and motivations to act on our thoughts. 

However, this can work against us when our minds think up negative, frightening, or painful thoughts this can keep you from going after your goals and your heart’s deepest desires and living a life of peace, purpose, and power. We have to pay attention to our thoughts because our thoughts create our emotions.  If we don’t pay attention to our thoughts then our thoughts or our primitive brain that is always scanning for danger may run amuck. Our primitive brain which holds our limbic center likes to say: keep me safe, life is dangerous, life is hard work, this bad thing may happen. These thoughts may create unwanted emotions in the background. 

We need to pull these thoughts into our consciousness and make decisions about them. Is this thought serving me? Do I really want it? Is it current or outdated? We can use these same questions over and over again to challenge automatic negative thoughts. 

Remember I said Instead of arguing with your mind, we want to acknowledge and accept that our minds are very busy and are capable of all kinds of unhelpful thoughts, But we can take a moment to pause or stop and be curious.  We don't want to just shove those thoughts to the background.  We need to use our rational brain to be curious and figure out if they serve us best. 

Because Our thoughts create our emotions, Processing our emotions, and feeling our feelings are so important. Trying to deny our feelings, trying to deny our emotions, not allowing space to feel them, and honor them if harmful and causes more stress on the body. We either spend a lot of energy fighting and trying to repress our emotions or we find yourself buffering by eating, or shopping, or escaping in some way. Some way that is probably going to create a lot of negative consequences and make you feel even more out of control.

As we go through this process and we organize the space in our head much like we organize the space in our house.  And we start to realize that we can control our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  When we look outside of ourselves at the circumstance, we start to feel powerless. To get our power back we need to come back to ourselves and realize we choose.  Our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors are all within our control.  

An effective strategy for managing our mind is bringing our brain to the here and now and making decisions for here and now.  We can’t predict the future.  What I know in the here and now is that my family is safe.  What I know in the here and now are the things I can do to take care of myself and enjoy this extra time I have since I can’t go outside.

Along with managing my mind and my thoughts I can create a plan to manage my stress. This is something I can control. Exercising, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep are just a few key things that we can do to take care of ourselves.  Excess stress puts us at risk for illness.  We need to have our strong immune systems in case we do get sick.  So taking care of our personal needs is something we can control right now. We can make time to manage our stress so we can operate more efficiently. Right now we may not be able to do all the things we want to or normally would do to manage our stress. So we can take this chance to be creative and think outside the box to find healthy stress relievers, 

I am taking some time to binge-watch some new Netflix shows, work on some craft projects that I haven’t been able to get to, sleep in, take naps, and read books.  What are you doing as you focus on things you can control during this crazy pandemic? Leave me a note. I would love to know. 

I hope you guys understand a little bit better than realizing and recognizing all the things we can control versus all the things we can’t control is an effective strategy to discover your personal power. 

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think,

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Until we meet again my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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