Sometimes life throws us curveballs, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop creating and sharing our work. In this article, Michelle shares tips on how to stay on track, even amid uncertain times.
At the time that I’m writing this, COVID-19 is running amok and most of us are in quarantine. Everything feels unstable, unpredictable, and a little crazy. What makes this situation unique is that we’re all enduring the same crisis together. But when you think about it, aren’t our lives typically cloaked in some version of uncertainty?
I often tell my students to stop waiting for “the right time” to follow those dreams— to start a blog, or a business, or a creative hobby. Life doesn’t “calm down.” There are really no “regular days” or “regular weeks” waiting for you in your future. The unexpected happens daily. And most of the time, it’s kind of beautiful, because those experiences shape our lives into something dynamic and interesting.
As long as we are alive, we will encounter disruption. We have to be willing to work through it.
It has been fascinating to see what has been unfolding on social media over the past couple of weeks. I’ve seen posts that have warmed my heart, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me angry.
Staying on track starts with seeking (and wanting) peace
What has gotten me more riled up than anything (major irony ahead) has been the hysteria (I’m talkin’ about you, toilet paper hoarders). I’m an Enneagram 9, (the peacemaker). As much as I can’t control my height, I cannot control my drive to keep everything as calm as possible at all times. Even during a pandemic. No crisis is too great a threat to an Enneagram 9. Give us chaos, and we’ll find the serenity.
If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it philosophizes that each of us is driven by one of nine different motivations. You can find which of these nine you most identify with by taking an assessment here. To me, this means that we all have a superpower that we can use to help each other through this difficult time or any time of instability.
I’m not saving anyone from burning buildings, but I do feel that my natural ability to keep calm and carry on is a gift. The tips that follow are the tactics that I follow to keep my creative work moving along, come hell or high water.
Your way is the best way for you
Before I get to that list, this peacemaker needs to lead with a quick note, lest if I get you upset, it will negate my entire mission:
It’s okay to freak out. Just because I avoid it at all costs, doesn’t mean that you should too. If you’re feeling sad, or anxious, or angry, it’s important to find a healthy way to express it. My methodology is not intended to get you to change who you are, or how you approach your life, but rather to lean into it. Please take these suggestions (only the ones you like) and make them your own.
It may feel as though our period of quarantine has opened up a world of possibilities. Now that you’re home, you can do all of those things you’ve never had time for, such as learning how to apply eyeliner, or bake a rainbow ombre cake, or clean out your garage.
My life in quarantine doesn’t look very different from how it normally does. I’m very lucky (and grateful) to have a flexible lifestyle. I have few responsibilities and no children, working from home and making my own schedule. I have the luxury of time and resources, yet I still don’t have it all together. I’m sharing this to dispel the myth that you’re going to have the time and energy to do all the things.
Dream big. Make your coronavirus bucket lists. But please don’t feel bad if you decide to abandon them. Instead, I encourage you to look at your long list and figure out the things that are most important to you. Which of those activities or accomplishments would make you happiest? Which would change your life for the better? Ask yourself the question that is prompted repeatedly in one of my favorite books, The One Thing, by Gary Keller:
“What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
What if you just cleaned your garage. A little bit every day. And hung up those hooks for your bikes. And stacked all of those provisions on new, shiny shelves. And painted the floor.
Think about how amazing it will be to emerge from this experience feeling like a champ in a single area, rather than a failure in a bunch of different ways.
Add more margin
Part of why it’s so important to become an essentialist during chaotic times is that we are going to be hurting for energy. Maybe this situation will afford you more time to exercise and get a full night of sleep (and I hope it does). But mental exhaustion is draining. Watching the news, hearing the news, hearing, “this is going to get so bad,” over and over again is not going to make you want to spring into action, but rather, curl up into a ball and wait for the worst.
During rocky times, more than ever, it’s imperative to designate time in your day for nothingness. Just as you might schedule a meeting, plan for a block of time, where you are off the hook from as many responsibilities as possible. If you have kids, this may have to coincide with nap time or plopping them in front of a tv show for thirty minutes. Television watching might have a negative impact in the long run, but I surmise that an over-stressed parent who is so tired that they can’t think straight, might also be damaging.
This happens to all of us. Last month, I had an unexpected project come my way, and I agreed to it, even though I didn’t have the margin. In a single week of overworking, I became a hazard to society. I left the burner on the stove, missed meetings, and generally did not have my head on straight.
Stressed out people make poor decisions. When we are in the middle of a crisis, we need to think smart.
When you have space in your schedule, you’ll have time to recharge. It also means that there is room for wonderful things to come your way. Not only will you be able to spot the right opportunities, but have the energy to say yes to them.
Commit to small, consistent habits
When it comes to unpredictable situations, it can feel like things are out of our control. To most people (including me) that’s unsettling. Even though there may be many things that we cannot predict or plan for, we still get to call the shots in many areas of our life.
Small actions, like making our beds, or committing to drinking water, or doing jumping jacks in the living room all send our brain a message that says: “I decided to do this. I still get to choose.”
Those micro-actions can be triggers for more impactful behaviors that will make stressful situations far more bearable. Once your brain recognizes that you want to take control, you graduate to controlling your thoughts (more positive, less doomsday-ish) and begin to make smarter decisions that will help you to survive— and perhaps even thrive, amid your current circumstances.
When things aren’t going our way, or there’s a change in our schedule, it is so easy to make excuses. Last week (before the widespread virus panic), my dad was here for a visit. We didn’t have very many plans, at least none that began before 11 am, yet, because there was another person in the house (a change), I woke up each morning, convinced that I should skip my daily workout. There was really no logic, other than I didn’t want to do it, and I was looking for an easy way out.
Chances are if your life feels unstable, things are going to start to unravel if you’re left to your own devices. At the time that I’m writing this we’re supposed to be keeping a safe distance from other people, but ironically, it’s when we need each other most.
If this crisis was unfolding thirty years ago, I’m not sure what kind of advice I could offer you, but we are living in a magnificent time. We have access to one another with a quick click, a ping, or a WUPHF. There are countless ways to stay accountable, whether it’s through an online group that you form on your own, one that’s led by a coach, or something informal like sending a daily text to an accountability partner.
My sisters and I have committed to doing a daily gratitude exchange in our text group. This small action might take a minute of time, but that I know will have a lasting impact.
Track your progress
Before the virus, I knew that my schedule for the month of March was going to be chaotic. We had four waves of separate family visits, and a trip to New York sandwiched in the middle of it. I anticipated that my commitment to writing (I’m currently working on my first novel!) would go by the wayside if I didn’t keep myself in check. So I pledged on Instagram that I was committing to writing a minimum of 400 words a day, every single day of the month.
Little did I know that I’d be dealing with an entirely different kind of distraction. Despite the nonstop news, cancelations, and quarantines, I’ve stuck to my writing commitment, using Instagram as a daily reporting tool. Each day, I’ve been sharing my word count for the day, paired with anecdotes from my writing session. It feels self-indulgent and unofficial, but it’s working. This experience is reminding me that we don’t need fancy spreadsheets or programs to stay on track— just a little creativity!
If it helps you to see your progress visually, I highly recommend one of my favorite apps, called Streaks, where you can check off your daily actions and schedule reminders so that you won’t miss a day of your commitments.
Celebrate your tenacity
Yes, we are snowflakes. Our grandparents endured The Great Depression and World War II. All we’re being asked to do is stay inside where most of us have unlimited access to every tv show and movie ever made. Maybe we don’t deserve medals, but relatively speaking, these are tumultuous times.
Our emotions are high, anxiety is rising, and we’re in close quarters which is making this situation more challenging. Throw out the guilt that we aren’t suffering enough, and celebrate the small wins. Just because most of us aren’t feeling tortured, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize our willingness to adapt.
Making these small sacrifices are again, proving to ourselves that we are capable of more. I’m confident that many of us will come out of this (or any) crisis stronger, and ready to take on the world.
Stay on track, and the world will keep spinning
I hope that this list will help you to keep moving forward and sharing your creative gifts with the world. Whether you are reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, a challenging life event, or both, hang in there. If you remember the truth that you are loved, you will make it through anything.
One of the best ways to stay on track is to make a plan. Click here to download my signature content planner and scheduler.
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