How to feel in control when you’re not in control

Apr 24, 2020

Worrying over what will happen in the future is not a proactive use of time or energy. Pat Divilly gives us two tools that can help manage our stress.

At a time where we are dealing with unprecedented levels of external uncertainty, it’s essential that we invest in ourselves. Now is the perfect time to cultivate mental fitness through simple, daily practices that develop confidence, clarity and consistency.

A fundamental need for us all is the need for certainty; feeling some level of routine and control. Though this has been thrown up in the air with recent changes in our external environment, we do have the opportunity to bring about more structure and certainty from within. 

Mediation and journaling are two very simple tools that I have been encouraging for years to help bring calm to the busy mind. 

Meditation

Simply put, meditation is about bringing awareness to the present moment rather than living in the future or past. In times like these, it’s easy to fall into fear, which is always a future-based experience; a case of misuse of the imagination. None of us know what's coming in the weeks and months ahead, but it is clear that worry is not a proactive use of our time or energy.

As a starting point for meditation, consider setting a five-minute timer and performing the ‘box breath’ for five minutes.

For this breath, place a hand on your belly and inhale through your nose, breathing deeply and expanding your stomach. Inhale for four seconds and then hold the breath for four seconds. Now exhale through your nose or mouth for four seconds, then hold for four seconds. That is a box breath. Repeat for five minutes and watch how quickly your body and mind settles.

Do not have any expectations about clearing your mind or getting rid of all thoughts. Instead, see this as a chance to calm the body through slow, deep breaths. After a number of days of practice, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how it impacts your feelings day-to-day.

For best results, practice for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening.

Journaling

The second tool worth implementing during this time is the practice of journaling. Most of us have a busy mind. Throw a pandemic and huge amount of change into the mix, and your busy mind can be overwhelmed. Journaling is about taking some of the mental noise from our heads and putting it onto paper to turn mountains into molehills. 

Consider spending 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening with pen and paper. Keep it simple. In the morning, write down your top three priorities for the day and three things you are grateful for. These two prompts narrow your focus to what’s working in your life and what’s important for the day ahead.

In the evening, write down your mini-wins of the day and what you learned. Confidence comes from seeing our progress but often we move through life so fast we don’t stop to acknowledge what we’ve achieved in the day. Recognising your mini-wins is about shining light on what you’ve done well. Asking the question “what did I learn today” allows us to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in the day and consider some small changes we could make going forward.

The journaling and meditation practices shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. They are easy to do, but also easy not to do. I do know they will make a great impact in helping you maintain structure, keep you feeling grounded, and provide clarity in unsettling times. Consider giving this game plan a go for two weeks and see what happens! 

Daily routine

Morning

  • 5 minutes box breathing.
  • List 3 things you are grateful for. 
  • List 3 priorities for the day ahead. 

Evening

  • 5 minutes box breathing.
  • Recognise 3 mini-wins from the day.
  • Reflect upon what you learnt from the day. 

Pat Divilly is an Executive Performance Coach at PatDivilly.com.