20 Mar Finding Calm Amid COVID-19
Author’s note: This blog is a departure from technical issues associated with corrosion mitigation.
It will include concepts and excerpts from my upcoming book “The Alternative Response Method” (ARM) which outlines a formal structure for individuals and organizations to help make optimal decisions for every situation.
My book is based on over 30 years of practice in combat martial arts, as well as decades of study of the best practices from NASA, the military including special forces, sports teams and their individual athletes and much more.
One of the main premises is that we are, by pure logic, descended from ancestors who defied all the odds of survival for hundreds of thousands of years. They survived until this point, when you, personally, in this exact moment, are now reading these words.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is often referred to as survival of the fittest. But the main purpose of this theory is the drive to reproduce – exclusively. We are all descended from a long line of bad-ass warriors.
I am writing this blog hoping to improve your quality of life during these difficult times. I will also provide you with tools to face any challenge – like a warrior. I am writing this blog for another reason as well. To be of service. This is another principle from my book that has been repeatedly proven to bring joy to those providing it.
If this does not interest you, please read no further, and I promise to get off my podium for future blogs and get back to the business of corrosion mitigation. That being said, I hope the following has meaning to you, and, perhaps, those close to you with whom you choose to share this. If you continue to read, thank you for spending your valuable time with me.
Excerpts from the soon to be released book “The Alternative Response Method”
“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.” Carlos Castañeda
The Alternative Response Method (ARM) is comprised of a variety of concepts as well as highly detailed, specific tools which you (and your organization) can implement today. As soon as you’re done reading this blog…
From Chapter 2: “Your Feelings Are Not Your Friends.”
Understanding the origins of fear
“The concept of a comfort zone is a fiction created by our amygdala.” Warren Brand
Historically, fear has done a spectacular job keeping humans safe. However, today, there is little to be fatally fearful of in any given, specific moment. There are no lions, tigers or bears threatening us. But our unconscious brain (the amygdala) keeps looking for things to be fearful of because, well, that’s its job. Even amidst the current challenge, we are mainly fearful of potential, future events. This is called anxiety which is defined (not medically) as fear of a future event with an uncertain outcome.
Gavin DeBecker in his tremendously powerful book, “The Gift of Fear”, explains the importance of heeding our fear response. Always. And certainly in this moment.
“You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” He goes on to say, “Intuition” (or in this case, fear) “is always right in at least two important ways; It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.”
Contracting COVID-19 or losing our income due to the current situation is a fearful thought. Add to this all of the struggles we are facing in terms of modifying our daily routines and everything falls into the same category. Difficult? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely. So, the tool to be derived here is to take a realistic look at those things you’re fearful of or worried about. If they are in the future, and there’s nothing you can do about them, understand that fear for what it is – a misplaced artifact from a part of your brain called the amygdala.
Even though it feels real, you can develop tools to mitigate it. Each one of us is different, so your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think about how each one of us can choose, to some extent, how we respond to, well, anything.
There is a deeply moving quote that I think may help us put this crises and our day to day struggles into perspective.
Viktor D. Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist and Neurologist during WWII. He had the tragic misfortune to have spent much of the war in various concentration camps.
In his daily, living hell, surrounded by the worst of man’s inhumanity towards man, surrounded by horrors none of us will ever face, let alone can barely imagine, he was searching for a way to mental understand as well as cope.
In his landmark book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he famously concluded, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
He also said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Simple words, difficult to implement. Which is why I developed to concept of flipcharting. But first, a quick exercise:
Take a moment. Set a timer for a minute. Breathe for a moment and set aside the next 10 minutes or so and think.
Think about those things in the past that have brought you peace, calm, happiness or simply a feeling of well-being.
Perhaps it’s listening to a specific song, going for a walk, being mindful, stretching, calling a friend or loved one, reading some quotes. A fundamental principle of ARM is to look backwards to determine our capacities moving forward. Perhaps it’s a trip you took. You can look at photos, or simply visualize the trip, or anything else, that brings you a sense of calm. Perhaps it’s just savoring the smell of coffee or watching tv with your kids or loved ones. Or petting your pet. Take a few minutes. Think. Think. Think. What has provided you calm in the past? Write it down on a piece of paper, or, better yet, some index cards.
It seems simple, but it works. Writing it down will make it real. Palpable. Difficult to ignore. This is the ARM tool I call flipcharting.
From Chapter 10: The Fine and Delicate Art of Flipcharting
“We all have heard about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. They act courageously or responsibly, and their efforts are described as if they opted to act that way on the spur of the moment… I believe many people in those situations actually have made decisions years before.” – Chesley B. Sullenberger, pilot of US Airways Flight 1549.
For those of you not familiar with US Airways Flight 1549, I encourage you to look it up. I will give an extremely brief synopsis here. The event is most often referred to as The Miracle on the Hudson – and rightfully so.
It started out as a routine flight, leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York at 3:25 p.m. The plane was a newer Airbus A320, an extremely safe, twin-engine aircraft with 150 people on board, plus the captain (Sully), copilot (Jeff Skiles) and three flight attendants. At 3:27pm and 32 seconds, Sully sent this message to air traffic control (ATC), “Ah, this is Cactus 1549. We hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. We’re turning back to LaGuardia.”
Sullenberger finds himself facing a catastrophic event that no pilot has ever faced before with 155 lives in his hands including his own. The chance of a safe landing is nearly zero. However, when Sully informs ATC of the bird strike, he sounds calm and focused. If anything, there might be a slight trace of urgency in his voice, but no fear. And certainly not panic. Fortunately, Sully was an extremely experienced pilot with a staggering 19,663 hours of flight time. Which helps to answer the following questions:
How does this 57-year-old, soft-spoken, mild-mannered man under this type of pressure:
- Remain calm?
- Perform flawlessly?
How can we learn to do the same under our current and future circumstances?
These pilots weren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They weren’t crying, blaming or wringing their hands with worry. They were working the problem. The point here, is that when Sully and Skiles found themselves in a crisis, they didn’t just try to wing it (pun intended, unapologetically). Instead they reached for a highly detailed, specific, laminated chart designed to help them find optimal decisions. We can do the same in our daily lives by creating our own flipcharts for every conceivable situation. So, with the current challenge (or any challenge you face), I encourage you to create a flipchart.
But what is it, you might ask? Thanks for asking!
In its most basic form, it’s a list. A physical list on a sheet of paper, index cards, or your favorite phone or computer app. On this list, you will have written intellectually proven tools. By looking backwards, at past data, you will use items that have been shown with 100% certainty to work.
So, if you made some notes or index cards earlier when we spoke about what makes you calm and less fearful, you would:
- Find a notebook.
- On the top of the first sheet write “Flipchart for Calm.”
- Write down those things that brought you calm in the past.
Now. Use the flipchart. Modify it, improve upon it. And over time, you will need it less, and less, and less – and you will simply become a calmer, less fearful person.
When you were first learning how to drive a car there were dozens of specific tasks you had to remember. Open door, put on seatbelt, adjust seats, mirrors, insert key, start car, check blind spots, signal, take foot of break, slowly apply gas, maintain distance from car in front of you, stay in lane, and on and on.
Remember what that was like the first time. Intimidating? Overwhelming? Absolutely. But, you had made an intellectual flipchart in some form to make sure you made all the moves properly. And now you don’t even think about those things anymore. They have shifted from short-term memory into long term, and become a part of your autonomic nervous system. Exactly like riding a bike, it’s muscle memory.
Same thing with the flipchart you’re going to make when you’re done with this blog. Use it, and it will become a part of you. Forever. You can make flipcharts for everything, and the more specific, the better.
What will I do if I test positive for COVID-19? What about a family member? What happens if I temporarily lose my income? What happens if I lose my job? Make a detailed chart of exactly what you would do, should it happen, so you have a plan. Show it to people. Get your family and close friends on board. This will reduce your anxiety and provide you with a course of action, which, since you’re a warrior, can always be modified if necessary.
Particularly relevant, due to forced proximity, is to make a flipchart for how to respond if you get into an argument with your spouse or kids. Not as dire, but definitely helpful to maintain a good quality of life.
Mine looks like this: “Flipchart for when my wife or kids are a pain in my ass”
- If I start to get upset, don’t respond. Take a break. What can I do to make the situation better? How can I take responsibility for the situation? (from chapter 1 of the book, “It’s All Your Fault”) What can I do differently?
- Wait until the conversation can take place in a calm manner.
- How can I help them to remain calm (ARM concept of being of service)?
- Does the issue need resolution – or can we both just forget about it?
- Be specific in the topic. Arguments often stray off course. I often use a pen or my phone to keep us focused. “Let’s talk about this one thing first, please.”
- Visualize (another ARM principle) a specific time, moment or incident where my love for them, and their love for me, was deeply moving. This incident is a simple datapoint in what is otherwise a long, enriching loving relationship.
When my three daughters were young, they would be scared of going to the doctor to get a shot. I gave them the following “tool” which they put on their internal “flipchart.” I explained that a shot takes about a second. And I practiced giving them a shot with my fingers and thumb as the needle. We laughed. I explained that they were tough kids. We looked to the past and remembered when they had fallen and skinned their knees or got a bruise. That it was no big deal. We looked backwards to gather supportive data (an ARM concept) to provide them with tools which would, with 100% confidence work, going forward.
Soon, going to the doctor became a non-issue. Why? Because the fear they faced was hypothetical and in the future. The pain, if any, would last for a second – and the mantra we came up with was: “You can be scared of something and do it anyway.” And that’s what we all have to embrace in these times. And, over time, the fear will subside – just like learning to drive a car, ride a bike or anything else.
Another ARM tool which used to be on my written flipcharts, but is now internalized, is the concept of what I call benchmarking. Enormous amounts of research have been done on Olympic medal winners. The gist of the research is that the winners who are happiest are the gold medal winner and the bronze. The silver medalist is very often miserable.
The gold medal winner won, of course, but why wasn’t the silver medal winner happy? Because they were stuck on focusing on what could have been, struggling with thoughts of, “I was so close.” However, the bronze medal winner was often as happy as the gold. They were thinking, “Wow, I barely made it.” “Or, wow I was so lucky.” It’s technically called “counterfactual thinking” if you want to search for more information. I call it benchmarking, and we can either benchmark up or down.
If you are upset that you don’t make enough money, you are benchmarking up. Change your perspective and start to benchmark down to those less fortunate. Upset about being too heavy? Stop benchmarking to people thinner than you and benchmark to those heavier. Counterfactual thinking (benchmarking) also applies to future events. When looking forward at possible outcomes, we tend to look at the less desirable, scary possibilities. Why? (not that it matters). Because throughout history, that is what has kept us safe.
You can change your benchmarking. When I go to the gym, I benchmark up to motivate myself to work out. I look to those more fit than myself and derive inspiration. When I train in martial arts, I benchmark up so I can be better. But when I get upset with my performance in either case, I benchmark down. I look at people less fit than myself, or not as gifted in martial arts.
Benchmarking is an exceptionally powerful tool for both keeping calm and improving your quality of life. And the really cool thing about benchmarking is that both viewpoints are true. So switch them up as needed to motivate yourself while also maintaining your happiness and reducing unwarranted fear. Now put the concept of benchmarking on your flipchart in whatever form makes most sense!
From Chapter 11: Never Waste A Good Crisis
“Do not fear entering a crisis as long as you do not become of the crisis.” – Warren Brand
It is my hope, that you will, going forward, view every crisis as an opportunity. While we should do everything in our power to avoid them, we should, perhaps, not be fearful of them and, instead, view them as an opportunity to hone our decision-making skills.
All crises have the same components:
- There is a struggle.
- The outcome is unknown.
Accept responsibility for the problem – control what you can. Table what you cannot. Curb your ego. Set aside your fear. Identify the decisional from the non-decisional datapoints. And work the problem.
When Skiles, the copilot, was troubleshooting the loss of both engines with minutes to spare and 155 lives in the balance, he didn’t reach for the chart that said, “Plane Broken.” No. He reached for a highly detailed, highly specific flipchart for that specific situation.
Make your flipcharts. And use them.
In thinking about the current situation, and looking forward to various outcomes, there is a worst case scenario, a best case, and middle case. Plan for the worst case, but live and work towards the best case. Cultivate a sense of optimism because we are all warriors, and we have far more capacity (another critical ARM concept) than we give ourselves credit for. And being sad, fearful or anxious about an upcoming event over which we have no control, makes no sense at all.
Another quote from Frankl comes to mind, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
I’ve switched up the concept from sacrifice to being of service, the last ARM concept for today. The concept is certainly not new to ARM. In fact, nothing here is. ARM is simply a quilt-like collection of concepts brought together to make a cohesive framework – ultimately, for making better decisions. Why? Because every aspect of our lives, particularly the quality of our lives, is determined by the decisions we make. Being of service has constantly brought joy throughout time, history and most crises and is the cornerstone of all religions. This applies now, more than ever. In whatever capacity it means to you, it will make everything better – including your state of mind.
I went for a long walk yesterday with my wife. We passed at least six small, empty, family restaurants, that would have otherwise been full. We will be ordering in from these struggling family businesses on a regular basis, despite having food in the house. I have written this blog in the hope of being of service. And I work hard on a daily basis to remain of service to my family and friends in whatever capacity they require. There are times I am disappointed that I haven’t done more, but then I use the ARM flipcharting tool of benchmarking, to find comfort in what I have done. And encouragement to do more.
Be fearless when entering a crisis. Own the entire situation. Be of service. Make your life, and the world, a little better.
I will close with two more quotes from Frankl, which seem to be prescient for the crises in which we find ourselves:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenge to change ourselves.” And, “Everything can be taken from a man (or woman) but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it has added some value to your life. If so, please feel free to pass it along. And I am always appreciative of your feedback, in any flavor you choose.