Asking yourself (and taking the time to answer!) these six powerful questions can help you emerge from lockdown with renewed purpose and a stronger sense of self.
One thing has dominated our lives for the last 18 months and, sadly, it has not been Bridgerton or Call My Agent! (although both definitely dominated quite a few of my evenings). The list of adjectives to describe the last year and a half is long – challenging and dismal for many, liberating and enlightening for some. I have read countless articles about how people are making the most of lockdown (this often involves sourdough bread-making and growing out hair dye), dozens on the impact it is having on our minds and bodies (we are calmer, less productive, happier, lonelier, fatter, fitter…), and loads about how the world will either be forever changed or will swiftly go back to how it was before.
How was it for you?
I myself have been – perhaps conspicuously – silent on the subject of COVID and lockdown in this blog and my newsletter. Mainly because I have felt so much was already being said and also because I – like many – have been zealous in limiting my engagement with the news, statistics and speculation in order to preserve my mental health and happiness. I am also acutely aware of how easy I have had it compared to many. My family is in good health, my husband and I can both work from home in our reasonably spacious house with all the tech we need, and we have suffered no bereavement due to the virus. The main emotion I have felt relating to COVID has been anxiety. Not really about actually getting ill, more about the loss of liberty, the need to fill the children’s days, and the general sense of uncertainty about the future. I am not alone, I know. So, while I feel I weathered the lockdown storm relatively well (the first one with two small children at home 24/7!), catching up on photo albums, writing, and keeping busy with house projects, I would have felt utterly unqualified to advise anyone as to how to find the silver linings in the situation. However, as we emerge from the latest of three fairly comprehensive and long lockdowns here in France, I now find myself tempted to weigh in.
Time to think
Apart from doing massive amounts of gardening and spending hours on crafts with the kids, my main lockdown activity was – unsurprisingly, given my profession – introspection and self-work. Stripped of all my usual diversions, I had the time to take a long look at my life and ask some questions about where I am and where I want to be. Ironically, “time for yourself to step out of your life and take a look at where you are and where you want to be” is generally how I describe the utility of a coaching session to clients. So in lockdown, I found myself face to face with the proverb of “physician, heal thyself”, or in this case, “coach, coach thyself”. Now, as we step out of confinement, as the French call it, it’s time to put all that introspection to good use in (re)constructing our lives and incorporating some changes, tweaks and enhancements based on insights gained while weeding, sewing and eating sourdough bread.
Questions to exit lockdown mindfully
These are the questions I am asking myself now, as I reclaim all the buildings blocks that make up a full life, so many of which were put on hold for so long – things like time with friends, travel, entertainment, hobbies, family time, learning, career development… I hope they will inspire you too.
- What is my relationship to uncertainty?
Some people are happy winging it and going with the flow. I know many and like them immensely, but I am not, nor will I ever be, one of them. I am one of life’s planners, organisers and charge-takers. The uncertainty about the future generated by the health crisis has been, in some ways, a positive influence on me in this respect. It has forced me to become more adaptable and allow for the unexpected. As lockdown lifts, I know life is not going to suddenly become predictable again – we may still face more lockdowns, for example. But instead of fearing the unknown, I am asking myself: How do I want to deal with the current lack of certainty? What tools do I have to help me through it? What pleasure can I find in not knowing what’s around the corner?
- Which people did I really miss?
Think about the people you really yearned for during lockdown. Now think about who you spent most of your time with in the days before COVID. If the two answers aren’t the same (for example, maybe you were having drinks with colleagues a lot but could only find one evening every three months to chat with a close friend who moved abroad), think about how you can find more time for the really important people. Maybe you need to weed out a few uninspiring or unfulfilling commitments and people from your planner to make time for the things that matter. Or perhaps you can structure calls and meet-ups into your calendar more regularly?
- How do I want to spend my time?
For a while there, our choices about how we spend our free time were severely restricted. Now that our options are multiplying, it’s our chance to break old habits and make more mindful choices about what we do and who we do it with. Pre-lockdown, I spent a lot of my social time “having drinks”, and yet actually during lockdown what I really missed was the theatre. I have therefore resolved to scale back on the Chablis and aim for a monthly theatre outing once everything’s up and running.
- What’s my busy-ness limit?
One of the most-cited “gifts” of lockdown was the permission it gave many of us to slow down. (I‘m excluding certain groups with this statement, of course, people such as healthcare professionals, for example – but to them I wouldn’t dream of giving any advice, the only thing they should be told is “Thank you, here’s a raise, some time off, and lot more funding”. But I digress.) It really took off the pressure to take in exhibitions, keep up with film releases, make dinner reservations, fit in the gym, organise play dates, and plan outings. It simply allowed us to stop running. As invitations and possibilities start to present themselves again, we have the opportunity to ask: How often am I comfortable going out? How much time do I like to have between appointments? How many commitments can I really enjoy in a single weekend?
- What habits do I want to maintain?
Many of us formed new habits during lockdown that it would be a shame to let slip now that life is becoming slightly more normal. Some people took up a sport, or started morning meditation. All jokes aside, some people discovered the pleasure of baking their own bread. My husband and I used to (and still do) sit on our front step after putting the kids to bed for a brief moment of quiet time to check in with each other and debrief about the day. Now that other activities are competing for our attention, it’s the right time to think about the things you started doing (often out of necessity or simply to help you cope) that you don’t want to give up.
- What didn’t I miss?
We might think a lot about the people and things we missed during lockdown, but I’m sure we also all had things we were happy to let go. Commuting. Wearing a suit. Eating at your desk. Running for the train after work to ensure you pick up the kids on time. It would be so easy to fall back into our old ways of doing things, so take this opportunity to go “back to normal” on purpose and with purpose. For some that might actually mean not going back, that is to say making a total change in job and lifestyle. For others, it might mean smaller adjustments like doing weekend batch-cooking so you can take a home-made lunch to work instead of buying a sandwich. Or perhaps having a firm “no meetings after 4pm” policy so you can leave work on time and your evening is less rushed.
Major life transitions – whether positive or negative – can be incredibly stressful. And just because we’re happy to emerge from lockdown doesn’t make it any less a source of stress than going into it. But transitions are also a prime opportunity for us to make changes – both to our outward-facing lives and our inner selves. Asking yourself a few powerful questions right now can help make the difference between whether you look back and view the last 18 months as a zoom, home yoga and online scrabble marathon or a time when you seized the chance to press “reset” and move a little closer to the life you truly desire.
If you’re looking to make some changes as you emerge from lockdown and reconstruct your life, expert coaching that focuses on fulfilment and personal satisfaction can help you figure out how you want your life to look and how you can make the vision a reality. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
Despite my relative youth I have had what used to be called “quite a few different jobs” and is now referred to as a “portfolio career”. In each of my incarnations, I have learned new skills and worked with some wonderful people who have often become friends. During one of my past lives working in corporate communications, I had a fantastic manager (we will call her Angela), who taught me more than most; but the thing that really sticks out when I think about Angela is her fanaticism for alignment.
Whenever one of our team would send a brochure for printing or deliver a presentation to a client, Angela always said, “Check the alignment one last time before you send it, please!” Not only was she polite, Angela was also a stickler for ensuring that text boxes and images lined up nicely and that there were no random extra spaces at the beginning of lines. This thoughtfulness and eye for detail is what made Angela excellent at her job and a great mentor.
Now, as a coach, I think of Angela often as I work with clients on a different kind of alignment: the alignment of their decisions and chosen actions with their values and life goals. In sessions where clients are figuring out who they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go, I frequently ask them to check their alignment before moving forward, with questions like, “What values are you honouring with this choice?” and “How does this action serve your ultimate objective?”
However, while it is fairly easy to judge whether a couple of images are in a straight line in a PowerPoint presentation, evaluating the alignment of your goals with your values, or assessing whether your daily activities correspond to your broader aspirations is much more difficult. So how do you check the alignment of your choices before you approve and – metaphorically – send them to print?
There’s no quick-fix list for checking that your choices are coherent with your bigger-picture life plan, but I do have a few techniques that can offer help open up a path towards insight.
Know your value
Before you can decide whether something honours your values, you have to know what your values are! But how do you know what you value? One really effective way of identifying some of your values is to think about what makes you angry. Most times, when something makes your blood boil, it’s because one of your key values is being disrespected. If my husband gets furious when a car overtakes us on a curve at warp speed, it’s not because his masculine pride is wounded. It’s because protecting his family is right at the top of his values list. In films, when the “good” guys don’t triumph (you know those films where, right at the end, in a sly twist, you realise that the chap you’ve been told to root for and that the lawyer managed to get off was actually guilty all along?), my husband is always incandescent with rage. The disrespected value is, of course, his sense of justice.
So ask yourself: what makes me angry and what value is not being honoured in that situation? You can also think about your proudest moments, the moments when you felt most fully alive. What was going on? What value was being celebrated? If getting your degree is in the top five, maybe you value education and learning. If the relay race you lost horribly at school is actually a sparkling memory for you, maybe you cherish the teamwork it took to take part in the first place.
Try on your decision like a coat
This technique is great both for testing alignment and ending indecision. To see whether an action or a choice feels right and “aligned”, image that you have already made your decision. For example, you’re hesitating about leaving the amateur choir you have been singing with for a few years. Decide to leave and draft the email to the choirmaster with your resignation, then go to bed and sleep on it. How do you feel when you wake up? Relieved? Strong? Joyful? Or do you wake up terrified that Gmail has experienced a glitch and sent your draft email out automatically? Try on a decision the way you would a new coat and see how it fits. If you experience discomfort, consider what that tells you. Maybe it simply means that the decision is good but hard to execute, or maybe it means that it’s not the right path for you.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Sometimes honouring your values means saying no or that you’ve changed your mind, or that something no longer works for you. That’s hard, but ultimately liberating. When my daughter started school, in a fit of perfect-mother zeal I joined what us Brits refer to as the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association). Unsurprisingly, some of my top values are my children, education, and making a contribution. I quickly realised that the reality of PTA work in France is very different from what I saw my mother doing when I was at school in the UK and that the activities undertaken – while not harmful or unpleasant – didn’t hit the spot in terms of any of my values. The day I left, I felt rather guilty and embarrassed but I could practically feel the alignment return to my body. Now, the time I could have spent fielding Whatsapp messages (seriously, hundreds per week) and reading meeting minutes is used playing Kapla with my son, reading with my daughter, and doing pro bono coaching work (my children, education, making a contribution – tick, tick, tick).
Beware conflicting values
It’s impossible to honour all of your values all of the time. Maybe you value health and fitness but also security, which to you means having a minimum amount of savings in the bank. Joining a gym honours the first value but does nothing to help with the second. Sometimes you have to choose which value is most important here and now. So perhaps you decide that you can maintain your fitness by jogging in the park while keeping your bank balance healthy too. Perhaps you conclude that supervised weight training and cardio is really what you need to avoid certain issues that run in your family and you splash out on the gym but trim your budget elsewhere. Much heartache can occur when you try to honour conflicting values all at the same time (just ask any working parent!) so be mindful of what your values are and which you are honouring with each decision and why.
If you’re looking to find greater alignment in your life and make day-to-day choices that serve your higher purpose and long-term life plan, supportive and encouraging coaching can help you identify your values and honour them. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
Leading with your heart is a sure-fire way to banish hesitation and make regret-free choices. Learning to listen to yourself and trust your gut can stop a decision from turning into a dilemma.
Despite being an only child, I’m a twin – a Gemini, that is. I’ve always felt rather lucky to have been born under a sign whose symbol is not a barnyard animal, a venomous arachnid or a crustacean, but a pair of cherubic babies. Apparently, being a twin makes me versatile, communicative, energetic and inquisitive. The flip side seems to be that I’m glued to my mobile phone, good at accumulating trivial information, moody and – gasp – indecisive. Now, I couldn’t possibly comment on my qualities, but I can confirm that I am indeed a fan of all things telecommunications (my phone conversation record is a whopping four hours), I can go from sunshine to showers in seconds (for heaven’s sake, who can’t?), and I do store a remarkable number of random quotations and film facts in my little grey cells.
The one thing I am not, however, is indecisive. Yes, I can often see both sides of the story and can find arguments for both debate teams, but I’m not a ditherer. Why? Well, I don’t possess a crystal ball, nor am I overly impulsive. I simply have a strong instinct (inherited from my grandmother, according to Mum) that – and this is crucial – I have learned to listen to at all times. So many people have strong gut feelings but choose not to listen to what their heart is telling them. In fact, I think we all have the ability to make good instinctive decisions, but, often, over-thinking seems more sensible. Indeed, in our society, making too quick is decision is often frowned upon and labelled rash.
I never used to listen to my instinct. It seemed irresponsible to make important decisions without first getting out the notepad, listing the pros and cons, talking it over with all and sundry, consulting my horoscope, offering up incense… Yet, funnily enough, the choice I ended up making was always the same as what my internal GPS had told me right from the start. So I stopped wasting time reasoning and deliberating, cogitating and digesting, and started listening to my heart. I believe that, deep down, in every situation, we always know what we want to do and also what we think we should do – whether or not they are the same thing is another matter. We are usually also aware of the consequences of the choice we want to make – again, whether or not we like those consequences is another kettle of fish.
And, ay, there’s the rub. It’s often the anticipated fallout from a decision that provokes the ‘dilemma’. Put simply: if we’re honest, we know what decision we’ll eventually make, but we’re not always comfortable with the changes or upheaval that will ensue, so we agonize over self-created ‘dilemmas’ to put off the inevitable moment when taking a decision turns into taking action. Ending a relationship, for example, is one of the most difficult decisions we ever have to take. Often, people stay with unsuitable partners long after their romance has died because they anticipate the consequences of separation. So the dilemma begins. The person spends sleepless nights, talks with friends, and weighs up the possibilities, desperately trying to think about a choice that is purely a matter of feeling. Of course, love is the clearest example of a situation in which heart should rule head, but instinct can be applied to any so-called dilemma.
Making choices can be painful: any path taken inevitably leaves alternative roads untravelled. As one proposition is accepted, another must be rejected. However, the opposite – not making a decision – leaves you static and paralysed, staring down a path that leads precisely nowhere. Listening to your heart at least ensures that any choices you make are your choices. They’re not what you thought you should do, or what so-and-so thought you should do, they’re what you truly felt best with at the time, with all the information to hand and your instinct periscope very definitely up. Knowing that, and owning your decisions, is a shortcut to eliminating regret and recriminations. Sure, you’ll still make mistakes, but at least you’ll know that at any given moment, you were leading with your heart and not trying to second-guess or rationalise away your sentiments. Ultimately, there are no dilemmas if we simply trust ourselves to make decisions that may not always be right, but that will at least always remain faithful to our own truth.
Originally published on Running in Heels.