Before I start this short blog, I should say that it isn’t about existential or literal themes of what we do and do not control. Simply, it’s a blog about the mindset we bring to our current situation.
Alex McAulay, my long-time business partner has, more or less, kept to the same mantra for 10 years: “All we can control is our effort and our attitude.” Although that saying is attributed to Billy Cox, I believe Alex just heard it in passing one day and then adopted it as his mantra.
As I have in my last two blogs let’s use COVID-19 as an example. The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 was completely unexpected. For many of us, it didn’t just knock the wind out of our sails — it capsized the boat. It has been a stark reminder of how quickly and dramatically things can change. But even if we’ve failed to realize it, that is, and has always been, the case.
The weather changes.
Our cells, and therefore our bodies, are changing all the time.
Music tastes shift (sometimes).
New technology changes how businesses operate, or which products, services and industries are relevant (or needed).
New technology changes how we operate and interact with others in our daily lives.
Our friends, parents and partners can all change as well. In fact, they do.
Everything is in flux, yet we are bound to a false sense of security with our jobs, our health, the true stability of our businesses and our current life situation.
We can plan, save, prepare, study, research, hedge, but for no amount of effort can we control how the events in our external world affect us — directly or indirectly. All we can do is control our response to those events — our attitude and our effort to overcome or endure them.
“All we can control is our effort and our attitude.” Billy Cox
When it comes or our attitude, will we complain, worry, sulk and focus all our mental energy on the negatives of a given event, situation or circumstance or will we embrace challenges, relish in our new learnings, focus on gratitude and look for the silver lining?
When it comes to our effort, will we embrace our ability to commit ourselves to the task at hand? Even if we’re beaten down, broken, scared or afraid, will we still toe the line again and again until we’ve either achieved the desired result or at least done everything we could to achieve that result? Or will we make excuses that something is just “too difficult” or not “worth our effort and time”?
Each and every moment of our lives can present an opportunity to choose our attitude and our effort.
If for some reason, there is a chance to rise to the occasion and you choose not to, there undoubtedly will be another opportunity…and another after that.
So, how do we bring our best attitude and effort to a situation that is unexpected and unwanted?
Here are some tips:
- First, we must radically accept the events that happen in our lives and not expect them to be any different from what they are. If we don’t accept them, we’ll usually get stuck thinking about excuses for why they “shouldn’t” be a certain way. We must look at these events objectively and not place blame on anyone or anything. Regardless of blame after something has happened, it now “is what it is” and the only question that remains is: What are you going to do about it?
- Erase “should” and “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary.
- We must pause and gain control over our mind and body’s immediate emotional reaction to what happens (i.e., anger, frustration, etc). Pause just means taking a minute, or as long as you need, to let the emotions pass before you act.
- To do this, you need to, as one of my mentors always tells me, “enter the belly of the beast and get comfortable not being comfortable.” In other words, be able to sit with those uncomfortable emotions or situations and not shy away from them.
- Know that the events are not happening to Instead, choose to believe that the events are happening through you or around you; in other words, I am experiencing them but they are not me, (I am not COVID-19. COVID-19 is an event, a global pandemic that is happening and I am experiencing it). Adopting this perspective allows you to accomplish point 1 much better.
- And if you can do that then , you can as Bob Iger, CEO of Disney says, “…approach bad news as a problem that can be worked through and solved, something I have control over rather than something happening to me.” So ask yourself: “What are the things I can do now to overcome this?”
- If there isn’t anything you can do at this moment to deal with the situation, then respond as Nassim Taleb once wrote, “In some moments we are only left with one solution: dignity in the face of the unthinkable.” Dignity could mean simply not over-reacting to what is happening but instead just being in the belly of that beast with your head held high!
- Lastly, you can also practice negative visualization, which is, in short, a stoic philosophy of visualizing and understanding the worst possible scenario and accepting it. The stoics call this the practice of premeditatio malorum — (premeditation of evils). This practice frees you from worry about what might happen (you’ve already mentally prepared for the worst), and focus on the best possible result.
There has never been a status-quo. Whether it is the COVID-19 global pandemic or some other set-back, life will continually expect of you the mindset and effort to withstand and overcome these unexpected challenges. Increasing your effort and changing your attitude will make you adaptable to these events and shift your feelings of helplessness and self-pity. Although, the results you may want are not guaranteed. As Seneca said: “A good person dyes events with his own color … and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” So, if nothing else, by changing your attitude you will simply feel better as you weather the storm.