Finding Calm in Chaos
I moved from Denver to a town in rural America in the fall of 2019, and in doing so, I became Prosono’s first full-time remote employee. At Prosono, we typically run small tests (or experiments) before we implement a change. Over the past year, I tested working remotely from Oregon for a few weeks at a time. In October I made the move and am now a resident of Oregon. The transition was tough, and even with an incredibly supportive team and client base, it still can be tough today. While there are a lot of benefits to remote work, it requires a different focus and discipline than I needed in the office. In my current situation, I am more prone toward feelings of isolation. Personally, I am someone who craves social interaction, so the feelings of isolation can be overwhelming and daunting. I think many of us are experiencing that today with the need for social distancing and the associated upheaval in our daily lives.
Coincidentally, about a week after COVID-19 required states across the country to shut down all non-essential businesses, I read an article from the Harvard Business Review called “The Contagion We Can Control.” I read it at a time when my feelings of uncertainty, heaviness, and isolation were hitting peak (one of many of those peaks, as you can probably relate).
The article had a profound effect on me as an individual, partner, friend, and employee. For the many roles I play in my life, I found a variety of applications. It gave me something positive and tangible to grasp on to during a period of great uncertainty. The ‘contagion’ mentioned in the title is emotional contagion, which is defined as “the mechanism by which people’s emotions (positive or negative) ‘go viral’ within groups, influencing our thoughts and actions.” While I encourage you to read the article, the gist is this: we can manage the emotions we put out to the world – positive and negative. We have a choice as to what information we consume and repeat to others. We also have a choice as to how we allow that information to influence us – positively and negatively. Lastly, we have a choice regarding how we take care of ourselves – physically and emotionally. Being good to our physical and mental selves is critical, especially now.
I am, at times, what one might call a control freak. As a consultant who helps organizations develop strategies within confirmed deadlines, it is important that I’m organized, flexible, and capable of considering multiple scenarios at once. However, what may feel like control to me on many days is a just a perception of control, as my day-to-day can be knocked out of whack by a variety of things. For most of us right now, that ‘thing’ is COVID-19, and while it feels big, it is not insurmountable.
Since reading the HBR article and considering the application to my life, I sought out mental and physical exercises to help me practice mental ‘toughness,’ emotional vulnerability, and self-awareness. The article provides several helpful tools – exercising, volunteering, mindfulness meditation, and high-quality connections with others.
What have these tools looked like in action for me? Exercise sometimes means a walk around the block, an in-home HIIT workout, or whatever it takes to get me out of my mind and in my body. For volunteering, I reviewed a friend’s resume and occasionally hand out school lunches at the neighboring elementary school. Meditation is hard for me, but the small practice of taking five deep breaths with my eyes closed quiets me in stressful moments. In terms of connecting, most of my work calls are on video, even if I’m in workout clothes. Thanks to Zoom, I learned how to cook chili from my friend in a cooking class, had a Miami-themed happy hour with friends, celebrated multiple birthdays, learned how to play cribbage, and colored with my niece and nephew. Now do these tools help me walk blissfully through life, unaffected by our reality or my own negative emotions? Absolutely not. But they do help me intentionally choose calm over chaos and project that calm out to my colleagues, clients, friends, family, and partner.
As I mentioned, I read this article at a particularly tough time in my work transition, which coincided with COVID-19’s acceleration. Since moving and working through those feelings of isolation, I’ve become more acutely aware of how powerful our minds are – how our perspective and attitude and general approach to the present can positively or negatively impact a day, a week, a month. I practice this mental awareness and reflect on it daily; I see how my attitude impacts my work, my loved ones, and those around me, especially when interactions are not in person.
Our emotional contagion makes a profound difference on our lives. As we are all dealing with more heaviness and uncertainty than normal, it's good to remember that we do have some measure of control. It is in how we approach our days, how we show up with our emotions, what information we choose to consume, and how we treat each other. That knowledge gives me great hope, and I look forward to bringing that mentality to my life and work every day.