In a world of uncertainty, don’t let negative thoughts reign

Don’t let your concerns about COVID-19 create blind spots and unnaturally tighten your focus

Faith WoodPlenty of uncertainty is tugging on our thoughts these days. We’re distracted by social media rants, relentless death counts, conspiracy theories and challenging financial situations.

During these days of sheltering in place, what’s compelling your focus? What’s increasing?

The reality is there are some real threats related to COVID-19 to be concerned about. These threats can keep you awake at night (or cleaning your space ruthlessly).

But worry is a great way to bring about more of what you don’t want in your life.

If you’re constantly focused on symptoms of ill health, and avoiding meeting a germ transmitter, you begin to put a critical eye on any behaviours that you think violate that priority for you.

You see others as spreaders and may even feel hostility towards them because the lens through which you view your environment is one of personal protectionism. Your brain deletes all other evidence as irrelevant or erroneous.

That’s the real danger: the tendency to restrict contemplation of any contrary information, creating an unintentional blind spot.

Just such a blind spot happened to me years ago when I was chairing an annual general meeting and scrambling to keep the position of president in our provincial association. The association was heavily dominated by men and I was the first female president, promoted from vice-president when the elected president resigned.

Our meeting was being held on the last day of a four-day conference. For three days, I had witnessed seven men work their way through the ranks in what could be described as a hostile takeover attempt. They infiltrated every possible narrative. From coffee breaks to social hours, they raised concerns over my capability and alleged ethical misconduct.

At first, I tried to ignore them. But it wasn’t long before the little sidebar meetings and pointed looks were all I could see. To me, it felt like everyone was nodding their heads and supporting them.

When the morning of the meeting arrived, I was so hurt and agitated that I was ready to quit. Instead, I called for an amendment to the agenda, highlighting the need to have an election for the position of president a year early.

As I anticipated, one of the seven campaigners was promptly nominated. I allowed my name to stand, fully anticipating it would be my last official duty. I briefly addressed the room and identified the challenges I thought the association faced and what I planned to do about it. The other nominee spoke and attacked my character, calling me a charlatan, among other things.

The cruelty crushed me.

Another board member asked the membership to allow the nominees to remain in the room for the vote. He said these were unprecedented circumstances. I thought it was another strategy to humiliate me but we stayed anyway.

Votes were cast by show of hands. When my name was called, all but seven hands rose in support.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. How had I been so blind?

What you focus on increases and I had increased the volume on those few dissenting voices.

Just as I was starting to call for a break so I could gather my thoughts, a booming voice from the back of the room called out: “Madam chair, for the record, count the hands!”

Today, whenever I find myself spinning with a problem, I hear that voice in my head. It reminds me to breathe, take a step back and allow in alternative thoughts.

If you’re not sure what your singular focus has been attracting, look around and notice what’s showing up in your life. Whatever’s been showing up is the direct result of that focus.

I’ve heard a lot about the brain’s response to fear and our tendency to fight, flight or freeze. How do you avoid the freeze response when situations get stressful?

Perhaps this conversation can help:

Faith: I’ve have had a bit of practise over the years at altering my habits of thought.

Darlene: What do you mean?

Faith: Do you remember the meeting in Jasper years ago?

Darlene: Wow! I haven’t thought about that in years. I remember we walked into that meeting hell bent on resigning from the leadership team.

Faith: Right! Do you remember why?

Darlene: Ooooh, yes … the Magnificent Seven had a lot to do with it!

Faith: Those guys spent the better part of three days campaigning for our jobs, even though they weren’t up for grabs!

Darlene: They didn’t want a female president and they weren’t quiet about it.

Faith: The problem was, that they were all I could hear and see. When my feelings got hurt, it narrowed my view and led me to think that everyone felt the same.

Darlene (chuckling): When you called for the confidence vote, I thought you were crazy. But then theirs were the only hands not raised for you. It was amazing – over 200 officers held hands high and those in the back even stood on their chairs.

Faith: When I saw it, I couldn’t speak – I couldn’t breathe. That’s what it feels like to freeze. In the silence, a voice called out from the back of the hall …

Darlene (in a booming voice): “Madam chair, for the record, count the hands!”

Faith (laughing): Whenever I feel myself starting to drift into a similar state of mind, I hear that voice. It reminds me to pull up and take another look at all the evidence. Having a voice like that in my head has helped develop better habits of thought.

Darlene: Thanks for being the wise voice inside my head. I’m glad you’re inspiring minds.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.

© Troy Media


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