Using the power of presence to change your future
Recent circumstances have precipitated a significant change in the professional and personal situations of many people, pretty much out of the blue.
For some, the pandemic has actually been a welcome interruption of a default path whether it be in their career, relationships or lifestyle. From adversity can come opportunity. However, for many, sudden and disruptive change has been less welcomed and has forced a reconsideration of facets of their life they had taken as given.
Depending on your general outlook on life, this can feel either like an exciting new chapter opening up or the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to deal with.
If you are at such a crossroads or are beginning to reflect on ‘what next?’ this article provides some advice on how you can create the conditions for initiating a balanced and grounded reflective process.
Fundamentally, we all know that fear and anxiety colour our judgement and limit our capacity to think clearly, when that is most what we need. Clarity of thought is a sign we are not being hijacked by emotion, and the overwhelm that can come from excessive rumination about the future, wrestling with what ifs and the unknown. What we most need is to tap into the power inside of us to stay present, think clearly and that part of us that is creative, wise and imaginative.
With this in mind below are three ideas for using the power of presence to take a step back and tap into your inner guidance system.
1. Notice the ‘quality’ of your thinking
When we are faced with difficult circumstances it is completely natural for our thinking to be hijacked and for emotion to be triggered. We evolved to avoid danger and sudden change in our situation can arouse the stress response (also known as ‘fight, flight or freeze’). But the crucial difference from our ancestors is that the stress response was designed to keep us safe and alive in the immediate situation. But in modern life we innocently (and unconsciously) initiate the same protective mechanism when faced with broader threats and challenges.
If there is one ‘technique’ I personally use when I am finding myself becoming overwhelmed by my thinking is to ask myself:
What is creating my psychological and emotional experience right now? Is it:
a) My circumstances, the content of what I am thinking about?
b) How I am seeing the world in this very moment?
The only possible answer is b), but when we are hijacked, that just does not seem to be true. Simply put, when we are overwhelmed it looks like life is coming at us, but when we are centred and calmed, it feels like life is coming through us. It cannot work both ways...
Think about those times when you have looked back on an experience where you were overwhelmed and once your mind had settled you asked yourself ‘what was I thinking?!’ We innocently give our well-being away to our circumstances, to the content of life.
But when we begin to see that our feelings are simply a barometer for the quality of our thinking in the moment, this is an invitation to take a step back, take a few slow deep breaths, and simply notice what is going on in our experience. This will usually create an immediate distance, bringing us back to the present moment, into the now, and out of our overloaded mind.
2. Slow down to the speed of life
I remember at the start of lockdown in March 2020 that some friends saw the enforced slowing up a welcome relief from the hectic, non-stop nature of their day to day lives. Being forced to stop on the ‘outside’ initiated a slowing down on the ‘inside’. But then, as time went on, slowly but surely their thinking ramped up again,
As part of my work as a coach, one thing I use as a proxy for my clients moving in the right direction is that their thinking has slowed up. The urgency has reduced, there is more ‘head space’ and they find themselves spending more time in clarity and far less time being ‘preoccupied’. I have never seen anyone worry themselves into a better place.
I understand that for many there are decisions to be made about where to direct their energies, whether it is job hunting, retraining or exploring other life options. And whilst we do need to plan and think ahead, for me the most important question is ‘what is my next step?’ This is also leads us to the simple question:
How do you eat an elephant?
Yes, one mouthful at a time. And by slowing up, by removing the urgency, that next mouthful, that next step that can serve our longer-term future, will likely be more obvious to us.
By spending more time in the present moment, we give ourselves permission to explore, be curious and to experiment. And by staying grounded, by fully engaging with the now, and what is immediately in front of us, the next step after that will present itself. When we spend more time in life, taking slow but steady action, or simply quietly reflecting with an open and curious mind, this can only but serve us.
3. Let go of the need for certainty as a commitment to personal growth
For many people, they have been living life on ‘autopilot’ - the same job, the same routines, the same old same old. And for many that is an extremely comfortable place to be. Why rock the boat?! I hear you ask.
Well, that is what has happened for many people. The boat has not just been rocked but cast into stormy seas with no end in sight, no safe harbour to aim for.
We become accustomed to predictability, to certainty. But that can limit our potential if it becomes part of our belief system. As in, ‘oh I wish I was more like them, they are far more comfortable with risk.’
Yes, if the rug has been pulled on your career/job and you are facing mounting bills and have responsibilities for others, the uncertainty thrust upon is an immediate concern and issue. Well, it can be difficult to hear, but to help navigate the choppy waters it can be helpful to turn inwards, to use this time of challenge as an opportunity for growth.
If we have been going through our lives avoiding risk, not pursuing what we really want, and perhaps always putting other people before us, maybe we have been living a life of avoidance. A fear of uncertainty is often manifest as a life based on predictability and routine.
It can take courage to take this inward journey but from what I have seen, when we are willing to face our deeper fears, we open up a world of possibility.
And the first step I suggest is to see for yourself how such fear is an automatic response, based on a habitual and unconscious way of thinking, feeling and being. It is simply the past being transported into the present, which is dictating how you navigate life and think about the future. This creates limitation.
Well, the current situation has woken us up out of automatic. And so, this is an invitation, to become more comfortable feeling uncomfortable. To let go of that part of us that was actually not serving us, to welcome in the power we have to start afresh, to see life with new eyes.
Being more present to life, fully immersed and engaged in your experience, is to step out of the unconscious patterns that make up the story of you. Let the power of presence, available to you in real time, one thought away, help you shape a new way of engaging with life. From here, the art of the possible becomes a field of opportunity and exploration. Just like when you were a child when anything was possible, life was an adventure, life was an experience to be experienced. Tap into that curiosity, starting today, and see where you go from there.