Focusing on What to Keep

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CM Learning Blog | Focusing on what to keep

The past year has challenged us with a huge amount of change, so how do we focus on what to keep rather than what has been lost?

We’ve all faced personal or professional turbulence of some kind over the last year. There have been huge challenges such as furlough, redundancy, bereavement, financial concerns and the negative impact on our mental and physical wellbeing to name a few.

It’s at times like these that we truly realise the power that lies in our mindset strength to both get us through and help us to learn more about ourselves. This strength gives us resilience in handling the ups and downs, the trials, tribulations and curveballs that life has a habit of throwing us.

Our brain does so many amazing things for us, yet when it comes to coping with unexpected and unpredictable change, it can do so much to hinder us

Often during a period of extreme change like we’ve all experienced, there’s a certain amount of adrenaline that gets us through that initial phase. We tell ourselves things like, “we’ll get through this”, “we can do this” or “it won’t be like this forever”. Then, as time goes on, it becomes much more difficult to maintain that optimism and energy, partly because with the change comes uncertainty and for many of us, feelings of loss.

Loss for how things used to be. Loss of our means to survive or our luxuries. Loss of holidays. Loss of time with loved ones. We may even feel guilty for feeling how we’re feeling, for yearning how things used to be, when we see others who have it much worse than we do ourselves. All of this is human nature and completely natural.

Our brain does so many amazing things for us, yet when it comes to coping with unexpected and unpredictable change, it can do so much to hinder us. In this case, our brain goes into survival mode by trying to keep us alive and away from danger. It steers our thinking so that we can avoid being in that place of ‘pain’ again, and so our tendency is to focus on what we don’t want to feel again, or what we have lost.

Focusing on what to keep

Developing our ability to reframe and refocus on what we want to keep, rather than what we have lost is simple, but as with any development, simple doesn’t make it easy; we still need to commit to making a change. 

It’s often so much easier to continue on as we are without resisting our automatic and instinctive thinking because after all, by this stage in our lives our beliefs and values are deep-rooted.

There are two steps that can help us to get started when focusing on what we want to keep.

Develop an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude helps to remind us what we have in our lives to be thankful for. Particularly in times when it feels like we’ve lost a lot, it can refocus us on what we’ve still got, or what we’ve gained as a result of change.

With many of us still missing that team contact due to working from home, we might be grateful for the added balance that remote working has given to our personal lives or the extra time with family. We’ve all had cancelled or postponed holidays which could mean that in fact we’re grateful for that little bit of extra money for a rainy day.

CM Learning - gratitude jar
My gratitude jar 🙂
CM Learning - develop an attitude of gratitude

Regularly tuning into what we’re grateful for can be a huge help in deciding what to keep, rather than automatically focusing on what we’ve lost.

It can be difficult to build a practice of gratitude into our daily lives. We live at such a fast pace and naturally allow ourselves to fall into set patterns and habits, which can lead to us taking things for granted. Set some time aside to regularly write down what you have to be thankful for (the bonus of writing it down is that you can then look back on it during the particularly tough times).

Self-reflection

With gratitude comes reflection, which helps us to rethink our assumptions. Just like gratitude, this can be challenging. Not only do we all lead busy lives, we also have a habit of putting ourselves out there for others. We make sure that everyone around us has all that they need, putting our own needs last. Reflection allows us to keep perspective and raise our levels of self-awareness, so that we can take stock of what’s important to us. Without it, we continue with our automatic patterns which are often damaging.

Working in a remote world is something that we’ve all had to quickly adapt to. Small changes may well make a big difference. You might want to keep the virtual quizzes with colleagues or far-flung family members, or make a commitment to scheduling a video call instead of the usual phone call or email. On a deeper level, reflect on what learning this period of change has offered. Perhaps there are elements of flexible working that have meant a reduced commute time and a better quality of life that you would never want to lose.

CM Learning | self-reflection | focusing on what to keep

What do you want to keep?

Building our resilience happens in small steps over a long time, if we consciously focus on developing it. We put so much effort into building the technical skills and knowledge that we need to be successful; it is just as vital that we do the same for developing our mindset. It starts with making a commitment to switch off our automatic thinking patterns so that we can become more aware of what it is that we are focusing on.

We’ve faced severe change before, and the essence of change is that we will adapt and respond before something else comes along and blindsides us. This period of change has offered us a significant opportunity to learn more about what makes us tick, IF we choose to learn from it. Reframing our focus on what to keep rather than what’s been lost gives us some power back so that we can be stronger, no matter what the future brings.

Updated and adapted from my original January 2021 opinion piece written for Training Journal, which can be found here

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