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Might be time to actually write our own story for a change! – By psychologist Joanne Edmond.

Our South West Australia

Adapting and Flourishing in a World of Change

The busy treadmill we were all on, while juggling the many plates of responsibility and expectation, has slowed, or even stopped for most. We have been left unsure of how to step into this new world. We can navigate this together through finding meaning and sharing stories while being compassionate towards others.

I was recently reminded of an old book I read many years ago and felt compelled to re-read it. I started with a story. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Victor E. Frankl shared several now famous quotes that can speak to us while we are in a state of change; “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom and to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. From his time in concentration camps, Victor taught us that we have the freedom to choose how we see the unique and current set of circumstances which we are all faced with, as well as to choose how we perceive what’s happening in the world around us. Many of my clients have heard me say, “we each have an opportunity to choose and narrate this chapter of our story and write our own history”. What would we write if we had the chance? What would we want to tell others of our experiences?

Victor’s story included some descriptions of the trauma he was exposed to, but he mostly wanted to share his experience of going deeper and finding meaning in the most challenging of circumstances. He certainly seemed to value gratitude, family, curiosity and courage. So, what else can we learn from Victor’s experience to help us adapt and flourish in our changing world and landscape. I’m sure to some this seems difficult to reconcile when people are suffering. Prior to this change most people spent their time avoiding emotional pain with different strategies including buying things, seeking external happiness, numbing through use of alcohol and other means. What if true happiness lies within each of us? What if we have an opportunity to look within while the treadmill has slowed, and to find calmness and clarity from that space. This blog isn’t about a quick fix to happiness while physically distancing, nor is it about how to look within through mindfulness (this was beautifully blogged by Amiee-Jade Pember recently where she shared some thoughtful and practical mindfulness practices). Instead, this blog is more about finding meaning and purpose in uncertainty, learning and holding your core values closely, asking yourself questions to dig deeper and create the story you would like to tell when this chapter is over.

In Positive Psychology we describe post-traumatic growth, sharing an understanding that there is a possibility for light and joy from struggle and darkness. From this perspective, we recognize that we all have choices about how we see things and the stories we wish tell ourselves. This doesn’t for a moment dismiss the feelings of worry or fear, as it’s normal to feel all the emotions in this shifting landscape.

However, what we know is that when we are overwhelmed with fear or distress, and stay too long with those feelings, we lose our capacity to think well, to be creative, and our health becomes compromised. In contrast, when we experience more happiness, we make better decisions, are more connected to others and our health improves. From this place of inner calmness, more happiness can be created. We can say things to ourselves with curiosity and with a compassionate lens, like why is fear so intense right now? We don’t try to get rid of it, we make peace with it and hold a space in mind that the feeling will pass. In these moments we use self-validation to self-regulate.  On the other hand if we get caught up in the stressful stories we tell ourselves, we can notice this and come back to the stories we want to create. Victor Frankl did this by holding images and stories of his wife in mind, while having hope that he would leave the camps he was held captive in, allowing him to feel calmer.

Positive psychology and neuroscience have identified actions, attitudes and small things we can do to boost our moods over time. Some of these are probably not new to you, but well proven to enhance well-being and to balance out negativity with a more positive mood state. If you could just add one of these into this chapter of your life, your story will also be of greater well-being. Just one small behaviour change can make a large difference over time.

  • Ask yourself and others to reflect on what is working well? This creates a positive shift and allows us to look for more success or achievement, as well as a more balanced mood.
  • Identify your values and what matters most to you. Our values reflect what we find meaningful in life. They are what you care about, deep down, and what you consider to be important.  Everybody’s values are different, and they can change over time. This can bring clarity and help with decision making, as well as bring about more meaning for the days ahead.
  • Martin Seligman and other pioneers of Positive Psychology defines the meaningful life as knowing what your highest strengths are and “using your signature strengths and values in the service of something much larger than you are.” Once you have discovered your values, ask the meaning questions like how do I intend to live this value today? For example, if family is a significant value for you, then how might you share this value with family or act in ways that show your fondness of family? This can help to set meaningful goals through this period of change. You might use this time to cultivate a passion or interest you have thought about, such as learning an instrument.
  • Cultivate positive social relationships. Even though physical distancing is our new current norm, we can use different ways to connect with others to ensure no one experiences loneliness. Engage in your community and engage in random acts of kindness. I have observed so much of this happening and it fills my heart with joy. I’m sure it also feels the recipient with joy too.

When we live closer to our values and find our own personal meaning through this chapter, we will be happier, become more resilient and positively influence others. Be a positive part of someone else’s chapter. I believe that human nature is naturally generous and compassionate. We are all connected to others, through family, friends, community and social media. We all have an opportunity to improve another person’s life in some way; a smile, a kind word or action. This is meaningful, and could help you grow more positive actions, grow others well-being and your own to adapt and thrive through our changing world.

If you would like me to send a values list to help you to discover your own please email ua.moc.gniebllewfoerocnull@eel-latsyrC

Kind Regards

Joanne Edmond