Do you feel overwhelmed?
We often feel like we have too much on our plate. Bump into someone and ask how they are doing. You will get the inevitable reply, “Oh, crazy busy!”
Busyness has become a badge. We wear it with pride. We are crazy with busyness. We connect our worth with our accomplishments. Human beings are re-defined as human doings.
Don’t get me wrong. Too much to do is potentially a good problem. It means choice. It indicates a substantial life. Imagine the opposite, boredom.
Amidst the craziness, how can we achieve a sense of calm or contentedness? Peace of mind from a life well-lived.
How can we return to being?
Before we talk about calm and contentedness, we should define them.
Contentedness is a state of satisfaction, as opposed to, and pervading, temporary rushes of joy or pain we experience and over which we have little control. It is not the constant presence of joyous moments (that is not possible) but an underlying long-term sense of peace with our world.
Calm is the absence of disturbance of any kind – be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. The feeling that, at any moment, we are doing the right thing and behaving the right way.
Fundamentally, calm is a choice. Thankfully, it is the path of least resistance. That is not to play down the problems many of us face. But in the direst of circumstances, there is hope in knowing we are capable of demonstrating our strength of character. That is a choice that cannot be taken from us.
Going from overwhelmed to calm
Given that definition, how can we move from overwhelmed to calm?
Let us look at the elements of a contented, well-lived life. Think of calm, contented people you know – not necessarily rich nor famous and maybe not successful in our traditional definition.
What kind of character are they?
What do they do?
What do they not do?
Think of those moments when you are most calm. Everyone has their place. The cup of tea in the garden, the meditation by sea, the hike in the mountains, the cycle along a new path or the afternoon snoozes away from work.
I finally hung a hammock in the garden this week (the irony). Today, after lunch, I felt tired. I had a deadline – this article. I lay in the hammock, closed my eyes, and stuck on the headphones. My entire body relaxed. The world drifted away. At that moment, I had a deep sense of calm. I knew that what I was doing at that moment was the right thing – among all the things. I was aligning with my energy.
The opposite of Calm
Take the contrary view. What is the opposite of calm? What are the things that disturb you? Thinking this way allowed me to create my Calm Manifesto. Easy to write, harder to accomplish. We often default to the emotions on the right. But we can start to choose the things on the left instead:
- Clarity: Knowing who you are and what matters over confusion (uneasiness, comparison, jealousy).
- Confidence: Comfort in your skin over doubt, fear, anxiousness, and inadequacy.
- Response-ability: Action and growth over helplessness, apathy and being stuck in a rut.
- Connection: Over isolation.
- Order: Simplicity over chaos (clutter).
- Alignment: Congruence, flow over feeling conflicted.
- Acceptance, tolerance: Over intolerance, annoyance, anger.
- Enough/Gratitude: Over inadequacy, greed, scarcity.
What about Clarity?
Consider again those (damn) calm people you know. What characteristics do they exhibit? They know who they are and what matters to them. You can trust them because they are consistent. What you see is what you get. They are not putting on a show. They are comfortable in their skin because they rarely wear anything else. They are consistent because they have clarity. Like essentialists, they have figured out what matters to them and stripped away the rest.
How can you do this? It requires self-awareness – simply asking yourself a few questions now and then. Accept that the answers are never final. They do not even have to be correct. The value is in asking. So, at any point, seek clarity to the big questions.
The Big Questions
Happiness: What is your definition of happiness? What are you doing? Who are you with? Consider everything you’re grateful for. For most, there are more reasons to be grateful than not. Or ask yourself, “what annoys me?”. Often we try to add more things to make us happy but often happiness might be much more simple, the absence of annoyance. People with clarity know what makes them happy, and what they care about and let go of the rest.
Meaning: Clarity is knowing our purpose – why you do what you do. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What gives you a sense of mission? It may not give you pleasure but it allows you to strive. Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design, talks of happiness as comprising both pleasure and purpose. The pendulum can swing too far one way towards hedonism or the opposite meaning we are off balance. People with clarity have a purpose. They know why they do what they do.
Attention: Consider your life as a whole – not just career, not just family, not just health. What are the areas of your life which deserve your attention? There is a difference between caring about something and taking care of something. the latter includes action. Don’t just talk the talk. If it needs attention, take action. People with clarity know what areas need attention and attend to those areas.
Principles: What are your values or your principles? What is important to you? What motivates the decisions you make every day? It might be personal or financial security, teamwork, achievement, contribution, making a difference, family, friendship, personal growth or well-being. People with clarity know how they want to be and behave according to their values.
Strengths: What are the positive parts of your character? What do other people say compliment you on? Try to improve and develop gently. Don’t get hung up on weaknesses. Use your character strengths. People with clarity know what they are good at and use their natural qualities to contribute.
People with clarity have a MAP – mission, attention and principles. The answers to the above questions are from your Life Canvas. When you introduce yourself, this helps summarise who you are.
We all need an internal compass to contribute to our peace of mind. We need to be clear inside to deal with the craziness outside. These are big questions, scary for some. But they will not get any smaller by ignoring them.
James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing and performance programmes for businesses.
The Wellbeing Academy provides neuroscience-based micro-courses and mastermind programmes for anyone to improve their life, energy and performance.