“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the physical and mental capacities of the entire world population. There is not only the direct effects of the virus itself, but there are also many associated effects including: isolation, exposure to negative news,, remote-work demands, coexistence in confined spaces and economic uncertainty.
The biggest challenge people seem to be facing right now is making peace with this ‘new normal’. Instead of thinking about the current situation as a pause in reality waiting for things to go back to the way they were before, how can we accept the current circumstances and make the most of it?
Often when we feel at our most powerless with the external world, our only choice is to use the powers we do have within us.
Victor Frankl Already Taught Us How to Do This
Leaving aside the many differences, this pandemic reminds me a lot of Victor Frankl and his experience inside a concentration camp (If you haven’t read it, I extremely recommend his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”).
Frankl spent three years (from 1942 to 1945) in between four nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. During this experience, he developed a philosophy that states that a man’s deepest desire is to find meaning in his life, and if he can find that meaning, he can survive the most challenging life situation.
In his case, he decided to give his concentration camp experience the meaning of making him a better person. Instead of becoming apathetic, he chose to embrace his suffering. For him, even in the worst possible situation, humans always have the freedom to choose their attitude towards life.
If You’re Feeling Powerless, You’re Probably on Track
If you don’t feel free or empowered right now, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you – in fact it means your brain function is incredibly normal given the circumstances.Our ‘primitive brain’ is always looking for instant pleasure and trying to avoid painful or uncomfortable situations, so you might be more inclined to want to stay inside your comfort zone right now. So if you are feeling anxious, confused or unsafe in these uncertain times, that is very normal – It is your brain protecting you and attempting to avoid any potential problems.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has created the perfect environment for our minds to hold us back from achieving our potential and can be challenging our capacity to achieve our goals and make positive and necessary changes in our lives.
One of the main questions I ask when I’m coaching clients about fears and uncertainties they are having during this global pandemic is: Is this challenge actually new – or can you recall the same thought patterns in your life before the pandemic?
For most of us, we are just hearing fears, ideas, beliefs or thoughts that were already there, only that now they have changed shape and are probably louder or more intense.
The first point to regain your power back is to become aware of how you are using your mind. Which thoughts and emotions do you usually choose for yourself? Remember that you are not experiencing the virus, you are experiencing your thoughts about the virus.
Get to Know Your Four Human Powers
Identifying the power you have in this situation can present a paradigm shift that has the potential of changing the way you feel at any moment and circumstance.
There are four powers you have and they are divided into internal and external: Your internal powers are your thoughts and your feelings; your external powers are your communication and your behaviors. Gaining ownership of your powers will allow you to see how self-dependent you are, and external circumstances will then lose their influence over you.
Regardless of any external circumstance (including a pandemic) you are always responsible for the way you think and the feelings those thoughts create. Those are the two internal powers that no one will be ever able to control or take away from you.
Within the same paradigm, even in the hardest circumstances, you can always choose how to communicate and how you want to behave.
“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualised depends on decisions but not on conditions.” – Victor Frankl
How Can You Use Your Powers?
As Victor Frankl said, while our reality is certainly affected by the global circumstances in which we are at, we are ultimately free to choose how we want to think, feel, communicate and behave in this moment of our lives.
We are free to decide if we want to blame the outside world for its current situation (and maybe avoid taking action), or we can decide to use our creativity to discover how we can better add value to the world. Right here, right now.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor Frankl
I can’t think of a better moment to understand our minds – to witness and explore our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and communication with openness and curiosity.
What do you think about your current situation? Are you feeling this pandemic is stopping you from achieving your goals in any way? If so, how is that serving you towards creating the life you want? How are your thoughts making you feel?
Allow yourself to dive deep into your mind and observe your thoughts. When you’re looking at your thoughts, be careful not to label them as true, just observe them without judgement.
When you are able to just observe your thoughts then you can use that internal power of yours. The question then becomes, do you want to keep thinking this way?
The main benefit of becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, communication and behaviour is that you will get your power back. You will be able to take full responsibility for the life you are creating today and the one you want to create for yourself. And at that moment, external circumstances have lost their power over you.