By Donna Stoneham, PhD
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, where you live, your age, marital status, race, religion, sexual orientation or profession, 2017 is likely to be a year unlike any we’ve ever experienced. America has never been more divided, and many people are feeling alienated and anxious.
The key to remember is this: Thriving is our birthright. So now, more than ever, it’s critical to do what we can to build our capacity to be resilient. In times of great uncertainty, we must learn to navigate a parallel path that enables us to have wings in the air and feet on the ground. This means having the spiritual vision that enables us to see the beauty and compassion that’s unfolding around us so we don’t lose hope, while also staying grounded so we’re ready to take the actions necessary to manage whatever comes our way. To effectively navigate this parallel path, we must work to develop strength in five key areas. We must cultivate a strong body, a strong spirit, a strong mind, a strong community, and a strong character, not just to survive, but to thrive now and in the future.
Cultivate a Strong Body
I have a coaching client I’ve been trying to inspire to take up an exercise practice. When we last met, I said, somewhat in jest, “If you won’t do this for yourself, then do it for your country!” We all need strong bodies because physical strength helps to ground us. It helps keep our immunity high in times of stress so we don’t get sick. A strong body positively impacts our attitude and helps us to feel that we have the power to successfully navigate the world, even in difficult times. Exercising regularly, getting good nutrition each day and making sure we get sound, restful sleep gives us the energy we need to thrive and successfully manage stress and fear.
The Practice: Move your body for a half hour or more at least four times each week and for a minimum of fifteen minutes every day. Walk the dog. Use a treadmill or an elliptical while you’re reading or watching TV. Run. Swim. Play basketball. Do Yoga. Just MOVE. Get good nutrition every day. Say good-bye to fast food. When you’re hungry and need a snack, have a piece of fruit, some nuts, or a food bar. Make sure you’re consistently getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and be mindful of how much alcohol you ingest. Notice how you feel about your ability to manage your emotions when you make it a conscious practice to take better care of your body. How does it shift your attitude? How does building a stronger body help you navigate challenges? How does it shift your level of energy and your capacity to focus on the most important things and people in your life?
Cultivate a Strong Spirit
The poet Rumi said, “Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.” That’s what building a strong spirit allows us to do. It gives us a higher perspective that isn’t bound by time or circumstances. It allows us to experience a connection to something greater than ourselves and to have faith we’re not alone. It helps us see that even though we may not agree with another person’s perspective, that we are all still part of one human family. It enables us to see beauty in the midst of chaos or despair. Building a strong spirit helps us radiate compassion, not just for others, but also for ourselves. It helps us to become instruments of love, joy, and greater understanding. It helps us stay grounded and not lose our center when we feel attacked.
The Practice: To cultivate a strong spirit, dedicate time each day to communing with your higher power, whatever form that takes for you. Some do this through a regular practice of prayer or meditation. For others, it’s being in community with fellow seekers, spending time with family or communing with nature. A strong spirit can also be cultivated through a regular gratitude practice. Every morning when I awaken, I pray, I meditate and think about at least three things I’m grateful for before my feet even hit the floor. It’s a wonderful way to start the day and it gives me courage to face the day. So create whatever ritual that’s right for you that enables you to come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love. Then dedicate at least ten minutes each day to that practice. Think about ways that you can demonstrate compassion in the world and pay it forward, then take those actions. A strong spirit will help you keep your wings in the air and your feet on the ground, especially when you need it most.
Cultivate a Strong Mind
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl said, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” The mind is a powerful instrument and we have far more control over what we think than we credit ourselves with having. We are constantly choosing, whether consciously or unconsciously, how we make meaning of our lives and of the world. In this “post-truth” age we’re living in, we must be vigilant about what we choose to consume. The old saying, “garbage in, garbage out” couldn’t be truer.
The Practice: To cultivate a strong mind, take in things that feed you such as inspirational stories, great literature, blogs, or movies that inspire you or give you hope about the world. Likewise, calibrate how much news you listen to, how much time you spend on social media, how much media you consume. Stay informed, but don’t allow the media to dictate your life or your mood. Every day, set an intention to be good to your mind by being careful what you feed it. Fill it with things that help expand what’s possible, rather than things that cause you to contract or live in fear. Give yourself at least ten minutes a day to read or watch something that’s inspiring. Start your day with an inspirational book, a TED talk or a blogger you follow that gives you hope. Know when it’s time to say “no” to more news, especially when you’re trying to go to sleep. Notice what shifts as you become more consciously responsible for what you’re thinking, rather than allowing the noise of the world to manage your perceptions. How does what you consume contribute to how you perceive and interact with the world? How does it enable or disable you from making your most important contributions?
Cultivate a Strong Community
Martin Luther King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” We are all connected, and especially when times are challenging, we need people we can rely on for support. We need assurance that we’re not alone, that others have our backs and that we will get through challenging times together. One of the outcomes of the recent election is that people are reaching out to one another and are willing to be allies for groups of people they may have never considered before. We are realizing that if we’re ever going to come together again as a country, we need to learn how to reach out, engage in dialogue, listen and seek to understand those with different opinions and experiences. Building a strong web of community and support is crucial, because at the end of the day, we are all in this together.
The Practice: Reach out to two or three friends and plan to get together at least once a month and be available by phone as needed. You can also volunteer to host a circle through groups like Dream Corp’s #lovearmy, which are designed to help us support one another and work across differences. You may even want to start a regular lunch group at work. The point is to create a safe space where you can share your concerns and get support for the actions you plan to take to make a difference now and in the future. If you have skills to volunteer, find a place to give back and pay it forward in your community. If you have kids, take them with you to volunteer at a local food bank or charity nearby where they can also make a difference. Notice what shifts for you as you engage with your various support networks and communities, both personal and virtual. How does what you contribute affect your sense of interrelatedness? How do others’ contributions to your life affect your sense of connectedness and well-being?
Cultivate a Strong Character
Mark Twain said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” Our moral courage is a reflection of our character. These times call for us to be both brave and resolute. We need to know what we stand for and what we’re unwilling to sacrifice, regardless of the cost. Exhibiting character may show itself in standing up for a stranger on the subway or for someone at work who is being ostracized or singled out. It may be taking a stand for a neighbor or standing in solidarity with another group by flying a flag that represents their cause. It may be going to a march because you believe in a cause, or it may even go as far as offering safe-haven to someone you meet because you know that’s the right thing to do. Honoring your character is knowing where you draw the line about how you will treat others, regardless of what others around you are doing. Use your moral compass wisely to direct your actions and behaviors.
The Practice: Spend an hour this coming weekend reflecting on your most deeply held values. Write them down. Then spend time thinking about how you can put those values into action every day, at home and at work. Also, give thought to what ethical lines you are unwilling to cross, no matter the cost. Then each day upon waking, set an intention about how you’d like to show up in the world in a way that is aligned with your values and ethics. Then do your best to fulfill it. For example, you might start the day by setting an intention to be kind to all the people you interact with. Or maybe it’s making a commitment to really listen to others’ points of view. Practicing living your values everyday strengthens your character so you can rely on it in the times you need it most. Notice what happens as you become more mindful of living a life that’s driven by your values and ethics. What possibilities open up for you? How does it change how you interact or about the way you feel about yourself, the world, and your contributions?
We may be living in perilous times. We can’t deny that hatred, cynicism and misunderstanding are present, but we each have the power to transform them. The author and anthropologist Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Let’s make 2017 the year we commit to strengthen ourselves in these five areas, so that collectively, we can create a world where everyone can thrive.
Donna Stoneham, PhD, is a master executive coach, transformational leadership expert, facilitator, author, spiritual activist and speaker. Donna is the author of the award-winning book, The Thriver’s Edge: Seven Keys to Transform the Way You Live, Love, and Lead named by Buzz Feed as “Nine Awesome Books for Your Kick-Ass Career” and she’s a contributor in books, The Coaching Code and Ask Coach (October, 2016). (www.donnastoneham.com). As one of the world’s leading coaches, Donna will be featured in the upcoming full length documentary, Leap! The Coaching Movie (www.coachingmovie.com) (2017).