Episode 36: Coaching Through The Great Unknown

As we approach Election Day here in the US, this week's episode focuses on strategies and tools we can utilize to stay calm and collected as we face "The Great Unknown".

36: Coaching Through The Great Unknown

At the time of the release of this episode, we're one day away from Election Day, and hopefully the culmination of a prolonged and ugly election season, the effects of which are rippling around the world. Even if you are not American, this affects you too, because we are a global society and what happens with one country affects the others.

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Show Notes

At the time of the release of this episode, we're one day away from Election Day, and hopefully the culmination of a prolonged and ugly election season, the effects of which are rippling around the world. Even if you are not American, this affects you too, because we are a global society and what happens with one country affects the others.

To add on to the looming uncertainty of the election season, we're in a worldwide pandemic, and in some states and countries, we're even seeing the second peak of cases. While there are precautions we can take, once again, there's still so much left unknown.

Now when we combine those with the day to day stress and struggles that many of us face, it can feel so overwhelming. I feel like I'm having to deal with more uncertainty than ever before and I suspect that many of you and your clients feel the same.

That's why I wanted to create this episode this week to talk a bit about how we coach our clients through the unknown and also how we can use self-coaching to navigate our uncertainty. I'm sharing things that I've found to be helpful and that I share with my clients but this is certainly not an exhaustive list. I would love to hear from you. What's working for you and your clients? Come find me over on Instagram (@CoachWithClarity) and let me know.

Topics covered

  • The great unknown ahead of us
  • Why you need to come to terms with having to sit with uncertainty
  • The many sources of concern and ambiguity that we're dealing with collectively
  • How our minds react to uncertainty
  • Why we jump to the worst-case scenario
  • The increase in mental health disorders due to our current circumstances
  • Grounding down into our bodies to break the spiral of overwhelm
  • Some of my favorite activities you can do right now to ground yourself
  • Counter-balancing our unwanted emotions
  • How to act from a values-aligned place
  • Rethinking our approach to self-care

Resources mentioned

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Well, hi there, my friend. Welcome to the Coach with Clarity podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, and at the time that this episode airs, it will be November 2, 2020, which means that if you're listening the day that this drops, tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. This is a really big day, it is hopefully the culmination of a very extended election season, and there's a lot going on, not just in the United States, but in the world, there's been a very prolonged, very ugly election season here in the States. And if there's a silver lining, and I think it's a pretty big silver lining, is that we are seeing voter engagement and voter turnout higher than we've ever seen before, even just through early voting and mail-in voting. So personally, I'm really interested to see what things look like tomorrow with day of voting. So that is a silver lining to what has been a very difficult, catabolic, and just uncomfortable couple of years leading up to this election – and I know many of us are ready for a change.

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But the fact is that there's a lot that we don't know yet. We don't know, if we will know for sure who the President of the United States is tomorrow, or next week, or the week after that, this could be a very prolonged experience, and while I recognize that this is a little United States centric, this does have a ripple effect. And even if you are not in the United States, or you're not American, this affects you too because we are a global society, and what happens with one country certainly affects others.

So whatever happens tomorrow, or the week after, or the month after, will have a significant effect on our entire world. And the fact is, we have to sit with that uncertainty, and we have to come to terms with the fact that we may be sitting in the unknown for a while. And you know, if the election here in the United States was the only big news going on, perhaps we could all comfortably cope with that, but we've got a bit of a one-two punch going on right now with Coronavirus. 

Many states and countries are starting to see a second wave, or a second peak, of cases. We're seeing more people diagnosed every day, and unfortunately, we are experiencing more deaths every day as well. And so a global pandemics certainly brings a great amount of uncertainty as well, and it's hard because while we can take some measures to reduce our risk of contracting or spreading the virus, such as wearing your mask, washing your hands, and following social distancing guidelines, the fact is, there's still a lot unknown about this virus. 

We don't know how long it's going to last. We don't know when a vaccine will be available, and when it is, if it will be a one and done, or if we'll have to take it annually like we do with influenza. We don't know how the coronavirus will affect people we love, people we care about, we may not know how it will affect our business or our careers. Some of us have already experienced some short term effects, and maybe we're concerned about long term effects. Many of us have also lost people that we love and care about deeply to this virus. So there's a lot of grief, and pain, and uncertainty, and unknown with this pandemic. So when we have that, combined with the election here in the US, combined with the day to day, stressors and struggles that so many of us face, it can feel really overwhelming.

And the fact is, I feel like I'm living in a time where I have had to deal with the unknown and with uncertainty more than I ever have before. I suspect that many of you may feel the same way, and I suspect your clients feel the same way too. And that's why I wanted to create a brief episode this week that just talked a little bit about how we coach through the unknown, and that may look like how we coach our clients through the unknown and through uncertainty, but it also probably looks like self-coaching as well. I know it does for me.

And what I have to remind myself, is that the way we humans are designed, our minds do not like the unknown. You know, the mind wants to know what's coming. It wants to be able to keep us safe, it wants to predict behavior, because when it knows what's coming, then it can prepare us, and so if we don't have a clear answer, or if we aren't certain about what's coming next, then we have holes in our story, right? And so what the mind is going to do is it's going to try to fill in those gaps. It's going to use what knowledge we do have at our disposal, it's going to use past experiences, and it's going to combine all of that to try to fill in the gaps in our story. And I like to view the mind as a safety monitor, sometimes an overactive safety monitor, it views its primary role is keeping us safe. I talk about this quite a bit in my book, ACT on Your Business, and basically, the mind wants to make sure that it has planned for every possible outcome, and so we can be prepared no matter what happens. 

So that's why when it is filling in the gaps in these stories when we are sitting in the unknown, the default tendency is for our mind to go to the worst-case scenario, it's going to fill in the gaps of those stories with what could go wrong because if we know what could go wrong, then we can prepare in advance, and then the mind thinks that we're going to be okay. And the mind will find evidence to make sense of this story that it's created, this worst-case scenario, and it's going to do so in the name of our safety. 

Now, the fact is, once we understand that this is what the mind does, and this is how it operates, then we can regain a little control over how it fills in the gaps in the story. The default tendency may be to go towards the worst-case scenario, but we can also decide to take back some of that control from the mind and look at other opportunities, other possible ends to the story. But if we don't do that, if we allow our minds to operate on default mode, then actually, it can put us at even greater risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, especially during periods of uncertainty and unknown. And that's what we're seeing right now, we are seeing mental health cases rise, we are seeing calls to hotlines grow exponentially, and it makes sense because we are in a period of great uncertainty right now, and many of us, because we are tired, and we are overworked, and overwhelmed, and we are operating on bare minimum, that is going to lead us to kind of default to our minds tendency to head towards the worst-case scenario. So it's not surprising that we're seeing all of this, but that doesn't make it any easier or more pleasant. 

The other thing too is that while our mind is creating all of these concerns for us, we actually have actual tangible concerns that we're dealing with as well. We are still dealing with the very real concerns of racism, injustice, oppression, combined with disease, and unemployment, and feeling isolated because of Coronavirus. I mean, these are real things that are happening that we would expect to have an uncomfortable or difficult response to. So when we combine our reality with what our mind is creating for us, it can absolutely feel overwhelming, and that just heightens everything. 

So what can we do about this? How can we help our clients? How can we help ourselves navigate what I've come to think of as “The Great Unknown”? Well, I can share a few strategies with you today. They're things that I am finding helpful and that I'm sharing with my clients. Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, and I would love to hear from you – what's working for you, what's helping you or what's helping your clients – you can come find me over on Instagram @CoachwithClarity, and share your thoughts with me, I'd love to hear it. And I'd also like to suggest that the strategies that I'm about to talk about, they will work well for some people and they will not for others, and so it's important that we really take the time to figure out what will best serve us and serve our process through this. 

What I want to suggest that we do first though, is that we really take time to ground down into our physical presence, into our body. I know that when I start feeling overwhelmed and when my mind is going in overdrive and I start imagining all of these worst case scenarios, there is a disconnect between my physical self and my mental self and I feel split. And so, that's why it can be so helpful to re-establish that connection between the body and the present moment, because the mind will take us on a journey either into the past or into the future. The mind is really, really good at time traveling, and I'm sure many of you have had this experience too where it's going to replay events, or moments in your life that you wish you could forget or that you wish you could take back. So it's going to journey us into the past filled with regret, or it's going to catapult us into the future, this Great Unknown into all of those worst case scenarios. So it's going to time travel, but by grounding down and reestablishing that connection with our body, we can anchor ourselves back in the present moment. 

There are many ways that we can do that, I go over several of them in my book, but a few that I really resonate with have to do with the senses. I would encourage you to use your physical senses as much as you can to bring yourself back to the present moment. So one activity that you may have already heard about is called “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”, and that's where you focus on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. And so the aim of this activity is to really focus our attention in the present moment and to reconnect with our body. Now, I do want to note that this activity assumes that we have access to all five senses, and I recognize that many of us may have a deficit or an absence in one of those senses. So this could potentially be an ablest activity, and I just want to kind of call that out, and encourage you that if you have limited access to one of your senses, let's look at modifying this activity for you. And maybe we can focus more on one sense, or two senses, rather than what's assumed to be all five. 

The other thing that we can do is instead of using our senses, we can also draw on the four elements of nature. So when we think about fire, water, earth, and air – how can we allow those elements to ground us in our body? So for example, with fire, maybe we light a candle, and we focus on watching the glow, or feeling the heat, or smelling what that fire smells like. With water, perhaps we can run our hands through water and notice the sensation of that. Or we can listen. Or if we're lucky enough to be near water, we can watch water as it ebbs and flows. Earth is another element that can be extremely grounding, which isn't surprising Earth and ground, and one of the things that I love to do is just get outside barefoot and really feel the earth between my toes, and imagine that I am connecting deeply with the earth below me. And then the fourth element of air, this is when if it's a windy day, you can simply step outside or if not, maybe turn on a fan or a ceiling fan, and really notice the feel of the wind or the air on your skin. Again, these are ways that we can draw in the natural elements and allow them to help us ground down into our body, to stay focused in the present moment, and turn off our time traveling mind at least for a little while. 

Now another piece that you may want to incorporate in with your grounding activities are intentional breathing. And the first step of intentional breathing is simply to notice your breath, and notice how you're breathing. I don't know about you, but when I start to feel anxious or overwhelmed, and then I stop and I notice my breath, I find that it's very short. It's very shallow. And that's not great for getting oxygen to the brain or promoting blood flow, but then once I notice it, the very act of noticing my breath is often enough to change it. So I don't even need to consciously remind myself to breathe deeper, all I have to do is notice the breath, and the act of noticing actually leads me to kind of slow it down a bit and to breathe more deeply. I also find that when I pair intentional breathing with guided imagery, it can be a really powerful experience. 

So here are a few of my favorites. I would love to hear yours as well, but I will often imagine that as I'm breathing in, I am bringing fresh air into my mind almost like when you open a window and you just allow that cool crisp clean air to come in and refresh everything. That's exactly how it feels, it almost feels tingly like a menthol sensation, and it is such an exhilarating feeling when I imagine the breath being connected to opening a window in my mind and letting the fresh air in. Sometimes I will also pair it with the image of taking a full body breath, and so when I talk about a full body breath, I mean imagining that as you breathe in, that breath is going through every cell of your body, and it is making its way down into your chest, and your arms, and your torso, all the way down your legs, into the soles of your feet and your toes, you are completely filled with this breath. And then as you exhale, it's almost like it just pushes right out and exits through the crown of your head, and then you repeat with every in breath, and with every out breath, you are inviting the air to just fully immerse your body, and it can be an extremely powerful and even healing experience. 

Sometimes it's also helpful to imagine the breath going into a specific area of your body, especially if this is an area where you hold tension or pain. I tend to carry a lot of tension in my shoulders, and sometimes even I'll kind of tweak my neck and I will lose full range of motion in my neck for a few days, it's really unpleasant, it hurts a lot, really like deep muscle knots. And yet, if I can imagine that I'm breathing into those knots in my neck, I'm breathing into the pain, and I'm just allowing that air to create some space around it. And then as I exhale, I invite some of that tension, some of that pain, to exit with the breath. It creates a small but noticeable shift in how I hold myself and also how I relate to the discomfort. So if you struggle with muscle tension or pain, maybe imagine the breath as a way of bringing healing energy into that space. And then as you exhale, again, you can invite some of that discomfort and some of that tension to exit the body along with your breath. 

Sometimes I like to think of it as also a 360 breath, where the breath feels very circular, and I'm breathing in and I'm allowing it to expand my back rib cage and really go into kind of this area almost like behind my lungs, and then it circles forward and exits on the exhale. Again, this is guided imagery, it doesn't necessarily have to make anatomical sense. But for me, it really helps connect me to my breath. And again, brings that sense of intention to it.

So if we can pair grounding work with intentional breathing, then we can allow our bodies to reconnect to the present moment, and then from there, we can make some decisions about how we want to move forward. So from that state of awareness and of being in the present moment, this is where I'm going to suggest that we come together, and we create space for the unknown. Now, I recognize that this is far easier said than done, this idea of allowing the unknown to be present. Because again, our mind wants to fill in those gaps. It does not want things to be unknown. And being in a state of unknown or uncertainty. It doesn't feel good, and so of course, when we don't feel good, we want to fix that. We want to avoid discomfort, we want to find pleasure, and all of that makes sense. But the fact is our current reality right now is that we are in a state of unknown, we don't necessarily know what's going to happen next. And the more that we try to avoid that reality, or solve it, or fix it, or find our way through it, the more discomfort we're going to create. So at least for right now, in this present moment, the task is to acknowledge that yes, we are in The Great Unknown, it does not feel good. Actually, it feels quite scary to not know how things are gonna turn out. But once we acknowledge that as our current reality, then we can move forward, and there's a couple ways that I would suggest we move forward together. 

The first, I would ask you to consider what energy would bring balance to the current energy that you're feeling. So here's some examples. When I am feeling overwhelmed, that's a very potent energy force in my life, there's nothing quite like feeling overwhelmed. It's a very strong, even uncomfortable, frenetic energy. Well, when I think about what energy might counterbalance that feeling of overwhelm for me, it's just the energy of purpose, of clarity, of knowing my next step. So I would balance the energy of overwhelm with the energy of purpose. Some other feelings that may come up is the energy of anger. And when I am angry, it's typically because one of my core values has been threatened, or something even more visceral, like, you know, my safety, my health has been threatened, but on some level, there is a boundary violation that has happened. So what could counterbalance the energy of anger? Well, for me, it starts with being validated, of knowing that my anger is understandable and even legitimate, and that there's a level of understanding, so that when I am being fully validated, and when someone demonstrates they understand where I'm coming from, it really diffuses my anger. So for me, that's the energy that I would seek to counteract anger. I was thinking about some other energies as well. So if I'm in a state of judgment, where I'm making judgments about other people, and I'll be honest with you, in this election cycle, I have found myself caught up in that cycle of judgment, more than I would like to admit. Well, how can I counter balanced judgment? Well, the energy of compassion is one way that I can do that and to hold compassion, and a deep sense of understanding for the person or the things that I'm judging. Again, if I'm feeling anxious, perhaps the counterbalancing energy is calm. If I'm feeling sadness, perhaps the counterbalancing energy is connection or joy. So I want you to think about the energy of your current state, and what energy might counterbalance it, and I do want to make the caveat that we're doing this not to avoid any unwanted emotions. Like, we want to recognize the emotions that are present, we want to make space for them as well, and we want to invite in an energy that might bring some balance to it, because that may break the cycle of our mind going into its default state and again, generating all of those worst case scenarios. 

So once you have kind of identified the current energetic state, and what might counterbalance it, then it's time for us to take action that is both consistent with the energy we want to foster, and with our personal core values. This is why it's so important to know what matters most to you, what defines how you want to live your life and what you want your legacy to be. So there are many activities out there. If you do a Google search for values, identification, or values clarification, you will find them. You'll also find some activities in ACT on Your Business, but I want to make sure that the actions that we're taking are both value aligned and promote the energy that would counterbalance our current state.

So as an example, if you want to create a more peaceful energy, and one of your values is family, well, then I might ask you, what activities could you do with your family today that would promote a sense of peace? Do you need a family game night or a family movie night? Maybe you all want to cook dinner together? How can being together with your family promote that sense of peace? 

So again, we want to connect with the energy and with the value and find an activity that merges the two. And I want to suggest too you that sometimes that action may come in the form of advocacy. There's a lot right now to be angry about with regard to how black people and people of color are treated in our society. That is righteous, justifiable anger, and so what I want to say is that it's not that we have to get rid of the anger. But what do we want that anger to lead to? We want that anger to lead to liberation and to joy. So, how can we take liberation and joy and act from a values aligned place? Well, maybe that's letter writing, maybe it's attending protests, maybe it's voting. These can all be value driven activities that give us a sense of purpose, so that when we're feeling overwhelmed and angry, we can invite in the energy of purpose to direct our actions. So, again, let's get clear on what matters most to each one of us. Let's get clear on the energy that we want to invite in and let's pair them together in order to decide what actions we want to take next. And then of course, some time that action will be one of self care. 

Now self care gets a lot of lip service right now. Self care – I can't tell you how many memes I've seen, or Instagram posts about bubble baths, and chocolate, and massages. And don't get me wrong, I love a good massage and I will never turn down chocolate, but we need to make sure that the type of self care that we are engaging in is at the same intensity level as the energetic shift we want to create. So, it's not like a piece of chocolate is going to help a black person make their way through a world of racism, injustice. And in fact, it would be insulting to suggest that. So we do need to make sure that the type of self care that you're engaging in matches the energetic shift that we need to see in the world. We need to know where our limits are. Sometimes we have to turn off the news. We have to stop listening to the podcasts, we have to control the amount of content that we're consuming as an act of self care. I would ask you to think about the ways in which you can take care of yourself, and that you can give yourself some grace and some love during these trying times. 

You know, recently I went on Instagram, and I did a story about how I had a grief response that really knocked me off my feet. As some of you know, I lost my grandmother to Coronavirus in June of 2020, and it was really devastating for my entire family. And for me, I mean, she was just such an important person in my life. And I was driving home – it was October – so several months after she had died, and after the reality of her death, it kind of set in. And I was listening to NPR, and they were doing a new story on the rising number of Coronavirus cases and the rising number of deaths. They were actually talking about the number of deaths in my county, but they qualified those deaths by saying that everyone who died either was elderly or had an underlying condition, and I got so angry and so sad. And I burst into tears at the thought that we were somehow explaining away someone's death from Coronavirus because they were old or sick, and I couldn't help but think about my 94 year old grandmother who had asthma. So yes, she was elderly and she had an underlying condition, and she died of coronavirus. And that should not, in any way, delegitimize who she was, or her story, or her experience. And before I knew it, I was just sobbing in my car driving home. My grief really snuck up on me – this mixture of grief, and anger, and sadness, and despair. And once I kind of got over the hump of that I realized, you know, I had been listening to the news practically all day, I was coming off of a week in which I had almost zero whitespace on my calendar, it was booked solid. I was tired, I was not getting enough sleep, and so all of that created this perfect storm for me to really just have this very intense grief response. And there's nothing wrong with having a grief response, grief and sadness is a normal response when someone that you love dies. And I realized that I had not been taking very good care of myself, I had been really running on all cylinders, I had not been prioritizing rest. I was over consuming news and other content and it was not serving me. And so I realized that to take care of myself during these times of uncertainty and difficulty during The Great Unknown. I had to know where my limits were, and I had to practice self care by saying no. Saying no to the news, saying no to filling up my calendar, and really prioritizing my own needs. So I wanted to share that story with you in case you needed to hear it too, that it's okay for you to say no, it's okay to set energetic boundaries around your space and to set limits. Because that will then allow you to replenish your energy stores so that you can get back into it and take values aligned action when you're ready. So we've covered a lot about The Great Unknown, and how we can support our clients and ourselves in times of great uncertainty. So I think it's now time for the Clarity in Action Moment. 

So for this week's Clarity in Action moment, I'd like you to sit with some of the suggested strategies I gave you today and to see if any of them resonate with you as a way to navigate your way through The Great Unknown. I want to give you permission to try some of them out. I want to give you permission to say, “None of them would work for me, but I know what will,” and I would love to hear from you as to what will support you best through this time of great uncertainty. How can you take action in your life today to protect your energy and to help you navigate The Great Unknown? 

Let me know over on Instagram @CoachwithClarity – you are welcome to send me a direct message, I will definitely reply, because I want you to know that I'm here to support you, that this community is here to support you. And that even though it's uncomfortable and scary to face so much uncertainty, we are together in this, and there is power in numbers, there is power in getting through this together. So I am with you, my friend. So reach out to me on Instagram @CoachwithClarity and let me know how I can support you. 

And if you are listening to this on Monday, November 2nd, tomorrow is Election Day. If you have not already voted either by mail or early, and if it is safe for you to do so I want to encourage you to get out there and vote. This election is so important. Your voice is important. So please vote.

All right, my friends. I will be back here next week with another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. That is one thing that you can be certain of, and actually we are about to start a three part series all about group coaching. I am so excited to dive into this with you because I have been getting so many questions about how to start a group program. So you're going to hear directly from me, I'm going to bring on a guest expert who really is the go to person when it comes to designing a thoughtful group program. We're going to have a great few weeks together. So until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough and I am reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.

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