P.O.P.C.O.R.N. is good for you in more ways than one!

The Hunger for the Topic

We’ve undoubtedly been living in some uncertain times during the last year and a half.  The pandemic has created a huge amount of change to our lives.  And as we know, our brains don’t like to experience any type of threat for a prolonged period of time.  They’re designed to seek control and predictability.  If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt throughout this period, it is that travelling the emotional journey of change is very natural.  We will have our high days and low days, where we can feel very positive and then for seemingly no reason at all we might feel like a bit of a car crash.  It’s the struggle to get rid of that feeling that pulls us into a state of limbo.

I’d like to use the P.O.P.C.O.R.N. technique to help us understand and manage our emotional responses to uncertainty and change so that we can manage them better.   I know we’re always hearing the saying that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, so before I get stuck in, I’d like to start with the biggest reminder of all and that is to

BE KIND TO YOURSELF!

We often prioritise everyone else above us, but it’s so essential to make sure we take time out for ourselves.  Treat yourself with compassion and kindness and then indulge in some of my POPCORN!  And did you know, the light, airy popped corn is actually good for you as it raises levels of serotonin, which enhances our mood!

 The ingredients for success

  • Positivity – often when we’re anxious, we spend time thinking about what we can’t do rather than what we can do which wastes valuable time.
  • One step at a time – don’t try to do everything at once, otherwise you’ll become over-faced. If the leap is too big, you’ll be put off at he first hurdle.  Break everything down into bite size chunks.
  • Progress – making a note of what you’ve achieved, however small, helps us feel more positive.
  • Contagion – emotions are easily caught whether they are positive or negative. Try to surround yourself with upbeat and happy people!
  • Out of your head! The sooner you get the worry out of your head, the sooner it stops living there rent free.  Share your concerns with someone and get their perspective.  It’s often very different story to yours.
  • Recognise the triggers – during the pandemic, I learned early on that watching the late night news was a trigger for me to feel anxious and have a restless sleep. What triggers make you feel uneasy?
  • Normalise it – the reality is that we live in an uncertain world. There will always be an element of risk to what we do.  If we can embrace some uncertainty, we open ourselves up to see new opportunities and find alternative ways of doing things.


The Methods to Blend it Together

Positivity alone isn’t the answer, but a more optimistic frame of mind helps us to change the relationship we have with our issues and enables us to direct our energies on what can be, rather than what can’t.  It’s important to know that we hold a much stronger negativity bias than we do positive.  This means that we are more strongly influenced by threat and fear and prioritise negative information more highly than positive.  This is demonstrated by the fact that we find it much easier to remember a negative experience than a positive one.

Focus on what feels certain for you right now.  What do you take for granted that is positive?  When we visualise these things, it helps us to change our outlook.  Ask yourself which of the things really matter and then decide on a variety of approaches you could take to point your energy into making a difference with each of them in the next couple of days.

They say that contentment comes from small regular doses of joy.  Make a list of all the things that bring you joy and find ways to include them into your daily routine.

One step at a time – With the huge array of things we have to do in our life, I feel the best approach is to break everything down into bite size pieces.  When a project is too big, we’re more likely to feel overwhelmed.  Resistance doesn’t need any excuse if it feels we are incapable or incompetent.  Breaking tasks into smaller chunks helps us to get off the starting block and is a great reward for our brain.  We all know how good it feels to tick off a number of activities on our list rather than just one.

I also find taking one step at a time helps us solve problems slowly rather than jump into the solutions too quickly.   When we act impulsively, we can often make the wrong decisions.  Instead, be more considered.  Make a list of the pros and cons for a course of action but also think about the consequences of those actions too?

When you give yourself more time, your mind turns into, what I call, a percolator!  It sees different opportunities and approaches to help you achieve your goals rather than continually using the same old ways.  Remember the saying, when you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!?  Shake up the process and start to form new helpful habits.

Progress helps us see the journey that we’ve travelled and is so important to remind us of our strength of character which has developed through our experiences to date.  I also use it to demonstrate how far we’ve come in the process. Sometimes we can get caught up with continual delivery and higher expectations and forget about how much we’ve already achieved.  Mapping your progress and celebrating little wins along the way is essential for our heart and soul.

Of course, a plan can also help us be more optimistic about what we can achieve.  But remember it’s not something that’s set in stone.  We often need to deviate from our initial plans to take into account of new information.  And it’s only natural that mistakes will happen along the way.  If we can use these experiences as new learning we will be able to add them to our next plans to make sure they’re more robust.

Contagious emotions are all around us.  The question is ‘which ones do you want to catch?’  I see role models everywhere around me from children to pets and of course adults!  It’s often the small, unexpected pleasures that make us smile.  The key is to be receptive to things around us and bring that happiness into our lives.

Matthew Kelly said ‘The people we surround ourselves will either raise or lower our standards.  They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves.  We become like our friends’.  With this in mind, think about the people you surround yourself with and the impact they have on you.  Find ways to build positive relationships and relinquish the ones that drain you of your energy.  And then think about what attitudes and behaviours you want others to catch from you so you can be more conscious in the way you act and behave. 

Out of your head to me is what Grandma used to refer to as a problem shared is a problem halved.  When we keep an issue in our head, it grows into a monster.  We tell ourselves all sorts of stories about what might or might not happen, creating our own mini emergencies.  All change, even when it’s positive, often carries a more complicated reality for us.

When we share our worries with other people, it can help us to see them from a very different perspective.  I often find that as soon as I start to talk about an issue that’s been worrying me, it begins to remove the power it had over me.   In my head it grows all kinds of tendrils, yet out in the open it has nowhere to hide.

Another approach I find useful is to write down all the issues that are swirling around in your head.  Prioritise them into those that you can do, those that you need help with and those that you can’t do.  Once you get started on those that you can do it will hopefully start the momentum to keep going.  You never know, those things that you thought were out of your control, might be in your reach after all!  It’s also a good idea to ask yourself whether those things that you are worrying about right now will really matter in a year’s time as if they won’t, should you be prioritising them so highly right now?

One more practical way to get out of your head is to find some small activities where you lose yourself in the process? I always know when that has happened for me with a piece of work because I reach for my coffee and it’s stone cold!!   I’ve been so absorbed in what I’m doing, that time has evaporated.  A non worky thing might be completing a sudoku or a work search.  20 minutes goes in no time and when I’ve completed it, I’m ready to focus on something else.  Is there something that works for you in the same way?  And I don’t mean scrolling through social media!!

Recognise triggers that make you feel anxious.  In the same way that we learn what makes us happy and joyful, there are certain situations or people that make us feel anxious.  Continually checking my phone or laptop for updates or emails, likes or comments is draining so it’s better for me to have certain times of the day to do these activities.  Would that work for you?  During the pandemic, I soon realised that watching the ten o’clock news didn’t send me off to bed with the most relaxing thoughts in my head, so I stopped watching it!

But you might also be aware of other things that signal you’re starting to feel a bit wound up.  I know that when I start raiding the cupboard for either crisps or chocolates that I need to find another distraction!  Do you have any signs that tell you that you need to get away from your desk and take a break or a walk in the fresh air?

Normalising and understanding that uncertainty is a way of life can help us to find our resolve and strength to cope with what comes our way.

When we fight it, we make it more difficult for ourselves so the more we can practice coping with unpredictability the more resilient we will become.  Pema Chödrön, the Tibetan monk says, ‘when we resist change, it’s called suffering’.

By being brave and having the courage to move forward we grow, increase our comfort zones and learn new things.  S**t does happen, but that’s life and you know what?  Like everything else, it will pass!

The Seasoning to Make it Your Own

Anxiety is the reaction we have to stress and it’s our beliefs that are built on our experience of the past that create our tendency to worry more.  In reality, it’s not the future that you’re afraid of, it’s repeating the past that makes you anxious.  Challenge your beliefs.  They might have been true at the time you stored them, but the world has also changed since then so it’s time to update yourself with new ways of thinking and working.

Remember that it is okay to be anxious.  Instead of judging yourself and getting annoyed, why not take a pen and paper and write down exactly how you are feeling both physically and emotionally.  Don’t get caught up in blaming yourself for feeling this way, but instead choose the emotion you would like to feel instead.  Create attachments to the emotion by defining the thoughts you would be thinking if that was the way you were feeling.  Visualise how you’d be behaving and then turn your thoughts to the results this way of being will help you achieve.   It’s not something that will change over-night, but like anything, with practice and small steps, you will be able to add this additional ingredient into your POPCORN!

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