Keep­ing calm in this crazy world

Is there re­ally any need to be con­stantly busy? We need to find time to be hu­man be­ings, not hu­mans do­ing

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Mental Health - James Par­nell

We all feel over­whelmed at times. Jus­ti­fi­ably or not, we feel like we have too much on our plate. Bump into some­one and ask how they are. “Oh, crazy busy!” Busy­ness is a badge. We wear it with pride. Crazy with busy­ness. Our worth con­nected to our ac­com­plish­ments. Hu­man be­ings re­de­fined as hu­man do­ings.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great prob­lem to have, too much to do. It means choice. Imag­ine the op­po­site. Still, amid this crazi­ness, how can we achieve calm? A sense of con­tent­ed­ness? An over­all peace of mind from a life well-lived? How can we be­come well, be­ings?

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. Con­tent­ed­ness 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 – 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. And thank­fully, it’s the path of least re­sis­tance. That is not to play down the prob­lems many of us face. But in the direst of cir­cum­stance there is hope know­ing we are ca­pa­ble of demon­strat­ing our strength of char­ac­ter. That is the choice that can never be taken from us.

Go­ing from over­whelmed to calm

Given that def­i­ni­tion, how can we move along the con­tin­uum from over­whelm to calm?

Let’s look at the el­e­ments of a con­tented, well-lived life. Think of calm, con­tented peo­ple you know – not nec­es­sar­ily rich, maybe not suc­cess­ful by tra­di­tional def­i­ni­tion, not nec­es­sar­ily fa­mous. 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 per­sonal place. The cup of tea in the gar­den in Ca­van, the med­i­ta­tion by the At­lantic, the hike in the Mourne moun­tains, the cy­cle along the new Green­way or the af­ter­noon snooze 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 in fact. I lay in the ham­mock, closed my eyes, 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: while it’s easy to de­fault to the emo­tions on the right, we can de­cide to choose the things on the left.

1 Clar­ity: Know­ing who you are and what is im­por­tant over con­fu­sion (un­easi­ness, com­par­i­son, jeal­ousy)

2 Con­fi­dence: Com­fort in you skin over doubt, fear, anx­ious­ness, in­ad­e­quacy

3 Re­sponse: Abil­ity, ac­tion and growth over help­less­ness, ap­a­thy and be­ing s stuck in a rut

4 Con­nec­tion: Over iso­la­tion

5 Or­der: Sim­plic­ity over chaos (clut­ter)

6 Align­ment: Con­gru­ence, flow over con­flict

7 Ac­cep­tance, tol­er­ance: Over in­tol­er­ance, an­noy­ance, anger

8 Enough/Grat­i­tude: Over in­ad­e­quacy, greed, scarcity

So, let’s talk 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 own skin be­cause they rarely wear any­thing else. They are con­sis­tent be­cause they have clar­ity. Like “es­sen­tial­ists”, they have fig­ured out what’s im­por­tant to them and stripped away what is not.

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 don’t even have to be cor­rect. Of­ten, 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 an­noy. Peo­ple with clar­ity know what makes them happy, what they care about and let go of the rest.

Calm peo­ple not putting on a show. they are com­fort­able in their own skin be­cause they rarely wear any­thing else

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 com­pris­ing of 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 well­be­ing. 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? Don’t forget to im­prove and de­velop but don’t get hung up on weak­nesses. Use your char­ac­ter strengths. Peo­ple with clar­ity know what they’re good at and use their char­ac­ter to con­trib­ute.

Peo­ple with clar­ity have a MAP – mis­sion, at­ten­tion and prin­ci­ples. The an­swers to the above ques­tions form 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 don’t get any smaller by ig­nor­ing them.

James Par­nell is the founder of The Well­Be­ing Gym, which pro­vides off­line and on­line work­place well­ness, per­for­mance and in­no­va­tion pro­grammes and per­sonal life de­sign coach­ing; james-par­nell.com

Read the next chap­ter in the Busy Per­son’s Guide to Calm in Health + Liv­ing next week

This is part of se­ries on the sub­ject of burnout, which con­tin­ues this week in The Ir­ish Times and on irish­times.com

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