Trying to change or control thoughts is massively challenging. It is often unproductive and, more often than not, feels like an attempt to pick a fight with mist. Still, I regularly find myself trying to do it.
I’m a great believer in the power of thought. I’m always trying to make my thoughts more productive and it frustrates me how little control I sometimes have over the unproductive ones. I’m learning a variety of techniques to manage those thoughts but during the Coronavirus lockdown something else occurred to me – what if I could cut some of the unproductive thoughts off at the source? Better yet, what if I could fill my head full of useful stuff to shape my thoughts in the direction I’d like them to go?
At the start of lockdown, I was scared and stressed by the pandemic and overwhelmed by the requirements of ‘home schooling’. I was checking the Coronavirus numbers all the time, talking about worst case scenarios and scouring the news for signs of apocalypse. All of these things fuelled a vision of the future in which none of us would ever be going out again and I’d have to become a full time teacher to my kids and give up the work I love.
These thoughts powered my stress. They made me catty and impatient because every little thing was filtered through the “what if this goes on forever” lens. In those early days, it was very easy to make myself feel worse and, left unattended, my thoughts might have led me – and my family with me – down a path of stress and disconnection. Lord knows I’ve put them through that in the past. I really didn’t want to do it again.
As an adoptive parent, the opportunity to be home with my kids and have quality time to connect with them was one I couldn’t afford to lose. There was no option but to figure out how to do better. As the days passed, something became evident – everything was easier when I felt better so I decided to become more intentional about my feelings and I started experimenting with things I could do that genuinely led me to feel better (as opposed to forcing myself to feel something other than what I felt).
To help me do this, I did two things:
- I spent time at the start of each day writing about the feelings I wanted to bring to the day – not just the ones I wanted to feel but the ones I hoped we’d all experience as a family. On various days, I wrote words like ‘calm’, ‘connected’, ‘fun’ and ‘joyful’. From there, I focused on all the ways I already experienced those feelings and paid attention to even the smallest things that had happened in the previous 24 hours to ignite those feelings.
- I actively sought ‘source material’ to help me let those feelings in. I stopped devouring the news, stopped looking up Coronavirus statistics every 20 minutes, joined inspiring parent groups and started following creative people on social media. I made an effort to talk to friends who were making similar efforts and I read and listened to anything I could find that filled my head with possibility, hope, inspiration and ideas. When people or information led me towards stressful or scary thoughts, I deliberately turned my attention back to something I found helpful.
Although this technique might not be for everyone, it worked very well for me, mainly because the thing I was most overwhelmed by wasn’t actually the imminent apocalypse but rather a deep-seated fear that I wasn’t a good enough mother; that I was too selfish to give my kids the time and attention they would need over this extended period.
Choosing the ‘source material’ for my thougths helped me more than I have words to explain and if you were to ask my children about their experience of lockdown, you’d get smiles as they tell you about the ‘dancing assemblies’, forest school days, camping trips in the back garden, and hundreds of maths and English games as we worked out way through two different curriculums.
Like all families, we had our tough days but, fuelled by so much great source material, those days were short lived and much easier to recover from and I’m proud to say our family came together in ways I’ve only dreamed about in the past. After 4 years together, we got to experience what belonging feels like.
To watch the podcast video, click here.
To listen to the podcast audio, click here.
NOTE: The podcast focus more on the practical elements of this idea and less on the personal story and struggle.