Scary times are upon us. We’re staying indoors, watching the news 24/7, and we’re afraid. Everyone around us is afraid. That’s because fear is super-contagious. But Karen McGregor says we don’t have to allow pandemic-driven fear and anxiety to infect our lives. We can learn to rise above it. And when we do, there’s an unexpected side effect: We become positive influencers on everyone around us.
“Now is the perfect time to dissolve fear-based beliefs and be a powerful example to others,” says Karen McGregor, author of The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs. “In times of uncertainty, it’s the real influencers who step in and make a big difference to those who are struggling with the unknown.”
Overcoming fear requires you to do some intense work on yourself. But (to state the obvious) right now you have some time. Why not put it to good use? Instead of worrying and handwringing, develop some good spiritual habits to help you vanquish fear. They’ll pay off now when you need it most, but will also serve you (and others) once “normalcy” returns.
McGregor’s book lays out a path – rooted in the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching – for identifying and breaking the “power patterns” that undermine your influence, create dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise squelch your potential.
Here are seven habits to work on right now to overcome fear, tap into your “love-power” (McGregor’s word for the primal power we all possess), and influence others in a positive way:
Learn to grieve your losses and release your pain. A lot of what you’re feeling right now is grief. You are grieving the loss of your life before COVID-19, and you are also grieving collectively with the rest of the world. “Pain can be released through the portal of the heart,” says McGregor. “When you focus on your heart, a desire to release the pain of the past may arise. Even better, your heart knows how to do that without your mind interrupting.”
Here’s a simple exercise from The Tao of Influence: Focus on the heart and allow the feelings of your past to present themselves. Just allow the process to unfold. Allow your body to feel and release without letting your mind get hooked into the emotion, feeding the ego needs and magnifying your power patterns.
Start noticing your fear-based wording. And then cut it out. Words are powerful: They can lift our spirits, or they can drag us down in an instant – and others with us. Notice the words you say and find better words to use in their place. Instead of saying, “I’m tired,” say, “I’m going to have a nap, and when I wake up, I’ll feel refreshed, energized, and ready to work or play.”
“In the time of coronavirus, the words you speak and even those you think matter greatly,” says McGregor. “Complaining phrases such as, ‘If only…’ and ‘Remember when…?’ are likely to come up frequently. Challenge yourself to go seven days without uttering one complaint. After managing that, go two more days without engaging in complaining thoughts.”
Start meditating. Why should we meditate? Because it helps us detach from our preferences – which trigger our need to be “right” or “in control” and lead to suffering – and practice being in the present. (McGregor calls it “dropping into the holy moment of now.”) Just set aside 15-20 minutes to sit quietly and focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, that’s okay: The point is not to judge the thoughts that stream endlessly into your consciousness but to allow them to ebb and flow without getting emotionally hooked.
“Successful meditation occurs when there is no war between your head and your heart,” says McGregor. “This state is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. If you’ve always ‘meant’ to try meditating but haven’t yet done so, now is the perfect day to start.”
Clean and declutter to create “environmental stillness.” A messy space at home contributes to a disorganized and chaotic mind. But if we can take small steps toward establishing stillness on the outside of us, we can experience more internal peace, wellness, and harmony within. If you haven’t already done so, take advantage of the extra time you have at home to clean and organize your spaces to promote balance and stillness.
Observe each room and notice what creates unsettling thoughts. Does your office lack a system for filing bills or random pieces of information? Do your bedroom clothes and accessories not have a “home”? Take inventory, commit to doing something about it, and set a date for when it will be done. The entire house can be completed in one month – or even much sooner.
When you feel angry or annoyed, focus on gratitude. Tempers and tensions flare in stressful times and in tight quarters. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting irritated with your family, with the peanut gallery comments on your social media feeds, with the endless news cycle, or anything else. When this happens, turn your focus on what you are grateful for. This can help to supplant old power patterns you’ve relied on for years. If you are angry with someone or arguing endlessly, remove yourself and ask, What is the gift in this moment? Without blaming or shaming anyone, feel into your heart and ask, What am I grateful for? Try to reframe challenging circumstances as opportunities and practice appreciating them. This is a form of gratitude: to be able to see the good that is present in every situation.
Sing and dance regularly. In his book The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz says this is a natural expression of our love-power – which is why little children sing and dance. They haven’t yet developed the filters and fear that they’ll be judged. You can dance and sing in the privacy of your room or as you clean your house. If you want to take it to the next level, suggests McGregor, consider signing up for a dance class – many classes are offering online streaming while dance studios are closed due to social distancing requirements.
Find a new way to pray. It’s understandable that your prayers may be colored by desperation right now. But asking, bargaining, and engaging in transactions lead to a one-sided relationship with the Divine. To better understand the power of prayer, McGregor journeyed to the Poor Clares Monastery in Duncan, British Columbia. The nuns there live a solitary life of contemplative prayer. They taught her that prayer isn’t what most of us think it is.
“The nuns said that prayer is many things,” she says. “It can be a meditative walk in nature, a feeling of deep gratitude or joy from being in the presence of a loved one, or simply saying a phrase like ‘thank you.’ It can be saying one of many names for God. All these ways to pray have one thing in common: to illuminate a relationship with the Divine.”
“If you allow it, your fear will go viral,” concludes McGregor. “Now more than ever, we all need to choose love over fear, power over powerlessness, and hope over despair. This is your chance to, in the words of Gandhi, be the change you want to see in the world. And you must. When you say no to fear, doing this becomes possible like never before.”
Karen McGregor is a leadership and influence expert, international keynote speaker, and the best-selling author of several books, with her most recent, The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs, debuting in June 2020.