A definition of calm is ‘without rough emotion’. But when I think of being calm, it’s much more than that. For me, it’s the feeling of being present, with a clear mind and an attentive focus. When I’m calm, I connect with others fully, I create more imaginatively and I am more meaningfully productive. Whilst we can achieve a state of calm at will by allowing our thoughts to settle, I’ve found these 9 self-care shifts predictably create a consistent state of calm.
Tip 1; Get Enough Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommended in a recent study that adults should have 7-9 hours of sleep per night. A significant proportion of us has ‘sleep debt’ and has forgotten what it feels like to be ‘truly rested’.
The trouble is that according to a study carried out by a University in Israel, lack of sleep can leave us with a short emotional fuse, and cause us to be easily distracted. If you want to feel calm and focused, make getting enough sleep a priority.
Tip 2; Eat Wisely and Often
Feeling calm enables you to exercise sound judgment and make good decisions. The trouble is that your ability to make good decisions and take risks is dependent, in part, on your glucose levels. A study carried out in 2011 found that experienced parole judges in Israel granted freedom about 65 percent of the time to the first prisoner who appeared before them on a given day. By the end of the morning session other prisoners’ chance of release had dropped to almost zero. After the same judge had returned from a lunch break the first prisoner once again had about a 65 percent chance of freedom and once again, the odds declined steadily thereafter. The reason offered by the authors of the study for the disparity in fortune of the prisoners is that making successive decisions depletes a limited mental facility, in the same way as successive press-ups deplete our deltoid muscles. When people get tired they look for shortcuts and one of the easiest shortcuts is to uphold the status quo. By choosing foods that promote blood sugar balance – think fibre, protein and good quality fats – you maintain your energy at a more even keel for longer.
Tip 3; Self-management
I have a tendency toward workaholism. I can become so wrapped up in a project that I keep working on it, often to the exclusion of more relaxing and enjoyable pursuits. I’ve had to set ‘rules’ to curb this tendency because it creates the ‘busy mind’ syndrome which is the antithesis of calm. I have a morning routine that involves meditation, journaling and exercise – and an absolute rule that I can’t check my email until I’ve completed that routine. I also have a rule that I only check my email every 2 hours. My morning routine ensures that I have the best foundation for calm – every day, and my ‘email checking limitation’ ensures that I can consciously focus on one thing at a time without distraction. By understanding what creates a busy mind for you, you can set rules to save yourself from your worst excesses, to maintain a calm and a constructive mindset.
Tip 4; Ask for What You Need
Have you ever found yourself thinking ‘he should have known’ or ‘she should have done that for me’? We all have an internal ‘rulebook’ that we expect others to know and understand. When others break the rules in your rulebook, you get frustrated or angry because they ‘should’ have known what you needed or wanted from them. One of our several cognitive tendencies is to believe that others see the world as we do. They don’t. If you’re talking to a friend who keeps looking at her mobile phone when she ‘should’ be giving you her full attention, then tell her what you need. Your irritation is your responsibility, no matter how obvious you think the breach of the social norm is. If you don’t ask her to put her phone away, you can’t mutter to your partner later about it. By asking for what you need, you can cleanse your mind of endless chatter and save hours of complaining to others about things that have offended your sense of what’s ‘right’, and be calm instead.
Tip 5; Cultivate Supportive Self-talk
Our internal voice can be our internal vice – if we let it. Everyone has a voice in their head that provides a running commentary of outside events, past wrongs and concerns about the future. According to a 2010 Harvard research paper, our minds are lost in thought on average 47 percent of our waking life, and 65 percent of our thoughts are negative or redundant. That’s counter-calming. We need to take conscious control of our inner voice and change it in to a support mechanism. Just as you wouldn’t allow an employee in your business to spend two thirds of his working time complaining about what’s wrong with the organization, why would you allow your thinking to undermine your progress? By cultivating supportive self-talk or allowing your thoughts to settle like silt in a pond, you can return to a feeling of calm at will.
Tip 6; Keep Your Cheerleaders Close By
Life is unpredictable. Today, some things won’t go to plan. That may matter or it may not. When it does matter, it’s crucial to have a cheerleader close by to talk to. Your cheerleader is there to support you and to challenge your thinking, so that you can flourish and dodge the curve balls. By blurting to your cheerleader, you can release tension and emotion and return to resourceful calm.
Tip 7; Harness the Pygmalion Effect
The Pygmalion effect is a phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. When you believe you can, you try harder and are more likely to succeed. When you believe you can, your have clarity of mind and your focus sharpens on the goal. By positively priming yourself for success, you remain calm.
Tip 8; Listen to the Dalai Lama
I heard a tip a number of years ago that was attributed to the Dalai Lama, but which may be an urban myth. No matter, it’s a terrific tip to maintain calm. Reputedly, when asked why he always appears so tranquil, the Dalai Lama responded ‘that’s because I’m always 10 minutes early for everything’. As a person who fed her stress by cramming each minute to the brim, I now appreciate the wisdom of this tip, and follow it slavishly. The cost of squeezing in one more task is your equanimity. It’s time to reflect on whether it’s worth paying that price.
Tip 9; Celebrate Over Coffee
Albert Ellis, the American psychologist identified 11 irrational beliefs that he most commonly came across in his patients. At the core of one of them is ‘I am not enough’. I frequently encounter this belief in my coaching clients, and it’s similar to the core belief that I had growing up which was that I had to be perfect to be good enough. We unconsciously behave in ways to demonstrate that this belief is true. It’s not true, it’s a legacy of our conditioning and it’s time to create a new, more empowering story. By focusing on your successes, the things you’ve done that you are proud of, on your strengths and what others appreciate about you, you undermine the veracity of the old belief. Take time out – in fact, take yourself out for a coffee and enjoy reflecting on and writing down all of these things as evidence that you are more than you think you are. You are more than good enough. This new belief will serve to keep you calm in the face of disapproval by others.
What action will you take?
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is, as Albert Einstein noted, insanity. What will you do differently to become calmer? Choose a tip and either pop a post on The Happiness Perspective Facebook page, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.