This is an article I wrote for www.thecreativepenn.com
The To Do list doesn’t ever get shorter, and the world will not stop changing around us.
We have to keep up, and enjoy keeping up, if we want to thrive in an industry of constant change.
When I was still at my day job back in 2009 and just starting a fledgling business online, I met Clare Edwards at National Speakers Association in Brisbane, Australia. Over coffee one day, I said that I struggled with my energy as a speaker. She tilted her head to one side and said, “It’s because you’re an introvert.” That comment changed my life because it helped me embrace my introversion and manage it so much better.
So I’m thrilled to bring Clare to you today, because she is incredibly perceptive and smart around what it takes to thrive in a time of change.
Change – sometimes you love it and at other times it feels like your arch enemy.
Do you ever feel like you’re in the midst of a carousel of chaos spinning out of control and just want to get off?
There are some direct correlations between being a writer or author and the world of change and transition. These are:
- There is no such thing as certainty
- The world can feel like a lonely place
- Staying true to your goal can sometimes feel like dancing the fine line between persistence and stupidity (and we rarely if ever know which side we are on!).
Let’s take each in turn and find some strategies for minimizing stress and maximizing calm.
(1) There is no such thing as certainty … so find it for yourself
Our brains crave certainty. It’s an inbuilt need from our earliest evolution. For example, if we didn’t know where the enemy tribe was lurking or where the lion had its lair we would soon be transitioning from looking for lunch to being lunch.
We can override this instinctual need by aiming to focus on what IS certain in our lives and this very process can help calm down our emotional and stressful responses to uncertainty.
Making a list of what’s predictable at this moment in time such as where we are living, who our family and friends are, any hobbies or interests (outside of writing) that we are pursuing, all help the brain to come back to balance which is really important for our role as writers (see later in the post under WHY).
(2) The world can feel like a lonely place … so stay connected
Writing, more often than not, is a solitary function. The challenge with this is, regardless of whether we are introvert or extravert, the brain is a social organ and needs to connect with other brains to feel secure, reduce stress and create options and ideas.
Often writers lock themselves away which is great when in the throes of an inspired, creative streak, and not so helpful when wanting to build resilience levels and feel in control of change.
Work by Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology Movement has shown that being active in our support network is the strongest contributor to dealing with challenge and change.
Even more important than our need for connection, our ability to contribute and to help others is neurologically twice as rewarding as receiving so you can think of staying isolated as being a tad selfish!
(3) Staying true to your goal can sometimes feel like dancing the fine line between persistence and stupidity … so get context
My life as a facilitator, trainer and speaker is not so different from that of a writer who has decided to take the plunge and make a living out of what they are passionate about.
The reality is that it can take a while to get to that critical point of your passion becoming your income 100%.
Many people I speak to feel as if they have failed if they are struggling to make ends meet from writing and that returning to paid work from other sources is a step down, a defeating compromise. My best advice would be that you can still stay true to your goal, in fact never ever give up on your goal AND at the same time make sure that your bills are paid, so if that means getting some casual or part time work whilst you build your wealth and fame, then so be it – it’s all part of you building your change and resilience story.
So WHY are Finding Certainty, Staying Connected and Getting Context so Important?
Welcome to Neuroscience 101
When we are struggling with challenge and change there’s an old part of our brain called the amygdala that fires off and stimulates the creation of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
The amygdala is found in the limbic system, the emotional centre of our brain, and it’s responsible for our fight or flight response. This is great if we need to run from a sabre tooth tiger or enemy tribesman, but not so useful today when our major threat is less obvious (like worrying if you can pay next month’s mortgage or waiting for your first book review).
The Prefrontal Cortex or PFC is the brain’s executive function or CEO, responsible for planning, analysis, evaluation and all the functions lesser mammals have not yet developed.
This is the crux of the problem – when our amygdala is firing, our PFC and other cortical regions responsible for creativity and innovation cannot operate effectively – critical functions for a writer, would you not agree?
The three strategies I have outlined in this article help to dampen down our instinctive fight or flight response and transfer processing to the higher functioning cortex, especially the Prefrontal Cortex.
This then leaves us able to think more clearly, rationally, calmly and also to slow down our brain waves from beta to alpha facilitating creativity, innovation and the firing of our imagination.
“The only constant is change.” Heraclitus (535 BCE – 475 BCE)
The merry-go-round is not going to slow down but we can train our brains to be less stressed, more in control of the rational and learn to enjoy the ride.
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