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Control What You Can, Worry Less About the Rest

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Originally Posted On: Staying Present in Crisis | Mental Health and Business | R&C (

For now, the most acute part of the COVID-19 crisis seems to be advancing towards a close. While many restrictions remain in place, once interstate borders open we will quite likely be looking at a slow march through recession and recovery. Some alarming articles are starting to be written about what 2021 and 2022 look like economically, with some commentators predicting a 30% to 50% drop in home prices.

This article isn’t here to prove or disprove what will or won’t happen as we go forward. I’m more interested in the here and now.

I watched the Netflix series, The Last Dance, which is the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls run to their third championship in a row in 1998. Michael Jordan is truly something else. His will to win and drive are clearly legend. However, one line stuck out in the second to last episode:

“Most people struggle to be present. Most people live in fear because we project the past to the future. Michael’s a mystic. He’s never anywhere else. His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast, shoot a basketball. His gift was that he was completely present. That was the separator.”

Later, in the same passage the comment was added- “Why would he worry about a shot he hadn’t taken yet?”

This mindset is fascinating. It also speaks to mental health. Its not that he didn’t suffer grief, anger or emotions. He suffered huge turmoil at times and in particular through at times negative media, spotlight from his fame, his fathers murder and other events in his life. The difference was that even when he was suffering, Michael Jordan could put himself on the task at hand to be the best he could.

What’s the lesson? Should we not worry about the future and just do our daily lives?

I don’t think its that simple. I think it comes down to the things you can control and the things you can’t. Can you control a global recession that rips the heart out of the Australian property market? That could be controlled by any one individual about as much as a random virus allegedly escaping a wet market in China.

But, you can control your preparedness for all eventualities. And that is what I think the task at hand right now is. Michael Jordan practiced, intensely. That’s preparation. Its not like he wasn’t trying to be his best in the future. Its that he controlled what he could control in the here and now to prepare for that eventuality.

Staying Present and Mental Health

Mental health has become one of the biggest buzz words of our time. Mental health is interesting and its unlike the rest of your body. Its more like mental position. If 1 is poor mental health and 10 is feeling wonderful, then your mental position can be anywhere along that continuum at any given point in any given moment. Its ever changing.

Obviously, I’m not a psychologist. But I can provide my first-hand experiences with mental illness. I’m not afraid to say I have struggled at times and recently with mental illness. It strikes 25% of us in any given year. Which ultimately means, unlike COVID-19 that has to date been controlled in Australia, we are all likely to suffer eventually.

Technically the definition of clinical depression is a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. Speaking with a psychologist I interviewed, it seems that feeling this way for more than two weeks is when depression becomes diagnosable.

Something I have experienced myself is that when depressed, a person’s focus becomes very much on feeling better. Or at least wanting to. I watched the second series of “After Life” recently starring Ricky Gervais (if you haven’t watched it- its brilliant!). But throughout the whole second series Ricky’s character talks a lot about the fact he is “getting better” or “feeling better”. It’s almost annoying how much he does it. Its not until the end you realise, he isn’t getting better at all. Instead, it’s the mind speak of someone wishing for it.

When you are happy, really happy, do you dwell on it? Revel in its greatness? Think about it constantly? The answer, I believe, is no. I don’t recall a time where every day I thought how wonderful life was on a moment by moment basis. Our best work happens when we can “keep going” because we are happy. The opposite can be very true though. When we are down, it’s a constant pervasive thought about how down we are. This is why some people and life coaches talk about daily gratitude etc. Its an attempt to stave off feeling bad by focusing on the positive. It might work for some people, it never really worked for me.

What has worked though is finding ways of staying present and accepting I can’t control everything in my life (and believe me, I’m a control freak- so that’s pretty hard!). I always considered myself a great compartmentaliser. Control the things you can, accept the things you can’t and be wise enough to know the difference. That works practically, but if you ignore the emotions that go with it, trouble brews. I’m a practical person, problem solver. Many men are the same. Nearly all men who are accountants are this way!

Staying present is about preparation. Focussing on the tasks at hand, getting out of bed and getting through the day. Its an acknowledgement of where you are on the mental position- yep I feel shit. But feeling shit isn’t in itself a bad thing. Its just is. Accepting this is HUGE. It means you don’t have to tell yourself to feel better. You can just be. And be present.

All of a sudden you are “doing’. And then one day, without you noticing it, you stop saying “I just don’t wanna feel shit anymore”.

Back to Business

Ok, enough of the counselling session from an accountant (mind you most of what I do is counselling someone!). What’s the lesson as a business owner?

There’s plenty of doom and gloom. The world is currently wishing for a different position. We all want restrictions eased, to see loved ones that are outside our regions, to be able to travel at will. Articles are being written full of doom and gloom. But:

Everything is going to be OK.

Our businesses need our attention. What are we going to do to sustain business, retain our teams, position our business to cope with either a slow recovery OR an immediate bounce back?

Here is what I believe is the immediate checklist to stay present:

  • What’s the current state of play? What problems does it currently cause and how can they be minimised?
  • What were the weaknesses in your business that this crisis has made obvious? What can be done to minimise them?
  • What are the strengths of the business and how can they be used to your advantage?
  • What has this crisis done to your industry as a whole? I believe COVID-19 has brought forward an acceptance of working form home and online meetings about 10 years, just an example.
  • What opportunities has COVID-19 inadvertently created for your business to pivot and move in to for the next decade?
  • What’s your strategic approach going to be? How does it fit with your purpose and what are the milestones you need to achieve to make the strategy reality?

How will you tackle the above short and condensed tasks?

  1. Get a coach/ mentor/ support person. This is critical and now is the time to do it. This is someone who can pull you from the trees to see the forest.
  2. Build an All-Star Team. Ben tells me he has a whole blog post in his head for this, so I won’t be detailed. But suffice to say, an all-star team internal and external to your business will change it immediately.
  3. Have a planning day. We run these as facilitators for our clients and we believe they can set your business up for whatever is coming. And then, for those of you with staff, run the day with them. Bring them into your vision.
  4. Monitor your progress. Right now, I would be monitoring it monthly. As we progress, it could be relaxed to quarterly. Have a chat to us about what a monitoring program looks like. What is measured is managed.


The Outcome

Getting a handle on these things is a direction. It keeps you present and allows you to control that which can be controlled. I believe the times require us to be positive. Aim for growth but accept that you might not and there are reasons outside your control for that.

Take in evidence and make decisions based on that evidence. The aim, to build a business that is strong in good times and sustainable in crisis.

The big lesson…. Do not overthink the shot you haven’t even taken yet. Somehow, given time and persistence, everything will be ok.

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