The Insidious Disease You Catch From Your Couch, And How To Inoculate Yourself Against It
People all over the world are social distancing, sheltering in place and huddling in their homes, motivated by five things: fear of the corona virus, fear of the government, fear of social pressure and the judgement of others, the great excuse we now have to do nothing, and the simple shortage of places to go, with everything closed.
The purpose of this article isn’t to debate the pros and cons of social distancing and sheltering in place. It’s to point out that, as we shelter, we run the risk of being infected with a disease that’s much more dangerous and long-lasting than COVID-19. Little attention is paid to this risk, even though it’s more pervasive and devastating long-term than the corona virus. Here are three manifestations of the disease and ways to protect yourself against it.
Symptom: Stinkin’ Thinkin’. My grandmother used to quote the Book of Proverbs when she’d say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.” Whether you believe in the devil or not, I’m sure you’ve experienced that idle minds don’t stay idle for long. They’re actually not idle, they’re just not occupied with productive purposes like work, worship, service, prayer, learning or relationships. Instead, an “idle” mind soon runs rampant with unproductive thoughts.
Unfortunately, for most of us, when our minds run rampant, we don’t start actively focusing on positive outcomes, we chase after negativity. We tell ourselves negative stories about the past, complain about the present and establish a mood of resignation and despair for the future. The outcome is what a sales manager of mine used to call “stinkin’ thinkin.’” You know what I’m talking about. It’s that treacherous path that leads us into a nasty, stinking pit of self-pity, blame, victimhood, anxiety, depression and hopelessness. That’s the disease we must guard against.
Antidote: Guard Your Mind. Be careful what you read, what you listen to, what you watch and how you allow people to speak in your presence. Everyone knows that the news media feeds on negativity, yet we read and watch TV and social media posts religiously. Stop it. You might be stuck in the house with Negative Ned, but you don’t have to listen to a stream of negativity. Establish boundaries. Here’s great way to guard your mind: start each day in prayer and meditation. If you are a person of faith, read and contemplate spiritual things. Consider meditating on the ancient wisdom literature of Proverbs and Psalms. This is not the first time of trial, and we can learn from how people have navigated wars, plagues, poverty, betrayal, abuse and persecution through the ages. If you do not hold to a particular faith, then read and contemplate inspirational and uplifting things to launch your day. Plant positive seeds in the morning and they will grow throughout the day.
Symptom: Bitter Words. Idle lips rarely turn to gratitude, encouragement and affirmation. The default is negative talk and gossip. That’s why stinkin’ thinkin’ is much more infectious and fast moving than the corona virus. The incubation period is about 30 seconds. You get sprayed with ugliness and you can almost instantly be infected and sickened. The tragic thing is that those it attacks the most are the people nearest to us, our family and closest friends…those “safely” sheltering in place with us. Bitter words quickly contaminate a whole household and neighborhood. The next thing you know, everyone is hooked into a downward spiral of griping, snarkiness, blaming, judgement and victimhood. Corona does not infect everyone, but all of us can be sickened by negative talk.
Antidote: Guard Your Mouth. The words that come out of your mouth reveal your heart. They also inform your own mind and affect everyone else who hears…for good or for bad. Although most people would agree Jesus was a masterful teacher, many haven’t heard or don’t know much about his brother James. However, James was also a man of great wisdom. Here’s something he had to say about the power of words: ”Out of the same mouth we pour out words of praise one minute and curses the next. My brothers and sisters, this should never be! Would you look for olives hanging on a fig tree or go to pick figs from a grapevine? Is it possible that fresh and bitter water can flow out of the same spring? So, neither can a bitter spring produce fresh water. True wisdom is always pure, filled with peace, considerate and teachable. It is filled with love and never displays prejudice or hypocrisy in any form and it always bears the beautiful harvest of righteousness! Good seeds of wisdom’s fruit will be planted with peaceful acts by those who cherish making peace.” So, guard your mouth. Don’t spread bitterness and relational death. Always speak life.
Symptom: Acting Out. Have you noticed we abhor a vacuum. When we’re bored, frustrated, anxious and fearful, we are going to do something to fill the space. Unfortunately, rather than taking positive action, often people (not just kids) “act out.” For adults, acting out looks like: temper tantrums, lashing out, anger, criticism, sarcasm, alcohol, drugs, pornography, abusive behavior, gambling, overeating and binge TV watching. I’m sure you’d agree that sheltering in place with someone who’s “acting out” is neither fun, nor safe for anyone. Don’t you be the one acting out. Make better choices.
Antidote: Attend to Your Emotions. Emotions are a part of life. They come and go. Ironically, the less you pay attention to them, the more control your emotions have over you. Be aware of how you’re feeling, good or bad, so you can capitalize on the positive emotions and not get trapped in the negative ones. Share how you’re feeling with others, not to bring them down when you’re feeling low but to alert them and to request their help. Then control your emotions. You do not have to be a victim to your own emotions. Controlling your thoughts and speech is a great start. Then take positive action. Work. Learn. Create. Clean. Fix. Build. Invent. Exercise. Find a positive outlet. Your actions must lead your emotions. Don’t allow your emotions to lead your inaction.
Symptom: Self-Focus. Isolation and quarantine often leads to self-focus and self-indulgence. We think about our situation, our problems and what the current situation might mean to us. We worry and fret about ourselves, as we hear the instructions from everyone to “stay safe” and “take care of yourself.” We act out…after all, we deserve that extra bag of chips, stiff drink or deep drag. However, there’s no true joy in self-focus, and self-indulgence leads ultimately to despair.
Antidote: Serve Others. Pay attention to those around you. What’s going on with them? What are they feeling? Invest time in listening. Ask good questions. Build your relationships. Care. The Apostle Paul wrote: “God has called us to live a life of freedom. But don’t view this wonderful freedom as an opportunity to set up a base of operations in self-love. Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do. For love completes the laws of God, which can be summarized in one grand statement: ‘Demonstrate love to your neighbor, even as you care for and love yourself.’”
Fortunately, the corona virus will eventually go away, a vaccine will be developed, and COVID-19 will cease to be a problem. However, as long as we’re alive, we’ll always be at risk of infection from disease of the mind, and the current situation requires us to guard against this more rigorously than we do the virus.
A Simple Way to Gain Clarity and Act Boldly in Uncertain Times
As we move into the COVID-19 pandemic, everywhere you turn, someone is declaring something like: “We’re in uncharted water.” “This is unprecedented.” “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” “The world as we knew it is gone forever.”
Opening with a blinding flash of the obvious - we’re living in truly turbulent times. As a leader, what will guide your actions in the days ahead? How will you calm, encourage and inspire those you lead? You can help people gain fresh perspectives by using analogies and metaphors. Your life story holds experiences that can serve as solid reference points for your leadership message of hope and empowerment. Perhaps you’ll find grounding in military, sports, business, family or faith experiences. Over the last 65 years, I’ve accumulated a lot of those reference points. Especially relevant right now are the many experiences I’ve had rafting and kayaking down raging whitewater. Perhaps you can relate. Even if you’ve never directly had the experience of blasting through a violent stretch of rapids and emerging victorious, the following nine lessons from the river will prove useful in navigating the challenges you face today, because leadership in turbulent times is a lot like navigating rough water.
Remember How You Got Here. When you face a terrifying rapid, it’s tempting to ask, “Why me...what am I even doing here?” But this is not a useful question. No one forced you to launch. You knew when you hopped in the boat to begin with that there would be challenges. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons you got in the boat…to intentionally stretch yourself and experience the tests that were sure to come. The same holds true for leadership. Regardless of whether you volunteered, or have been thrust into a position of leadership, you accepted the responsibility. You are here, because you made a choice to be here. Now make the best of it.
Don’t Paddle Alone. Anyone who attempts to tackle a stretch of serious whitewater alone is an idiot. You need a capable team. You can guide and coach each other. You can encourage each other. You can save each other when you inevitably flip. Just as on the river, a lone ranger strategy for leadership in turbulent times is deeply flawed. Ancient wisdom says, “For by wise counsel you will wage your own war [run your own river]. In a multi-tude of counselors there is safety.” Are you surrounded by a group of wise and trusted counselors? If so, take maximum advantage of this. If not, gather a team immediately. The tests ahead demand it.
You Came to Run the River. If you had wanted to float on a placid lake, you’d be somewhere else. You’re here for the adventure. You also didn’t come to hang out in a slough. You know what a slough is? It’s that miserable, stagnant, bug-infested false channel off the main river that goes nowhere. It’s a bad place. Neither do you want to circle and swirl endlessly, around and around in a big back-eddy. When you study the history of the Israelites, they spent 40-years stuck in the Old Testament desert-equivalent of a back-eddy, lacking the courage to tackle the challenge before them. Have you ever found yourself in a leadership slough or an organizational back-eddy? Paddling, but going nowhere? Get out of there. Now.
Recall Why You Trust. Plunging into whitewater requires trust. Trust in your gear. Trust in your paddling partners. Trust in yourself. Trust in the skills you’ve honed. Trust in the evidence of past success. And then there is faith and trust in something bigger than you. There are no atheists in foxholes or when trapped underwater in a big, sucking, re-circulating hole; when you’re hypothermic, out of breath and struggling frantically to live. As you face today’s leadership challenge, in what will you place your trust?
Deal With the Rapid in Front of You. On the river, you can only handle one rapid at a time. Worrying about all the other rapids ahead, feeling sorry you’re there, wishing the rapid wasn’t so big, fretting about past wrecks, even reflecting on your previous “glory runs;” all that is useless. There is a job at hand. That’s the one that must be tackled successfully. Right now. As a leader, ask yourself, “What is the single most important challenge I must address right now? Then do that.
Find the Line. There is always a way. Before every big, treacherous rapid, seasoned guides gather on a vantage point above the river to scout the obstacles. They find the line and set a strategy for a successful run. Only fools paddle blindly into turbulent water or dangerous business situations. Pause. Gather smart people. Climb above the crashing waves, get a clear look and set a sound strategy. Find the line.
Commit and Go. Turning back is not an option. Paddling back upstream doesn’t work. There comes a time for decisive action. You must point the bow of your boat directly into the fearsome waves. If you back in, you’ll flip and die. If your sort of slide in sideways, you’ll flip and die. If you choke and try to back away at the last minute, you’ll have no power or momentum and you’ll flip and die. Success lies only in committing, powering forward and punching through. Is it time in the crisis you face to simply commit and go? After all, it’s the leader’s job to say, “Follow me.”
Eyes on the Prize. Once you’re in the rapid, there’s danger in fixating on the rock or the hole immediately in front of you. However, you go where you look. If you focus on the jagged rock, you’ll hit the rock, flip and die. If you focus on the monster hole, you’ll get buried in the hole, flip and die. None of those are desirable options. The prize is arriving upright, dry, breathing and exhilarated in the calm water just downstream of the maelstrom. If you’ve ever skied, ridden horses, blasted down single track on a mountain bike or raced a motorcycle, you know that you absolutely MUST keep your eyes on where you want to go. In a time of crisis, it’s easy to fixate on the problems, but the leader’s job is to lift your eyes and the eyes of those you lead and focus on the prize. Where do you want to go? Look there.
Enjoy the Ride. Many years ago, one of my first river guides was a tiny woman named Ann. On land, you’d never guess she was a superwoman with the oars. I still remember glancing at her right before we launched over Lava Falls, a class 10 rapid on the Grand Canyon. She had a huge grin on her face! As we smashed through that enormous drop, I heard her laughing uproariously. She came to enjoy the ride. As we face the leadership road ahead, we can choose to whine and complain. Or as Jim Rohn used to say, “Quit asking why it’s so hard. Ask instead how you can get better.” We can choose to find the joy in the test. We can embrace the fact that we are here, in this moment, to lead in a time like this. Let’s enjoy the ride.
I wish you success in navigating the challenges ahead of you. Find the line, commit and go. Trust. Keep your eyes on the prize. Enjoy the ride.
Michael Sipe is a serial entrepreneur, mergers and acquisitions advisor, and executive coach to CEOs and business owners, many of whom are in the top 1% of income earners in the country.
When I was a kid, there was no internet. Gasp.
I grew up in a tiny Bureau of Indian Affairs town on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona. For basic supplies, we had a small community trading post. Really...a trading post.
For groceries, clothing, medical care, and other normal needs of life back in the 1960's, we had to drive 80 miles to the small town of Flagstaff.
For everything else, there was the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. The Sears catalogue was a combination of reading material, product guide and dream book. Each new edition of this mail-order connection to the bigger world occupied a special place on our family coffee table.
When I was 12, I wanted a ten speed bike. I mowed lawns to raise the money, and spent countless hours dreaming over the three options for ten speed bikes that Sears offered at the time, trying to decide what color and what exact features I wanted. Finally the day came when I had enough money saved up to place my order. I was so enamored with the features of the red bike I selected that I failed to notice two fateful words in fine print at the bottom of the ad: "Assembly required."
I sent in my order and waited impatiently for the day when my bike would arrive, expectantly waiting for the postman to deliver my gleaming new ride, so I could immediately jump on it and race off to show all my friends.
Weeks passed. Finally the doorbell rang and there was the postman with, not a bike, but a huge box emblazoned with the Sears logo. "There must be mistake! Where's my bike?" I asked. "Son," the mail carrier said, "Sears always sends these things for you to assemble. Good luck with that." And with a little smirk and a shake of his head, he departed.
Anxiously dragging the box into the living room, I tore into it to find what looked like at least a thousand parts. Some of the boxes and bags of parts had come open during shipping and bits and pieces of my bike were scattered everywhere. Clearly, assembly was required. A lot of assembly.
But, how hard could it be? I knew what the bike was supposed to look like...after all, I'd seen a picture of it in the catalogue.
I plunged into the project, bolting, screwing, attaching and wrenching away. Several hours later, when my Dad came home from work, he found total chaos in the living room, a heap of metal that looked like anything but a bike and one intensely frustrated 12-year-old boy.
"Dad," I yelled, "They sent me the wrong parts! They even forgot some! This thing will never go together. I've wasted my money. I've wasted my time. And all I have to show for it is this mess!"
Sitting down next to me on the floor and smiling at the odd looking contraption I had assembled, he asked gently, "Son, did you read the manual?"
As it turns out (who knew), Sears had included an instruction manual to show you how to put the thing together. Oh, I saw it in the bottom of the box, but who needs to read a book on how to assemble a bike? It should be simple, right?
Once we disassembled the work I'd done and turned to the owner's manual, the parts and pieces went right together and I had the bike of my dreams.
Sometimes I live my life the same way I attacked the bike project. Perhaps you do too. After all, how hard could it be to put a life together? We sort of know what a good life should look like, right? And then, one day in despair, sitting crosslegged on the floor, looking sadly at the mess we've created, we realize, "We should've read the instruction manual."
And then sure enough, like every time before, once we tear apart our dysfunctional creations and systematically rebuild them based on the principles of the Bible, everything goes together so much better.
Let's remember to read the Manual...daily.
The AVADA Blog provides real-world insights into issues of faith in the marketplace. Many are derived from discussions in 10x Catalyst Groups, which are comprised of Christian CEOs and entrepreneurs. Please check out a past blog or two and if you find the content relevant to your business and faith, please subscribe on the Contact Page. Contact