One of the key traits of a strategic conflict expert — like an Ombuds, mediator, or conflict coach — is contrarian thinking. I specialize in noticing what my clients missed, considering alternative approaches, and bringing to light different perspectives. When a client says “she’s acting this way,” I immediately question “what if she could act that way?” or if a client feels helpless, I’ll invite them to consider where they may be overlooking a powerful network of colleagues.
So it makes sense that in the middle of a pandemic, when everyone is feeling gloom-and-doom, a contrarian will ask “what is the opportunity that is being presented right now?” This is one of the questions I ask myself daily — and below, I’ll share with you one of the answers…
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Being at Home
One key answer can be uncovered when you take a look at your current physical barriers. As roughly a third of American workers now work from home, many gyms and recreation facilities are still at significantly lower capacity, and schools are either virtual or hybrid, we have a vastly new society of people who are spending more time in the quiet of home. Some feel cooped-up, lonely, or even depressed. Others may be anxious and concerned about the future of America and the world. But there is an opportunity that time at home offers, if you pause to consider it.
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Our society has become increasingly busy and packed over the last few decades. Where once a life of idleness was coveted, busy-ness has become our social capital. Even those who could afford to spend all day at the beach or reading in a cozy chair are busy with fundraisers, the gym, shopping, or scrolling through social media with multi-tasked attention. This busy-ness has become our lifestyle, such that the lack of this busy lifestyle feels foreign and sad.
The contrarian perspective is about that busy-ness. Specifically: what if the stay-at-home is our opportunity to not be so busy? What if we can use our time otherwise spent in outside activity instead focusing inwards?
“Most of us prioritize externally oriented attention. When we think of attention, we often think of focusing on something outside of ourselves. We “pay attention” to work, the TV, our partner, traffic, or anything that engages our senses. However, a whole other world exists that most of us are far less aware of: an internal world, with its varied landscape of emotions, feelings, and sensations.”
Sepala distinguishes between what she calls interoceptive attention — the focus inwards with exteroceptive attention — the focus outwards. According to studies, exteroceptive attention leads to increased anxiety and depression, where the key to unlocking calm and soothing emotional wounds is by shifting to interoceptive attention, or inner discovery.
As you continue to handle multiple crises and tensions today, you may be facing traumas that can have a lasting debilitating effect. Distracting yourself (with social media, a good book, or talks with friends) can help in the short-term, but Sepala points to research showing long-term benefits of interoceptive attention. According to her research, this focusing-inwards can be difficult at first, but over time those suffering from trauma feel empowered and more resilient. As she points out, “By learning to engage … dedicated interoceptive awareness, we may experience the first signs of healing.”
Concerned about how to maintain Mental Health through the pandemic? Click here for a helpful online guide.
At Home, and Inside
Being at home means you can re-think how you spend your time and shift attention from external to internal.
At home, you can use that time when you feel lonely, bored, or aimless and take a dive into your inner mind and deepest thoughts, and feelings. Breathe into stressors. Self-soothe in ways that were unfamiliar or unexplored before.
Once you’ve taken that time to slow your mind and notice your inner-voices, you can emerge from crises stronger, clearer, and better prepared to engage with whatever your next steps may be.