Taking care of ourselves, our families and looking out for others in our community is very much top of mind for all of us at the moment. The coronavirus is impacting people in different ways depending on individual circumstances. Some have been directly affected by the virus and have lost loved ones. Healthcare workers are putting themselves in harm’s way for all of us. People working in and connected with the supply chain in supermarkets are playing a fundamental role in keeping society going. Some business owners will go out of business and the impact of this time will be lifechanging for them in so many ways. For the likes of myself and my wife (who are both self-employed), we are being significantly financially impacted. Regardless of what level of uncertainty and challenge any of us face, there is one very important thing we can bring certainty to and that is our personal “micro-environment”.     

Many years ago, after rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, I learned a very valuable life lesson about the power of the environment around us and how it can impact our emotions, thoughts and behaviour. I realised that there are 2 parts to any environment we find ourselves in. Firstly the “macro-environment”. On the Atlantic, this was all the things that I could not control such as the weather, wave size, storms etc. Today I see the macro-environment being made up of things like the spread of the coronavirus, businesses shutting down, economies going into recession, government policies etc. Notwithstanding what I can do from a social distancing perspective, I cannot influence and have no immediate control over any of this. The macro-environment is above my pay grade but yet if I allow it to, it can severely negatively impact my state of mind and thus my behaviour. 

The second part of the environment is what I call the “micro-environment” and in my opinion, this is the most important part of our environment. When I was out on the Atlantic, my micro-environment consisted of all the things I could influence and control that would impact my state of mind such as my attitude, what I read, the language I used, my mindset, the set-up of my small cabin (this is the image above), how I interacted with my rowing partner, my own internal self-talk, the music I listened to etc. Essentially everything I bring into my space and energy around me. 

For some people, their micro-environment will simply mirror and be an extension of the macro one. If I personally allow this to happen at the moment, it could result in fear, stress, worry, anxiety and panic becoming my immediate surrounding. None of this will positively serve me or my family. 

However, I also have the power to very intentionally shape my immediate micro-environment to be a positive and productive source of energy around me that I can plug into. It can directly influence and positively impact my emotions, thoughts, behaviour and ultimately the outcomes I achieve. It will influence my state of mind and right now our state of mind is one of the most important tools any of us have in our toolbox to navigate these challenging times. For me our micro-environment acts as “a filter” from whatever is happening in the wider world. I’m not suggesting that we don’t take notice of what’s going on. But this micro-environment filter can enable us to make more constructive choices. Right now in my opinion, the quality of the choices we all make is very important. What type of microenvironment will I choose to create and how will I respond to the current challenge?

About 15 years ago I got some very wise insight on choice from an incredible book I read called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist and the book captured his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during the second world war as well as his logotherapy philosophy and methodology. In the book, Frankl talks about the role of choice and that between any stimulus and our response lies a space. In that space, we choose our response and, in that response, lies our true growth and freedom. 

The reason I mention Frankl’s book is because I believe that the immediate micro-environment we create for ourselves can improve the quality of the choice we make in response to any stimulus we experience in life. At the moment, many of us are experiencing some very challenging stimuli. These challenges will not define us per say because we are not our environment. What will define us is how we choose to respond to our situation. This is really who we are – defined by our response and not the wider environment we find ourselves in.    

Every single one of us has the power to craft our own micro-environment. The following are some of what I consider a key part of my own micro-environment:

  • My home (tidiness, layout, lighting, clutter etc).
  • How I prime my own immediate surroundings and energy field. 
  • My relationship with technology.
  • The extent to which I engage in mass media.
  • What I eat, how I sleep and how much exercise and fresh air I get.
  • The people I choose to surround myself by.
  • The relationships in my life and who I choose to listen to.
  • The role I choose to play in these relationships.
  • What I read and watch on TV or online.
  • My own internal self-talk.
  • My attitude I choose every day.
  • How I set my mind each day.
  • The quantity and quality of my sleep.
  • My breathing during the day.

Over the past 2 weeks, we have all had to change how we live and therefore I’m sure many people’s micro-environment has changed anyway if not by design then by necessity.

That said, perhaps you could consider what deliberate changes you could make to your immediate environment that will positively impact and strengthen your state of mind over the coming weeks and months. There might be something small you could stop, start or continue that will improve your own micro-environment and in turn enhance your own state of mind. A few of my own simple changes I have made is to stop engaging in mass media, start to increase the frequency in which I journal and continue to meditate regularly. I genuinely know I am feeling the benefit of these small changes. Like everyone else, I have good days and bad, but I know now, maintaining my daily practices are more important for my mental health and emotional resilience than they have been in some time.

None of us asked for the situation we are in but that doesn’t matter. For me personally, the only thing that really matters now is how I respond to this current challenge and that is not up to anyone else. It’s not up to the HSE, the government, my neighbours – this one is all on me. From experience, I know the better I take care of my micro-environment, the stronger and more creative my mind will be. The world has been forced to slow down and take a breath. How we choose to breath now and going forward is what will define us.

Stay safe and healthy!

By Paul Gleeson