At the core of Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s mission is an unrelenting commitment to helping entrepreneurs discover the tools and strategies necessary to promote business and personal resilience. Dandapani, a Hindu priest, entrepreneur and former monk, is a highly rated speaker at multiple EO chapter learning events where he teaches business leaders how to focus, which leads to greater success. We asked Dandapani how entrepreneurs can best deal with stress and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's an excerpt from our interview:
In our last interview, you emphasized that focus is critical in solving problems. How does the Covid-19 crisis impact our efforts to focus?
I think the question to ask is: How is this crisis impacting our minds? You can see it in how people are behaving--panic-buying toilet paper. That's not a rational response to the pandemic--it shows the lack of control people have over their minds.
A crisis is happening. People don't have a strong understanding of the mind and the ability to harness, control and direct it. As a result, they're responding in a panicked way instead of thinking rationally, "Is toilet paper going to save my life, or would it be better to buy rice, flour and beans so I can feed my family?"
I can't overemphasize the importance of understanding how the mind works and the difference between "awareness" and "the mind." Awareness moves within the mind --it's like a ball of light that travels to different areas of the mind. It's critical to understand that you control where your awareness goes.
The goal is to control awareness--not to control the mind.
Why is it so critical to control our awareness?
Ultimately, if you don't control awareness, then your awareness will be dictated by your environment. And if your environment is in a state of chaos, then your awareness will be in a state of chaos.
Here's an example: When you watch a movie, you choose to be entertained. You sit down and basically surrender your awareness--that ball of light--to the movie's director. You let the director take your awareness to different areas of the mind--you may feel sad, feel joy, start to laugh or even cry. You give the director permission to guide your awareness where he or she wants it to go.
During this Covid-19 crisis, people are surrendering their awareness to their environment. To the media. To how people around them are behaving. To social media. And since those are all chaotic, their awareness is also in a state of chaos.
Being in control over your awareness enables you to say, "I'm not going to visit the fear or anxiety areas of my mind. I'm going to focus on an area of calm so I can think logically and make decisions from that place."
That approach puts you in charge. It's where we all need to start: Learn how to control your awareness. Because if you can't, you'll panic--and then it's a downward spiral.
In this crisis, your mental health and sanity are your greatest assets.
How do we learn to control where our awareness goes?
The first step is to practice doing one thing at a time. Why is that important? It trains you to keep your awareness focused.
The ability to solve problems is the ability to stay with a problem long enough to find a solution.
If you're perpetually distracted, you can't think through a problem. Distraction is awareness jumping from one thing to another to another. By doing one thing at a time, you keep your awareness on a problem long enough to find the solution.
Doing one thing at a time is a simple practice that everyone can implement in their life right now.
What are some ways to practice that?
When you're speaking to a friend, partner or child, give them your undivided attention. If you're cooking, exercising or working, give that activity your complete, undivided attention.
If you train your awareness to jump back and forth from one thing to another, it leads to anxiety. Ongoing anxiety leads to stress. And that's an unhealthy way to live.
Another tip: Don't give your awareness to TV news. Choose your news source wisely. I suggest the World Health Organization or the US Centers for Disease Control websites, where you can read updates from the source without the TV news media trying to take your awareness to a place of fear.
I spent 10 years in a monastery learning to control my awareness and focus my mind. I'd say I have pretty decent control over it. But if I were to sit and watch the news all day? I guarantee it would start to influence the way I think--and not in a positive way.
For many, awareness is stuck in the areas of uncertainty, fear and anxiety brought on by the Covid-19 crisis. How can we get unstuck?
When you're quarantined or working from home, it's easy to start a habit of sleeping late, staying in pajamas and watching Netflix.
Be careful: That can cause your energy to get stagnant and start a downward spiral.
My recommendation is to start doing creative projects. Channel your energy into positive, creative activities around the house. Clean your closets or pantry, wipe down the shelves. Find things to do. There's always something to do.
Keep your energy moving in a fluid, dynamic way. Energy is like water: If it isn't moving, it becomes stagnant and mucky.
Learn to manage and channel your energy into positive activities. The first thing I did after all of my speaking engagements were cancelled for the next few months was to clean my spice cabinet. I took everything out, wiped down the shelves, got rid of empty bottles, relabeled everything, and put it all back. When I finished, I felt great--I felt uplifted. And when I am in an uplifted state of mind I make better decisions, see opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
Channel your energy and make progress in some area of your life. It will positively impact your state of mind during this crisis.
3 ways to cope with anxiety during a crisis
Let's review: You have the power to overcome anxiety by controlling where your awareness goes.
Here are three simple steps anyone can do. Business owners can share these with their teams to ensure they maintain positive mental health during this crisis. I recommend teaching them to your kids, too:
- Understand how the mind works and learn to control your awareness within the mind.
- Practice doing one thing at a time so you can better control your awareness.
- Get your energy moving by focusing on positive activities.