You hate it. You hate this new situation. You hate being stuck at home, you hate that your vacation was canceled, and you hate that you don’t know what to do about either one.
Most of all, you hate that everyone else can see it on your face. You don’t want to seem weak. You want to seem confident. Calm. Composed. You want to look like you know what you’re doing, like that one guy at the grocery store who somehow still manages to whistle as he swipes yet another can of disinfectant into his cart.
Here’s the thing: Inside, that guy is screaming. He too has no idea what’s gonna happen. He’s scared for his family, worried about his job, and pissed that his flight to Cancun didn’t get refunded. But this morning, he got out of bed, put on some pants, and went grocery shopping — and he decided to fucking whistle while he did it. Because why not? Because, right now, what else are we gonna do?
That’s the truth about having your shit together: No one always does, but how we choose to behave when we don’t most reveals how mature we really are.
Practicing a certain level of baseline composure is a bit like showing good manners: Maybe no one taught you as a child, but you can still learn to do it now. You don’t have to eat your food with just a fork, and you don’t have to break down crying every time toilet paper is out in aisle three.
Level-headedness is a skill. This skill consists of many microscopic behaviors and decisions, all of which you can slowly stack up in your life. The result is that, on the outside, you’ll look calm, confident, and like you know what you’re doing — even when you don’t, and, right now, that’s important. It’ll inspire those around you. If we all project a little confidence, if we all find a smile, a wave, heck, a whistle even, we’ll get through this crap-flooded pothole of a year a little faster, smoother, and more gracefully.
The world took a lot from every single one of us this year. Let’s not let it take our balance, determination, cooperation, and kindheartedness too. Let’s fake it till we make it. If there was ever a time to do that, it has to be right now.
Take small actions that reaffirm you’re in control
Even if life feels like you have lost control, in many ways, you haven’t. You’re giving yourself too little credit. Have some self-respect. Make an effort to see all the many small choices you still get to make, and make them.
Get out of bed. Shower. Shave. Or don’t. But put on some pants, for god’s sake. Get the mail. Prepare the coffee maker. Sort your papers, cook a simple meal, and then clean the kitchen. Clean the whole place while you’re at it. Don’t sit in a mess that’ll make your state of mind deteriorate right with it.
Do some push ups. Open a window. Remind yourself you’re in charge. Be a soldier. Bring order to chaos. Structure is invigorating.
You already know how to do all of these things. You don’t need a bold new plan or genius insight to be successful in them. That’s exactly what makes them valuable. They’ll show you you can still rely on yourself and that, in turn, breeds confidence. It doesn’t matter how small these actions are for them to feel soothing and show you life long hasn’t escaped your grasp.
Do things that *actually* calm you down
You know what’s a great remedy to losing your job? Applying to ten new ones every day. Practicality is one of the most reassuring traits of all. You’re just doing what makes sense. You don’t have time to worry because your mind is busy fixing things. That’s what we’re born to do. Now is the time to revel in this tendency that, in times of peace and leisure, can drive us crazy.
Save some money. Study investing. Use travel refunds for an emergency fund. You’ll be surprised how much calm this provides. Knowledge is an antidote to fear. Tackle the business project you didn’t have time for before. Research opportunities. What’s in demand now? What can you supply? Pick up a new skill. Learn writing, start a podcast, get on TikTok. You’re already struggling, you might as well reinvent yourself. The same goes for your hobbies. Read a book. Meditate. Run. Do every workout your favorite yoga-tuber has on offer.
Calmness has multiple components: The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Your body needs to feel like you spend the energy that pulses through it. It’s soothing to know you’ve taken actual, real-world precautions. Positive self-talk, connecting with others, and receiving words of validation also matter. At last, we want to trust in the bigger picture, have faith that the dots will connect later, that what we’re going through is only stepping stone, a temporary setback that too shall pass.
All of these come with real habits you can practice to keep your calmness battery topped up. It doesn’t take much — a little journaling, some exercise, a few educational videos — but you need to make time for it every day or, soon, you’ll be running around in panic mode 24/7, shouting “Apocalypse!” from the rooftops. And we don’t need more people doing that.
Take one for the team
Just because by now we’ve all taken personal offense at the ongoing global crisis doesn’t mean it’s actually about any particular one of us. It’s not. Virus cells aren’t just nasty, they’re also indifferent. They don’t care that you wanted to get married this year or that Mary was about to move countries or that Jack just started a gig at this new company.
Since everyone is affected, it’s a good time to put your ego aside and take one for the team. Make a joke at your own expense. Make one at all. Hand out some compliments. Spread kindness in your messages. Don’t dramatize every little thing and don’t jump on every doomsday conversation threat you see. De-escalate. Don’t bad-mouth others. Bring sanitizer for everyone.
Besides being useful for others, this is great for yourself. It’ll shift your focus away from yourself and your troubles, which provides a sense of ease. It’ll show you you still have the power to inspire and help others, no matter how small the ways in which you do so. And, if only for a few minutes, you’ll actually know what you’re doing — because it’s easy enough to write a postcard, share a funny GIF, or remind your bestie that frozen pizza is on sale.
Remember that life is simple — and keep it that way
I have a reminder on my desktop. “Life is simple.” It’s true. At the end of the day, you’re either happy, or you’re not. You feel like you’re making progress, or you don’t. You prioritize what’s important to you, or you don’t. Thousands of variables go into the outcomes of these either-or-questions, but even if the process is highly complex, we can usually determine the result after a few brief moments of tuning in to our gut.
The problem is, way too often, we get lost in overanalyzing individual parts of the equation. “Did I publish my article at the right time? Should I work out three or five times a week? What if my partner won’t like the movie I suggest?” Rumination and worry are self-inflicted forms of robbing ourselves of happiness and calm. Getting back to simplicity is how we eliminate them.
One way to do this is to take some time to find clarity — and what better moment to do it than now. Think about your values, list some traits you want to embody and some you can’t stand. Don’t try so hard to look authoritative and strong — ironically, being humble and admitting what you don’t know are much better at accomplishing that. Set some rules for yourself, establish boundaries, and don’t be afraid to take breaks when you or others hit them.
Use your excellent gut feedback about the big picture to adjust the big picture, not to micro-manage little parts of your life that don’t — and won’t — matter.
Ultimately, that’s why we crave calmness, confidence, and want to look like we know what we’re doing: Not because it’ll grant us some glowing aura in the eyes of the world, but because we want to make sure we spend our lives focused on the important things. We might have to fake it till we make it, but if it helps us get there, who cares how we managed to live our best lives?
Niklas Göke writes for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. His writing on self-improvement, philosophy, and productivity has appeared on Business Insider, CNBC, Fast Company, and many more publications. He is also the owner of Four Minute Books, where he’s published over 500 non-fiction book summaries to date.
This article first appeared on Medium.