It is October 2021 and things seem to be improving here in the U.S. and around the world—mostly. I say mostly because even though Thom and I have returned from traveling during the summer—seeing great sites, enjoying cooler weather, laughing with friends, etc.—I’m still feeling a bit discombobulated. And don’t misunderstand, I’m quite happy to be home where the weather is cooler, my bed is amazingly comfortable, to reconnect with friends and family, and to have stayed healthy through it all. But something still feels a bit off—in me and in the world. Then I listened to Brene Brown interviewing Amy Cuddy and it started to make sense. Many of us, me included, are still immersed in what Cuddy calls Pandemic Flux Syndrome. After unpacking that idea and learning more about what flux is and how it affects us, the fog is lifting.
So, what is flux and why does it matter? Simply put, flux is “change.” I think on some level we all know that change happens constantly. I’ve certainly written about it here on SMART Living 365 several times. But if you are anything like me you tend to think of change as something that happens and then you bounce back, get over it and things go back to normal. For example, when COVID-19 hit back in March of 2020 most of us assumed that it would end and things would return to normal. Unfortunately, what we need to realize, what I need to realize, is that change of some sort is going to continue over and over again. There is no back to go back to. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said in 500 BCE, “The only constant in life is change.” Obviously, I’m still working on what that really means!
Instead, a better strategy is to be fluid and flow with change. April Rinne, futurist and author of Flux: Superpowers for Thriving In Constant Change suggests we develop a flux mindset. According to her, “A flux mindset is simply acknowledging that your relationship to change can improve.” Apparently having the awareness of knowing that we will never arrive at a point where change ends, and knowing our personal change triggers is important. Then she says, “It is also the state of mind ability to see all change, good or bad, whether you want it or not…that each and every change is an opportunity for growth, for learning and for improvement.” Similar to the idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset, a flux mindset is learning to develop a mindset that is comfortable with change, accepts that it never stops, and extracts the gifts that it surely contains. Sounds like a handy superpower to have, don’t you think?
Of course, just knowing that awareness intellectually without feeling it in our gut is more difficult. I can accept that change is constant but that doesn’t make it feel good when it’s happening. Plus, have you ever noticed that it is much easier to accept change when we initiate it? When change occurs unexpectedly or messes with our sense of right or wrong it gets much more dicey.
Getting back to the interview with Brown and Cuddy, Cuddy explained that when change feels chronic and completely out of our control, we can often reach “surge capacity.” That is when our nervous system feels overwhelmed and depleted. Regardless of how good things might seem right now, I’m sensing that many of us have reached that surge capacity and that is undermining our sense of wellbeing. It certainly is mine.
Making matters worse is that I feel a bit guilty for even admitting that I feel a bit wonky in these times. After all, I have a great life don’t I? Meanwhile I know that our country and the world has been navigating a shared humanitarian crisis. Millions died. Millions still struggle. It’s not just the pandemic either—it’s the climate crisis and it’s deadly consequences. It’s financial devastation for millions of people. It’s inequality on all levels here in my country and around the world. It’s political systems that are breaking down in front of our eyes. Need I go on? How dare I feel less than blessed and grateful for all that I have?
According to Brene Brown, that is another part of the problem. We tend to compare our lack of suffering with the suffering of others and negatively judge ourselves for it. We beat ourselves up if we aren’t suffering along with the people on the nightly news—or, how can we possibly feel good about our lives when others have it so hard? But Brown reminds us, compassion and empathy aren’t finite. They aren’t slices of pie with only so much to go around. You never run out. In fact, the more you experience wellbeing, the more you have to give to others who can’t get there right now. Let’s remember that suffering is not a contest!
I heard Cuddy explain something else that I found helpful. She says that every crisis has three phases. The first is the emergency phase—people just hunker down and do what they need to do to get through it. The second phase is the regression phase. This is where patience is necessary. It’s called the in-between phase and quite frankly, this is the one we are stuck in at the present time. In this phase most of us are out-of-control with much of what is happening—and most of us are lousy at being out-of-control. In fact, she says that this is one of the big reasons why people are up and quitting their jobs and moving to some place across the country. This is another reason why people are overpaying for homes in remote towns or buying toys to amuse themselves with. This is why people are joining bizarre groups and doing bizarre things. Because people want to believe they are in control of their lives (even when there is a lot that they can’t control) they tend to want to escape from anything threatening that control. That leads to people make dramatic and drastic choices. The final phase? That’s the rebuilding phase and at least in terms of the pandemic, we are just being teased with that possibility. No wonder people are being driven to escape all the flux piling up around us.
After reading up and listening to these women talk about what many of us are experiencing—what I’ve been experiencing—it all makes more sense to me. Talking or writing about it helps and as they all said, we need to realize that these emotions in this time are completely natural. Yes, I still believe that our thoughts, intentions and choices can greatly influence our lives. And while I tend to be optimistic and happy most of the time, sometimes I’m just not. And we need to allow ourselves and each other the space to feel what we are feeling. We aren’t “bad” because we might sometimes feel bad, any more than we are good for sometimes feeling good. We are all just doing the best we can with where we are today.
April Rinne offers some great advice including the idea that resilience isn’t bouncing back to where we were—it is instead molding into a new reality. Plus, she also has a lot to say about how to enhance our superpowers around the idea of flux. Of primary importance is learning to slow down, trust others and the world and to let go of expecting that we can control the circumstances or the people around us. As it turns out, accepting our feelings, growing our awareness, and determining how we want to move forward in the future are all SMART ways to make flux a natural part of our lives.