The view from the center of a crisis always looks warped. Whether the crisis is one of the standard flavours of mid-life meltdown, or an emergent new type that will arise from ambient uncertainty and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard to imagine not being in that dark phase when you are there.
I have learned over and over again that action trumps thought on these occasions. If you are at the bottom of your own happiness curve, challenge yourself to do nothing more than the 2+2+2 Method. The method is simple, achievable, and works in every case. It will change the energy and momentum in your life and help you to get unstuck.
When I broke up with my first wife, the mother of my three children, it was a dark and harrowing time. The inability to see my children on a daily basis, and the sheer gut-wrenching reality that our family would never be “together” again, resulted in a long phase of doubt, dismay and sadness… There were many nights when I lay awake on a mattress on the floor of the home of nearby relatives, thinking I had made a very big mistake… I kept running every day, stopping on that bridge in the rain one day for long enough to let the grief, loss and self-doubt catch up with me.
The wonderful thing about moments in life that are so painful that they take your breath away is that they do exactly that. And for an instant, you have no choice but to stop breathing.
The 2+2+2 Method described in Becoming Relevant (disclaimer, I was involved in the writing process) saved the Author’s life. In the last 7 years, it has helped a multitude of people climb out of a crisis pit, and reset their life on an upward trajectory.
Here is how it works.
The first 2 weeks
In the first 2 weeks, simply focus on yourself. Make this a genuine, 100% focus, not a distracted and half-hearted cousin of true focus. Take two weeks off work, cancel your appointments, and create some uninterrupted space for yourself. If you say it is too hard to do then consider that I did it while growing my own business. Its easier if you have a salaried job. It may seem like taking two weeks off work is something that does not fit in with your life plans (then again, whose life plan had set aside time for COVID-19?)— but before you rule it out, call three of your friends who have been though a crisis, and ask them whether they would swap their experience for the inconvenience of taking two weeks off. The first two weeks may be the best investment you ever make.
The intent of the first 2 weeks is to direct energy into being physically in the best shape that you can be. This can mean 8 hours of intense training each day, or it could mean a full sleep, healthier eating habits, or an extended walk before lunch, and the same thereafter. You’ll chose what combination feels right for you.
The focus on physicality and fitness in the first two weeks is to re-set your baseline. Without the necessary sleep, exercise, good eating habits and clear presence of mind you’re not much good to anyone, let alone yourself, your boss, or your children. If you can’t look after yourself then how can you be expected to look after anyone else?
Taking these two weeks to really focus on and honor yourself will catalyze clarity of thought, bring back a sense of centeredness, and energize you physically for the second two week phase.
The middle 2 weeks
In the second two weeks, focus on your children. If you don’t have any children, then focus on family or those that support you. Ideally, time this two week period to align with school holidays, or a two week period when your children can be in your care.
Like the first phase, in these two weeks your focus needs to be 100% on your children. Be completely present. I took my kids camping in those two weeks, we focused on playing games and having fun. I wanted them to know that although their world had changed, they were loved and supported.
In these two weeks, your challenge is again to eliminate distractions so that you are fully there and present for your kids. It takes time to get into this habit. Spending the days on your laptop, or taking business calls while your kids sit around waiting, compromises the value that you can get from this phase. Once again, if you are thinking I can’t take another two weeks off, balance those thoughts against the wisdom from those who have been through this process. Also consider what are the most important relationships in your life and you’ll find there is no higher priority.
Two weeks, plus two weeks, is an insignificant amount of time to dedicate to clawing your way out of a pit of despair
The two weeks with your children, while fun for them, are really designed for you. It is possible that your children will not understand the great sacrifice you are making in taking time off, they hopefully will also not know of the internal turmoil that you are experiencing. The second two week period builds on the habits formed in the first two weeks and is for you to reconnect and re-establish a currency of engagement with your kids. It’s to re-set you psychologically, to let you and them know that even though things are different, you can create a new normal that will serve you all well in the future. It’s a way to remind your kids, that while you are not there every day, they have not lost a loving and supportive parent. You are still there for them.
The last 2 weeks
After taking 4 weeks off while building the habit of self-love and connectivity with your children, your focus in the last 2 weeks shifts back to your work.
In this two week period, focus exclusively on doing the best job you can at work, without the distractions of thinking about your children or new life situation. Let your staff or boss know that you’re committed and there for the long haul. In my case, I turned my attention to growing my business. I focused on exceeding my clients’ expectations, on over-delivering and delighting on every project that we had in flight.
I knew that if I had not taken shaken up my life with the 2+2+2 Method, nothing would have changed. Habits would have remained unchanged and I would have remained stuck in my daily routine of sadness, trying to find the time to concurrently maximize my personal time, my time with my kids and my business goals, and failing at them all. In separating out my physical fitness, my kids and my work, I was able to establish meaningful habits that I would carry forward and roll into my daily routine.
After the 2 + 2 + 2
Ken Burns speaks of the Three Truths that he uses to guide him during difficult times:
1. Everything is temporary, and, eventually, it passes
2. Seek out good people and ask for their help
3. Be kind to yourself
The 2+2+2 Method works not because it gives permission to create a break in what can otherwise feel like groundhog day. It works as it gives structure and focus about what to do next.
Without physical fitness, there is no mental clarity; without mental clarity we won’t do our kids justice; without attending to our kids safety and wellbeing, we can’t focus on work; and without work, the system breaks down pretty quickly
The 2+2+2 Method became a mantra for our growing business: design the life you want to live by structuring your work around your commitments to yourself and your family. Almost two decades later, the same business continues on with the same philosophy. The loyal and well balanced lives that we have been able to support are a testament to the value of the 2+2+2 Method at scale.
Excerpts from Becoming relevant in the second half of life included in this post with permission from the Author