We All Need to be the Iguana
By Gayle Van Gils, guest contributor
“We all need to be the iguana,” says comedian Nick Kroll in a New York Times interview, which strikes me as a statement that pretty much sums up our current situation. The metaphor is about the adaptability of a species of marine iguana Kroll experienced in the Galapagos that can survive even if its tail is bitten off by a bird. Kroll says that he relates this to his life in this way: “The landscape is changing. I can either dig my feet in and be like, ‘This isn’t fair!’ or I can be like: ‘OK! How do I adapt?’”
Adaptation is the key to our sanity and wellness as everything around us shifts. It is the factor or attitude that can determine whether we thrive or fail as life is changing in so many areas. In so many ways we may feel either that, “this isn’t fair,” or alternatively ask, “how can I adapt?
In myriad ways we are experiencing our “tail being bitten off”, or we might say, losing a sense of our old identity. We are being asked to work and lead others in a very different landscape. While each situation is unique, at its core, it is how we respond personally to these changes that determines our state of wellness and wellbeing. As the months of “disruption” continue, we have to look at the very real possibility that we are not going “back” to anything, but that ongoing adaption will be the norm. We can take a look at some adaptive strategies to allow us to survive and thrive in our work and personal lives.
Regaining Emotional Balance in the midst of constant change is a good place to start examining our adaptation strategies. Do you feel like you are riding an emotional see-saw? Or maybe your see-saw is even stuck in the down position!
With the combination of applied mindfulness practices that help you tune into your feelings, and simple breath practices to ground you in your body you can stabilize your emotional reactivity, and adapt to the new situations demanding your attention. One emotion that certainly is arising for each of us is fear, so let’s look first at that.
Getting Fear Under Control
A feeling of uncertainty and a constant sense of unease is something that most of us live with these days. We experience fear in many forms, and it can feel overwhelming to take a look at all the groundless feelings we experience. But if we don’t look, we may miss the opportunity to not only shift but understand this powerful energy. Here are 2 ways you can work with your fear to tame it.
How does fear come up for you on a daily basis in your life and work? In order to discover your patterns, you can journal your responses whenever fear arises. Once the patterns are revealed, they are easier to dismantle.
Fearless Feeling: Practice a Mind, Body Heart Check-in
This practice can help you move from fearful rumination to being present with what is happening and what is possible.
Take 3 breaths at your own pace.
- On the first breath, check in with your head. What thoughts are present?
- On the second breath, check in with your body. What emotions, intuitions, or gut feelings are present for you?
- On the third breath, turn to the heart, representing values or intentions. What is important for you right now? Having checked in with yourself, how do you wish to show up in this next moment?
By looking at your fear, you see it more clearly, and can also see a way to manage your emotions and make choices you did not see when acting purely from reactivity. This approach is adaptive… like the iguana, when your tail is bitten off, or you are afraid that it will be, you can get present and make choices from a grounded self-aware space rather than reacting impulsively.
Examining the stories we tell ourselves, is another way that we can find greater emotional balance and reduce our struggle with what is happening in our lives. There is great power in questioning the stories you tell yourself, and potential magic in changing your story.
How to Reduce Struggle – The Magic in a Story
In this exercise, you are going to question the ways that you are hard on yourself and see if you can reduce that struggle that results from your self-criticism.
Please journal your responses to these prompts after you settle your attention with a few mindful breaths:
- Let yourself think about a way in which you struggle and are hard on yourself. Journal about this situation or situations.
- Now here comes the game… you’re going to turn this thought completely around. Think about how your story may be distorting your experience. Write down your turn-around story.
Shifting my story was very real for me. Initially, when Covid protective practices were initiated, I felt that “my tail was bitten off” because all of my live trainings were canceled, and I no longer had the opportunity to benefit clients through live interaction. My story was that my business would suffer.
I examined my story and realized that this was the ideal time to spend more energy on designing online courses and reaching people through the web. Now, as a result of that pivot and my new story, I am reaching thousands of people worldwide, which would not have happened with my previous approach!
I spent most of 2020 examining how my knowledge in mindfulness and mindset, emotional intelligence, purpose, and leadership could be re-oriented to help individuals find the courage, inspiration, and support to bridge the gaps that were opening in their personal skill sets. In partnership with the Udemy for Business team, I designed a full spectrum course on Wellness that is helping people to not only find emotional balance, but understand their minds, how to achieve peak performance, embrace happiness, manage through crisis, keep their bodies healthy and maintain financial health! Here, and in my bio, you can find a special Holiday Discount link to that course, Smart Tips: Wellness, should you want to check it out for yourself or a loved one. Each of its 54 short (2-5 min) video tips includes short applicable practices like the examples above.
The bottom line for all of us is that our work and leadership are as necessary to the world as ever. If we can accept the realities and pivot or adapt, the changes actually offer us tremendous opportunities to grow - through embracing rather than rejecting the unknown. In this endeavor we all need to be the iguana, to help each other move to greater wellness and success.
Gayle Van Gils is a senior mindfulness teacher and meditation practitioner and has spent many weeks and months in silent retreat. As the founder of Transform Your Culture, Gayle brings the teachings of Emotional Intelligence, compassion and values alignment to leaders and entrepreneurs wishing to uplift and energize their business's culture. Gayle is a certified Search Inside Yourself instructor, a meta-coach for the Goleman EI organization, a popular meditation teacher on the app Simple Habit, and the author of the award winning book, Happier at Work: The Power of Love to Transform the Workplace.
Here is a special discount for her new course: Smart Tips: Wellness. Gayle hopes it helps you and whoever you gift it to to have a happier, healthier 2021!
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