Control in UncertaintyFeatured

I’m Sarah McDevitt, CEO + Founder of Core. Me in a nutshell: Stanford Master’s degree, former Microsoft engineering product manager, NYU basketball, dog-owner, trail runner, mental wellness enthusiast.I founded my company, Core, after researching practical tools like meditation, sparked by a time of overwhelming anxiety. I’m passionate about helping people build that confident inner core of mental strength and self-awareness to go after their goals. Core’s first product is a hand-held training device paired with an app that makes meditation tactile and measurable. As you drop in to a session, vibrations guide techniques and focus, and biofeedback shows what’s working for you. Core measures your heart rhythm via ECG and provides personalized reports to give you insights on your progress, both within a session and over time.I wanted to talk about getting through this incredibly difficult period in time. There’s a collective sense of anxiety. One of the things that sticks out to me about the COVID-19 pandemic is the wildly changing sense of time. At first, it was an international news story. We started to become collectively conscious of it; as a company, we were discussing possible interruptions to our supply chain week-by-week. Then came the cases in my hometown of Seattle. Next, a confirmed case at the cafe next to our office. I made an immediate decision for us all to work remotely, saying we’ll take it day-by-day. The moment I walked into the office on Monday 3/16 to take care of mail, the Bay Area issued their shelter-in-place mandate. We raced to close Core Studio, our brick and mortar meditation space in Union Square. We braced our staff, closed up the office, and worked to understand the new situation. Weeks later, here I am, writing this from my couch/office, while Thursdays turn into Saturdays with seemingly no difference. Time has extended to eons.So how do we cope? There’s a quote attributed to Darwin that’s often repurposed in reference to startups: “It is not the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but the most adaptable to change.” Whether your life has been up-ended by the loss of a loved one, a job, or your support system, or you’re okay right now but overwhelmed by worry for the future, here are a few unique ways I’m making myself more adaptable to change during this.Choose.Intentionally choosing what you want is a small mental move that can go a long way when so much feels out of control. Having some agency -- a sense of control and authority -- within your own life not only generally feels better to most, but has actually been shown to have an incredibly positive effect on stress. So if you have a lot of people telling you to “focus on things you can control,” this is a way to make it practical. Say things to yourself like: I choose to get up. I choose to make coffee. I choose to join this video call, the 197th of the day (or maybe leave out that last part :) ). Even if you have to be in that meeting, in that moment, you do choose to click “Join”. Whether that action is easy for you in that moment or you find it hard to muster the energy, call it out in your mind. I choose to pick up my Core and meditate. I choose to brush my teeth. It sounds small, but it can truly make a difference. Stating it helps our minds latch onto just how many things in our day we do still have agency over. It helps our minds focus on these actions in the present, as opposed to uncertain futures that bring on anxiety -- which brings me to the second tip.Stay present with Box Breathing.Extreme circumstances have a way of changing how time seems to pass. Anyone who has grieved a loss, or waited for life-altering news, knows the feeling of deeply losing the cadence of time. This pandemic has made it an even more universal experience. I can access a new post, tweet, or news article every second. Or I can panic about broad uncertainty ahead. Our minds try to imagine a future that is impossible to define right now, but human imaginations are so impressive that our brains and bodies react as if that future we create is happening to us right now. So one practical exercise to do when you notice your mind spinning about an uncertain future: Box Breath. Box Breath is a breathing exercise that is effective in helping you refocus into the present moment. Inhale for a count of 4, hold at the top for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold at the bottom for 4. You can imagine tracing the outline of a box as you do it. I’m doing this multiple times a day to remind myself to stay focused on the near-term during this unprecedented time. That way, I only need to experience today in isolation, not weeks. Or this moment of grief, not a lifetime of it at once.A 3 column exercise.To help with #2, try this: Start writing down all the things you’re worried about. Go for it, get ‘em all out. Note: It is OK if this part of the exercise makes you feel upset. Understand that feeling isn’t permanent and the next step can help. Once you have a list, make room for three columns on your paper. In the first column, put all the things on your Worry list that you cannot do anything about. In the second column, put all the items on the list that you can do something about. In the third column, write down at least three people to whom you could reach out -- phone call, text, DM, or email. As you keep going through your days and start to feel any sense of overwhelming worry, return to your list. Notice that we spend a lot of time rethinking the same items in Column 1. Over time, try to keep adding to Column 2. And remember that each person in Column 3 is experiencing a very similar world as you and is reachable. They’re in this with you.Rearrange your space, even if temporary.One of the things that’s been taken away during this time is the ability to change scenery -- leaving home, spending time in different spaces, traveling. Here’s a way to take back control. Plan a date a week in the future that’s going to become your “moving day” and pick a room (Living room? Bedroom? Home office?). Throughout the week, think of ideas for a furniture rearrangement for that room. On “moving day” -- go at it, rearrange the room! Spend the next week in your new space, as if you took a trip to an AirBnB for the week. I write these tips with tremendous gratitude for those who are now put in incredibly dangerous situations, who truly don’t have a moment to think about how they’re thinking. I know they’re in survival mode right now. If you are struggling with maintaining day-to-day emotional steadiness, try these practical but mighty practices. While we might feel alone in our unique experience of this, you are simultaneously a leader experiencing this with billions of others. Stand up when you can for your teams, your families, and your communities; and lean on them when you need to. And if you do slip and accidentally watch all of Love is Blind in two days, don’t judge yourself, just please tell me all your thoughts @sarahwmcdevitt and we’ll get back to steady leadership right afterwards. Either way, we’re in this together. Sarah McDevitt is the founder + CEO of Core. She believes that taking care of your mind is an act of strength, and thinks it should be prioritized in daily life on the same level as nutrition and exercise. In her free time, Sarah loves playing basketball, trail running, eating ice cream, and hanging out with her dog, Sammie. She has her Master’s from Stanford and Bachelor’s from NYU, where she played varsity basketball. IG and Twitter are both: @sarahwmcdevitt
This was so helpful. Thank you!
Wonderful post Sarah - thank you.
Thank you Sarah. I have been studying an MSc in Mindfulness and Compassion over the last two years in addition to a full on day job and being a parent. The experiential aspects coupled with the academic grounding has been so useful for me as a parent, wife, friend and leader at this time. Your product sounds very interesting, I shall take a look.