You’ve undoubtedly seen this striking design and message emblazoned upon a tee shirt, coffee mug or poster. But do you know the story?
In 1939, the British Ministry of Information commissioned three posters to be designed and produced to boost morale of citizens during the WWII and what seemed to be the inevitable invasion of Britain. Keep Calm and Carry On was the third of these posters, intended to be released only if German forces successfully invaded England. Thankfully, this didn’t come to pass, and the posters were never released, mostly destroyed, and eventually rediscovered nearly sixty years later.
The simple, but profound message, distinctively British in its tone and formality, rings true despite years past or the missing context of war. In fact, it may be the perfect message for our times.
In modern society, operating at the speed of technology and amplified by 24/7 news broadcasts, we are anything but calm. Ease of communication and instant handheld access to essentially all of the world’s information hasn’t relaxed us. Being wireless has made us wired. We buzz and race from one urgency to the next, filling moments between with additional noise and activity, always sensing that whatever we are doing isn’t exactly right and certainly isn’t enough.
Misfortune, turmoil, and catastrophe are not hard to find. Calamity is the new Baskin Robbins – 31 flavors (and then some) from which to choose. No matter where we look we will find a wrong, an injustice, or a tragedy.
Masters of calm seem to possess greater strength and resourcefulness. They are happier. They are more attuned to life as it is happening and more capable of helping those in need. But how do you do it? How does one keep calm when the world seems determined to agitate and provoke? I’m no expert, but I am actively engaged in learning the art and mastering the practice of calm. Some call it mindfulness. Others simply call it wisdom or maturity. But whatever it is called, it is desperately in need.
1. Understand calm is a condition that happens inside you. Calmness doesn’t result as a reaction to what is happening around you. It is a choice and a default mode of operation you can learn to adopt. This realization is huge. Once embraced, it will empower you to reclaim control of your state of mind.
2. Slow down. Even though everything around you is going faster, you must learn to slow down. Slow down your thinking. Move deliberately, not frantically. Observe more. Breathe more deeply and more slowly. Mastering your internal tempo will actually enable you to move through life more efficiently. The speed of meaningful accomplishment will increase as a result of the personal discipline of slowing down.
3. Practice time travel. Contemplate your present moments from a future perspective. Of course, what is happening now seems ridiculous, crazy, difficult, or downright impossible. In your mind, imagine these circumstances from a future moment, a week, a year, or longer into the future. Like all of its predecessors, this present moment will eventually become part of your well-established history. At that point, it will make perfect sense, and probably not seem like that big of a deal. What story will you write? Write it. Eventually you will look back and laugh. Why not just laugh right now?
4. Pause. Instead of jumping to words or action, learn to pause. Think. Ask questions (of yourself and of others). The longer you pause, the better your response is likely to be.
Thankfully, we are not at war. But this doesn’t mean that life is not difficult, or that the outcome is less precarious or important. The battles we are waging are real, epic struggles for our beliefs, our focus, our energy, and our actions. At times you may want to exclaim, “I need the world to stop spinning for a minute, so that I can just catch up!” But the world won’t stop spinning or provide you a perfect resolution. Ever! Instead, we must stop the spinning of our thoughts in convoluted circles. Slow them down. Breathe. Meditate. Pray. Keep calm. And carry on.