In the Spring of 1939 during the buildup of war with Germany, the British government issued a series of propaganda posters intended to boost morale amongst it’s people throughout the impending war. The design was to be simple in design and message; the only graphic on the poster was an image of the crown of King George VI and the posters had only two colors. There were a series of three posters that were issued, two of which were circulated and displayed throughout the country. There were two and a half million copies made of the third poster but it was reserved to be used in the case of enemy invasion so it was never seen by the public: that poster said “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
In the year 2000, a couple who own a used book shop in the north east part of England called “Barter Books” had just brought in a box of old dusty books that they had purchased at auction. When they opened the box they discovered a copy of the poster among the books. They loved it so much that they decided to frame it and display it in the store. Surprisingly, the poster garnered so much attention from the patrons of the shop the owners decided to have copies made and sell them. Sixteen years later the image is iconic and easily recognizable and can be seen on anything from posters to bumper stickers, keychains, t-shirts, and even my mug of tea!
As I learned this history of the message and it’s origins, in a time of such uncertainty and peril, I couldn’t help but think of how applicable this simple concept is in times of unrest in our own lives.
There are many instances in our lives when we may have apprehension, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty About whatever circumstance we may be experiencing, and those emotions can literally paralyze us emotionally and spiritually. Life can throw us curve balls that leave us standing like a dear in the headlights, so to speak. A loss of a job, or sickness, or death of a loved one can literally render us useless if we succumb to the heaviness that these emotions present us.
I believe the simple message of “Keep Calm and Carry On” can be elaborated and translated to “Cultivate Peace and Move Forward”.
When we feel overwhelmed by the unexpected burdens that come into our lives we can choose to let fear and anxiety lead us to depression, which leads us to stagnation (what I call STUCK), or we can choose to cultivate peace and move forward.
Here are two things that I do when I start to feel stuck: Firstly breathe. Find time in your day (preferably first thing in the morning) to spend at least five minutes in a quite space, close your eyes, and simply breathe long, slow, and deep breaths trying to focus only on your breathing and letting go of any other thoughts or concerns. If you do this for a week I promise you will notice a difference in your mood, perception, and thought process.
The second thing you can do is: every night before bed, take a note pad and write down five things that made you happy that day. These things don’t have to be extravagant or life changing. Five simple things that made you happy that day. Maybe it’s an unexpected phone call from an old friend, or your favorite song came on the radio, or maybe it’s that you were running a bit late to work and there was no line at McDonald’s when you went to get your coffee!
When we take time to breath, we bring our awareness inside ourselves and away from our external problems, and when we cultivate gratitude by acknowledging even the smallest moments of joy, we shift our thought processes. When we shift our thoughts and attention away from those things that bring us fear and anxiety to the things that bring us calmness and happiness we place ourselves in a space of having the ability to cultivate peace. Once this is accomplished we aren’t stuck any more. Once are unstuck we can easily move forward.
So today I encourage you to adopt these habits of breathing deeply every day and writing down five moments of happiness every night. I’ll bet you that after only a week of this practice you will find yourself much more able to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.