As ‘stay at home’ ends, we are all a bit frayed around the edges. And re-entry is going to be bumpy, because we are not going back to normal life – not yet. You’re hearing all about the ‘new normal.’ I don’t like this phrase, because some things will be different now, while we’re dealing with the virus, that can transition once we get to the other side. I am using the phrase ‘COVID normal’ instead, and one of the key challenges for each of us will be managing our minds in this unusual time. Whether you’re fearful that things are starting too soon, or impatient for things to get moving, this is an emotional time. Here are four ways to balance your approach.
Change your mindset about stress. The current situation is undeniably stressful. We’ve been taught that stress is bad for us. It has impact on our bodies like higher blood pressure and an increased heart rate. The experts tell us long-term, high-stress situations decrease our immune systems and increase our risk for serious illness. But there is an approach that changes that outcome.
I want to encourage you to rethink the impact of stress. In a large-scale study of 30,000 Americans, one group who had high stress levels was indeed more likely to die. But this was ONLY true for those who believed stress was bad for them. In the same study, the group that also experienced high stress but didn’t view it as harmful were the least likely to die of any group, including those with little stress in their lives. Our perception of the role stress plays matters. Shift your thinking and recognize that stress gives us energy to focus on challenges, and stress is how we get stronger.
MORE: Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk, ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend,’ is a very valuable way to spend less than 15 minutes. And read more about how to make stress work for you here.
Focus on your Circle of Influence. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that we each have a Circle of Concern encompassing all we care about from personal concerns like family, health and career to global concerns like the national debt, weather or COVID 19. Within the Circle of Concern is our Circle of Influence, where our actions can have impact.
Too much time spent in the Circle of Concern depletes our energy and leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless. It is easy to get caught up in the news today, worrying about the impact and potential outcomes. So much of this is out of our control, and as my mother, the psychologist, told me: ‘When you spend time trying to control things beyond your control, it allows them to control you.’
In our Circle of Influence we focus on actions impacting ourselves and our friends, family and co-workers. Our energy produces tangible results for our households, community and companies. When you spend time on what you can directly impact, you make your Circle of Influence bigger and expand your influence. But when you spend your time in the Circle of Concern focused on things you can’t control, you shrink your Circle of Influence and your potential positive impact.
Embrace the Stockdale Paradox. In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes his interviews with Admiral James Stockdale. While a commander and pilot in Vietnam, Stockdale’s plane was shot down and he spent over seven years as a prisoner of war, subjected to torture and abuse. Talking about the experience, Stockdale told Collins, “I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail, but I would also turn it into the defining event of my life that would make me a better and stronger person.”
On the other hand, Stockdale said the ones who didn’t make it out were the optimists. The men who believed they would be out any day and when the situation continued, died of a broken heart. Collins challenged Stockdale on this, because isn’t ‘unwavering faith’ the definition of optimism?
Stockdale went on to say, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Right now, we can acknowledge the very real hardships of this global pandemic, and at the same time, hold fast to the belief that we will prevail and in some ways be stronger on the other side.
Prioritize Taking Care of Yourself. As a leader, this is always where you must start. And as a leader right now, it will be tempting to trade personal care for working harder to help your team and your company get through this. Don’t do it. You need to manage your personal energy so you can bring your best to your team. So take the time every day to eat healthy food, exercise and get outside for a few minutes, connect to your family and friends, and practice faith, mindfulness and gratitude. And perhaps most importantly, get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation causes the amygdala to overreact to negative stimuli because it becomes disconnected from brain areas that normally moderate its response. You need your rest to maintain a positive frame of mind, and your job as a leader, always, is paint a positive vision of the future. Taking time for renewal helps you do this.
A quote making its way through the TeamStrength meetings is ‘A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ So my final thought is to encourage you to look for the positive opportunities along the way on this crazy journey we’re taking. Start with your health and well being. Shift your mindset about stress to help you view this as an opportunity for getting stronger – personally and in your organizations. Remind yourself to stay within your Circle of Influence when you can will to keep your sense of purpose and have positive impact. And while acknowledging the real challenges we’re facing, hold tight to your faith that we will get through this together.
French Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre lived in Paris during the awful years of the Nazi occupation, one of the worst times and places in history. His words work today:
“Look back, look forth, look close, there may be more prosperous times, more intelligent times, more spiritual times, more magical times, and more happy times, but this one, this small moment in the history of the universe, this is ours. And let’s do everything with it. Everything.”