I was on the phone with a friend from Europe for an hour the other day and after 50 minutes we realised that our entire conversation circled around the ongoing challenges we were experiencing amid the pandemic, the restrictions and government decisions. We both felt so low, and we promised each other to talk about positive stuff next time.
Does this happen to you? Does the ongoing struggle and uncertainty occupy you?
Let’s be honest, times are still tough for many people no matter where in world you live. In the US new cases and fatalities are skyrocketing, Europe is open for business but fearing the 4th wave after summer and in Australia half of the population is in strict and long lockdowns.
I am having conversations with leaders, clients and stakeholders every day and it is clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty about what our future looks like. And that uncertainty puts us in a bit of a downward spiral.
So, this week I want to talk about how we can stay optimistic as the struggle drags on and share some strategies that can shift our coping mechanism.
‘Look for something positive in each day; even if some days you have to look a little harder.’ – Oprah
One of the challenges I personally experience is the fact that there is a big focus on ‘figures’ like the increasing numbers of infections and low vaccination rates. Our minds and conversations are geared towards what we are missing out on right now, and how tough home-schooling and being in lockdown is. For my friend, it’s the challenges that come from working from home, being isolated and struggling with high levels of workload and stress. Also, how the culture is changing by dividing people’s rights on being vaccinated or not.
Everyone experiences the current situation differently and it’s important to understand and accept that. There is no better or worse, everyone has the right to feel ‘a bit shit right now’.
The 2nd Pandemic
Research by Gartner that assessed the perceived change in workforce health over a number of categories including work-life balance, psychological safety and burnout, shows that 85% of surveyed people experience higher levels of burnout during the pandemic while 40% reported a worsening of their work-life balance.
We call this the 2nd pandemic where mental health is in decline and burnout on the rise. But there are some things we can do to get out of the dumpster and become more optimistic.
‘Optimism is the one quality more associated with success and happiness than any other.’ – Brian Tracey
What is Optimism?
Optimism is a mental attitude characterised by hope and confidence in success and a positive future. Optimists are those who expect good things to happen, where pessimists instead predict unfavourable outcomes. Optimism is different from being positive. Simon Sinek explains, ‘Positivity is telling ourselves and others that everything is good, even if it isn’t. Optimism accepts the truth of reality and looks forward to a brighter future.’
This reminds me of the many conversations I have with leaders (and myself) right now. So many of us say, ‘I’m doing great, I’m resilient’ whereas the reality might look quite different. Being raised and educated as strong, confident and resilient leaders, it can be tough to be vulnerable.
I went for a walk with a friend the other day. She had picked up on my energy on the phone and said, ‘Meet you in 10, let’s have a chat.’ I shared with her that I had been struggling lately with not sleeping well and worrying about this new lockdown. She just let me talk and it was soothing to share how I was feeling and how these emotions were impacting me. We didn’t dwell on the doom and gloom of the situation, just what was going on for me.
I felt so much better and lighter after our conversation. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to come up with some strategies going forward. Coincidentally I listened to a podcast later that day and it manifested that the steps I took that morning created the optimism I needed. Often we look for action and solution first, but it’s a process that starts with being vulnerable.
Developing Mindsets and Systems
Your mindset determines how you interpret things that happen in your life. Your mindset is how you approach each situation. That approach has a direct impact on the outcome of the situation. We often forget that we have a choice and control over our mindset.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool to create space to develop your mindset. It is about allowing you to be vulnerable, to be ok with not being ok; but to not let it linger either, and using systems and strategies to move forward.
What happens when we say out loud we’re not ok and let ourselves be vulnerable is that we open ourselves up to curiosity. For me, that was something like, ‘I don’t have all the answers right now, but there are definitely some options that help me.’ I call this process name it to tame it. When we express how we feel and why we feel that way, it helps us deal with the emotion and manage it rather than ignoring it and letting it linger. It’s like becoming emotionally literate. Having this space to stop and pause gives us the capacity to reframe our thinking and ask, ‘How can I learn or grow from this experience, regardless of the outcome?’. It gives us room to create optimism.
People always say to me: ‘You are such an optimistic person.’ And it’s true, I always try to see the positive and expect good things to happen. That doesn’t mean I don’t have bad moments. I just told you about one and that was only two weeks ago. I just manage to move past those quite quickly. Research shows that optimists are more likely to maintain better physical and mental health, which can result in increased longevity. It also impacts your performance. Psychologist Martin Seligman found that more optimistic teams created more positive synergy and performed better than the pessimistic ones. Optimism makes you more persistent and reduces stress because you believe in yourself and your abilities, and you expect good things to happen. I rest my case!
Here are some strategies on how to stay optimistic:
01 Flip the narrative
Instead of talking about how grim the future looks, flip the narrative and celebrate how far you have come. For everyone in Australia as I write this there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s only two months or so away. We have been through over 18 months of lockdowns and closed borders, and we have done the hard yards. Good things will happen, and they will happen soon. Hang on in there!
02 Name it to tame it
Give yourself permission and feel vulnerable. Use this process:
1. Name the emotion and make meaning of it. If you find it difficult to verbalise the emotion, use emoticons, images or this wheel of emotions
If you coach others, validate their emotion and show empathy.
2. Pause and create space to think and reflect. Sometimes this is enough and all you need. Don’t jump into solution mode right away. You can even pick from here a couple of days later
3. Problem-solve: come back to it and look at opportunities
In group and team settings I often use this check-in: ask everyone to state how they are feeling from a 1 (very low) to 10 (very good), pick the number AND explain why that number. The ‘explaining why’ part is important because this is where people open up and talk about their situation and emotion. Start with sharing your own number. This exercise creates high levels of empathy and helps team members to shift their mindset.
03 Practice gratitude
I received a newsletter from a woman in a business network called Business Chicks today where the CEO tells a story of her mum saying over-preparing breakfast, ‘Gosh, these strawberries are red.’ I love that story! It shows someone being grateful for a little thing that can mean so much. I have made it my mantra to list things I am grateful for every single day. Others write gratitude journals or go through affirmations with their children. It doesn’t matter how you practice gratitude, it all starts with looking up and noticing the things we are indeed grateful for. Where is the red in your strawberries?
04 Negative news and negative people
Stay away from news that makes you anxious. By all means, stay informed but curate what you consume. That includes your social media channels. I went on a social media detox earlier this year and it was amazing how it lifted my spirit. Remove yourself from people who are constantly negative and suck all the energy from you.
05 Focus on things you can change
Differentiate between the things you can and can’t control. Things you can’t control, don’t fixate on those, just let them go. Focus on the things that are in your control and find new ways of optimism in them.
Create new routines for your different systems (personal, financial, work, business, family, health…) to build resilience. Consistency is key and regularly checking on how smoothly your Wheel of Wellbeing is running.
Set boundaries for a better work/life balance and get some rest.
You deserve it.
‘Burnout exists because we’ve made rest a reward rather than a right.’ – Juliet Cobodo
Do you want to chat about the strategies you use to stay optimistic? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to chat about how we can work together.