Your friends at VitalSmarts want to offer both our love and some suggestions for the challenging days ahead. We hope and pray that any encounter with the COVID-19 virus is brief and mild. And we offer our heartfelt sympathy to any for whom it is worse.
Research shows that while times like these bring unavoidable pain and loss, a great deal of our pain is avoidable. The viruses and the earthquakes will happen, but we have great control over how they affect us. I’d like to share some counsel that can substantially improve the way you experience a crisis.
- Create a gratitude ritual.
Our tendency when crises strike, is to focus solely on the threat. In a reﬂexive attempt to secure our safety, we become hypervigilant about loss—whether we might lose food, shelter, health, or loved ones. We must make a conscious effort to turn attention to what we still have, and I daresay, what we may gain through the hardship. I can assure you that if you’ll create and practice a daily gratitude ritual, you’ll be better for it. Yesterday, as I practiced mine, I was struck with the fact that this is the ﬁrst time in the history of humanity that the entire world turned unitedly against a common foe. We are being presented with an opportunity for future cooperation as we come to recognize that borders are ﬁctions and we are global kin.
- Learn to boss yourself.
Many of us are now discovering how little of our lives we’ve captained. We have love-hate relationships with authority ﬁgures. On the one hand, we all yearn for more autonomy. But the ugly truth is we get more done when we think we “have to.” Imposed deadlines focus our attention. The threat of a bad appraisal makes us redouble our efforts. And as of a few days ago, many of those forcing functions have been relaxed. So, you’ve got two choices: 1) Become your own boss; or 2) Surrender to atrophy.
If you’ve lost the circumstances you have depended on to impose structure on you, this is your opportunity to learn to create it yourself. In the coming days, give yourself orders, create checklists, and create opportunities for self-generated rewards by getting meaningful things done. Don’t slide into psychological atrophy by allowing the lack of imposed structure to lead to a lack of effortful activity.
- Create a self-care list.
If you now have more discretionary time than you did a week ago, be sure to use some of it to take care of yourself. As you practice bossing yourself around, be the kind of boss that worries about the overall well-being of her people. Make a list of small but high payoff rituals you can practice daily to keep you mentally, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually well. Assign yourself small and rewarding tasks that will rejuvenate you in every way you care about.
- Create intentional connections.
At times like this, we are vulnerable to loneliness, disconnection and discontent if we don’t act to avoid it. As you work virtually, you won’t have as many imposed connections as you previously beneﬁted from. So, you’ll have to create them yourself. Start today. Start every day running through a mental inventory of names: friends, loved ones, coworkers. Write down your “Daily Five”: ﬁve names of people you’ll simply check in with. Pass along praise. Check in. Ask for help. Offer help. The calls don’t have to be long. But you need them. And so, do they.
- Stop ruminating.
Here’s a perfect recipe for anxiety: take a novel threat, add imperfect information, then stir, stir, stir, and stir some more. Stirring adds no new information, it simply recycles the misery. It is completely normal to feel anxious when novel threats meet imperfect information. But when you are already doing everything you know how to do, it’s time to stop stirring. If you’re hearing nothing new in the news, stop reading it. And with all the emotional energy you save, start with #1-4 above and bring some peace, connection, and dopamine into your life!
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. I hope the COVID-19 crisis helps you develop life patterns that minimize the inevitable and maximize your well-being long past the current moment. Know that through, and after it all, your friends at VitalSmarts are here for you.