Outside my office window snow is falling and covering the ground with a fresh, white blanket. It makes me happy and I temporarily forget that we are living in a pandemic. A world where old ways of social interaction are being replaced by a “new normal” involving masks, 6-foot distancing and social isolation. I’m curious how you are doing?
Social connection is essential to our well-being. A statement that has been backed up by studies like the Harvard study of adult development that spanned almost 80 years and books like the Blue Zone by Dan Buettner. These studies hope to reveal what contributes to a healthy, happy life. Beyond the importance of diet and exercise research has revealed that social connections are good for us. “People that are socially connected to their family, friends, and community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than those who are less well connected” (Waldinger, R., 2015).
If you question the validity of these studies, perhaps looking at the social experiment called 2020 will bring the importance of social connection and human flourishing into focus. The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 has changed the way we “connect” and for many has drained our resilience reserves leaving us struggling to find our happy place. As we head into the long days of winter and a Covid Christmas what can we learn from these centenarians and resilience experts?
In her powerful 2019 Ted Talk, Lucy Hone describes three mindsets of resilient people:
- They recognize that shit happens. Rather than being a victim of life’s circumstance and asking “why me”, they accept that much of what life throws at them is outside their control and ask “why not me?”.
- They focus on the things they can change and find a way to accept the things they cannot change.
- They are self-aware and regularly ask, “Is what I am doing helping or harming me?”.
For most of my life, I thought resilience was the ability to stoically persevere through challenges and adversity by employing stubborn tenacity. It was a solo journey, an unhealthy journey and a lonely one too. I am not sure exactly when my definition of resilience changed. It has been a gradual process of learning to trust myself, let go of control and listen to what my body and heart need. Developing resilience is not a static process. It involves being intentional and committed to practicing behaviours that keep us grounded and centred so we can deal with all the challenges life throws at us. I like to think of having a resilience battery. If I keep it charged, I will be sure I have the energy banked to manage the unforeseen crisis without letting uncertainty and anxiety bring me down.
We are living in extraordinary times. Learning how to recharge your battery will help weather the road ahead and serve you well on the other side of Covid-19. The following are some of my favourite resilience mastery techniques:
- Manage your energy – develop an awareness of people, activities and personal habits that drain your battery and learn how to say no to these energy drains. When you say yes to something (Taking on another project at work or coffee with a friend you find exhausting), remember you are saying no to something else (being home in time for dinner and bedtime stories with your kids).
- Be on purpose but be aware – Get clear on who you are, your goals, your purpose and what brings you joy. Purpose gives life meaning but beware of confusing busyness with purpose. Both busyness and a single-minded drive towards the “big goal” can keep us from experiencing and appreciating what is happening in our present moment. Find your balance and remember, it all fits.
- Recharge in nature – go for a walk, listen to the wind in the trees, feel the snow hit your face and breathe.
- Deal with your bad habits – replace unhealthy habits that drain your energy with a plan to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise daily.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously – as my guru Dr. Seuss so wisely says, “it’s fun to have fun but you have to know how”. Make it a habit to laugh, play and surround yourself with people and activities that bring you joy. Turn off the news, watch a comedy, play a game and make time in your day to laugh.
- Manage stress more effectively – stress is all about how we perceive our world. When you experience a stressful event, ask yourself “What is within my control in this situation? What can I do to influence this situation? What do I have to accept here?”. Manage your energy and your stress by taking action on what you can control or influence and accepting that which is outside your control.
- Integrate time for reflection into your life – people don’t learn from experience, they learn from reflection on experience or in the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Most of us have been conditioned to produce, be busy and do. By doing, we tell ourselves we will then have the things we desire. We believe that once we do enough and have enough, we can then afford to be. What might change if you started with being? Who do you want to be for your work, your family, your friends? What do you have to do to be this person? Once you begin with being, what you do and create flows from knowing who you are and how you want to show up in all areas of your life.
- Nurture your close relationships – Close relationships are the anchor that holds our tiny boat steady in a stormy sea. Surround yourself with people who love you without reservation or judgment and whose energy recharges your battery rather than draining it. Identify these people, reach out to them and make sure you reciprocate and recognize when they are navigating stormy seas and they need you to be their anchor.
(Adapted from Cashman (2017), Leadership Inside and Out: Becoming a leader for life).
As Dr. Robyn Dafoe (2020) reminds us in her free resource, Resilience in Uncertain Times, “There are many aspects of our current situation which are beyond our control. However, the intention we set for ourselves, the way we move through our day, and the practices we adopt to stay healthy and safe are fully within our control”.
Happy resilience building and here’s to brighter days in 2021.
Buettner, D., (2008). Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who have lived the longest. National Geographic Books. Washington DC: USA.
Cashman, K., (2017). Chapter Six: Resilience Mastery, Leading with Energy. In Leadership from the inside out: becoming a leader for life, (3rd ed., pp. 129-143). Willston, VT: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Hanley-Dafoe, R., (2020). Resilience in Uncertain Times. Open resource paper available at www.robynhd.ca
Waldinger, R. (2015). What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. Ted Talk. Video [12:39].