It's natural to feel discouraged, worried, fearful or overcome by change. When we experience changing circumstances in our personal lives while we try to cope with an outer world of change and transition seeing anything clearly can be difficult. Yet, one of the best ways to avoid the harmful stress often triggered by change is to look for the opportunities it brings. If you've just suffered a loss or trauma it may be too soon to see with objectivity yet a time may come when letting go of today's re-orientation will point to opportunities in tomorrow. Sourcing for opportunity is a skill anyone can develop. If you're ready for some techniques to strengthen your resilience and find opportunity please read on.
Technique #1) Get a pen and paper or open a word document and start a list of the changes or uncertainties in your life. Now, list as many positive and negative aspects of each item as you can. Don't limit yourself with only realistic ideas. By not limiting ourselves we often stretch our view of what's possible thereby triggering ideas that we hadn't considered.
Example: Here's an item on my coronovirus list: Not able to visit my mother who lives in assisted living. Positive aspect: could redirect that time to more hours at work or could read more. Take a vacation? Write a blog? Negative aspect: miss her and worry. How long will this last?
When you have your list completed consider the positive aspects you've identified and expand your thinking by wondering how those potentials could help you through change ie: Can you realize them and would they benefit your life? Zoom out to consider could this transition eventually strengthen you? Could this change prompt you to do something in a different way? Could it help you cultivate a greater tolerance for letting go? Could the door be open now to bring something or someone new into your life? Could you find time now to focus on something you've wanted to work on or learn? Listing both desirable and undesirable qualities can help us process the change and also see our transition more clearly possibly uncovering a new way forward.
Inna Kazan, health and performance Ph.D with Harvard Medical School tells us, “Even if you don’t see yourself as an optimist, you can behave like one. By choosing to interpret the situation as a challenge, and believing that we have the resources to meet it, we can become healthier and more resilient.”
2) Identify the basic choices that you still have. Even through the biggest changes and uncertainties there are choices that we still control, for instance, how we feel about change and what we say about change. What we say about a change impacts how other people see us as well as how we see ourselves. Other controls we probably have are what we eat and what we care for such as plants or animals. What else is in your control? Count the ways you still feel a sense of control. Those solid foundations will help you through chaos and afford you a more optimistic outlook.
Dr Frank Lipman writes, "On a psychological level, making the effort to embrace optimism enables you to become more resilient, engaged, connected, and just plain happier – all of which can help you navigate rough times more skillfully."
It's pretty hard to be optimistic or confident when you've had everything and lost it. Some of you may be in that situation. Executive Coach, Cam Taylor, was. In the TED talk below he reveals how he found opportunity. That dawning occurred to him by simply starting in the painful place he was. "In particularly," he relays, "I believe that when we can look at our adversity differently...as an opportunity not as an unwelcome interruption that transformation can happen in our lives."
3) Count your blessings. Some people find renewal by focusing on gratitude. Focus on gratitude is an exercise that gradually cultivates a grateful lifestyle. Yet, in times of crisis gratitude isn't always going to be easy to find. Blogger Elizabeth Su suggests four ways to cope with gratitude block. #1? Don't force it! In the quote below, Doctor Michael D. C. Fishman, notes that a lifestyle of gratitude is a 360 experience but one that's been impacted by Covid-19:
"We each express gratitude toward others in different ways. Before COVID, we could offer a handshake, a pat on the back, or a hug when socially appropriate, in addition to more common direct verbal or written forms of communication. Now in the COVID social-distancing era, there are different means of expressing appreciation: a shout out at a Zoom work meeting, a thumbs up or heart emoji, a retweet, a daily or weekly email to your team inclusive of wins and achievements, or a monthly award for star colleague who went above and beyond in their duties and/or patient care. Research demonstrates that these small gestures can result in tremendous impact in well-being (Emmons, 2007a, Emmons, 2007b, Emmons, 2010, Emmons & Shelton, 2002). While we can impact others by expressing gratitude directly, we can greatly enhance our own well-being by articulating gratitude in written or spoken form, even to ourselves, which allows us to focus in the moment on what we appreciate and brings us joy, happiness, or satisfaction."
Living in gratitude has been shown to boost the immune system and aid in managing stress. Could a gratitude practice help you through your transitions and open new paths? LMSW Julie Arnold at Holland Hospital blogs, "Remember, life will return to normal, even if it’s a new kind of normal. Practicing gratitude can help you cope and boost your peace of mind."
4) Exercise daily. Exercise reduces stress and refreshes the mind. Leadership coach, Jeff Boss ranks exercise as the 4th most important habit for entrepreneurs and some of you are certainly business owners wondering if you can weather the pandemic or, perhaps, seeing that you can't. Writing in the Birmingham Business Journal Gayle Lantz reminds business owners to focus on what you can do not what you can't. She concludes with a quote from Peter Drucker, ""The best way to predict the future is to create it." In a related article at Real Leaders 66 CEO's share their strategy for weathering the virus. Christ Hurst recommends: Keep a Routine. Dr Vince Molinaro advises: Tackle Tough issues and Make Hard Decisions. Melissa Smith contributes, "Get and Give Support." Aaron Velkey states, "Leadership isn't a role. It's a decision." Exercising daily is a decision as well. Exercise helps with stress management. The well being it creates can boost optimism which, in turn, can open a new path forward and reveal surprising opportunities.
“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom,” writes Diane Coutu, Communication Director for Banyan Family Business Advisors.
5) Set a series of small goals. Mark significant steps and Celebrate progress. Finding opportunity in a crisis is tough and the only way to get there is to start moving in that direction. Allow yourself to set small goals. In fact, make it your first goal to establish a month of weekly goals. Consider investing in this by using a month to month planner. Maybe your week's goal is taking a walk twice, calling a friend, or taking a nap. It's okay if taking a nap is what you can manage. Perhaps you're up for writing a new resume or joining a group. Celebrate your accomplishments no matter how small. Building your focus on these weekly goals can gradually build resilience and confidence and lead you to personal growth or opportunity. In the video below Dr Mike Soloman explains that his diagnosis of stage 4 cancer has challenged him to be resilient and cancer had edged him closer to living in moment. "It's a difficult challenge to change a lifetime's pattern of thinking but it is possible," he explains. "It involves taking things one step at a time however short that step needs to be."
Members of the American Psychological Foundation note: Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.
6) Help someone. There's nothing that helps us put our own life in context more than reaching out to help others. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant tells businessmen, "The best way to succeed is to help others succeed." That's true as well when we volunteer and lend support to people in need. Being able to help others returns so many benefits-purpose, confidence and a sense of well being. Volunteering can satisfy the need for socialization and feeling useful. Volunteering puts us in contact with people we wouldn't otherwise have met and often opens new opportunities. in fact helping someone else can increase our happiness and also lower your blood pressure, manage pain, and look good on a resume.
"It is always OK to ask for help. It will always be beneficial to you when you can help others, too," writes Joseph Barber, associate director of career services at University of Pennsylvania.
7) Practice opening to opportunity including reaching out when you need help. Professor of Psychology Jamil Zaki notes that Covid-19, like other national crises, "can leave people feeling unsafe. That trauma can make it hard to get back to normal. Yet we have the opportunity now not for a return to "normal" but to create a stronger new normal." In the video below Dr Ron Johnson explains that Covid stresses are causing anxiety and difficulty with impulse control. He offers 7 factors of resilience and urges people to seek help if they need it. Readers, many people are needing help finding resilience in these troubled times you're not alone. Please take advantage of the opportunity to use mental health services in your community most offer phone consultations so you don't risk Covid exposure. Sometimes the routine of regularly working on personal growth opens new pathways and unexpected opportunity.
Whether you choose to seek help and guidance and/or work one of the techniques in this blog I hope you succeed in finding opportunity. Covid-19 has taken away many things in our lives but it can never prevent us from pursuing resilience.
This movie, about the mythology of Joseph Campbell, has a lot to say about finding opportunity in adversity.
"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned so as to have the life that's waiting for us," Joseph Campbell