Thriving in Tough Times

It is during our darkest moments,

That we must focus to see the light!

                                                                                  – Aristotle

As I write this morning, I can’t help but be concerned with how the rest of the world perceives what is happening in our country.  From a political perspective, I’m old enough to remember a time when the manner in which our nation conducted itself during its political campaigns, elections and subsequent transition of leadership, was a testament to the democratic process.  It set the gold standard by which elections in other countries were measured.  Likewise, there was a time when crisis brought about unification; partisan politics were put aside and our leaders worked together collaboratively to find solutions.  Based on what we have witnessed over the past week, it would seem that those days are but a memory.  At the same time each of us is also presented with a personal opportunity and challenge; to emerge stronger, as better versions of ourselves, and in that capacity work to rediscover our personal and collective potential.

Make no mistake about it, we are not living the most comfortable of existences.  The negativity and stress that has become a part of our lives is taking its toll.  A recent survey conducted through The Mighty, revealed frustration, worry and anger to be the top three emotions emerging from respondents’ experiences with the Pandemic.  According to Christine Porvath, a co-author of the study and management professor at Georgetown University, negativity of this nature can have toxic effects.  Her related research has also demonstrated that repeated exposure to negativity

  • interferes with our working memory.
  • decreases our performance.
  • reduces our ability to process and recall information.
  • shuts down our communication, and compromises our ability to be helpful to others. 

The good news is her research also identifies a productive way to counter negativity; thriving –  a psychological state in which people experience a sense of both vitality and learning. 

Even in the toughest of times, rather than feeling stagnated or depleted, thriving individuals are growing, developing, and energized. In their recent HBR post entitled, How to Thrive When Everything Feels Terrible, Porvath and her husband, Michael, identify six tactics which enable this unusual response to a difficult situation.

  1. Avoid Negativity – Be aware of what you are ingesting: what information you chose to read, the media you follow, the music you listen to, the people you spend time with.  Negativity is absorbed. Make simple choices away from negativity and toward positivity.
  2. Watch Your Words – Be mindful of what you’re thinking and saying. While others influence us and impact our mood, we have more control over our thoughts and feelings than anyone else. What we say out loud also carries significant weight.  According to Trevor Moawad, a mental conditioning coach who works primarily with elite athletes, it’s ten times more damaging to our sense of thriving if we verbalize a thought than if we just think it.
  3. Adopt a Neutral Mindset –  Negative thoughts and worries take us off track.  Neutral thinking is nonjudgmental and nonreactive.  It permits us to assess problems and respond to crises by reacting to each moment as it unfolds.  We are not distracted by past failures or fears of that which is in the future.  We focus on what we can control now and what we should do next.
  4. Practice Gratitude Consistently – Gratitude reduces our stress, makes us happier, and helps us reach our goals.  Routinely feeling grateful increases the social support we receive, which further reduces stress and its negative effects.
  5. Manage your energy – In the face of negativity, thriving and resilience are fostered through exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep.  When we exercise our body releases endorphins which triggers a positive feeling in the body.  When we eat well, we have the energy to deal with frustrations and negativity.  Getting the proper amount of sleep is critical, a lack of it impairs self-regulation and self-control, which can produce more negativity.
  6. Seek-out Positive Relationships – Surround yourself and spend more time with energizers – the people in your life who make you smile and laugh, and lift your spirits.

The challenges currently facing us are overwhelming.   The Pandemic continues to grow, an election has divided our nation and our economy must be rebuilt.   But a more immediate challenge is to be found in our personal response to the negativity that seems to surround us each day.  Free will gives each of us the ability to choose between courses of action, surviving or thriving.  What will be your choice?

Embrace the Challenge