Ideas and resources to help you keep up morale in difficult times
By Sarah Lewis, C.Psychol., Appreciating Change
As the covid-19 threat and the lockdown conditions continue many businesses are under pressure and business owners will be feeling much more anxious than they would do in normal times. Without yet knowing when the restrictions on businesses will be loosened it is easy for this to become a downward cycle of worry, lethargy and depression. The threat is real, and we can’t make it go away. What we can do is boost our resilience, finding ways to keep our spirits up.
To do this for yourself and to help your team at work here are some ideas to try and to share:
The new science of positive psychology has proved the benefits of the old adage of counting your blessings. There is an exercise known as the ‘three good things’. At the end of each day, identify three good things that have happened during the day. It’s good practice to write them down. Doing this regularly helps train your brain to look for the positives amongst the gloom, to find the silver linings, if you like.
For instance, perhaps you saw a report in the paper on the positive effect of the lockdown for wildlife. You can find lots of similar proven exercises in Vanessa Keys excellent book: 10 keys to happier living. Based on science, written for everyone, it is full of ideas for boosting your mood.
We are being offered 24-hour, worldwide updates. Following this minute-by-minute is not likely to do you any good. You can’t influence things other than by taking the sensible precautions we’ve all been told about. So, take positive control and limit your daily diet. You might choose to read rather than watch the news. One benefit of this is that there is less ‘emotional contagion’ from the written word than from a person’s voice, so less transmission of anxiety.
What we want to do is replace anxiety with optimism. Two great resources with ideas about how to do this are ‘Happy Brain Science’s Happiness at Work’ game and ‘Positran’s Positive Action Cards’.Happiness at work contains over 100 science-based ideas for how to change mood or deal with some common work challenges such as ‘I work remotely, rarely seeing colleagues face to face’. While the positive action cards, also science-based, give easy to follow instructions for over sixty ways to increase your well-being.
There is lots of evidence that laughing is good for us and for our immune system. Whatever rocks your funny bone. Remember, coronavirus may be no laughing matter, but we don’t have to be solemn to be serious. Laughing is a good coping mechanism. My favourite YouTube video, which seems particularly apt at this time, is Tripp and Tyler: A Conference Call in Real Life. It makes me laugh every time.
A quick note on a form of humour that tends to arise during the most challenging of times, specifically ‘gallows’ humour. I worked as a social worker in child protection for many years. Gallows humour was crucial for getting us through the sadder and tougher times. It works to restore functionality quickly when a collapse into despair isn’t helpful, and it can be very effective. Laughter reduces threats to size. Be aware though, it doesn’t travel; it is very specific to the moment. Use with caution and only with those with a similar mordant sense of humour.
Just ‘not thinking about it’ is hard, we need to find things that take us out of ourselves. When we are completely absorbed in things we are in a state of ‘flow’ and when we are in this state, we are not focused on our feelings. It’s like getting a holiday from your worried self.
For me writing, gardening, and complicated cooking (or these days ‘creating from what we have got to hand’) all offer me productive escape time. This is usually more effective than mindless TV watching (where half your brain is still ticking along thinking about it all). Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself over the initial hump into the activity, but once you’ve started to apply yourself, time falls away.
The book, ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ explains flow and other positive psychology concepts that might be useful right now. Or you can go straight to the master’s voice and get Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, ‘Flow’.
Social contact is another thing that is very important to our wellbeing. I am fortunate that I am marooned with dear beloved. Even so, I am resolved to talk on the phone to at least one person who isn’t him every day. You might want to discuss the situation, that’s fine. However, I would suggest you also ask them about their plans for the day, what they are hoping to achieve during this period of lockdown. In other words, try to help them see a silver lining. Ideally you will both come away from the phone call feeling slightly better not even worse!
If you are feeling really stuck, and your thinking is just going round-and-round in circles then you may need to take a more structured approach to pull yourself out of the mire. Usually we can rely on informal chats with colleagues to stimulate our thinking or for ideas that haven’t occurred to us. Sometimes we just need to be asked a question that gives us a different take on the subject or causes us to make a new connection. You may already have a coach who can help you, but if not, people often self-coach. Self-coaching helps move you into a more productive self-talk, that allows you find unexpected ways forward.
‘At My Best’ offer an excellent selection of forty-eight coaching questions in their ‘Good Question Card’ pack. Alternatively, there is a set of six Coaching Cubes with thirty-six questions, based on the PRISM coaching model, that you roll like dice, introducing an element of randomness and chance into the questions you’re asked.
Some of us are born worriers; suggestions of optimism only increase anxiety. If you are someone who finds worrying reassuring, try to limit it so it doesn’t become overwhelming. A time-honoured technique is ‘allowing’ yourself a specific allotted time to worry as much as you like. So, if you need to, spend a specified 15 or 30 minutes allowing yourself to name all your worries. Write them in a ‘dear diary’ if you like. Or arrange a strictly focused and time limited phone call with another ‘worrywart’. And when your time is up, it’s up. Stop, close that box and move on with your day knowing you have another half-hour of worry time allocated tomorrow. Allocating this time and allowing yourself a good worry, should reduce the likelihood of doing your worrying in the small wee hours, which is the worst possible time to do it.
Appreciative Living, which is based on Appreciative Inquiry, is all about seeing and seeking out the best of life. We can’t deny the reality of a worldwide threat to our whole way of life, but we can still appreciate the things that make life worth living, today. Developing an appreciative eye, especially in times such as these, takes practice and isn’t always easy, but the benefit to our health, well-being, state of mind and ability to remain pro-active in the face of threat, in fact to our resilience, is beyond question. Keeping doing all the things you need to do to stay safe, and start living appreciatively at the same time.
Jackie Kelm is the guru of Appreciative Living, you can find her videos on YouTube and her latest book, Appreciative Living, on Amazon. Or you might find the book Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management by Lewis, Passmore and Cantore of interest for a more work orientated explanation.
You are no longer at the mercy of the snack bars, train trolleys, airline catering etc. as you skedaddle from one place to another. Make the most of it to eat healthily. Lots of fruit and vegetables are good for immune system. Exercise is very important to both mental and physical health. You know the rules about keeping your distance. Put your face mask on and get out there and yomp for an hour somewhere green.
I’ve started doing a morning workout with my almost daughter, through the wonders of the internet. She has Jo Wicks ‘Seven days of sweat’ (and I can tell you, she didn’t tell me it was called that before we started!) on the computer her end, then we link up over face time and she instructs me. It’s exhausting, I puff and sweat. It’s social time and I get a great feel-good buzz afterwards. The point is, I would never do it without her company.
In challenging times it is vital to manage and boost morale. You need to do this for yourself and for your staff so that you can all maintain a positive focus. This will help each one of you at a personal level and also help your business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level.
Sarah is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society, a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a member of the International Positive Psychology Association.
Sarah is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology expert, a regular conference presenter and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley), Positive Psychology and Change (Wiley), ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage) and Positive Psychology in Business (Pavilion).
She also collects great positive psychology resources to support consultants, trainers and coaches in their work which are sold through the Positive Psychology online shop. https://www.thepositivepsychologyshop.com/