Suddenly people are on the move. Pubs, businesses and shops are reopening. There are more cars on the road. The world has shifted from press pause to go forward after weeks of lockdown. Many of us will be relieved that life is resuming, and happier days lie ahead. Yet the fear and stress of the past months can be hard to shake off. The restrictions on movement and ‘stay at home’ message provided a form of security that is no longer there. Now we must adapt to the new rules by which we will live our lives.
This article suggests seven practical steps that you can take which will help you to thrive now, and plan for a better future:
1. Foster positive emotions. Dr Barbara Fredrickson, a leader in the field of positive psychology has conducted ground-breaking research on “positivity”. She discovered that when people experience positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones, they reach an emotional tipping point: they naturally become more resilient to adversity and can go on to achieve what they once could only imagine. However, the success of this strategy depends on the deliberate cultivation of positive emotions. Here are some ideas to try:
- Take time to pause and look around you.
- Notice your environment and appreciate what is good about it.
- Thank someone for the value they add to your life.
- Do something nice for a friend or a stranger.
- Volunteer your time or share your skillset for the benefit of others.
- Lift your mood by listening to music or reading a good book.
- Move more: play with the kids, dance in the kitchen, throw a ball for the dog.
- Use the 20 seconds as you wash your hands to think of three good things that you have experienced that day.
What else can you add to this list? Which one will you do today?
2. Be self-aware. How often do you pause to ask yourself what is going on internally? Being self-aware allows you to notice thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them. The voice of the inner critic is particularly cruel when you feel low. It can help to acknowledge any feelings of apprehension without undue self-criticism. It is perfectly normal not to feel okay. If you experience mixed feelings of unease as well as relief be self-compassionate. Act as you would towards a friend who might be going through difficult emotions – with kindness and understanding. Quell the mean-spirited chatter of your inner critic by listening to the calm and supportive voice of your inner mentor. What helpful advice would they provide?
3. Develop your strengths. Part of self-awareness is knowing your strengths. Being able to leverage those strengths to overcome challenges is a crucial component of resilience. Focusing on your strengths does not mean ignoring your weaknesses. Taking a strengths-based approach to personal development means learning how to correct weaknesses to get better outcomes.
If you are unsure of your strengths, think back to a time when you overcame adversity or dealt successfully with a problem. What skills did you use? What resources did you tap? What networks did you use to gain support? Make a list of your answers for future reference. Take a moment to think about one of your strengths, for example, creativity, perseverance, kindness or curiosity. Consider how you could use this strength today in a new and different way.
4. Focus your energy on what you can control. Separate what you can control from the things that you cannot. That could be by writing down what is bothering you or by keeping a journal. Allow your thoughts to flow onto the page. What patterns do you observe? Taking each in turn now consider these following questions:
- What is the worst that can happen?
- What is most likely to happen?
- What is the best that can happen?
Write down your answers. Decide what you can do to mitigate the worst and move towards the best-case scenario. This approach will help you put issues in perspective; then you can plan a way forward by determining what you can do to improve things.
5. Review your priorities. Spend some time reflecting upon what matters to you. Think about how things were for you before lockdown. You have an opportunity to make changes for the better. For example, if you have been working from home, was there anything that helped make things more streamlined and effective? Were you able to improve your self-care through structured breaks and taking exercise? Plan to continue these practices when your workplace reopens. Prioritise your wellbeing and take responsibility for doing something about it.
It is also an excellent time to appreciate what is working well for you. What have you enjoyed doing during the lockdown? Allow yourself to pause and consider what makes you feel happy, proud, and fulfilled. What choices can you make that will enable you to do more of these things? Next, focus your thoughts by creating three lists headed Stop, Start, and Continue. Then add the activities to the appropriate list. Review the items and put them in order of priority.
6. Create a realistic action plan. Now that you have a list of priorities, it is time to set goals and tackle each in turn. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success”.
You might like to try using the following goal mapping technique to progress your priorities:
- Start with a positive statement of intent, i.e. “I want to . . .”
- Then think about your motivations, i.e. How will life get better as you pursue and achieve this goal.
- What is your starting point: where are you now? What key strengths, skills, experiences, knowledge, and accomplishments have helped you so far?
- Focus on the critical steps between the starting point and the destination. What would it look like to be one step closer? Make your actions activity-based and concrete.
- Next, consider what resources can you tap in to for support. List these – your networks, the people you trust, how might you dial up your strengths, abilities and leverage your skills?
- Where are your knowledge gaps? How will you fill these and progress key decisions? What might derail you, and what can you do about this?
- Now think about the critical decisions that may affect the shape of your goal map. Imagine feeling prepared to make the decision. Which of your strengths, skills, and resources will you use?
- Set out the milestones for what you will do and by when. What is the first step you will take?
- Envisage what it will be like to meet your goal. What will it look like to be doing it? What does that look like in your life?
- Step back and review your work. Make any refinements or changes.
- Now act by taking that first step towards achieving your goal
7. Stay connected with others. Have open conversations with those you care about. Not only is this good for your mental health, but it is also a meaningful way to build solid relationships that can weather the difficult times in life. Sharing your plans, hopes, and dreams creates an optimistic frame of mind. Not only will this boost resilience, but it also contributes to wellbeing in your relationships.
Remember to talk through any worries as this will help put things in perspective. Then you can discuss ways of dealing with whatever is bothering you. Talking builds trust and listening enables understanding. Make sure you do both. This approach promotes mental agility which is the ability to see things from multiple angles. Building mental agility is vital if you want to maximise opportunities as well as effectively define and skilfully deal with problems.
In conclusion, moving out of lockdown can create new waves of anxiety. The protective protocols and safety measures are necessary but may also feel odd and unnerving. Be kind to yourself as well as others as we move forward. It will take time to adjust to a new way of living. Use the seven steps outlined above to help you thrive now and plan for a brighter future.