I struggle to find the words to describe our last several months since the world has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic: unprecedented, unparalleled, unequalled, unmatched, unrivalled, uncharted, surreal, anomalous. Even this combination of words seem to miss the complete impact.
In spite of this significant upheaval of all that we have come to know to be normal and real, we can decide to take personal responsibility to “play our hand well” and to make the best of the situation. We are all able to do this. Times of great challenge or pain or loss or destruction provide opportunities for personal growth and development. Change is never comfortable or easy.
Those that have spent more than a few months around me know that I believe there are five common characteristics of all highly successful people: positive mental attitude, goal-directed behavior, self-motivation, a sense of urgency and never stopping learning. I believe these are all learned skills. I believe that this applies even in times that are unprecedented, unparalleled, unequalled, unmatched, unrivalled, uncharted, surreal or anomalous.
I believe that a positive mental attitude is the foundation for all success and with that positive attitude, we are able to truly develop the four other common characteristics of highly successful people.
Anxiety thrives on the unknown. Certainly there is much we do not know about this pandemic, when it will end or its full impact.
Unfortunately, the anxious or worried mind naturally fills the uncertainty with worst-case scenarios. Falling prey to this “natural” human characteristic to think negative thoughts does not help your cause. Decades ago, I read James Clavell’s novel, Shogun. It includes a quote that I added to my collection: “To think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself, it will spiral you down into the ever-increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline—training—is about. So, train your mind to dwell...(on the positive).”
Through years of both therapy and working on myself, I have developed practices that help me maintain a positive attitude, even in trying times. I have worked to implement these daily during this pandemic. I am committed to being the best leader I can be in order to provide the most value to everyone in the FASTSIGNS family. I know that I must maintain that positive attitude in order to do so.
Here is how I keep my mind focused and positive:
Focus On What You Can Control
Fear, worry and depression make you feel powerless. Shifting your focus to what you can control will help restore your feelings of control and confidence. There are many things you can control: what you eat, getting in a 30-minute walk, how you speak to yourself, reading for 30 minutes a day, watching a TED Talk daily, etc. You can start out small and go from there.
I have found that making a to-do list, and getting things done on the list and crossing them off, helps me make progress, feel in control and stay positive.
Limit Your Time With News and Social Media
I have heard that it takes 10 optimists to change one pessimist, but only one pessimist to bring down an optimist. The news and social media are generally filled with bad news and negative stories. The constant drum of negative news in our 24-hours-a-day news cycle cannot be good for one’s mental health. I have learned I need to be knowledgeable about and respectful of my emotional health. During this pandemic, limiting my news intake has been very helpful. I have substituted news as my “background music” (which it has been for years) with good music: smooth jazz when I need it, rock and roll to get me moving, etc.
Hang Out With Positive People (and Don’t Hang Out With Negative People)
This may sound harsh. I have a friend that I made the decision not to spend time with, about 20 years ago, because all she did was complain and be negative. Being around a negative person isn’t going to help me be positive. However, spending time with positive people is uplifting.
Focus On the Good
Especially in bad times, there are stories about people making a positive difference in other people’s lives. We see that after natural disasters and we are seeing that with this pandemic. Seeking out those stories helps lift our spirits and see the good in the world, even during bad times. And while watching these stories of people doing good, you may get inspired to do something similar.
Fill the Mind with Good Things
For me, reading positive quotes is very effective and helps fill and feed my spirit. For others, it may be reading the Bible or reading biographies of people who have overcome adversity.
Set a Schedule
Using time wisely and sticking to a schedule will promote a sense of accomplishment and hope. You will get more done and feel better about yourself.
Set Goals and Do Something Every Day to Achieve Them
People who set goals, write them down and refer to them/review them, often achieve more than those that do not. Even in a pandemic, we can make progress towards our goals. Maybe it is to learn a new skill that will help you achieve a larger goal: progress can be made. Making this progress will promote a sense of control and accomplishment and lift your spirits. By investing a little time each day making small progress towards big goals, you will be surprised at the progress you will make.
Invest Time in the Uplifting and the Fun
Making time or scheduling time for the uplifting and fun will make a positive difference in your emotional health. For me, reading positive quotes and biographies is uplifting. Writing in my gratitude journal is also very beneficial for me; reading what I have written over the years reminds me of all the good and positive in my life. Spending time in nature is restorative, relaxing and reduces stress. Putting bird feeders in the back garden and watching the birds lifts my spirits. So does working in my vegetable garden. For fun, I enjoy taking a hike or a run outside on dirt, dancing, playing catch. What is fun for you? Going on a picnic, playing tennis or pickle ball or badminton, going canoeing, going fishing? The key is to go do something. Watching funny movies, comedies or standup can also be good for the spirit. Anything that makes you laugh is good for you.
Take Care of and Improve Your Health
When we feel physically well, our spirits are higher. When we feel poorly physically, we need to work to get our minds to a positive place. One of my favorite quotes is from Jack LaLanne, the legendary American fitness and nutrition guru, and motivational speaker, who said “Your body is your most priceless possession; you’ve got to take care of it.” Whether it is eating more fruits and vegetables or reducing sugar or drinking more water, little changes add up and make a positive difference. Aerobic exercise helps lift spirits and fight depression.
During the pandemic, I have been putting in a full day at work, and then walking three to five miles each evening before it gets dark, and then doing more work. That time outside in the fresh air, just walking, has been very helpful in keeping my mind positive and reducing my stress.
Doing good does good for you. Evidence shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your emotional wellbeing and even benefit your physical health. Helping others is a great way to feel better about yourself. Seeing a smile or even tears of joy makes it all worth it. It’s as simple as that. Helping others does not need to be a big, grand gesture. It can be as local and simple as helping a neighbour who is unable to mow their lawn, move heavy objects or do their grocery shopping.
Understand That Your Response is Your Responsibility
I have found it helps my emotional health to understand that “my response is my responsibility.” When I decide to act, rather than react, I feel more in control.
Learn New Things
Whenever we learn new things, we feel a sense of accomplishment. The more we know, the more opportunities we have. Also, the better conversationalist we are! You can expand your knowledge by reading books, taking online classes, watching TED Talks and more.
All of these methods work for me and I expect they will work for you, as well. And by practicing them, you will be happier and feel better.