Where do you find encouragement at the moment? In this blog post, Psychotherapist and Staff Care Consultant BEN PORTER reflects on this question, and looks at how we can cultivate resilience and growth in times of hardship.
Optimism isn’t my natural bent. But in this blog I want to put on a different hat and explore what adopting optimism and a growth mindset could mean for us these days. We have known from the beginning that dealing with the Coronavirus would be a marathon not a sprint, yet many of us continue to hold our breath, cope however we know how, and wait for the end. I would like to spend a little time thinking about how we can relax into this difficult season and allow it to guide us into new depth and learning.
We strive for our lives to be going well (enough money, steady progress, manageable workload, predictable home-life). From my personal experience, I know that I try to control my way into predictable and comfortable places, often at the expense of learning something profound. Sometimes these attempts to avoid or ignore hardship limit us, and I wonder what lessons I may be missing from this season.
“We need to intentionally cultivate the skill of magnifying and gazing into the positive. What comes up if you take a moment right now and think about what you have been learning?”
So whether you’ve been working like mad, tediously bored, lonely, dealing with loss, or your home/professional life has unpleasantly tangled, I invite you to take three minutes to reflect with me on the ways that you have been adapting. Acknowledge the ways that you have been growing and changing. Due to our in-born negativity bias (the idea that negative events or thoughts hold a stronger psychological impact and stick with us longer than positive events/thoughts), we need to intentionally cultivate the skill of magnifying and gazing into the positive. What comes up if you take a moment right now and think about what you have been learning? Deep breath… shoulders down….
Part two of the reflection could be asking yourself what you could be learning but end up avoiding or controlling?
I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called My Octopus Teacher, and I was moved by the Octopus’ ability to regenerate an arm after a traumatic shark attack. I was amazed at this demonstration of transformation and wondered if the new arm grew back stronger or better in some way. I’ve also been thinking about resilience as a muscle that can strengthen when practiced. At the moment I’m training to run a fast mile. I got a membership at a track and quickly realised that my goal is probably out of reach. But there’s something to the perseverance and discipline that allows for steady gains in my performance, and something about my family cheering me on that makes me feel like I can do it. So instead of giving up, I’m seeing where this leads me.
One of my mentors talks about ‘adversity-activated development’. In other words, without adversity, we miss out on development. Yet there’s a second and crucial piece to this; we need to choose to grow. For me this happens through two seemingly dichotomous ideas: First, I need to accept the situation and have compassion with myself. Beating ourselves up for the way we experience or cope with adversity often negates our ability to grow. Secondly, I need some good old-fashioned determination in moving towards my larger goals and values. We need to know what our deepest motivations are and hold fast to them when the wind whips us around. Trying to do this alone is a losing battle; walk this road with trusted friends… even if it has to be on Zoom :-(.
Today, I want to be the voice that says, “Good job, you’re doing well”. Be encouraged. And if it’s hard to muster up your own encouragement, call someone and say, “I need some encouragement”. I know that many people are struggling, feeling lonely or unable to keep up. And I want to remind you to be kind to yourself and to remember that this is a season where you may experience some hard-earned wins. I would love to hear from you and be an encouraging voice in your journey through the Coronavirus. Feel free to share a thought on one of our social media pages, or book some time for a longer talk.