Thinking things through
27th July 2020
The worlds of food and hospitality have been hit hard by the covid crisis. Behind the statistics on business closures, staff furloughed and redundancies are the human stories of those who are fighting for a positive future. Jean Roberts, career psychologist and OCC Patron, reflects on what the last few months have taught us about ourselves and how building our resilience can help us to face the future with more confidence.
The Covid pandemic is now a chapter in all our histories – one that is still being written. But as we emerge cautiously from our enforced isolation, can we do so with a heightened sense of agency and an increased awareness of the opportunities for personal change that lie ahead?
I think we can, but of course just saying things doesn’t make them true. As we all know, the practicalities of change are often very much easier said than done. We have to feel motivated and energised to make positive change happen and motivation and energy are on the low side for many of us at the moment.
When unwelcome disruption to our lives is imposed, out of the blue, it can leave us feeling powerless and anxious, leading us to seek comfort in that which is familiar. We know that our mental well-being stems from feeling in control of our lives, so it’s no wonder this unexpected crisis has had such an impact. It has been a highly emotional time, even for the most optimistic and stoical amongst us.
But take heart. Nothing is ever wasted. The following four insights from psychology shine a light on how our recent experiences may actually enhance our abilities to cope with the future.
Our circumstances are often the raw materials for our creativity.
Maslow’s theories resonate at the moment. Our energies have been focused on dealing with perceived threats to our safety and security and thoughts of self-actualisation have been pushed to one side. But hopefully, as we begin to take small steps towards feeling more secure, a focus on fulfilment in life and work will return, driven by enhanced self-knowledge.
In recent months we have had plenty of time for conscious self-reflection. We may have noticed how our shifts in energy dictate what we are willing or capable of doing, discovered how we cope (or don’t) with solitude and considered our attitudes to friends, family and work. Many of us will have witnessed how our natural strengths and values have revealed themselves in the way we have coped with life.
This form of self-awareness – a connection to fundamental truths about ourselves – can be a powerful trigger for change. The key is to use our energies in areas where we still have an element of self-control. We know that resilient people are not frightened of their emotions, but instead try to understand and learn from them – something from which we can draw inspiration.
Believing our abilities are fixed is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The ongoing process of reflection and self-analysis that many of us have been going through can help us develop a growth mindset: an openness to opportunity, a belief that talents are not fixed but rather can be developed through effort and application, and a willingness to take risks and seek out new challenges.
This focus on continuous self-improvement, as opposed to a quest for perfection, is a more forgiving approach to life. It helps us to accept setbacks and builds our resilience by accommodating buffers such as contingency plans, flexibility, optimism and humour, as natural responses to the ‘bumps in the road’. It also enables us to be more accepting of change as an unavoidable part of life and to be more open to exploring where the potential for the future might lie.
Increasing our connectivity is essential for creativity, and also increases our sense of wellbeing.
In the next few months, as we gradually work out how to transition back to ‘normal’ life, our fear of continuing uncertainty in the world might hold us back, especially if we have not gone beyond reflection, towards action. But creativity has a chance to flourish when we reach out to others. It helps us recognise the importance of absorbing rich information from diverse sources.
With the help and support of others, this period of transition can become a time of discovery and innovation and even a period of profound personal growth.
We can expect to see extraordinary interdisciplinary breakthroughs as our motivation for change re-awakens. The time will come when we will be open to experiences once more, will seek out opportunities for learning and growth and will aim to form meaningful connections with others. Consider Dale Carnegie’s now historic observation that ‘Inaction breeds doubt and fear, action breeds confidence and courage.’ I think he had a point!
Connecting with others is an essential component of our emotional stability. The deepest source of meaning in life is embedded in our web of human relationships. Perhaps we understand that now more than ever. We are social creatures and we have missed our social lives. This is also a powerful source of resilience – making connections and building great relationships.
Becoming more resilient involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that anyone can learn and develop.
Unexpected change affects people in different ways, releasing for each of us a unique mixture of emotions and uncertainty. Yet most people generally adapt over time to life changing or stressful situations, thanks in part to resilience. Like building a muscle, increasing our resilience takes time and intentionality. But in order to strengthen our capacity to withstand difficult times it is well worth learning and embedding particular techniques.
So as a starting point and to help us look forward to happier and more stable times, I include a list of key characteristics of resilient people drawn from current literature. The list can be used as the basis of conscious reflection. As you read it, take confidence from those areas you are already addressing. They will serve you well for the way ahead.
Ten general characteristics of resilient people
- They develop their emotional intelligence and are more aware of what their emotions are telling them. They identify and learn more about the emotions of others.
- They view change as a challenge or opportunity. They demonstrate a growth mindset, seeing feedback as a gift and setbacks as a chance to learn.
- They know themselves well. They are familiar with their personal values and what really matters to them. They know that self-awareness is important in making the right choices in life. They continuously monitor their decisions so that adjustments can be made when necessary.
- They focus their energies on events they can control. They tend to have an accurate sense of what is achievable and realistic. They pace themselves, balancing thinking with action.
- They recognise the value of strong and meaningful relationships. They connect with people, build strong support networks and give time to supporting others.
- They cultivate a positive outlook, are grateful for good things and are generous and kind when they can be. They identify and counter unhelpful thinking.
- They have identified their strengths, and have become more aware of what they are naturally good at. They look for opportunities to use their strengths in new ways and in new contexts.
- They are curious about views and opinions other than their own. They ask good questions and listen to the replies.
- They engage in life and train themselves to learn from it. They collect rich information.
- They take responsibility for their personal wellbeing. They prioritise their health and fitness. They explore and practice specific coping mechanisms to help them deal with stressful times.
If you would like to contact Jean Roberts, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org