The reality is life puts us all through unplanned change. However, sometimes the unthinkable can occur. The COVID-19 pandemic is a sound example of this. We knew that another pandemic could happen; however, many of us never thought it would happen. In a nutshell: COVID-19 is unplanned change on steroids. Now, no matter who you are, or where you live, on some level everything seems upside down, not right-side up.
Unfortunately, rapid unplanned change such as a pandemic also brings with it prolonged uncertainty. When this happens, it is normal to have difficulty seeing the upside of things. We are grieving the way things used to be (loss) and are fearful about what may, or may not, happen in the future (anxiety). Some anxiety is useful because it helps us initiate strategies like social distancing to reduce risk and keep ourselves safe. However, if we let it, sadness, fear, and anxiety can quickly become panic and cast a stranglehold on our ability to cope and move forward through uncertain times.
Mastering the art of positive thinking when you don’t know what the next five minutes might bring can be challenging. This is because as humans we tend to focus our time and energy on what we don’t have, rather than on what we do have. Throw in some catastrophic change and we are naturally waiting for the other shoe to drop like everyone else. However, research has shown positive thinking gives us an extreme advantage during times of extreme stress. Just like we put those cases of water and week’s worth of groceries in the pantry, having a positive mindset is emergency preparedness for our minds. Maintaining a positive perspective during prolonged uncertainty can make the difference between having a super-awesome life, or a super-rotten one, while massive upheaval plays out. The question then becomes how do we stay positive when change can change its mind anytime?
Accepting that change is happening, especially during uncertain times, is the first step towards developing a more positive mindset and successfully navigating change. To move forward, not backward, one has to try and accept change, not resist or deny it. Accepting change has occurred does not mean that you have to like what is happening. Rather, it is the willingness to accept change that can help you become a more flexible thinker and be better prepared to handle situations as they happen.
2. Reduce Fear With Outside-In Thinking
Outside-in thinking is looking at your life as an observer rather than as a participant. This helps us take the emotionality of situations, such as fear and sadness, so we can see the big picture, find clarity of thought, and uncover answers when we need them. For example, with COVID-19, many people have, or will, experience an unforeseen employment interruption such as a layoff or job loss. Some individuals will choose to view this unplanned change as an opportunity to pause, reflect, and re-evaluate their futures. Looking at a situation like unemployment more objectively helps us identify what we can control and what we cannot control. Consequently, outside-in thinking can empower us to see and explore options, and discover opportunities amidst crisis.
3. Be Mindful
Mindfulness supports you to navigate the journey. Taking things one day at a time and staying in the present can help reduce depression about the past and anxiety about the future, especially with a situation like a pandemic that brings with it loss and grief. According to a study by (Cheisea & Serretti 2009), taking time out each day to clear your mind and just be, even for five minutes, has been known to reduce anxiety, and improve your decision making. Exercises such as mediation can help you set your compass for the day, and help you be better equipped to handle situations as they arise.
4. Practise Gratitude
Start each day with intention and gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for, even if it is as simple as you are still breathing today, you have food to eat, and you are healthy. We cannot control what happens during times of prolonged uncertainty, but we can control our reaction to events. Recognize that despite life’s challenges, you can manage how your day will unfold. Our intention creates our reality and gratitude illuminates the path by helping us stay positive. Keeping a gratitude journal, treating others with kindness and respect, and providing encouragement to others, are examples of how we can practice gratitude daily.
Unprecedented change like COVID-19 brings with it hard, tough stuff. The flip side is change can open doors; offer new opportunities and experiences; and build faith, hope, strength, and courage we never knew we had. COVID-19 is a reminder to all of us that we need to use every resource in the toolkit so we can land butter-side up, not butter-side down in the game of life.
Maintaining a positive mindset can attract more brightness into your life, so you can successfully handle and navigate change and create your super-awesome storyline—no matter what the situation