Triving or Surviving in 2021?

Many of us have been lucky enough to have found and enjoyed silver linings within the storm-clouds of 2020, spending more time with the kids, saving money on commuting, or discovering or re-discovering a love of nature or baking.  A few of us have even been able to thrive, adapting or launching businesses to capitalise on the opportunities provided by such huge upheaval.  

However, I think it is fair to say that for most people, 2020, and probably the next few months of 2021, has been and will be primarily about survival – financially, mentally, and for some physically.  

Many commentators have been publishing articles about resilience, positivity and agility, all of which are of course hugely important and helpful during times of change and challenge.  However, I also think an unintended consequence is that they can make people feel self-critical and inadequate. 

Before we get stuck into 2021, let’s start off with an acknowledgment that it is ‘OK’ for us and others to not always feel positive, resilient, or agile.  In fact, ironically, acknowledging this, without shame or guilt, is a critical first step towards being able to feel more positive, resilient and agile, and to helping others go beyond ‘survival mode’.  

So, remembering that it’s OK not to feel OK, what can we do to feel more OK? Here’s a simple list of things that can help.  

There’s nothing ground- breaking here, but some activities may still feel hard to follow through on.  Be honest with yourself about what you think will help, and then commit to doing one or two things. Don’t aim for, or expect, perfection. 

Be kind to yourself.  ‘Self-compassion’ is a concept you are likely to hear more about in 2021.  Fundamentally, this is about being a good friend to yourself.  If you are having a bad day or did a piece of work you thought was poor, avoid personal and generalised criticism (e.g. ‘I’m no good’ / ‘I always….’).  This is a critical foundation stone for general resilience.

Self-coach. If you are having a crappy day, or something went wrong, focus on the specific issue.  Take 5 minutes to understand the situation and identify some specific actions you can take to improve things  ‘what happened / what are the reasons I am I feeling like this or  things went wrong?’, ‘what can I do that will help me feel better/improve my work output’?.   

Get outside.  The weather is less than inspiring but, unless you are shielding, getting outside, even for a short walk is going to help give your brain and body a chance to refresh. 

Be mindful. The brain is like any muscle.  If you try and use it all the time it gets tired and performs less and less well.  Focusing your attention on the present moment, without negative judgement, can help quiet the negative voices in your head about the future or the past.  Paying attention to the detail in the world around you – a bird singing, the pattern of clouds, a squirrel busily burying nuts, can also help refresh your mind.  You might also like to experiment with some gentle meditation – there are lots of free videos you can find online to help you get started. 

Talk.  We all know that “It’s good to talk”, but opening up about how we are feeling, and taking time to listen to others, doesn’t always feel easy.  Sharing our challenges and worries with friends or colleagues, and hearing others’ stories, helps us feel connected and understood.  It can also act as a pressure release valve – the simple act of expressing how we are feeling and why, helps us to process what’s going on and feel better about issues and challenges.  Video calls, messaging apps or the good old telephone may not be quite the same as a chat in the coffee shop or the pub, but it still helps. 

Focus.  I feel like this is particularly challenging at the moment.  There is so much to distract us – whether that be the news and social media, competing demands from work, or juggling work and home schooling.  If you don’t get this spot on, remember first to ‘be kind to yourself’.  Here are some specific actions you can take that might help:

  • Prioritise.  Write yourself a specific and achievable plan for each day and stick to it, unless something truly urgent comes up. If you have too much on your plate talk to your manager.  Work with them to agree a plan that is achievable.  What can be delayed, removed, or reallocated? What is critical to complete in order to avoid delaying key decisions or others’ work?  
  • Turn off wifi.  Unless you need it for the piece of work you are doing, turn off the wifi on your computer and put your smart phone out of reach or eyesight.  This will stop you distracting yourself by checking the news / twitter / slack etc. 
  • Really listen.  Psychologists have demonstrated that effective multi-tasking is a myth and simply means doing more than one thing at a time less well.  Give others your full attention – really listen to what they are saying and how they are saying it.  Ask questions to help you and them understand issues in more depth.  Asking questions can also help you keep engaged – this helps me tremendously when my son talks to me about Pokémon! 

Bianca Ioannides. CPsychol. 

2i Consulting Ltd

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