2020 has finally passed and we are well into 2021. For many people, they may think good riddance. There seemed to be so much negativity, difficulty and frustration last year. Most of us were, and still are, in a recurring state of mental and for many, physical exhaustion. And it is not over yet, likely for some months or possibly years to come. The pandemic and all its related issues, along with political upheaval, extreme weather conditions, wildfires and the usual slate of disruptive and altering conditions around the globe have stressed us to what we thought were our limits and beyond. For some of us, well beyond. For many months the news was filled with doom and gloom, constantly reminding us of the troubled times we are living through. Massive change is everywhere and occurring at a rapid pace, often with little time for us to wrap our head around it and come to some kind of effective method of dealing with it all.

It is a psychological fact that change creates stress. Stress in itself is not good or bad. Some changes bring great joy and pleasure or are part of getting to a better place – think exercising, having a baby, changing jobs, moving to a new home, meeting new and interesting people who enhance our lives, etc. We choose whether the change and accompanying stress is positive or negative. The hardest times for us are when we refuse to accept the changes and want things to stay as they were. Life is more predictable, comfortable and easy for us that way. Ah, but nature or the divine or however you see the force or forces in the universe, has other things in store. As an old adage goes, “Change is the only thing we can depend on in the universe”. Movement creates change and no movement, if long enough, means death for all living things.

Negative stress, depression, frustration and anger are associated with hardening of the arteries. They are used as red flags when doctors determine one’s risk of heart disease and stroke, especially as we age. Old age, degradation of life and death are, to paraphrase the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “less a hardening of our arteries and more a hardening of our attitudes”. Accepting and adapting to change is something that the wisest people on the planet have been telling us for millennia. It is one of the most effective ways to stay healthy and live a long and happy, blissfully happy, life.

Think of the challenges and trials in your life that, looking back, you now appreciate because of what you learned from the experience and how your life improved. Those benefits are gifts and they are potentially there in every crisis. It is up to us to choose to see the positive and act on it. There are also going to be gifts from this pandemic and other chaotic situations. We just need to focus on the positive and embrace the change. It may sound difficult or even impossible to some, but it is in our power to see this, benefit and grow. Think of it as labour pains for a new and better world to be born.

For so much of last year, challenge and change were forced upon us.  Yet, it is in these moments of imposed change that we build resilience and develop an appreciation for our strengths.  We learn more lessons as we walk through life’s low spots than we do during those rare mountaintop moments.  When change happens, the more you stay open, accepting and determined to shape your response, the more likely you will meet and exceed your vision of success. Children are great teachers in this respect. For the most part, they are much more open and accepting of change and they are happier by far than most adults. We cannot control many outcomes but we can control how we choose to respond to them. Choose well!

For many adults, the hardest changes to adapt to have been the disruption in the workforce. Changes have been profound. People have been concerned about losing their jobs or dealing with the vast situational changes. This is common and natural during all times of economic crisis. But with disruption comes innovation. Working from home has been one novel solution for many occupations not previously considered viable for that approach. Since many of us are shut inside more, it might be a good idea to start thinking literally inside the box to get more ideas for outside the box. Some of us are stuck focusing on a desperate attempt to achieve control over the situation. Work is only a part of our life and it is helpful to think of what this unique situation offers us re finding a new and improved rhythm for our lives.

What are your priorities and goals? Focus on what brings you joy. Make a joy list. I often give my students an assignment to create a joy list of 100 things. Writing down things makes them more concrete and puts the concepts more firmly in mind. Each item on the list is to be something that brings a smile to your face, a lightening of your heart and gives you a greater sense of love and peace. Examples might include simple things like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, a puppy licking your face, some favorite music, a colourful sunset or sunrise, etc. Everyone is different so your joy list will be unique to you. I give my students a month to make up the list asking them to write an average of 3 things a day or more until they have at least 100. Some are done in a much shorter time. I have had students come to me over 20 years later and told me how the list helped them through difficult times. Some even opened their wallet or purse to show me they keep the list nearby in case of a sudden need to feel better. It is just one of many simple tools to keep you more sane and capable during trying times.

Human nature is not always at its best during times of challenge.  Many people have found more friction in their relationships during Covid times than any time before. Dealing with disputes, personality conflicts, and difficult dynamics are everyday challenges but are definitely heightened lately. This is especially so with front line workers, many of whom are working much more than they had before the pandemic crisis. When things are coming to a boiling point, it is especially important to not escalate the situation but move it to a more harmonious place.  

Our society tends to glorify the rebel or leader who disrupts everything for the greater good.  While that may play well in movies, challenging times call for dignity, grace, a sense of service to others, and patient, steady leadership. Think evolution versus revolution.  Here are simple concepts that can help you lead things to a better place. 

Practice Active Empathy.  The moment you find yourself thinking a disparaging thought about someone else, immediately seek to put yourself in their shoes, working to understand sincerely what challenges the person is facing, what it might feel like to be them right now, and – most importantly – how you can be of value to the person who is frustrating you. 

Actively Listen Resist the urge to focus on winning, beating them or differences.  Instead, identify why you are in disagreement with someone else, acknowledge the many areas where you do not need to agree, and then focus on the few areas where common ground is needed to achieve progress, collaboratively.  Then, lead through listening and understanding instead of demanding and dictating. 

Accept Reality.  We might want to change someone or remove a barrier to resolve a challenge.  Most often we cannot do this.  Instead, we must work through, around, or past challenges and differences.  Do not seek to change others. Instead, change your response or approach to progress. Be a leader to influence and inspire, not command and control. The more you lead with service, the more you’ll lead with effectiveness and harmony. 

Set a great example by staying healthy, sane and most importantly, happy. OSU! 

Kevin Blok