It has been about 19 months since the entire world has been crippled by the Coronavirus. The first wave caught us off-guard. The second wave was even more devastating. Most countries are again seeing a surge in the number of positive cases. Things have changed a lot since the beginning of 2020. Life’s become more uncertain. More unpredictable. More fearful. About 33% of people worldwide have lost income due to COVID-19. World economies are struggling with rising unemployment. School closures exacerbate issues of digital access. College students continue to grapple with the educational fallout. When this all started back in early 2020, it was a complete unknown – we just couldn’t comprehend the widespread impact that it would bring into our lives. But today, curfews, lockdowns, sanitizers, elbow bumping, and masks have become a part of our lives. The medical fraternity is talking about more and more variants and waves to come. Large-scale vaccine productions have started. Lockdowns are like axes hanging over our heads. One day you wake up and come to know that new rules and restrictions have been imposed in the region or country. On the brighter side of things, the world has started looking beyond COVID. Hybrid working has become the norm. Omnichannel commerce has become a new reality. Home delivery supply chain and business models are on the rise. Home entertainment options have exploded. Family times and bonding have deepened. Flexibility has become an essential aspect of future tourism.
Let’s talk a little about all this anxiety, stress, and adversity that has besieged us. In a survey conducted by The Center of Healing in December 2020, 88% of Indians reported being impacted by stress and adversity since the onset of COVID19. I decided to do a little research on how our lives were before all this pandemic and all. I went deeper and found another interesting piece of research done by the healthcare major Cigna Corporation, back in 2018. What I found was a bit startling. Their research showed that general stress and adversity levels in Indians were around 82%. The major areas of concern included: work, health, or finance-related concerns. These numbers were comparable to other countries including the UK, Germany, Australia, and the United States.
Looking at these two numbers, the pandemic did not amplify the adverse conditions as much as I thought it would have. They probably brought it out into plain sight. The conclusion I came to is that Coronavirus or not, life is constantly handling us challenges to overcome. A big part of living is dealing with adversity. While it’s not enjoyable, it’s a part of life that you can expect to encounter on a regular basis.
Reflecting back on my life, in 2001, I graduated with two job offers in hand, only to come out into a world that was hit by a double-dip recession. Both the companies deferred on their joining dates and I did not have a plan B then. It felt like the entire world collapsed around me. My life just fell off its trajectory. But I had to get back up. Think quick and think more long-term beyond the recession-hit economy. That’s what I did. I chose to focus on investing my time, energy, and resources into something that wouldn’t pay off instantly – a higher education degree in a foreign university. Two decades later, when I look back at it now, adversity is good for building your internal resources. You become a stronger and more capable person in the future, however devastating it may feel when adversity strikes. You might not appreciate this fact now, but it will prove helpful down the road, whatever be the adversity or stress you are currently dealing with.
As I said earlier, a big part of living is dealing with adversity. When have you ever not had a challenge of some sort? Think about it. That does not mean you only react when real adversity strikes. It’s like saying I don’t have to fix the hole in my roof in sunny weather and no rain is leaking into the house. You need to constantly enhance your abilities to face challenges when life is pleasant and when it is under control.
I have found several factors that determine your ability to deal with adversity effectively:
- Experience. If you’ve successfully overcome obstacles and have dealt with adversity in the past, you’ll be more capable of dealing with it in the future. This experience gives you a bit more courage and confidence knowing that you have done it in the past and can overcome it again in the future.
- Ability to focus on solutions. Everything in nature and life is dual. If there are two sides to a coin, metaphorically speaking, there’s a duality. After every night, there is a day, so there are black and white, good and evil, and problems and solutions. When you focus on your adversity, your challenge grows bigger and scarier. If you focus on problems, you see more problems. Where focus goes, your energy flows. The more you are able to focus on solutions, the more effective you become at dealing with adversity.
- Your social network. Your social network is your currency. Life is easier when you don’t have to face your challenges alone. A strong social network that’s built on trust, authenticity, vulnerability, intimacy, and generosity can solve a lot of life’s sticky situations.
- Ability to manage stress. Stress is our body’s natural response to adversity and challenges. If worrying and feeling stressed is your second nature, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride. Instead, start practicing to manage and release your stress and worries. If you can manage your stress, you can rise to your challenges more easily. Meditate, pray, listen to music, spend time with nature – whatever you can do to release your stress and keep you relaxed in your days.
When adversity hits us, we suddenly feel out of control. As human beings, we love being in control – be it while driving a car, or while leading a project. But remember, you’ve dealt with adversity in the past, and you’ll have to do it again.
Here are a couple of techniques I have learned over time to enhance my ability to handle adversity, build my internal resources, and use the learning from my past. Managing and overcoming adversity is what separates those that are highly successful and effective from those who continue to stay stuck and struggle.
The 10/10/10 tool
The first thing that adversity attacks is our ability to make decisions. When life is pleasant and when business is usual, it might make sense to postpone certain decisions to wait for more information. But, during adverse circumstances, most of us face a potentially paralyzing volume of decisions. Most of these decisions are defined with a sense of urgency and imperfect information. What should one do in such cases?
Worrying is our mind’s favorite pastime. The constant deluge of negative thoughts, uncertainty, ambiguity, insecurity, and volatility can be pretty damaging and even lead to an increased risk of mental health problems. Moreover, if you are constantly preoccupied and living in your head, how will you ever find the time to work on your goals and your dreams?
What I have seen is that slowing down and being patient always prevail over panic. And, when things feel urgent it’s actually more important than ever to take a moment to pause. Slow down. Connect to your authentic self. And only then take action. Giving yourself a moment to step back, take stock, anticipate, and prioritize may seem counterintuitive, but it’s essential during trouble and hardship.
When asked what makes a great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky is said to have answered, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” This is exactly what the 10/10/10 tool helps you with.
There’s always less stress on the other side of a decision. It’s okay to have fear and uncertainty when making a decision. Just notice that there’s also fear when you don’t make a decision. So, it’s always better to make the decision!
The 10/10/10 tool is a handy tool I learned from one of my mentors, Rich Litvin. It’s a very easy yet powerful tool to help you get past your choices and make the decision.
- For any decision, write down each of the choices you could take. Think about every possible choice and option you have for this decision.
- For each of your choices, imagine that you just took action with that choice.
- Then write down how you’d feel about each choice or decision – in 10 minutes from now, in 10 months, and in 10 years’ time.
- Use these feelings as a guide to help through the decision.
Spheres of Influence
With every adversity, we feel that it is the end of the road for us. It drives us into a state of helplessness. Another tool that can help you ride the wave of adversity is knowing the difference between influence and control.
Spheres of Influence is an incredibly practical process to help you develop a sense of perspective and create alternative ideas and solutions to jockeyed the adverse situation.
- Bring out a sheet of paper and write down your situation or immediate worry about the situation.
- Draw two concentric circles below. Label the smaller circle as ‘Things I can control’, and the larger circle as ‘Things I can influence’. Label the area outside the two circles as ‘Everything Else.’
- Take a good look at your situation, and write down everything you can actually control in that situation. Write this next to the smaller circle.
- Now look at everything that you may not be able to control directly, but can still influence it, in a small or big way, so as to create a favorable outcome. Write this next to the bigger circle.
- Finally, look at the space ‘Everything else’ and write down anything about the situation or worry that you can neither control nor influence, for example, the state of the economy, or surge of another wave of the Coronavirus.
As you put pen to paper and dissect your situation into these different spheres, you begin to get a 10,000-foot view of your concern, fear, or anxiety. Your adverse condition slowly starts to give way to a new line of thinking, allowing you to start focusing on solutions, or simply let go of the situation.
As you practice these techniques, remind yourself that it’s not all bad. There are plenty of good things and people in your life right now. Remind yourself of your strengths and positive experiences. You’ll feel better, and be more capable if you remind yourself of this fact. Be grateful for what you do have. Let me know how any of these tools have helped you surface from an adverse situation in your life. Embrace them, and continue to learn as you go. Teach these techniques to someone you know who could benefit from them.