Change, COVID, coping and creating - Business Works
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Change, COVID, coping and creating

by Dr Roger Prentis, RDPI Whatever our situation, maintaining our self-esteem, self-worth and value to ourselves, family, friends and society are critical at this time. Dr Roger Prentis looks at the phases we go through in times of stress and change and offers a seven-step strategy to move from feeling 'at a loss' to creating our positive future in the 'new world' in which we find ourselves.

This isn't another stress-inducing editorial. It has tips to help us move forward and get through the current crisis successfully, to build the future, a better future.

Sadly, there will be work situations for which these ideas are not feasible, particularly for those who have been laid off, but the same methodology can apply to life in general. If it is impossible for you to work, then finding something new and worthwhile to do can be key - and this strategy will work for that too!

How are we affected?

Although it is from 1969, the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross helps us understand how people react in situations like the current crisis. Sadly, it is currently rather close to home, as she wrote about the "Five stages of death", talking about bereavement and loss. The theory still holds for our reactions to adverse events like COVID-19 and helps empower us so we can 'get through it' as effectively and efficiently as possible. Of course, like all scientific literature, people have criticised her work, but it is a useful way of looking at things even if they don't 'fit perfectly' (and things generally don't!).

Let's look at the stages - the graph below is adapted to the current situation.

The first is the Shock - something (here, the COVID-19 pandemic) hits us. We immediately go into disbelief, experience fear of the unknown, and feel that we have a lack of reliable evidence which lead to Denial. "It's only like flu", "I'm fit and strong, it won't affect me", "I'm not old so I'm safe".

We feel out of control - there's nothing we seem to be able to do to protect those around us and ourselves. Anger and Frustration set in. We panic - what can we do to survive? How will I pay the bills? What can we do to protect ourselves, our family and our work? Something is 'being done to us' over which we have little or no control.

This results in feeling down and, in some cases, Depression. That feeling of "I have no idea what I can do", "it's all over", "all my business is lost", "I've lost my income", "all my work is cancelled". We feel apathetic, lack energy and feel isolated.

Adapted Kubler-Ross curve - Dr Roger Prentis

When we are feeling low or in a state of depression, we may feel paralysed and unable to do anything. However, if we want to move on, we need to find a motivation that is meaningful for us that will allow us to progress to the next stage. In essence, we need to become 'fed-up' with the depression. Only we can do this for ourselves. Anyone who has experienced feelings like this will attest to the fact that someone else telling us "to pull ourselves together" is likely to have no or, indeed, the opposite effect. Only we can change ourselves - if we want to.

At this stage, we are on the upward slope and can try some ideas (see later). Some won't work, so we may have some ups and downs.

Then we find something that seems to work. We Experiment with it - develop and refine the idea or product, find new ways of making it successful and find more new ideas. We make Decisions about what we are going to do, what we are going to produce and how we are going to work in this 'new world'.

Once that stage is over (or it may continue as) we enter the Integration phase. Here this becomes the new normal, the new success, the new future.

Creating the future - speeding up the curve

The answer is to get into the Experiment phase. Hopefully the Depression phase will just be a temporary lack of motivation, a feeling of "I can't be bothered" or a lack of energy. However strong it is, the key is to get through it as quickly as possible.

One easy thing to help is to restrict our exposure to the rolling, repetitive, stress-inducing news and Social Media. That's a very good start. And, here are seven easy and practical stages to work through it and invent our successful future:

  1. Get 'fed-up'
    Question your feelings and dispute (argue with) them (as Seligman advised). We first have to become 'fed-up' with the Depression.

    "Is this really 'the end'? Well, no! It might seem like it now, but it will pass in time. Things do!"

    "Is it my fault? Am I to blame? Of course not! These things are beyond all of our control. Blaming myself will achieve nothing - and it's no use. What's in it for me when I get over this phase? I can find new ideas, new things to do that will be very rewarding. I can invent my future."

    "So, why can't I see a way forward? Well, I can do some creative thinking. I can do some research on the Web, that might help or spark some ideas. I can look around and see what others are doing. I can talk to others. I can ask for help. All these things will help me out of the trough!"

    "How do I get over the negative feelings, the lack of energy and motivation? What are they doing for me? Anything good? Anything useful? Well, no, of course not! So what would it mean to me if I focused on moving forward? I'd feel better. I'd find a way out of this. I'd be very pleased with myself for starting to think of positive solutions. I know that I can do this - I have the ability and I'm worth it. I will move forwards and find a new way."

    Find the motivation that works for you - focus on the benefits that moving past this phase will bring. "I know that there's a way out of this, all I have to do is to find it - maybe ask for help from those around me". We get over the frustration and anger and realise that it is doing nothing useful. We exhaust all the creative-avoidance techniques that stop us addressing the real situation, we decide, "Something has to be done!".

  2. Set goals
    Set yourself some goals - maybe just a regular working schedule to start. Find a good place to work and set working times. Even dressing properly and not slobbing around in your jammies helps.

    Once you get the momentum going, build on your successes. Identify the problem. Be creative to find new or different ways of addressing it. Think of what other people and other businesses need most at this time and find ways to help.

  3. Use your new energy
    Now we are in a strong position. Use that energy, drive and enthusiasm to find a solution and start to create ideas, plans and strategies to move forward. Some may work, some may not, but keep going. If you're part of a team, involve others.

  4. Make the most of success
    Capitalise on short-term wins. Celebrate them yourself and with others. Share them with colleagues, family and friends. Use them to spark new ideas, developments and energy to carry on and accelerate the process. Identify the new ideas that you can implement.

  5. Develop successes
    When you find a successful idea or ideas, look for ways to make them better and even more successful. Start to implement the plans. Iterate until you find something(s) that work, then develop and grow them.

  6. Communication
    Remember, with all this, it doesn't only affect us - it affects everyone around us - team members, family and friends. Communication is the key. By effective and active communication we can help ourselves and others to get through the trough.

  7. Asking for help and supporting each other
    We are not alone. Asking for help, particularly at times like this, is not only acceptable, it is good for us and for others. Almost everyone responds well to being asked for help. It is a form of respect for them - you consider them to be worthy and to have skills, knowledge, experience and to be close enough to be of value. We all like to be valued!

Chance leads to change - Dr Roger Prentis

In conclusion ...

The journey through the stages of the (here-modified) Kübler-Ross curve is an established pattern that the majority of people will follow when faced with an adverse event. Remember that 'this will pass' and accept the feelings that come up for you. They may follow the curve or be different. Strongly resist the urge to feel guilt or self-blame as we covered above.

Get into the Experimentation phase as quickly as you can. Talk to friends, family, colleagues, other contacts and share if you can. Find solutions together and support each other to get to the Integration phase as quickly and effectively as possible.

Remember to celebrate quick 'wins', however small - even starting the conversation is a win!

For more information, please visit the: RDPI web site

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