5 steps for thriving after a crisis

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet says, “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” This has become a widely quoted bit of wisdom. It’s both an ancient truth as a cornerstone of mindfulness and on the leading edge of cognitive psychology. Research on the nature of reality, consciousness, and quantum physics is putting scientific foundations under eons of philosophical/spiritual teaching; our perceptions, beliefs, values, mental models, etc. create the world we experience.

What’s your thinking on this pandemic? Is it a depressing disaster or can we grow and become stronger? Richard Tedeschi has been studying questions like this for decades. He’s a professor of psychology emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; the distinguished chair of the Boulder Crest Institute (where Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness programs is based on a posttraumatic growth model), and a coauthor of the book, Posttraumatic Growth. In his recent Harvard Business Review article, “Growth After Trauma,” he writes, “We’ve learned that negative experiences can spur positive change, including a recognition of personal strength, the exploration of new possibilities, improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth. We see this in people who have endured war, natural disasters, bereavement, job loss and economic stress, serious illnesses and injuries. So despite the misery resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, many of us can expect to develop in beneficial ways in its aftermath. And leaders can help others to do so.”

Tedeschi provides “five steps for coming out of a crisis stronger.” Here’s my summary:

  1. Education — realize that our public health, social, and economic systems don’t protect us from disasters like this one. We haven’t eliminated major diseases that have plagued humanity for eons. And they don’t just happen to distant people in other parts of the world.
  2. Emotional Regulation — focus on successes and positive possibilities instead of losses, failures, uncertainties, and worst-case scenarios. Use mindfulness, meditation, and thinking about our thinking, to recognize and acknowledge our thoughts and fears.
  3. Disclosure — talk about your feelings, struggles, and concerns. Invite others to tell their stories, challenges, and loss.
  4. Narrative Development — discuss how these times could lead to a better future. Talk about how this trauma has helped to reset priorities and opened new opportunities.
  5. Service — help to provide relief to people and communities to get through this crisis. Express gratitude, show compassion, and empathize. Find meaningful personal and shared missions.

I’ve long studied, written about, and worked to build resilience. Approaches to strengthening hardiness and resilience are easy to understand, but tough to do, especially during traumatic times. We need constant reminders. A few months ago, I summarized nine ways I continue to find very helpful.

Tomorrow we publish my June blogs in the July issue of The Leader Letter. Hopefully, you’ll find approaches in this issue to help strengthen resilience in yourself and others. “Empartnerment” can harness the collective energy and creativity of teams and organizations to overcome big challenges and even thrive on chaos. Building on strengths is a proven — but underused — way to deal with adversity and boost effectiveness. It’s another example of a concept that’s easy to understand, but difficult to do. Workplace learning is more vital than ever. LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning report reinforces well tested approaches to boost leadership and organization effectiveness. And humor can be a powerful antidote to pessimism and disaster. But only if it’s healthy humor. Unhealthy humor can be highly destructive.

When we change how we look at the world, the world we look at changes.