Yes, COVID is a big change.
COVID is likely one of the biggest changes we will experience in our lifetime. For me, as a professional speaker and trainer, this hit hard. I have experienced three months of client postponements, cancellations, lost sales and revenue. As the sole financial provider for my family, it hurts.
I will be completely honest. I went to a bad place. I have been experiencing negative self-talk. I have been telling myself things like:
- “The world is ending…”
- “My business is not going to survive…”
- “I am not going to be able to pay the bills…”
I realized recently though that this is not true. Yes, people are sick and we do know what is going to happen next. That is reality right now. However, I do not know that the world is ending, I do not know my business’ survival likelihood, and I do have cash to pay the bills for the short-term.
I was telling myself this bad story because I was scared. Fear had taken over my brain. I feared the unknown. And, all humans do.
The brain fears the unknown.
Our brains have an amygdala that is responsible for our survival decisions – fight or flight. The amygdala detests the unknown. When it encounters the unknown, it often fills it in with wild assumptions, like the ones I was experiencing. These fear-based assumptions are often worst-case scenarios. They are not true, and if we believe them, they are likely to become self-fulfilling prophesies. The problem is that we may give these thoughts the power to become true.
Be careful what you let your brain think.
One tool to combat the amygdala is the replace those worst-case scenario thoughts with more positive, more probable thoughts.
To start, make a list of all of your unknowns. Make it exhaustive. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, free flow it with zero judgment – get it out of your brain. The amygdala will already quiet down being heard.
Your brain’s fears need to be heard.
Then, group these unknowns into buckets – perhaps some are financial, family, work, or spiritually related. Rework each of the buckets into a positive.
Here is an example using my negative self-talk list:
- “The world is ending…” becomes “Billions of people are alive, healthy, and not infected with COVID.”
- “My business is not going to survive…” becomes “My business is surviving and will have many opportunities following COVID.”
- “I am not going to be able to pay the bills…” becomes “I do have money to pay the bills and have savings to cover times of uncertainty like this.”
The change curve can help us understand this better.
Change is hard because our brains want things to go back to the old way, often the previous state in which we were surviving. The state is which there were not these unknowns.
Your brain wants to keep things the same.
The brain resists change. That is why we usually experience four key stages of change. All humans experience some form of these as we venture from the current state to the future state:
- Denial: This is not happening
- Resistance: This is not happening to me
- Exploration: This may be happening
- Commitment: This is happening
It is subtle, fluid process. Change takes time. Change can be hard. Small changes may happen quickly. Big changes may take longer to absorb. Some people like change. Some people dread change.
For me, the change curve with COVID looks like this:
- February to early March – flat out denial – “The news is making a big deal about nothing…”
- Mid-March – passive resistance – “I do not like this, so I will avoid watching the news and it will go back to normal soon…”
- Late-March – moderate exploration – “This is going to have a big impact, and I may need to adapt…”
- April and beyond – hopeful commitment – “This is the new norm. I have to accept it.”
I am not to commitment yet. It will take some time. I want to be there, but my brain is still filled with fears and those pesky unknowns. Change takes time.
I invite you to flip the script of negative self-talk.
What got me to exploration? I grappled with fear, anxiety, negative thoughts for weeks before I asked myself some really hard questions. A key to combatting fear during change, is to reframe what you tell yourself. Flip that negative self-talk to a positive self-talk track.
If you are in denial, resistance, or exploration, consider asking yourself these questions:
- What is one thing I can do? This can be a turning point to get out of resistance and up the change curve towards exploration. For me, I think of 10 people each day I want to talk to and reach out and ask them how they are doing.
- What are things that I have always wanted to do that I have not had time to do? This is a baby step up the change curve. I made a list of activities at home and in my business that I need heads down time to do and came up with a great list – I reorganized all my daughter’s baby pictures and saved them to our share drive, I got my scrapbook from my Europe trip I started 10 years ago and never finished, and started a new customer relationship management software to organize client information. All of this would not be possible without COVID-19.
- What am I gaining? Instead of focusing losses, it is important to reframe the brain to a growth mindset about gains. For me, it was clearly more family time, reading time, writing time, exercise time, and self-care (I am enjoying some serious naps).
- What am I thankful for? It is impossible to practice gratitude and experience fear at the same time. It prevents the brain from activating the amygdala fear center. I bookend my day with positive thinking exercises like gratitude and journaling to train my brain to look for positivity instead of negativity.
What the world is experiencing right now is hard. COVID will take a long time to fully absorb and to be a positive future state. Rather than avoiding the change, let’s leverage this as opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be stronger on the other side of this.
Interested in learning more about change? If so, I have some ideas to help:
- Join me for my next free online workshop on March 31 “Why Inclusive Learning is Better Delivered Virtually”
- Sign up for my new “Virtual Work Teambuilding Crash Course” on the key pillars of successful virtual teams – trust, communication, and inclusive leadership
- Get instant access to my five new “Virtual Learning” programs
In case you missed it, I have been in the news:
- CNBC “5 tips for effectively working from home during the coronavirus outbreak, when you have kids”
- Forbes “Working Parents Share Ideas on How to Navigate This New Normal”
- MarketWatch “Should you turn on your video during a Zoom call or take Slack breaks? How to keep your sanity while working from home”
- Parade “Keep Calm—Here Are 15+ Ways to Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic”