If you believe Abraham Maslow, and I have no idea why you wouldn’t, then Robert Emmon’s quote of the well regarded humanistic psychologist may well resonate with you, “the most important learning lessons… were tragedies, deaths, and trauma… which forced change in the life-outlook of the person and consequently in everything that he did.”
Yes, great minds like Maslow’s suggest that when we envelop our problems, our disappointments, our hardships, when we step into them, not dodge them, we are better positioned to achieve peak growth. Perhaps that’s the mind-incline to have towards COVID-19, to see this adventure as an opening, as an instrument for psychological growth. Winston Churchill’s famed comment at Lord Mayor’s Luncheon in November 1942 comes to mind, “The Germans have received back again that measure of fire and steel which they have so often meted out to others. Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Coronavirus is certainly not over. Perhaps we are at the “end of the beginning.” We don’t know. Nobody does. Regardless (one of my favorite words), those who’ll flourish, troopers who’ll succeed through this, are students of this period of life, learning, absorbing, discovering, understanding its lessons for an enhanced life. Do we “need” hard times to renew ourselves? No. Can’t we bloom and better our lives without adversity? Yes, of course we can. Thankfully, we do.
Seeing hardship as an analysis, an assessment of our perseverance and devotedness to living better, we are challenged to triumph through and thrive. It’s the “seeing” that’s tricky for so many. “But this situation is killing me physically, emotionally, financially, ruining my life, my family, my future!!!” Yes, it sure is throwing down the challenge and asking us to deal with unprecedented circumstances. We’d be wise to step into this with calm insight that comes from being awakened to suffering, since that’s where “the most important learning lessons” reside. We wisely don’t ask “why is this happening?” but rather, “what can I gain from this?”
When we are mindful enough, take the time to be heedful and attentive to seeing benefit that can come from hard times, we can grow. Bad times such as we are facing over the past several months and on into the future, can be enriching and optimizing when seen through a thoughtful, sensible mind. That may require taking time and purposefully slowing our thoughts to allow for a more watchful vision. When this takes place, there are less likely seen “positive” or “negative” experiences but rather, there are well illuminated paths to audaciously learning, enhancing, and upgrading life.
Dennis Waitley in his 1984 “The Psychology of Winning,” teaches the 10 qualities of winners, that sets them apart and helps them prevail in every sphere of life: personally, professionally and spiritually. He says, “…it makes little difference what is actually happening, it’s how you, personally, take it that really counts!” Sounds like he’s paraphrasing the title of that great book, “The Link is What You Think.” And if that’s not enough, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (seriously, that’s how he spells it), in his book, “Flow,” observed, “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness.” Notice one of my favorite words, “regardless”? He adds, “To develop this trait (persevering despite obstacles and setbacks), one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.”
Leaning into COVID-19 isn’t a shortcut. Welcoming, embracing, impediments in life surely isn’t easy. It’s required, though. It is, after all, a catalyst to growth. We may not always find the toil necessary to control our mind’s response to struggle to be comfortably within reach, but by improving our “personality hardiness,” the ability to survive in trying situations, or an attitude that shapes our view of the world, we can overcome what’s in front of us. This concept was initially proposed by Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi. Those who have developed this hardiness are more likely to perceive stressful circumstances as opportunities for personal development. It takes a) commitment to, not alienation from, others, getting outside of yourself, literally connecting with others, b) control, not helplessness, focusing on what you can control, and c) challenge, not staying in a comfort-zone, identifying change as the norm.
Want to grow this psychological edge? Now is a good time. Ask yourself what will you commit to do today to connect with others? Then ask yourself what few things you actually control or could be more in control of? What small steps can you take to treat a problem as a challenge? Then review how your perceptions have changed.
Leaning in, the ability to fearlessly defeat and overcome the trials of our current times, is within all of us. Vow to accept the pain, let go of the idea it must not exist, see the value inside of inevitable obstacles with which you are presented, and dauntlessly be a student who doesn’t dodge the lessons, but rather labors through them. A healthy mindset is wonderful medicine.