in families, business, churches, communities...
And there are lots of leaders out there like my friends. Some in big businesses and some in small, independent business. Can I afford to pay my employees? When do I cut my losses? What now?
And there are, in a way, leaders like this out there in every family right now. Facing tighter budgets and having to make tougher, scarier decisions.
For all of you out there leaders in business, families, churches, communities organizations…I want to do the one thing I can do, which is bring my passion for nerdy social science and resilience type-stuff to provide some reassurances. Four of them to be exact:
What the research in heuristics and biases and emotions tells us is that in fact high confidence in decision making is often totally unrelated to the quality or accuracy of the decision. The more pessimistic, negative emotions you as leaders are feeling right now is likely actually helping you to make some of the best, most accurate, most informed decisions you’ve ever made. When we feel positive emotions, we tend to more consistently rely on our heuristics for decision making. When we feel negative emotions, it pushes us to seek broader information, weigh all the facts, and think more critically. So know that if you are feeling the weight of your decisions, if you are feeling uncertain about the future, you and your brain are probably doing the right thing.
I hate to say it, but if the decisions you’re making right now feel awful and painful, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is the place you want to be. If the decisions you are making today are for the long-term (9-18 month) benefit of our organization and our people…then you’re probably doing it right. It means you’re fighting against our behavioral instinct to make decisions in reaction to near-term losses and gains.
“In the midst of uncertainty and fear, leaders have an ethical responsibility to hold their people in discomfort – to acknowledge the tumult but not fan it, to share information and not inflate or fake it…When we are managing during a time of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty. We need to tell our teams that we will share as much as we’re able when we’re able…There is incredible relief and power in naming and normalizing fear and uncertainty. We have to find the courage to look back at the people who are looking at us for leadership and say, ‘This is difficult. There are no simple answers. There is pain and fear that would be easy to unload on others – but that would be unfair and out of our integrity. We will walk through this in a way that makes us feel proud. It will be hard, but we will do it together.”
If you’re feeling some big emotions in this time…that’s expected. Grant yourself permission to feel all of those emotions. In order to do that, you’re likely first going to have to give yourself permission to PAUSE. Pause. Just…pause more often than you currently are. Don’t pause from work to scroll your social media feed or catch a few minutes of the morning news. Literally just pause and sit and tune inward. Breathe. Ask yourself, “how am I feeling right now?” And notice how your mind and body respond. That’s it. Pause and inquire within. You may be surprised at your power to tune-in and you may be surprised at the information your body give you.
How many of you out there are having a hard time being optimistic these days?
Or, how many of you out there are maybe mad at the people who seem overly optimistic right now?
Here’s the thing. Optimism often gets a bad rap. Or, at best optimism is often mis-understood.
Which is really unfortunate because optimism is CRITICAL to resilience. It is part of what enables us to not only go through tough times, but grow through them.
In fact, whenever we teach resilience, we refer to optimism as “the engine of resilience”. Meaning, optimism is as critical to resilience as an engine is to a car. Without it, we go nowhere.
But our definition of optimism often surprises people.
Yes, part of optimism is positive thinking.
But optimism is not having your head in the sand. It is not pretending everything is okay or that there’s nothing wrong. It’s not the typical ‘pie in the sky’ denial type thinking.
Optimism is being firmly planted in reality. It is acknowledging that things, right now, are hard. They’re scary. They’re uncertain. AND having an unwavering faith that we will prevail in spite of what’s happening right now.
It’s maintaining a steady, resolute belief and confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel – even if we can’t currently see it. Even if right now, it’s pitch black.
We can be scared and be optimistic.
We can be unsure of what’s to come, but still take control where we have it.
We still have agency or choice in our thoughts and actions. And we can learn to see that we will grow from this hardship – both as a society and as individuals.
If we want to be resilient through this – or any tough or challenging time – we have to be optimistic.
Maybe you have family members that are sick and you aren’t able to visit them. Maybe you recently transitioned to a being a one income family and are worrying about how you will pay the bills. Maybe you’re nervous about your children’s education while schools are cancelled.
Not only can we hold that challenging reality in view and still be optimistic, it’s critical to hold that reality in view in order to be optimistic.
Because research shows us that only when we confront the adversity of our current state head-on, can we make accurate assessments and better decisions about where to use our energy and give ourselves the best chance to overcome.
It’s that type of realistic optimism that helps us maintain hope.
Sometimes people think pessimism is a better, more realistic route to take. But research shows us that Pessimistic thinkers are actually quite bad at seeing where they have control. Pessimistic thinkers tend to both OVER and UNDER estimate the amount of control they have in any given situation….and there is a cost to both.
If we over estimate our control – we are wasting energy in areas that we can’t change or even influence.
If we under estimate our control – we don’t take action in areas that could get us closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, if you’re a self-identified pessimist, know that these are in fact thinking styles that can be grown and developed and changed with practice.
Perhaps more importantly, the thinking style we choose will influence the thinking styles of those we interact with daily – virtually or in-person, particularly our kids. What ripple effect do we want to have? How do we want to influence those we love and lead?
Take a minute and reflect on your beliefs about optimism, realism, and pessimism. What did you think before and what do you think now?
I’m hoping you’ve started to see that what we all need right now is neither head in the sand optimism nor grouchy pessimism. What we all need right now is optimism planted in reality.
Here’s your action item: let’s work to hold ourselves and those around us more accountable by adding the missing piece. What I mean is…
When we talk with a friend and all we hear them say is “how hard it is right now” and “how bad it is” …let’s not deny that truth, but instead acknowledge and add optimism. “Yeah, it is hard right now and this is really bad. AND, what we can do right now is…((stay home, connect with people we know are solo, wash our hands well and often, make sidewalk art))”
On the other hand, when we talk with our overly positive friend and all we hear them say is, “everything’s going to be okay” …maybe we share with them that their positivity is needed and appreciated AND that research shows us our positivity has an even more powerful impact when we also acknowledge reality. “I really appreciate that you can see that we’re going come out of this at some point, the world needs that right now, I need that right now…and it’s also true that for a lot of people this is going to be bad…acknowledging that will allow us see what we can do to help ourselves and others overcome.”
Let’s all be realistic optimists. Acknowledge reality while maintaining hope.
Stay home. Stay Safe. Stay Connected.
Hi! I'm Piers. I am an Ultimate player, spouse, parent, and human performance coach. My passion and my profession is to help individuals and teams perform at their best through research-based mental skills, resilience, leadership and team dynamics training.
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