As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re navigating through an uncertain and stressful time. People are going to have various reactions. Given my experience, I have this anecdotal sense that when under this kind of stress, we become more of what we are.
If someone’s temperament runs on the anxious side pre-pandemic, it’s going to jump into overdrive now. If someone is slower to start things, chances are they aren’t going to become a go-getter now.
The question to ask yourself is “how’s that working for you?”
If it’s not, if how we’ve done things in the past isn’t working for us in the present, then we may be motivated (or forced) to change. Perhaps you want to learn to better handle these new pandemic-induced worries. For others, it may be adjusting to working from home or working from home with children. Or not working, as unfortunately many people are dealing with. Whatever it is, it’s a new reality … and opportunity.
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
In order to meet this new reality, let’s look at what’s been proven to work in other settings such as schools, Fortune 500 companies, you name it — a growth mindset. Dr. Carol S. Dweck, PhD at Stanford University pioneered this research, and she’s been cited more times than we can count.
According to Dweck, there are two basic mindsets: fixed and growth. In short, a fixed mindset believes that your abilities are static. They don’t change. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes abilities can be developed and that learning is a process, and effort is key. Let’s look at how we can use Dweck’s growth mindset to help us through COVID-19.
5 Ways a Growth Mindset Can Help During COVID-19
- Know where your “fixed mindset” triggers reside.
This is where being mindful of your self-talk is essential. I’ve heard lots of people say “I can’t stay in shape, because my gym is closed or “I won’t do video sessions, because I just can’t figure it out.” Words like “can’t,” “never,” “won’t,” and “always” are good clues that you may be in a fixed headspace — and dooming yourself to failure. It may not be your preference during this time to run outside or workout to the TV, and yet, you can still do it.
- Identify your purpose. What drives you?
The question “how do I want to come out of this?” can be helpful. There really are two levels to this. One, identify what’s important to you — your values, and two, use that to orient your behaviors.
For example, for my clients with obsessive compulsive disorder, when they feel uncomfortable, they can either give into the compulsion or not. Being solid in their “why” helps with the choice. If they give into their compulsions, that makes the OCD stronger. When they decide to not to give in, they come out with their recovery mindset stronger.
Their purpose — moving toward recovery, being a better (more present) partner, parent, employee, or friend — is the lighthouse that guides their behavior and allows them to weather the discomfort of facing their fears. Your purpose must be greater than the pain, discomfort, and urge to stay safe and comfortable or else you’re likely to stay safe and comfortable.
Since our world has been turned upside down, now is a great time to take stock and ask ourselves “how do I want to be in the world?” and “what’s really important to me?” These questions can help anchor you in why you’re riding out the discomfort, why you’re being extra aggressive in not giving into your fear. It makes space for your feelings.
Now, I don’t want to minimize how difficult it is to turn away from the urge for anyone, OCD or not, and I want to stress that’s why their purpose has to be compelling. I’m simplifying the process quite a bit. What’s important to know that there is a process and that people will tolerate discomfort if what’s on the other side is important enough. For this to be successful, you must know your overall “why,” and it needs to be stronger. than the discomfort you’ll feel in the moment to keep going.
- Ditch perfection for “good enough.”
With all the demands on parents these days, there really is no time for perfection. That won’t stop the worry, unease, or discomfort in the perfectionist’s mind, however, if they don’t do something the way “they’re supposed to.” Given all the demands on parents and the mental (not to mention time!) costs of being a perfectionist, now can be the best time to practice being good enough. Practice sending the email without proofreading it, try not looking your best for your virtual meeting, do the minimum of preparing for something instead of going above and beyond, buy boxed cake mix instead of having to make it from scratch.The practice is in tolerating the uncomfortable (but temporary) feelings that may arise because you didn’t follow perfection’s rules. Create space for the feelings, don’t fight them, and know they will pass.
- Connection is essential.
A central tenet of growth mindset is collaboration. For our purposes here, living with COVID-19, I’m going to make it about connection. It’s completely normal to feel anxious and worried — there’s lots of uncertainty around us. Giving yourself permission to feel however you feel is a step toward inner connection. Once you’re connected to how you’re feeling, know that someone else is feeling that way too. The best way to get out of your head? Be of service to someone else. Call someone, listen to them.(Here are some tips to make sure you’re really listening. While I originally wrote these about listening to your children, truly, these are good tips for everyone.)
- Reframe “problems” as “challenges” or “opportunities”
According to anxiety expert David H Barlow, PhD, people with anxiety tend to see problems as obstacles and overestimate the danger, threat, and risk — and they underestimate their ability to cope. That sounds like a fixed mindset. A growth mindset views problems as challenge, or opportunities, to overcome. This subtle shift in mindset opens up your thinking. How do you make the shift? Think about other times in your life when you’ve overcome challenges.
One-on-one coaching can help. In light of COVID-19, I’m offering sessions via video, so I encourage you to reach out if you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a fixed mindset. There are proven ways for getting out of it — and through these stressful times.