The Art of Staying Positive

Diverse group of colleagues smiling during meeting

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Post-holiday winter is always an emotionally challenging time, but pandemic winter is especially hard. While we’ve just returned from break, you’re not alone if you’re feeling less than rested. It seemed easier last year when we expected a cloistered holiday season. It was disheartening, disappointing, and worrisome this year to cancel so many holiday plans as omicron took root.

The pandemic is sad. The reality we once knew feels distant. It’s hard to even remember what it’s like to hear our students’ unfiltered voices and to see their unmasked faces. Many of us are mourning friends and family members whose funerals we couldn’t even attend. Our students are struggling. Our coworkers are struggling. We’re struggling too.

The stress, sadness, and logistical challenges that the pandemic continues to heap onto educators, staff, and students are exhausting. On top of that, our country is not at peace. That vibe permeates. The pandemic is dire and difficult, and the waves of worrisome political disruption make that burden so much heavier.

How do we keep trudging through, when “resilience” feels like a fairytale buzzword? How do we stay positive during our third pandemic winter?

Why Should We?
A compelling reason to target positivity is that we live in these minds of ours. It’s tempting to collapse into despair, but who wants to live there? We can’t lead meaningful lives in collapse mode.

Practicing positivity is like committing to any pursuit; it’s like exercising or studying. “Staying positive takes strategy and intention” explains the career coach Kyle Elliott.

It’s a mental exercise to say to ourselves: “I can look at this situation in a variety of ways, and I’m selecting the one that suits me best during this difficult time.” We can’t do it alone. We need a plan and we need support.

Building Community
Everyone is struggling now. The most optimistic person you know is struggling. The most successful person you know is struggling. Spiritual people, enlightened people, brilliant people-all are struggling. As we kick off our third year of the pandemic, we are all worn and weary. We all harbor the worry that there is no way out of this reality.

We need each other, and collapsing into our own despair makes it harder for us to engage in community. Building and strengthening our own ability to maintain a positive perspective feeds our own needs and it helps us to keep building and fortifying our relationships. None of us need someone to say “the sky is falling.” We need someone to say: “let’s get through this together.”

“A positive mindset at work is a tremendous asset, and is often an integral element of success both individually and collectively” explains Tina Hawk, senior vice president of human resources at Good hire. “Our initial reaction to the challenges we face will often set the course for our response, and so having the ability to react positively to professional hurdles is a massive psychological boost. In fact, a positive mindset doesn’t just help us to react well to challenges, it actually teaches us to expect them, and have the confidence in ourselves to know that we can face whatever unexpected difficulty arrives.”

Make a Commitment to Yourself
Just as there are always reasons to despair, there are always reasons to hope. There is beauty. There is justice. There is truth. There are good people in our lives and in our workplaces. Relish these, but don’t leave your positivity-building to chance.

Despair is like dust. It can settle on us unless we adopt routines that disrupt it. Build a plan to actively keep the dust of despair from settling on you. Recognize that these are especially difficult times, and make a commitment to a self-care regiment that keeps you moving in a direction that serves you.

Notice those things that always give you a boost: exercise, being outside, reading, being in the company of others, going to museums, star gazing, being with animals. Identify what feeds you–your individual, go-to positivity incubator–and build it into your routine. Do it faithfully. Think of it like eating or drinking. Right now, doing this activity regularly is instrumental to your continued health.

“Maintain a positive mindset by implementing a daily practice of writing out your accomplishments” Elliot recommends. “This can be as simple as keeping a journal on your nightstand and writing out one accomplishment before bed. Establishing this routine will get you in the habit of reflecting.”

This time is mentally and professionally challenging on a whole new level. Identify what outlet helps you manage it, and commit to a routine that guards and furthers your wellness.

Protect Your Mental Health
Be unapologetically protective of your mental health. Make room in your life for a therapist or a life coach. In the past, we may have thought we could muscle through and we may have done that successfully. We’ve been muscling through, though, for an exceedingly long stretch. Make sure you have the support you need.

People depend on you–students, colleagues, family. It’s difficult to be a resource for others when you are struggling too. You may feel it in ways you didn’t expect. Get the support you need to help you manage the weight you’re carrying. There’s a lot that we can’t control, but we can take care of ourselves.

The Art of Staying Positive
Staying positive isn’t a token gesture. It’s about recognizing what you can fix and what you can’t and making every effort to take care of what’s in your control.

“A positive mindset doesn’t mean being hopelessly naive, nor does it propose living in denial of harsh realities” Hawk points out. “Rather, a truly grounded positive mindset means that we can be both confident yet realistic, both enthusiastic and well experienced. The more individuals within an organization who can genuinely model this kind of attitude day-to-day, the more dynamic, decisive and inspired the whole company can be.”

Having a positive mindset doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of what’s happening. It means accepting that reality for what it is and deciding to thrive anyway; then devising your own formula for what that looks like for you and committing to it.

To do this in a way that truly serves you, it has to be authentic. Elliot points out: “Also, recognize that it is OK to have days when you do not feel positive.” Take care of yourself on those difficult days. Reach out to your therapist and your community. Take breaks.

Take care of others on their difficult days, too. Build community with vigor and intention. We need each other more than ever. Caring for ourselves and each other is how we will get through this winter and this pandemic.

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