In their book, Option B, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and professor and psychologist Adam Grant recount her asking him “How much resilience do I have?" amid the aftermath of her husband's sudden death. He responded by saying this was not the right question to be asking because our reserves of resilience are not finite. Rather, the question to ask is “How do I build my resilience?”. It’s a question I have been pondering a lot since we moved towards lockdown. I’ve seen a myriad of responses from colleagues to the challanges of these times. Some have acknowledged they are mentally not coping through to those who feel they are flourishing and don’t want this to end!
Shortly before going into my self-imposed isolation (prior to level 4), I knew I wanted to come out of the experience with a headspace that was clear, more resilient and strong. While my husband half-joked that lockdown is hell for me because I have to share it with others and couldn’t spend the whole time alone in introvert heaven, I could see the risks for my mental and emotional wellbeing - my mojo - of what lay ahead. I set about very consciously putting strategies in place to mitigate those risks.
I’m not talking about the usual 'get fresh air, drink lots of water, meditate daily, eat nutritiously' type actions. Sure, I recognised that amping up these practices was important to how well I kept and felt, particularly given the long commute to the office had been replaced by a short commute to the fridge. However, I was looking to other strategies to have me mentally flourishing at a time when floundering would be an acceptable and more predictable response. Now, as we move to level 3 (which won’t look a lot different for me than level 4, save that my family can again enjoy Kung Pao and dumplings from the local takeaway), I am reflecting on what has been working for me as I strive to maintain my mojo. Here are a few of them…
Yick...Ugh…I focused on the Positive/Gratitude: Confession time: as much interest as I have in techniques for maintaining a healthy outlook and endeavouring to be more mindful of what I am bringing to any given situation, I have always inwardly cringed at the idea of a daily gratitude practice. Seriously, how was being grateful for the sunshine and the fact I was able to launder the mountain of household sheets going to make me feel better about: my heavy fatigue from being woken 5 times that night by my son, the client that is going toxic and that I have no idea how I am going to get through even half the work on my desk?
Well, I’ll admit it – I was wrong. A big, fat WRONG. Going into lockdown, I decided to suspend skepticism and implement a daily discipline of looking for at least one thing that was positive. Small was OK. It just had to be something I had found joy in or was grateful for during lockdown. Some days this came easily. Other days, particularly as lockdown went on, it felt like I was clasping for A N Y T H I N G. But, each day, I found it and with it, I found a lift in my spirits that carried on well through the day. While I am sure there is a neuroscientist somewhere who can explain why, I can’t, and I don’t feel the need for explanation. The result is enough for me.
I Kept Communication Channels Alive: While my husband likely touched on a valid point – I do stunningly well working away in my hive alone – I made a point of keeping alive the informal communication with my colleagues and friends. Thanks to this, I could console myself with the knowledge gained that I wasn’t the only mother whose child’s education was being completely neglected while I tried to keep my practice humming. Thanks to this, I could feel the satisfaction of being of service to colleagues and friends when they asked questions of me or sought out my help with something. Thanks to this, I could seek the support of others and give them the gift of being able to help me out. Thanks to this, I could simply enjoy the humour and comradeship of my professional community and friends. Happy days.
I Got Closer to My Numbers & My Plans: Whenever I am faced with uncertainty and anxiousness, I gravitate inward and towards three things – the certainty of numbers, the control of plans hatched, and the comfort of chocolate. This time was no different.
I knew this situation was going to be bigger than anything I’d faced before in business so, early on in isolation (fuelled with Whittakers), I buried myself in the critical numbers in my practice. I explored what may happen to those numbers and when. I considered forecasts of best scenarios, worst scenarios and all in between.
Knowing the numbers gave me comfort as it removed a lot of the uncertainty I had about what lay ahead in my practice. I could see what I would be well served to develop and devote my time to. Where uncertainty remained, just recognising that was only a small part of the overall picture made it felt less worrying. It also allowed me to identify different scenarios and exercise some control and autonomy by devising plans to avoid or mitigate those that were unwanted and maximise those that were favourable.
I Focused on my Choices – those of you who know me well, may recognise I have a tendency towards having a need for control in my life. Just a little. Like anything, this sometimes serves me while at other times it doesn’t. Entering lockdown, I identified this was one of the latter situations.
In a world where our autonomy can feel lost to us, I deliberately fed the inner control monster by looking for the choice points that existed in my every day life. For example, rather than feeling exasperated at “having” to tackle home schooling in year 6 math, I “chose” to spend time learning maths (and I was learning!) alongside my son or, more recently, as a family we "chose" to abandon aspects of the school curriculum in favour of my son being able to pursue learning through his passions. Another example was that instead of railing about how mountain biking was "taken from me", I "chose" to allow myself to recover from an injury and to get outside and enjoy exploring locally on short walks and road rides.
So much more liberating and lighter in feeling. For everyone!
I Remembered Others Were Worse Off – Throughout, I reminded myself of how others have it worse and that I was not the only one in this situation. I recalled how this had been some solace for me previously during long, stressful nights up with a crying baby.
I had the benefit of resources that others did not have. I had the benefit of being able to proficiently access and use technology. All my immediate family were healthy when I knew other family members and friends who had nearest and dearest who were critically unwell with Covid or from other things that left them at greater risk from Covid. I had the benefit of being in a profession where I was able to see a future existing in my job.
This remembrance strategy served me during the minor inconveniences right through to when I had a teary, helpless-feeling meltdown at Day 30.
I Took Inspiration From the Opportunities for my Practice – Besides “unprecedented”, is there a more annoyingly, over-used term than “pivot”? We’ve been told to pivot our businesses. A colleague used the alternative term “pirouette” which spoke to me of adapting our practices in graceful, artful ways.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, I could see the many opportunities for my practice so pirouette, I will. Some opportunities I had been muddling away on for over a year but I can see an even greater opportunity for these now, so I have thrown myself into them more fully. In my husband's business, the opportunities also abound so, between us, there have been animated, excited discussions for the future. I appreciate how blessed we are to be in this position.
In keeping my eyes towards the opportunities, I’ve soaked up inspiration provided by other non-law businesses (Service Foods Home, the Skin Institute, my massage therapist, physio and gym to name a few) but also from more unlikely quarters - musicians. From orchestras to rock stars, musos have come together, from their respective lounge rooms to keep creating with one another, connect with their audiences and reach new ones. A fabulous reminder we can all keep giving our gifts from afar and in new, innovative ways.
These are some of the things that have helped me maintain my mojo and build my resilience in the last 6 weeks. I appreciate these won't be for everyone and you likely have your own spin on strategies that are working for you. I'd love to hear them! Add a comment or head on into The Law Lighthouse Private Facebook Group to share so we can all help each other out.