By Michelle Ray, “The Attitude Adjustor”, keynote speaker and workplace motivation expert
The “R” word…Are we having one or not? No doubt, the statistical evidence leads us to conclude that the downturn has begun. Wherever we turn, the news since the Fall has been predictably bleak regarding the economy. This is nothing new; being fed a “doomsday diet” has been the right of the media for decades. A similar reaction on our part however, has dire consequences for our state of mind and well-being, affecting those who we live and work with. During challenging times, individuals and organizations need to be reminded more than ever that we can control our own reality. The old adage “attitudes are caught not taught” serves us now as a timely message. We can choose a “get a grip” approach when times get tough, which implies a short-term methodology of coping, or we can choose “to manage”, which involves developing a mindset of resiliency for the long haul. It is all about how we first choose to interpret any potentially stressful or difficult circumstance. This willthen determine a course of action, resulting in either positive or negative consequences. Here are some options:
Show up or bury your head in the sand?
Stress expert Dr. Hans Selye identified three stages of our physiological response to dealing with stress in his work which he called the General Adaptation Syndrome (also known as “The Bell Curve”.) These stages are known as “Alarm”, “Resistance” and “Exhaustion”. In the first phase, the stressor activates a “fight or flight response”. This innate need to protect ourselves from a threat, whether real or perceived, is perfectly normal. We continue to “resist” as our built-in, biological defense mechanism kicks in, until we eventually become “exhausted”. I liken the Bell Curve to the peaks and valleys of life as it is natural to experience the ups and downs. Consider, however, that our ability to ultimately rise above tragic events and turbulent times in our lives will be based on how we construe and perceive such events. My father, who is now eighty eight years old, was imprisoned and survived the Second World War, losing most of his family during one of the darkest times in our history. After almost fifty years of marriage he recently lost his wife, my mother, to the debilitating disease of dementia. Yet, he is the eternal optimist, has no physical ailments and has instilled the survivor instinct in his children. The power of personal leadership means taking charge of our attitude and interpretation of events that are often outside of our control, no matter what the circumstances.
Surround yourself with positive people or doom and gloomers?
Have you ever listened closely to two negativists in conversation? It sounds like this:
- “Things are really bad.”
- “Yeah, things couldn’t get any worse.”
- “It’s just shocking,”
- “I know! There is nothing we can do.”
- “It’s really bad.”
- “It’s terrible…A disaster!”
- “It’s a catastrophe!”
As humorist Loretta Laroche says, they manage to “awfulize” everything! Incredibly, many people subject themselves to these misery moments daily. We may not be able to choose our families or who we work with, but we can choose who we socialize with! Negative attitudes are only contagious to the degree that we allow ourselves to “buy in.” People who are chronic complainers are often unaware of their behaviour. In addition, they are practicing a habit and have no clue of how to stop whining. Rather than wasting our energy by listening or trying to change them, our job is to model positive behaviour (if we must be around them) or to choose new friends! Remember, the people with whom we spend precious time reflect our values.
Be creative or unimaginative?
Never underestimate the power of your own imagination and resourcefulness. There are numerous personal anecdotes and business examples available regarding the power of innovation during tough times. (Just try a Google search on this very topic and see for yourself!) Many articles all point to a common reaction of businesses to economic uncertainty: cut spending on advertising and marketing. In other words, reduce visibility and hope consumers will still remember us! Proctor and Gamble did the exact opposite of their competitors during the Great Depression by increasing advertising spending, using radio advertising in a unique manner to build brand awareness. Their success with this medium resulted in unprecedented success for the medium itself!
What if Disney had bought into the opinions of naysayers? Millions of people would never know the Magic Kingdom! In Australia, the country of my birth, we speak of the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”; a pessimistic notion that if one does enjoy success in any endeavour; perhaps they ought to be “cut down to size!” As a manager, I remember one of the most accomplished salespeople on my team during the recession of the early 1990’s used to say, “there is no recession in my head.” I know with certainty that had he bought into the pervading negativity of his era, he never would have built enduring relationships with his clients, nor would he have achieved unprecedented success in his field. He performed brilliantly in his job because of his unwavering belief in his own ability. In the words of Dr. Michael LeBoef: “Adversity is an experience, not a final act.” Think of what is possible when you choose to live in your imagination and begin to channel positive energy, commitment and belief in this direction.