Before we get started, this isn’t a plea for sympathy or get well wishes. I’m fine really, just annoyed. It’s been six plus weeks since I could say I was well for more than one day and I’m done with it!
Okay that’s the emotional side of me talking. There are lots of places we can allow our minds to go when sick and driven by an emotional response. There’s a hint of feeling like a victim … why me?
Why do I have to go through all these successive viruses?
There’s a touch of apprehension or perhaps even fear … is this normal?
Maybe I picked up something more serious on that last flight?
There’s certainly a bunch of self-pity that can take over. Let me just go lie down and wallow in my misery, thinking just how bad I feel. I also can feel judged … like I’m being a wimp or lazy.
However none of that sort of thinking serves me in any way, and it has been important to continuously remind myself to put it aside. That has allowed me to sit with this extended period of feeling unwell and use it as a learning experience regarding how I want to deal with less than optimal circumstances. And that’s really all being unwell is … less than optimal circumstances. Which means whatever we can learn from this experience can apply to any other times where things aren’t necessarily lining up the way we like.
Here’s five things that I think we can learn from being unwell that can be applicable at other less favourable times:
1. Accept the situation … it is what it is.
I mentioned all the negative emotions that can and do arise when things aren’t going our way. I also mentioned that none of these emotions provide any real value to us. It’s important for us to acknowledge that we’re not starting from our best place and while we may not like it, we need to stop wasting our time wishing it were different. Stop blaming others, feeling victimized, worrying about negative outcomes, etc. What we need is to reset ourselves to this temporary “new normal” and work from there. Another example might be … your spouse is away at a conference and you are drawing full parental duty, keeping you away from the gym and other things you do for yourself. We can resent our spouse’s travel, or we can acknowledge we are powerless, the situation is temporary and get on with time with the kids.
2. What’s the best thing I can do right now?
Although we’ve accepted that our circumstances aren’t ideal, it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. There’s always options as to what we can do about the circumstances. With a lingering cold or flu, we can choose to rest, we can choose to work, we can be with others or decide we should keep our germs to ourselves. If we’re on the mend we can dive into what we need to do, or if we’re in a relapse we can cancel our plans, or see a doctor. What we’re looking for is the best thing we can do right now based on the information we have, which indeed might be quite limited. Most of the time when circumstances are not favorable, the worst thing we can do is try to do too much or take action too fast and end up making things worse. Example … you are a sales manager and while one of your reps is on vacation a notice arrives saying one of that rep’s customers wants to terminate their account. You have no idea why and are worried. What can you do? Perhaps the best first step is to see what customer service knows so you can begin to create a plan.
3. Giving our best of what we have to give
We’ve been taught this lesson all of our lives. Always do our best. This message often gets misinterpreted such that “doing our best” requires that we “do the best we’ve ever done”. This might be possible when we’re operating at a 10 out of 10. However, we need to reset this message when we’re not operating at full capacity. If we’re operating at 3 out of 10, then we should be satisfied when we deliver at a 30% level and very happy if we hit 40%. If we try to over-achieve by too much we risk doing something wrong or even worse, doing harm to ourselves. Why not extend this to other challenging times as well? For example, our team at work may be working with less than full staff and struggling to get the work done. Our team would appreciate us acknowledging that we see how well they did short-staffed, instead of pointing out how much work didn’t get done.
4. Address our needs.
There are a number of models which describe a human hierarchy of needs, the most famous of which was proposed by Abraham Maslow. It seems to me that it is important that when things aren’t going perfectly that we assess what level of our needs are not being fully met. When we are ill, it may be likely that our physiological needs aren’t being fully met, so we need first to address that level first. There’s no sense trying to worry about our self-image or trying to do something for someone else when the thing we need to do most is go to bed and get healthy. Let’s look at another example. Let’s say that my boss has the impression that I’ve been talking behind her back. That’s a relationship issue that I might sense lives in the love/belonging layer or maybe in the safety layer if I feel my job is at risk. There’s no sense in me trying to protect my ego (esteem layer) until I’ve gone back and repaired the relationship to make sure that I feel safe and my boss is assured that I’m on her side. In summary, make sure we address our most basic needs first so that we work from a solid foundation.
5. Remain Positive
When we’re feeling lousy, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we will get healthy again. But our experience tells us otherwise. Every other time we’ve gotten sick we’ve gotten better. I know this isn’t true of every illness everyone has ever had, but it is my experience and therefore the base of reference I should use until proven otherwise. By remaining positive, I marshal my energy towards becoming healthy, as opposed to putting undue emphasis on being ill. It is the same for other difficult situations. For example, there are a lot of people in Calgary who are unemployed right now. It is important for these individuals to remain hopeful that their next job is out there for them. By doing so, they project a positive image to the market and more importantly, invest in their own resiliency that allows them to keep looking for opportunities.
As I said to start … no sympathy cards please. I’m on the mend. But I’d be interested in what resonates with you from these circumstances. What else comes to your mind as you contemplate challenging circumstances?