I have been hearing a phrase over the past week that resonates with me: We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm, but not the same boat. I believe this is true because although we are all living through this pandemic, we each face unique challenges and differing means to cope physically, financially, and mentally. Something that will make a difference in managing this situation is one’s level of resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and is necessary for coping with hardship. But it is a skill, and like any skill it can be learned.
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., developed mindset theory by studying how to cope with failure. Early in her career she ran a study with 10-year-old children. She gave them puzzles that started off fairly easy and became more and more difficult. She expected some children to cope with failure and some to fall apart. But some of the children surprised her. They said things like, “I love a challenge!” and “I was hoping this would be informative!” These children were not discouraged by failing. They did not even know they were failing; they thought they were learning. Dweck describes two mindsets:
Fixed Mindset: Believing your qualities are set in stone, such as having a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character. This creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over and makes you less likely to go outside your comfort zone for fear of failure.
Growth Mindset: Believing your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. This causes you to seek challenges allowing you to learn and develop your abilities.
How can we train ourselves to have a growth mindset? We need to counter negative patterns of thinking. We have all had times when we think, “The coach thinks I stink!” or “I am not a numbers person.” It is normal to have negative thinking patterns. But when we start to jump to conclusions, take things personally, or try to read other people’s minds, we can fall into thinking traps that can make us anxious and lower our self-regard. Karen Reveitch, Ph.D., suggests four prompts to help shift our thinking to be more realistic and optimistic:
1. A more accurate way of seeing this is…
2. One possible other explanation is…
3. My thoughts aren’t necessarily true because…
4. A more likely outcome is…
When we use these prompts, we can curb negative, anxious, or ruminative thinking. But it does not happen overnight. You have to practice so you develop the habit of thinking more positively. Here is an example:
This totally sucks! I am a senior and I am never going to see my friends again!
1. A more accurate way of seeing this is even though we have to be physically distant, we do not have to be socially distant. We could set up a zoom chat or take a walk.
2. One possible other explanation is this will end and I will see my friends again. We could start planning a graduation party for when it is safe to be together again.
3. My thoughts aren’t necessarily true because I am frustrated and angry.
4. A more likely outcome is yes, this is tough. But I am lucky to live in a time when we have the technology that allows me to still be in touch with my friends and to reach out to my friends/teachers/Dr. Dan when I need to.
So, what does all this mean for what we are dealing with today? First, acknowledge it is normal to be feeling sad and disappointed about things we are missing out on, as well as anxious about what is to come. Second, if you find yourself spiraling and thinking nothing is in your control, work through the prompts. Third, remember that we may not be able to control our situation, but we can control our response. You are part of a solid community that cares for you. You are not alone. We will all come through this stronger than we were before.
Dan Martin, Ph.D.