These are challenging times with COVID-19 but will prove that mankind has an innate ability to rise.
Empathy, compassion, and morality have risen over the last 100 years, yet negativity seems to be increasing. Pessimism does not help in social settings because discussions of controversial topics make us move away from each other, and are not good for our individual psyches. Blaming the cause as social media is of no use. The responsibility for getting in the right frame of mind is ours alone.
Cultivating positivity is important and takes effort.
Life, especially in larger suburbs, is moving with a higher velocity than ever and desire to gain social standing is getting tougher. We are relying on sound bites and creating our own. In the name of differentiation, we etch our opinions deeper into our brains and get irrationally attached to them. These create controversy and leave no room for compromises, alliance or common ground.
Another reason for not having a positive state of mind is due to messages to become overachievers — “reach for the stars” or “dream big” — place us under undue pressure. When we do not measure up to these expectations, feelings of inadequacy and negativity set in.
Prolonged periods of negativity are depressing and we find ourselves like deer in headlights.
Small steps towards the desired path can alter mental makeup and lead to a course correction. Taking steps is far more important than just thinking about doing it.
I recently came across Charlie Munger’s articles (republished by FS), where he says ”..thinking can change our minds, but what we do can change how we think.” Munger used this sentence in a different context, but I like it. It can also be interpreted to mean that “action is better than inaction.” Writers often hear “thinking about writing is not writing”.
Even then, there is a challenge when we do not succeed after repeated attempts. Pep talks don’t help. Thomas Edison had 1000 failures before inventing the light bulb.
Initially, I started the practice of doing and thinking, to increase my productivity when I did not have much experience. But after having been CEO of my tech company for almost 20 years, I now had loads of experience. But now if I thought about it too much I would procrastinate.
Instead I developed an action-packed daily routine, daring to write and to compete in major bridge tournaments. It kept me charged up each day because it was based on a reward system.
I give myself brownie points for making directional progress. I break down ambitious goals into smaller more manageable tasks and then rewarded myself for completing them or for my valiant effort and time. The feeling of accomplishment, however small, lifted my mood.
When stuck we need to learn to reclaim our own turf on our own terms. We get to define which battles we want to win and why. Further, when I get derailed by the environment, a new path needs to be created to make progress and then daily enforcements to make it part of my mental make-up.
I discovered that I need to reset my internal demeanor frequently. Mornings are the best time to get the level set when the minds are fresh. The daily routine is then about action, absorption, and re-prioritization.
It is also about making directional progress and getting away from all or nothing game — which is stressful.
Starting my day is about both solving problems that I want to solve, and about how I will conduct myself. I make a list of things to do, big and small, including chores. To free up room for longer and more difficult tasks, I need to declutter my list and my brain. I attack the little tasks first because they usually (but not always) get done faster. I often stop after a while to leave time for more demanding tasks.
Even during the day there is a constant juggling and reprioritizing. Not being too rigid works for me. But I do not want to give myself permission to be lazy.
When my mind is organized, it is calmer and my positivity flows and grows. Even the hardest tasks seem doable but this mental state is not easy to achieve. It needs drive and motivation, which seems to come with the desire to justify my existence by making a contribution.
The combination of struggles and positivity creates constructive tension leading to greater intensity and creativity. When overwhelmed I may go back to more mundane tasks, or start logging my 10,000 steps a day. If I worked hard, I might treat myself to something yummy or play with co-worker’s pet.
But when things do not go our way, how do we maintain a positive demeanor? By actions. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
Actions form pathways to move onward and upwards for bigger successes. Most importantly, they invoke hopefulness.