The pandemic tidal wave — obliterating our work lives, our sense of control and safety, our relationships, and for many of us, our livelihoods — requires a new way of thinking about how we manage our mental health and our performance. Self-care solutions that are easy to access, can be done anywhere, and have proven value. In my last blogs, I discussed the concept of “being here” and the power of the present moment as well about how “being nice” has real-world and substantive personal benefits. Here I finish up with why getting active and doing good can pay off as well.
Tip #3: Do Good.
A corollary to the human-being tendency to worry about an uncertain future in a futile attempt to control the uncontrollable is our tendency to hunker down and “take care of our own” when we are fearful. Forget others, they’re on their own. On a world scale, we saw this happening when countries closed their borders to refugees or refused to share research findings or excess ventilators.
In our more personal worlds, toilet paper and other household staples became the currency of hoarding. Grocery stores put in new regulations against “change of mind” returning, fearing mass influxes of hoarded goods once the pandemic threat eased.
But just like the stock market wisdom of buying when the market is depressed, I’d argue that there is no better time to “buy” goodwill through open-handed action. Instead of fearing what we might lose and holding tightly, we can help ourselves the most when we can look around, see what needs doing, and do it.
A “Doing Good” Story
I was on a recent “physically distanced” hike with Dr. David Gruen, a family friend who also happens to be Australia’s top statistician and head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I casually asked him about what he was up to at work during the pandemic.
He responded, “Funny you should ask. My wife said to me as I was leaving for work one day back in February, ‘Why don’t you put your team on the task of helping the government better understand how to respond to this virus that has sprung up in China?’”
“I drove to work thinking about how I could do that, and when I got there, I had gathered everyone to brainstorm ideas on where we could focus our attention and effort. I have a lot of bright bulbs on my team and everyone was happy to help. Then we re-prioritized business-as-usual tasks to free up resources for this new, more urgent work. Normally, our statistical surveys take months to prepare and execute, but we decided to move fast to get answers quickly.”
Mind you, the ABS has, at their fingertips, address information for every household in Australia, as well as point-of-sale information for every grocery transaction. (Sensitive to privacy issues, David assured me that the ABS has address information but not who lives in each household, and the grocery transactions are de-identified.) Within weeks, the ABS knew that the first sectors of Australia’s economy to be hit were hospitality and retail, while (wait for it…) toilet paper hoarding was already making itself felt in grocery stores. They surveyed households by phone to learn how the emerging pandemic was impacting individual families. By putting down what they usually did, to do the good that was right in front of them, the ABS put the Australian government in a much better position to make effective decisions about where to marshall resources to support the economy and struggling taxpayers.
What Can You Do?
What problems in your world can you help solve? It is not the magnitude of the problem that is important. Not everyone has the statistical firepower of the ABS. Nevertheless, taking action on small problems is the currency that drives humanity’s better side. Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against British rule, said it best: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
For leaders, this can be an opportunity to demonstrate how doing good can be done, and empower others to do the same. As the pandemic took hold across the US, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emailed his worldwide staff team to thank them for their efforts and urge them to continue to seek opportunities to help others.
“One truth that brings me comfort, is just as this virus has no borders, its cure will have no borders,” he wrote. “We are all in this together as a global community. For me, the best way I’ve found to get past this anxiety is to focus on what I can do each day to make a small difference.
“Each of us, wherever we are, has the opportunity to do the same — take an action-driven by hope, a small step that makes things a bit better. And if everyone does something that makes the world a bit better, our collective work will, in fact, make the world a lot better, for the people we love, for our communities, for society.”
For the rest of us, the internet abounds with good news stories about people helping others. Maybe it’s the act of checking in with your neighbors, seeing who needs help and neighbor helping their neighbors by checking in or buying groceries. This holds true even in your own home. How are others in your family coping with these circumstances, and are there ways you can demonstrate kindness through action?
What Can I Do?
As the pandemic effect intensified around me, I, too, wondered about what good I could personally do. I certainly had the time, as the portion of my business that depended on face-to-face interactions dwindled to dry. I pulled my own “David Gruen” and called a brainstorming session with a few of my closest performance psychology colleagues about how our expertise could be shared to help people mentally navigate the sheer pace of change that was engulfing us all. This group’s thinking led me to organize an online learning event entitled, “Thriving in Uncertainty: Insights from Elite Performance Psychologists.” On June 13–14, 2020, I will interview 20 talented and experienced performance psychology colleagues who will each talk from their unique perspective — sport, military, and well-being — about how they think about thriving, both for their clients and themselves, and share insights and strategies to help us adapt our mindset to better manage through these times of change and uncertainty. If you think this might be of interest, I encourage you to come along, listen in, ask questions, and pick up some useful insights and strategies along the way.
I wrote in my last blog about the science behind altruism, but it bears repeating. Not only is doing good beneficial for the world but acting on your best impulses, following your highest values, is good for you. Acts of altruism can reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health, including lowering your blood pressure, increasing your happiness, lessening symptoms of depression, and even has the potential to help you live longer.
I feel like a walking, personal testament to this wisdom. Even planning to do good feels good. While a part of me is terrified about the leap of faith I am taking in trying to put together my first-ever online event, I am buoyed daily by the idea of being able to give back in this way, and feeling deeply grateful to the colleagues who are lending their expertise to this cause. The moral of my story? Find the good needing doing and do it. You will feel better for it.