Often people take one of two approaches when a crisis such as a pandemic occurs
Positive psychology can be a luxury item in good times, but in difficult times it becomes an absolute necessity, according to Shawn Achor, Author of Big Potential and The Happiness Advantage.
Often people take one of two approaches when a crisis such as a pandemic occurs, Achor told told participants of Skillsoft’s Perspectives 2020 event. One side creates an irrational optimistic approach in which they “sugarcoat the present” and turn a blind eye to any of the negatives that are going on.
“We see this even not during a crisis when a leader is trying to be really positive,” he said.
Often they think the best way to be able to accomplish success is to ignore all the weaknesses on their team, ignore the weaknesses of their product and just talk about what makes people smile and feel good.
However, Achor said that approach actually causes us to not solve any problems and in the long term actually decreases our level of happiness. When we turn a blind eye to the negative it doesn’t solve those problems.
Moreover, when we do that the people stop believing in the leadership who are seen as being “divorced from reality”. That’s an “irrational optimistic approach” and is actually what can give happiness a bad name.
The other side is seeing a problem and believing that problem takes up the entirety of your reality. And that it is “permanent and pervasive”, added Achor.
That pessimistic response causes paralysis for the brain where it doesn’t feel like it can move forward because the problem is intractable. When somebody has that response they stop believing that their behaviour matters so they just wait for a crisis or a negative event to finish.
Achor explained that what we call “rational optimism” is the middle path and a mindset that help us navigate a crisis. Rational optimism starts with a realistic assessment of the present.
“This includes the good and bad that’s currently occurring in a team, the environment and in the economy,” he said.
“But in the midst of the realism you maintain the belief that your behaviour matters.”
When people have that realistic assessment of the present but maintain the belief that their behaviour will eventually matter if linked to the right people, the result is a workforce that doesn’t get paralysed by the problem but also don’t turn a blind eye to the problem.
“Over and over again in the midst of this crisis I keep hearing people say that it feels so frightening because it is unprecedented in a sense that we haven’t shut down the economy because of a pandemic within our lifetime,” said Achor.
“But as soon as we start to think that it is something unprecedented it literally freaks out the brain.
“So we don’t want that emotional hijack to occur and I believe the way that we can help people is to remind them that while this is unprecedented we have great precedent for how human overcome crises.”
Achor said in the last 100 years, we endured a World War, a depression, another World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, September 11 and the GFC.
In each one of those times we had a crisis and progressed through it to the point where we thought our life was normal right before this current crisis occurring.
“The turn of getting over the challenges occurred when people started developing optimism, hope, gratitude for the present, saw the meaning involved in their work and deepened their social bonds.”