It may not be 2020 anymore, but we still live in uncertain times. For many, fear and anxiety persists. What are the top mindset skills we need in 2021 to stay strong despite ongoing challenges? How can we face and overcome fear to achieve our goals?
Welcome Uncomfortable Emotions
To stay mentally strong and persevere through adversity, we must first learn to welcome uncomfortable emotions like fear. We should reject the belief that fear is an indication that we are incapable of handling a stressful situation.
Many leaders and heroes throughout history have acknowledged that courage is something much greater than just the absence of fear. As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who is not afraid but he who conquers that fear.”
Cultivate Hardiness & Grit
We can learn a lot about facing fear from the interdisciplinary science of performance psychology. Two psychological constructs can act as mental models to help us cultivate and practice the courage to act in the presence of fear: hardiness and grit.
What do these words mean to you? What about similar words like mental toughness, tenacity, and resilience? Who (alive, deceased, or fictional) comes to mind? How did they handle fear? What made them hardy and gritty?
Individuals who face their fears have often cultivated the ability to (1) remain committed for an extended period of time, (2) embrace challenges, and (3) focus more on what is in their control than out of their control, according to early research into psychological hardiness by researcher Suzanne Kobasa.
Your ability to remain committed for extended periods of time despite adversity can depend on the clarity of your purpose. Your purpose, or “why” is a statement of who you are — “the sum total of your beliefs and values,” wrote Simon Sinek in The Infinite Game.
In short: your sense of purpose can drive how you act and fuel your ability to remain committed.
Your why/purpose can be an incredibly powerful force because it is not context dependent. It is your internal operating system. Behaviors are the equivalent of computer software applications. You’ll run an infinite number of “apps” off of that one operating system, even if you are not aware how it is motivating your behaviors.
This is where knowledge, awareness, and reflection is crucial.
Before launching into your 2021 goals, take the time to identify your why and shape it based on your core values and standards for excellence. Doing so will help you strengthen your resolve to remain committed when you face challenges.
Challenges and setbacks are not only a natural part of life, but they are also an essential part of growth and improvement. Too often, we approach our challenges as situations we hope to merely survive. Instead, we can start viewing our challenges as opportunities to thrive. A simple change in our perspective, also known as cognitive reframing, can have a massive impact on our mindset and behaviors.
This is where grit comes in. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth defines grit is the combination of passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals.
Our passions are an extension of our values, which come from the motivation behind why we intrinsically choose to pursue a course of action. Perseverance is the ability to persist in the face of setbacks and failures.
This can heavily impact how we view our work. Duckworth discusses three ways people tend to identify with their professional responsibilities: having a job, having a career, and having a calling. Those who view their work as a calling are more able to embrace challenges and adversity.
In what ways can you adjust how you view your responsibilities, duties, and problems this year? Active reframing and choosing to find purpose in our activities is a powerful way to shape our mindset.
The next time you find your mind fixating on restrictive and reactive thoughts, remember to stop, reset, and reframe. Think about the opportunity that this situation is offering you and take control of it.
Focus On What You Can Control
A common saying in performance psychology is “control the controllables.” COVID-19, and the various restrictions that have accompanied it, is a powerful reminder that there are many things we cannot control.
As difficult as it is to practice, we must remember that allowing ourselves to stress about things that are outside our control is an imprudent use of our physical and mental resources. Redirecting our mental energy to those things we can control develops attentional discipline, which is one way to increase levels of hardiness and grit.
How to bring the 3 Cs together:
- Begin by writing down anything that weighs heavily on your mind and causes fear, worry, or distraction.
- Ask yourself: Is this something I can control? Is this an appropriate use of my physical and mental resources?
- Clearly categorize the factors that you can control as well as those that you cannot control.
- Make a purposeful intention to focus your resources (time, energy, and attention) on the controllable factors and develop a plan of action to address them.
- Practice acceptance of the uncontrollable factors and redirect your mind e.g., take a deliberate breath, think about something you are grateful for, and/or reach out to a loved one.
- Make reflection a habit by creating daily self-reflection techniques to make sure you aren’t wasting resources on uncontrollable factors.
Would your team benefit from professional guidance in developing the three Cs of psychological hardness (commitment, challenge, and control)? Our Resilient and Adaptable Leader© program is a powerful training that teaches the emotional and mental skills that improve well-being, optimize performance, and grow hardiness and grit. We also offer executive coaching services, team-building, assessments, and change management services.
Jared Cohen and Sean Hall
Editor: Rachel Bryars
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.
Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, (1-11).
Sinek, S. (2019). The infinite game. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.