(Estimated reading time 4 1/2 minutes)
CBC reports that a new study by the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that Canadians are more anxious and depressed than we were eight months ago. In less than encouraging statistics, Canadians are drinking more alcohol and using more drugs. Since the start of the pandemic, we are exercising less and watching more TV. Perhaps we feel powerless and discouraged as we head into another cold winter with pandemic restrictions still in play, but we are not without some control. In the words of Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)
My dad turned eighty a couple of days ago. He lives a very long flight away from our home in Ontario. A pre-COVID world had us planning a memorable eightieth birthday celebration trip with the family. We would travel to a secluded bush camp in Botswana (a favourite of my dad’s) and go on safari. With travel restrictions in place, those plans changed. All of us were disappointed.
Thankfully, my family in South Africa did manage a special celebration closer to their home on the big day. I was so happy they did, and it was tough not to be able to attend. I felt powerless to change anything in the face of the pandemic and disappointed that I was missing such an important family event.
Missing my dad’s eightieth birthday celebration was not a comfortable experience. I was so grateful that I’ve spent the last five months building up more hopeful and helpful neural pathways. It made a difference. Most of us have the mental fitness to deal with life’s typical challenges. Living through a pandemic with the financial, social and mental struggle that it creates far outweighs the normal challenges of life. To tackle the hurdles that currently face us, we require more mental muscle than most of us have on hand. We need to be aware of unhelpful thoughts. We need to take those thoughts captive (or in mental fitness language, we need to build our self-command muscle), and we need to choose other, more helpful, hopeful ways of thinking. The Positive Intelligence six-week mental fitness program teaches and trains you how to do that.
One of the mental fitness training exercises builds new neural pathways by guiding you to imagine future or remember past difficult circumstances. Looking for the gift or opportunity in an otherwise challenging situation creates new neural circuitry. This exercise builds your mental “muscles.” It makes it easier in the middle of being hooked emotionally by a challenge to activate your self-command muscle and choose a different path. That’s what I did as I faced missing my dad’s birthday. I looked for the gift or opportunity that was present.
I knew what mattered was finding a way to celebrate my dad. Usually, that would have involved being together, sharing a meal and a glass of wine. As this was out of the realm of possibility, I began to look for other ways to express our love and appreciation. I looked for what might be meaningful for dad.
What I know for sure is that dad loves photos. He re-lives trips long after they have happened through the photo-memories created. How could I get creative? I came up with two ideas:
- I’d write a blog post sharing a lesson my dad taught me many years ago that has become part of his legacy living on in me.
- I would get each family member to make a short video to share unforgettable memories they have of my dad or things he has taught them for which they are grateful. I’d put these together to create a birthday celebration video.
Am I happy we had to miss the trip? No. Was there a gift or opportunity created as a result? Yes. Part of the gift to me was expressing things that might not otherwise have been said. Part of the gift was feeling like I was no longer powerless. Part of the gift to my dad is that he gets to keep the words and videos created in his honour and re-visit them whenever he wants to do so.
Tips for staying positive through the months ahead
- Take the six-week mental fitness course. Build your mental muscles to deal with the challenges ahead.
- Get outside for a walk. Take your camera, your favourite music, audiobook, or podcast and get moving.
- Be creative. I take photos. My friend, Bruna, breathes new life into old furniture. My husband bakes bread. What can you do?
- Go on a virtual trip. On days we’ve felt particularly hemmed in, my husband and I have a “tea and travel” ritual. We have tea together and find a place to visit virtually – our favourite is a live feed in the African bushveld to watch animals come to drink. If I’m stressed, I go to the beach or an aquarium. It makes me feel like I’m getting out of the house. There are lots to choose from on Explore.org
- Do a puzzle.
- Start a blog, a vlog or a journal.
- Connect with others virtually. A friend had a weekly virtual date with a small group. Each week, one person would drop off a delightful new cocktail and some appetizers on each person’s porch. Then they would connect via Zoom and share drinks and appetizers as they had a chat about the week.
- Learn something new.
- Encourage someone else.
- Create a video or written message telling someone you love (and can’t visit) what you appreciate about them.
This Week’s Photos
In honour of virtual travel, this week’s photos are memories of our last safari.
The work I do as a coach focuses on personal growth. That could include but is not limited to: developing courage and mental fitness, clarifying values and honouring those values in your life, setting boundaries, becoming more assertive, creating self-awareness and confidence, setting goals, finding your inner strength, identifying and dealing with the thoughts that sabotage you, support in making changes or in going through transitions, and work on discovering your life purpose. Personal growth can have a profound and positive impact on your career, your work and personal relationships and your general satisfaction with life.