Make a PACT to Increase Happiness and Reduce Stress

Now that most of us have a few weeks of quarantine under our belts, it might be a good time to take stock of our individual responses to this stressful situation. I’d like to do it in a way that can help you keep that stress from negatively affecting you both now and in the future. Let’s revisit a model my wife, Margie, and I have taught for many years to help people balance their lives and reduce the harmful impact stress can have on their health and well-being.

The model I’m referring to is the PACT model. It was born from Margie’s studies on research about peak periods of happiness in people’s lives, as well as research about the effect extreme stress has on people’s long-term health. Not only were researchers able to identify common elements related to both topics, they found the two sets of elements to be essentially the same. When Margie studied this research, the similarity of the results from the separate studies confirmed that a simple model for life balance and stress reduction would enable many of us to better manage the day-to-day demands of a busy life as well as unexpected stress-inducing situations.

The PACT Model

For convenience, I’ll be using the acronym P.A.C.T. to refer to four elements that can create both happiness and stress resistance in our lives: Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

P: Perspective

The first element that can create happiness and stress resistance is perspective. Perspective can be defined as the “big picture” of life. People with good perspective know their life’s purpose and direction and value their past but still have a keen sense of the present moment. Perspective is that broad picture of where you’ve been and where you’re going that sets the context for today.

However, any time there’s a major shift in our lives—divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or other big change, our perspective is likely to suffer. Of course, an unexpected disruption like the COVID-19 crisis, with its sudden fear and doubts, will cause most people to go through a period of low perspective. Over time, though, many people find that a low period can become an opportunity for growth—even though it doesn’t feel comfortable or familiar. They see a difficult situation for what it is while also believing that better times are ahead, and that we will step into that reality together. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us.

A: Autonomy

The next element that contributes to high life satisfaction and high resistance to stress is autonomy. Autonomy is a feeling of having control over your own life—a clear sense of your identity, the freedom to make your own choices, seeing your daily activities as moving you toward your long- and short-range goals.

Now, before you say “Blanchard, in control is the furthest thing from how I feel right now,” let’s take another look at autonomy.

Although the state of today’s world makes most of us feel that we are anything but in control of our lives, we always have some autonomy. As an example, we can choose how we react to our current situation. A couple of my friends have mentioned it’s easier to get through hard times if you also pay attention to good things that are happening around you. Another friend says “Don’t waste a crisis!” She believes in using times like these to strengthen her positive mental attitude.

We also have the ability to develop our skills—for example, taking a course online or beginning a meditation regimen—to help us control where our thoughts go. Or we can choose how to spend our extra time—watch some TV, open a good book, try a new recipe, and work on a puzzle after dinner. We can be intentional about what messages we pay the most attention to—those that claim things are awful and life will never be the same or those that suggest this is the beginning of a new era of neighbors taking care of one another and people around the globe working together to build a positive future for our children.

C: Connectedness

The third ingredient is connectedness. Connectedness relates to the quality of relationships in our lives. People who report high connectedness have positive relationships with friends, family, self, coworkers, and supervisors. You can have a highly connected experience watching a beautiful sunset or walking into a home that you’ve decorated because it feels good to you. You can feel highly connected having a cup of coffee while Face Timing a friend or sitting in bed at night cuddled up to a loved one.

Low connectedness is when you do not feel you are an integral part of your environment—whether it be at home, at work, or in your community. For example, if you move to a new home and go away for the weekend, then return and find that nobody knows you were gone, it can indicate that you are not very connected to your neighborhood.

Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. If you suddenly find yourself working from home due to shelter-in-place rules, staying in touch with your colleagues at work may help improve your morale and performance. And while spending more time than ever at home with your partner and/or children may at first seem to be a major work disruption, once you settle into a nice routine you may all discover a stronger feeling of family unity than you have felt before.

T: Tone

The fourth element in the PACT model is tone. This is how you feel about yourself physically, and includes the way you present yourself, your health and energy level, and your sense of fitness. People with high tone generally have a high energy level, average weight, and good nutrition and are comfortable with their physical appearance.

Note: If your perspective, autonomy, and connectedness aren’t as high as you would like these days, focus on your tone. Start simply by scheduling time every day to go for a walk, making better decisions about what you eat, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. You’ll find that while you’re walking, you have time for some perspective—to really reflect on life. And when you’re making good, healthy choices, you’ll start to feel better and that will remind you that you are in control of your health. And  people who feel good about themselves are more likely to reach out to others—and that will help you develop a feeling of connectedness. So you see, starting with tone helps the other three stress-reducing elements in the PACT model tend to fall into place.

Following the PACT model as you move through this season in your life will help you. It will work even better if you personalize the steps and make it your own. When you allow perspective, autonomy, connectedness, and tone into your daily life, stress will naturally lose its grip and you will enjoy life on a higher level.

Take care and stay safe! Have an im-PACT-ful day!

5 Powerful Questions to Reboot Your Work Life

As most of us settle into the COVID-19 working-from-home life, I’m reminded of just how important learning is in our lives. Whether we’re doing it for personal or professional development, learning keeps our minds and skills sharp. It not only staves off boredom, it also keeps us from becoming boring people! Getting older—or getting seniority in our jobs—has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you can finish day-to-day tasks with ease by relying on past experiences, document templates, and standardized steps. But without ongoing learning, your personal satisfaction and effectiveness in the workplace will suffer.

I recently started a fun interaction on my social media channels called the Blanchard Campfire. Each Friday I pose a question and open it up for discussion in the comments section. Last Friday’s question was, “What have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The answers inspire me and underscore the joy and importance of continuous learning. Here are a few of the things people said about what they’re learning:

“I’m staying current in my job by learning many things I overlooked all these years.”

“I’m learning how important motivation and perseverance are.”

“When life slows down, families grow stronger.”

“I’m rethinking my work role.”

“I’m studying a new language.”

“I’m strengthening my video development skills.”

“I’ve learned that we really do not have control of the future, so we need to love unconditionally.”

“I’m learning to teach an online course.”

If you’ve ever worked on a computer that hasn’t been tuned up in a while, you might have noticed that it can get sluggish. The same thing happens to us as individuals. We need rebooting and updated software from time to time, and this pandemic is a great opportunity to refresh and reset our professional lives.

To help you reboot, I’ve created a short quiz, adapted from the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life. Read each question and give an honest yes or no answer.

  1. Do I have up-to-date knowledge about my industry?
  2. Do I share my knowledge with others?
  3. Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Do I have a mentor in my field?
  5. Do I have a personal development plan?

If you answered no to any of the questions above, that’s a great place to start. For example, if you’re new to an industry or have fallen behind on the latest developments in it, take the following steps:

  • Set a goal to become knowledgeable in a specific area of your industry.
  • Set a deadline to complete your learning. As my wife, Margie, often says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”
  • Take action to achieve your goal: read relevant books and articles, take online classes and tutorials, or participate in webinars that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Take advantage of any educational opportunities your employer may offer. And don’t overlook the value of finding a mentor in your field.
  • Reward your progress. When you’ve finished a book, tutorial, or class, give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good.

Go through this process with items 1 through 5 in the quiz above and turn your no answers into yes answers. When you’ve done them all, start over and do them again. The point is to continue to grow along your learning journey.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting your expectations too high. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. That’s why I suggested that you reward yourself as you make progress, not just when you complete the goal.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it perfectly. Suppose you wanted to teach a child to say, “Please give me a glass of water.” If you waited until the child said the whole sentence before you gave them any water, they’d die of thirst. So, you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly, one day the child says “waller.” You burst into a smile, hug and kiss the child, and get grandma on the phone so the child can say “waller, waller.” It isn’t “water,” but it’s close. Be as compassionate with yourself as you’d be with that child, and praise yourself for progress, not perfection, as you work toward your goals.

Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  So, choose learning today—you’ll never regret it!

We Can Get Through this Tough Time Together

Like most people, my wife, Margie, and I have lived through our share of tough times. Whether they were personal challenges (losing our home to wildfire, passing of loved ones) or crises affecting millions (9/11, the recession of 2008-09), the thing that always helped us through those times was the kindness of others. The COVID-19 pandemic that most people in the world are experiencing right now is an extreme example of a tough time. Most of us have never been in a situation like this. Our lives have changed and nobody really knows how long it will be before things get back to normal—or what our “new normal” will look like.

My late friend and coauthor Norman Vincent Peale taught me a lot about how to get through life’s challenges. In fact, decades ago he wrote a book—The Power of Positive Thinking—that has changed millions of people’s lives for the better. One of my favorite quotes from Norman is “Positive thinkers get positive results.” I’ve taken that advice to heart and it has helped me.

I know for some of you, thinking positive may be a tall order right now. Many people I talk to say their emotional ups and downs come and go in waves. I think it helps to recognize that we have come through hard times before, and we need to be confident we can do it again. We are all in this together—literally. When we encourage one another and reach out in caring, loving ways, we can turn a difficult struggle into a shared experience that can be worked through together.

There are actually a lot of positive things that can come out of this weird time in our lives. For example, today’s technology allows us to not only talk, email, and text with each other, but also see each other in real time. Some working teams are having “happy hours” every Friday where they catch up on the week and toast each other with their beverages of choice. Grandparents and grandkids are getting together on video chats to keep up with what the others are doing.

Most people in our company are working from home, so we have started holding regular all-hands meetings online. This week we had more than 350 people in attendance, watching and listening to our leaders and leaving questions and comments in a rolling chat box on the side of the screen. A lot of folks had their cameras turned on so we could see them. I was amazed how connected I felt to everyone, even though I was sitting in my home office. I’m so thankful we have this incredible technology that can keep us in touch with each other.

Another unique thing about this time is how families are sheltering in their homes together. This can present a different kind of a challenge when a parent is out of work or working from home and the kids are bored. I read a note from one couple who said being hunkered down 24/7 with their five kids was like running a diner full of disgruntled customers!

Try to look at this as an opportunity to spend time together as a family and depend on each other. Get creative! Put together a big puzzle or play board games together. Find thinking games online like “Words With Friends” that you can play with each other on your phones. Talk to your kids about what’s going on and tell them stories about when you were young and your family made it through a tough time. Write questions (e.g., “If you were an animal, what would you be and why?” “What’s your best birthday memory?”) on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, and pull one out at every meal for an icebreaker. You never know what you’ll learn about each other! And don’t forget—at some point in the near future, everyone will be going back to work and school and get busy again doing activities and sports. You may look back on this as a special time.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with the news, but right now there aren’t a lot of fun headlines. Try not to get bogged down with negative stories about things you can’t control. Remember how after 9/11, Mr. Rogers said “Look for the helpers”? Look for the good news—believe it or not, it’s out there! Here are a few links to recent stories and also a few websites where you can find good news:

When you feel low about what’s going on, think about this: You’ve come through difficult times before. What helped you get through those times? Reach out to others with love, and accept kindnesses that are offered to you. This too shall pass—and we can get through it together.

5 Strategies for Leading Through The Uncertainty Of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a testing ground for leaders around the world. Leadership is always important, but especially during times of crisis. When each day brings new challenges, the choices leaders make can have a tremendous impact on outcomes, positive or negative.

It is normal for people to lose focus during a crisis; uncertainty tends to undermine people’s motivation and morale. The leader’s job is to remind people of the long-term vision; to give them hope and the promise of a better—or at least back-to-normal—tomorrow.

As we move through this global pandemic, now is a good time to review and respond wisely to the five stages of concern people have during periods of change:

  1. Information concerns – In the absence of clear, factual communication, people tend to create their own information. Rumors abound and create confusion. That is why it’s so important to take charge of the conversation. People want to know whatever you know, even if it’s no different than what you knew yesterday. They want to know what is changing and why.

Response: Communicate verified facts early and often. Provide clear direction. Even if there’s no change in the status quo, keep communicating.

  1. Personal concerns – People wonder how change will affect them. If you don’t permit people to express their feelings about what’s happening, these feelings will persist. Yet if you allow people to deal with what is bothering them, in the very process of grappling with their feelings, their anxiety often goes away. “How will this change impact me personally?” is the question foremost in people’s minds.

Response: Keep two-way communication lines open so that people can talk about their concerns.

  1. Implementation concerns – At this stage people want to know how to perform in the face of the change. What information is needed? What are the tools, plans, and strategies for the immediate future? Have enough resources been allocated?

Response: Involve people in finding ways forward. Since they’re the ones who will be implementing any new plans and strategies, their insights will be crucial, and you’ll need their buy-in to succeed.

  1. Impact concerns – Once people’s anxiety about the first three stages are handled, they begin to wonder about the impact their efforts are having. Are things getting better? Are the strategies working? Are we going to be able to sustain this effort? Leaders can keep people engaged and motivated if they provide encouragement at this stage.

Response: Focus on the positive impact of people’s efforts and recognize their successes.

  1. Refinement concerns – At this stage time has passed and people have had a chance to see what is and isn’t working. Their concerns now focus on improving systems and processes. What have we learned that we can leverage? How can we do this better or faster?

Response: Now is not the time for leaders to drop the ball! Continue to practice the leadership strategies outlined in the five stages of concern above.

Good leadership not only can reduce the negative impact of a crisis, it also can make an organization stronger. For example, during the business slow-down after 9/11, the leadership team of our company resisted the kneejerk response to lay people off. Instead, everyone earning above a certain threshold took salary cuts. We convened a special meeting where we invited the entire staff to brainstorm measures the company could take to maximize income and cut costs. Not only did the company make it through the crisis, it thrived. When business started picking up again, we were still fully staffed. This gave us a business advantage, since we didn’t have to spend time hiring and training new people when the economy recovered.

There is no better time to lead at a higher level. Remember, our job as leaders is to serve, not to be served. Let’s start by serving our people and responding to their concerns, because they are our number one customer. Together, we’ll get through this.

Are You an Effective Collaborator?

This week is our company’s Channel Partner Conference here in town. What’s a channel partner, you ask? It’s someone who owns their own company and sells our training programs to organizations with 2500 people or less. This conference is a beautiful example of collaboration between our people and these good folks. We work together to help each other win.

A few years ago, I wrote a book with Eunice Parisi-Carew and Jane Ripley called Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster. We wanted to show people how they can break down silos within their organization and work together to achieve successful results. We created an acronym we call the UNITE model. The letters stand for five elements everyone in an organization needs to put into action to create and sustain a collaborative culture:

  • Utilize differences;
  • Nurture safety and trust;
  • Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals;
  • Talk openly; and
  • Empower yourself and others

How would you rank yourself as a collaborative leader or worker? Below is a list of questions, sorted by each category in the UNITE model, that you can ask yourself to assess your strengths and weaknesses regarding collaboration. Answer Yes or No to each question and keep track of your answers.

Utilize Differences

  1. Do you believe everyone has something to contribute?
  2. Do you ensure everyone in your group is heard?
  3. Do you actively seek different points of view?
  4. Do you encourage debate about ideas?
  5. Do you feel comfortable facilitating conflict

Nurture Safety and Trust

  1. Do I encourage people to speak their mind?
  2. Do I consider all ideas before decisions are made?
  3. Do I share knowledge freely?
  4. Do I view mistakes as learning opportunities?
  5. Am I clear with others about what I expect?

Involve Others in Crafting a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals

  1. Is my team committed to a shared purpose?
  2. Do I know the purpose of our project and why it is important?
  3. Do I hold myself and others accountable for adhering to our values?
  4. Do I check decisions against our stated values?
  5. Do I hold myself and others accountable for project outcomes?

Talk Openly

  1. Do others consider me a good listener?
  2. Do I share information about myself with my teammates?
  3. Do I seek information and ask questions?
  4. Do I give constructive feedback—and am I open to receiving feedback?
  5. Do I encourage people to network with others?

Empower Yourself and Others

  1. Do I continually work to develop my competence?
  2. Do I feel empowered to give my opinions during idea sessions, even if I disagree?
  3. Do I actively build and share my network with others?
  4. Do I share my skills and knowledge with other departments?
  5. Do I believe my work is important to the organization?

Now give yourself one point for every Yes answer.

A score of 21 to 25  is outstanding! Keep up the good work!

A score of 17 to 20 is very good. You are definitely on the right track.

A score of 14 to 16 is average. Keep working at it.

A score of 13 or less is poor. Pay attention—there is lots of room for improvement.

In which area did you score the most Yes answers? In which area did you score the least? What actions can you take to improve your skills or attitudes? Did your results surprise you? If so, how?

Remember: None of us is as smart as all of us—and collaboration really does begin with you. Regardless of your role, you can make a difference in helping create a culture of collaboration within your organization. Collaboration is a wonderful thing to see—and even better when you are part of the experience!