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!

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.

What Do You Really Want from Your Work?

Many years ago I participated in an “Aligned Thinking” seminar, designed by Jim Steffen. One of the exercises in the program made a big difference in my life, so I want to share it with you.

Think about how you would answer this question: What do I really want from my work?

To break this down, make a list of five things you would really like to get out of the work you do (e.g., income, skills, training, camaraderie, pride, positive feelings, etc.). Don’t rush this—think it through. Choose the five most important things you can imagine gaining from your work. Now, give each one of those items a value from 1 to 10 in terms of how well you feel your job is achieving that goal or fulfilling that particular desire right now. When you are finished, take a look at how you scored yourself.

If your current job is giving you most of the things you desire from your work, you are one of the fortunate people who have a fulfilling work life. Your job is probably providing enjoyment, excitement, energy, etc. Good on you—that’s great!

But what if the things you want from your work are different from what you feel you’re gaining in your present job? In that case, it may be time for you to ask yourself a few questions, such as “What am I getting out of my work now? How is that different from what I really want to do? Are my tasks at work connected to things that are meaningful to me? How can I adjust my actions and attitudes so that my work can better meet my needs and wants?”

When I took this quiz, I came up with these things that I know I want to gain and enjoy from my work:

  1. The opportunity to serve others. I’m convinced we finally become an adult when we realize we’re here to serve, not to be served.
  2. Meaning. Every day I would like to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s just by giving them a warm smile. I’m always looking for meaningful encounters.
  3. Fun. If something’s not fun, I don’t want to do it. Of course, not everything we do can be fun—some things have to be done so that we can accomplish other more important things. But if I can squeeze some fun into my day, I will.
  4. Social interaction. It’s important to me to work and play with smart, fun loving people. That’s why I have so many coauthors—I really love working with and being around people.
  5. The opportunity to grow and learn. I never want to stop learning new things. As I’ve said many times before, if you stop learning, you may as well lie down and let them put dirt over you.

I made this list many years ago, and I still love doing the kind of work that provides meaning, fun, social interaction, the opportunity to serve, and the opportunity to grow and learn new things. Most days I still do pretty well at checking off those boxes.

Of course, the ebb and flow of deadlines, special projects, health concerns, etc., keep many of us from being able to say our job satisfies our wants and needs every single day. But when we determine what we really want from work, we create a purpose—an individual mission—for working. And we can start taking steps toward achieving those desires.

Life is a special occasion. Work is an important part of it. People who practice Aligned Thinking know how to get more of what they want out of work—and life.

 

Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!

Savor Some Solitude

In the age of information and round-the-clock news, many of us feel swamped by obligations that constantly require our attention. We can all relate to feeling bogged down by responsibilities. It’s only human to feel that balancing a job, a family, and flooded inbox makes taking time for yourself an impossible luxury.

It’s true that taking time for solitude in a busy world is challenging. In the rare moments where we have time to ourselves, relaxing can feel unsettling because we are used to doing, not being.

Despite our hang-ups, solitude is extremely valuable. Many CEOs, including Steve Jobs, use solitude as a tool to process information away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jobs believed that if you just sit and observe your mind, you will see how restless it is; but over time your mind calms down. When it does, you can see things more clearly and there’s room for your intuition to blossom. Jobs used the awareness he developed through reflection to build a groundbreaking company. His intuition gave him insight into the desires of customers. This became one of the defining qualities of Apple: giving customers what they didn’t know they needed.

Solitude helps us know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we’re able to make decisions that match who we are and what we value. If we don’t take the time to know ourselves, our decisions are often based on what’s popular, rather than what’s best.

My wife Margie and I believe in the importance of reflection so much that we spend a good chunk of our summer in Skaneateles, away from our business in San Diego. I find that this time I spend reflecting actually improves my business decisions when I return, because I come back relaxed, with a better sense of my values.

Take time to listen to yourself, in the same way you would listen to an employee’s concerns or a friend’s problem. Time is a precious resource, but setting some aside to just be will bring a great return on investment. Even if it’s only 10 minutes each day, this time will empower you to make decisions that are powered by your deepest self.