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.

The Glass Is 100% Full

As humans, we often tend to look at the dark side of things. For many of us, the proverbial glass is always half empty.

This is unfortunate because research has shown that what we place our attention on tends to grow stronger in our minds and in our lives—for good or bad.  My daughter-in-law, Madeleine Homan Blanchard, has a master’s of science degree in neuroleadership from Middlesex University. As I’ve learned from Madeleine, studies confirm that your thoughts and experiences actually change the cells and structure of your brain—something scientists call neuroplasticity. If you focus on positive thoughts, your brain will strengthen the electrical pathways related to an optimistic outlook. If you focus on negative thoughts, your brain will become hardwired to pessimism.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying negative situations and working to make them better. The trick is to keep your eye on the positive. No one expressed this better than retired basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Do bad things happen? Of course. But so do good things. This week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported that 2017 “was probably the very best year in the history of humanity.”  He pointed to statistics that showed a smaller proportion of the world’s population was hungry, impoverished, or illiterate than at any time before. “In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone,” Kristof reported. “After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”

Take that, gloom-and-doomers!

As a witty T-shirt points out, technically, that proverbial glass of water is always 100% full—half is full of water, half is full of air! So look at the bright side—your brain will thank you for it.

The Way You Think Can Change Your Life

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of people engaging in what I call “ain’t it awful” conversations. Believe me, I understand that with things going on like the terror attacks around the world, the controversial Presidential campaigns in the United States, and even the weather, it is easy to slip into a negative mindset. But hand-wringing and downbeat discussions aren’t going to change anything. In fact, it can make things worse by taking all your thoughts into a downward spiral.

Now is the time for positive thinking. I always loved working with Norman Vincent Peale because he used to say “Positive thinkers get positive results.” That is such a powerful message, and we need to keep it in mind to be able to rise above the negative and focus on the positive. We are free to choose our thoughts—and thoughts guide our behavior. It is essential to keep uplifting messages in our head so that we are able to think more clearly, make better decisions, and approach life with a better attitude.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulties we all face in life such as illnesses, money problems, stress at work, and a hundred other things that can drag you down. But I know that a peaceful mind will give you more energy—and that will help you get through tough times.  My wife, Margie, uses a gratitude exercise to help her focus on the positive. Each evening she writes down the top three positive things that happened in her day. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a much-needed rainstorm in our time of drought, or reconnecting with an old friend. The point is that she ends her day with positive thoughts and a peaceful mind.

Try it for yourself. I encourage you to think about it from two perspectives—your personal life and your work environment. I think you’ll be surprised how this simple shift in thinking will change your outlook on life for the better.