Most of our struggles, conflicts and challenges impact relatively few people. For the most part, our tensions typically rumble among two people, a few or a small group. This time it’s different though. In recent weeks we have collided head-on with an enemy whose diameter is a mere 120 nanometers but has stirred the attention and disrupted lives from every corner of our planet.(To put the size a nanometer in context, it is one millionth of a millimeter.) This is one fight that no one gets to watch from the bleachers. We are in this together! Once again, we find ourselves heeding the profound advice of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous plea for unity, “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
It is as easy as it is common to find ourselves lost in the magnitude of this virus’ fury. According to the WHO’s data as of March 16, 2020 there are 167 502 people inflicted with our newest enemy-virus, 304 of whom are Canadian. In our country, the rate of infection has doubled in the last three days. (https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus) Economic stability wavers, millions of student lives have been put on hold, countless workers find themselves without employment or having to work from home, familial disruptions to daily routines, entertainment and healthcare ripple through virtually every household as we grapple with the life and death nature of the COVID-19. Life as we know it has been shaken. So what is one to do?
No matter the gravity of any situation, realizing the options within your control is one of the most empowering gears one can operate through. Although we may not have a voice of authority over others or a position of power in most matters – including this one – we always have the final say in how we guide the direction of our own lives. When things seem the most precarious or threatening, we never need to release control of our own personal leadership. We are the managers of our own lives and once we fail to grasp the power behind this reality, we typically slip into the disempowering mindset of relying on someone else to solve our problem or worse yet, passively waiting for some external force or chance to determine our outcomes.
Ironically and even paradoxically, although we are all affected by this pandemic, the solution we all crave inevitably comes down to individual actions. By flexing our own individual, personal leadership skills, we become part of the solution for the masses. Below is a list of what I believe to be the most salient actions you and I can take as personal leaders in a time of widespread affliction.
1. Know the source of your information. There has been and continues to be a circulation of misguiding advice and misinformation, which no matter how sensational or well delivered, must be filtered according to credentials. It is most prudent that we heed direction from experts such as official releases from the World Health Organization, respected scientific researchers in the specific field and official spokespeople from health divisions of federal governments. Applying misinformation from unreliable or questionable sources can be and often does add weight to the problem rather than remedy to the cause.
2. Take your hand off the panic button. It is as much our responsibility as personal leaders to avoid the hearsay and daresay as it is to apply the directives and suggestions from experts. Focusing on worst case scenarios and ruminating or engaging in doom and gloom conversation (catastrophizing) do not situate us to be solution seekers and active participants in best managing our own responsibilities and affairs. When we catastrophize, we engage the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight or flight response. During such times, our higher order brain shuts down and problem solving and rational thinking become impaired. Stay cognisant of the difference between being concerned and flat-out panicking. As Dr. Anthony Fauci of the WHO recently said, it is vital that we “ Chill down.”
3. As much as possible, remove yourself from gatherings of people. This is likely the chief means of “flattening the curve.” At its most basic level, we increase our odds of catching the corona virus and then passing it along to someone else by congregating with others. According to authorities such as the WHO, social distancing yourself by postponing travel plans, delaying non-essential meetings or appointments and staying at home as much as possible are effective – likely the most effective – means of controlling the spread of the virus.
4. Frequently wash your hands the correct way. In addition to catching coronavirus by standing close to an infected person and breathing in droplets that they have coughed or sneezed into the air, we can also become infected by COVID-19 by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by droplets. Washing hands is an inexpensive and effective way to destroy the pathological intruder – if done correctly. The most common hand hygiene technique offered by medical advisors is to first of all, wet your hands with clean, running water before lathering up. Rub your hands together in a way that the soap is spread to all surfaces of your hands. Don’t forget to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Then proceed to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. A 2019 study on hand hygiene and the global spread of disease through air transportation found that if people wash their hands while at the airport, the spread of a pandemic could be curbed by up to 69 percent.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31872479)
5. Avoid touching your face. According to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control, on average, people touch their faces more than 20 times an hour with almost half of the touching being our eyes, nose, or mouth. Encapsulated within this statistic is much more than a tidbit of trivial information. Because we are incessantly touching surfaces contaminated with pathogens, it is easy and likely that these pathogens can be picked up by our hands and then transferred to entry points to our body (eyes, nose, and mouth) that act as pathways to the throat and lungs.
6. Encourage one another. It is not a matter of if we are influencing others but rather how we are influencing them. May we all aim for positive influence. This is important because the more demoralizing and dismal a situation, the more there exists a need for behaviors that birth hope and encouragement. That is not to say we wander through such predicaments blindly and naively, but rather that we engage in conversation and support that lift the spirits of those around us above the conditions and challenge. Because the voice of a setback such as the one before us is so loud and carries such deflating potential, it will be important to make a habit of daily reflecting on one thing you did that contributed to its solution. Bewailing statements of hopelessness, defeat, limitations and constraints among one another is void of the morale and hope needed to equip us for success and victory. Optimists and world class encouragers understand that rather than fixate their stare on limitations, they understand precisely what actions are needed to endure the current storm and move along to sunnier skies.
To fuel this optimistic spirit, one must become accustomed to envisioning best-case scenarios and the actions necessary to get there. Psychologist Martin Seligman has devoted his entire life to studying happiness and human flourishing. He has noted an alarming difference between those who see roadblocks as an endpoint and those who tackle roadblocks as merely a speedbump. Seligman stresses that those who learn to be optimistic are far more likely to be successful than those who view their current struggles through a pessimistic lens. (Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: The Free Press, 1998) As you progress through the transition of getting back to our status quo and claiming victory over COVID-19, if you resolve to sprinkle fact-based encouragement in the air around weakened fellow men and women, all of us will be strengthened to flex our leadership skills and defeat this ominous threat.
7. As you keep perspective, initiate conversation about things other than the contagion. Despite the severity and egregious nature of pandemics, most compartments of our lives remain replete with abundance. It seems prudent at this time that we invest time, attention and focus on aspects of our lives that deserve gratitude and recognition. Since your thoughts are the magnets that attract feelings and fuel behavior, train your thinking to focus from time to time on some of this abundance, plug into humor and unless discussing solutions to the problem, steer conversations towards topics that recognize the bounties that still exist in your life. After all, the longer and more frequent your discussions persist on the pandemic we face, the heavier it feels and the more morale suffers. A ruminating mind is fertile ground for sowing seeds of panic and further chaos. Be the influence in your family, peer group or work that leads others to conversations that uplift and thereby keep perspective and hope on the table.
As in all aspects of life, success and victory hinge on the effectiveness of personal leadership. Despite the masses struggling with this COVID-19 enemy, a brighter tomorrow is contingent upon you and I, behaving acting and influencing as individuals. Let us all pledge to be vigilant in overcoming by utilizing the power of one – one individual, one action and one day at a time. Stay safe everyone and let’s care for one another!