As I write this post, most countries and states in the U.S. are cautiously reopening their economies after several weeks in lockdown to help curb the spread of Covid-19. For some, it can’t happen soon enough, and certainly, it is much needed as unemployment continues to soar (38.6 million in the U.S. as of today). At the same time, we’re not returning to life as we used to know it. Even if you’re headed back to a physical place of work, you’re probably being asked to wear a mask and facilitate frequent and deep sanitation of spaces. And, many office-workers will continue to work from home for several more weeks to come.
The bottom line right now is that, yes, there’s hope at the end of this seemingly never-ending tunnel, but even with restrictions being lifted, the “new” way of doing business and approaching life can take its toll. And, I think we’ve all felt at one time or another like we’re just trying to hold on and make it through to the other side of these crazy times.
I hear you! At the same time, there is a simple approach you can incorporate in your leadership to help you and your team not just survive, but possibly even thrive — despite the pandemic.
It’s what’s called the “PERMA theory of well-being,” and it was developed by the father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. If you want to check out his extensive research in an easy-to-digest way, pick up the book, Flourish. It’s a quick and fascinating read. Anyhoo — to translate the science-speak to layman’s terms, I like to think of his PERMA theory as the Formula for Flourishing.
Essentially, the formula has 5 elements that we can cultivate to improve our well-being and achieve a state of flourishing: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. As a positive leader, you can nurture these for yourself and your team:
1. Positive Emotions: Yup, this is exactly what you think it is — feeling happy, excitement, interest, joy, love, contentment, and any other emotion that makes you feel good. This isn’t about slapping a happy face on things when you’re feeling down. We absolutely must acknowledge and deal with difficult emotions so we can let them pass through us. However, the value of positive emotions is adaptive. Extensive research shows that when we experience positive emotions frequently, we grow our cognitive capabilities and our capacity for resilience. So, now more than ever, we need to find opportunities to experience positive emotions throughout the day. This isn’t hard. Even when faced with uncertain times, there are always simple ways to create some joy. Take a few minutes to play with your dog, send a humorous meme to your team, start your meetings with a fun question like, name a song with a number in the title. The options are endless. You just need to be mindful of creating some moments of joy.
2. Engagement: Have you ever had an experience at work where you were just so engrossed in a task or activity that you lost track of time, that nothing else around you seemed to matter — you were just totally absorbed in what you’re doing? This is what engagement is all about. It’s also referred to as “being in flow” or “being in the zone.” When you spend time in this state, it creates a feeling of fulfillment and usually makes people feel vitalized about their work. So, think about what puts you in flow and ask each member of your team what puts them in flow. Then, make a plan to maximize the time each person spends doing those tasks and minimize the time spent on other tasks. As you do this, encourage your team to do some task-trading, so everyone ends up with activities that put them in flow every day.
3. Relationships: This element is all about positive and high-quality relationships, which are crucial to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Not only do they keep us socially connected at a time when we have to be physically separated, but you just never know the opportunities that develop and open up as you collaborate with colleagues. So, think about ways that you can get more socially connected and cultivate positive relationships in your life right now. Technology is your friend in this. If you’re exhausted by video calls (yes, I am too, and here’s why), just text, email, or better yet, pick up the phone. I promise that these positive human interactions will lift you up. The reason is that unlike other energy that gets depleted, when it’s used (e.g., physical, mental, or emotional energy), relational energy actually builds as we use it and makes us feel more energized!
4. Meaning: This element incorporates the feeling that we’re doing something or we’re a part of something that’s greater than just us. Sometimes, depending on the situation, this can be tough. Indeed, it can be hard to find meaning in having to stay home for weeks on end with nothing to do during a pandemic. Yet, as holocaust-survivor, Viktor Frankl, said, “the meaning of life is to give life meaning.” Plus, let’s face it. As a leader, if you can’t find meaning for yourself, you’re not going to be much of an inspiration to the people who work for you. So, find some meaning in some part of your life. It might be choosing to be the best leader you can possibly be right now to support your team through this. It might be thinking about end-goals, such as how your work benefits people, or how you’ll be more resilient after this experience. It might be having each member of your team share what they have found meaningful right now.
5. Accomplishment: Yes, as human beings, we need to feel productive and that we’re achieving our goals. For many of us these days, that’s easier said than done when businesses are closing, jobs are evaporating, and projects are halted. Still, we have an innate need to feel a sense of accomplishment, so find ways to set new or different goals. And, keep in mind, these don’t have to be earth-shattering goals right now. A personal goal as you work from home might be as basic as managing to shower and put on regular work clothes before lunch each day! So, step back and evaluate the goals you want to work towards, encourage team members to celebrate the wins (big or small), and be sure to recognize accomplishments — everyone loves a shout-out when they’ve done a great job.
So that’s the Formula for Flourishing. When you bring all five of these elements together, you’ll not only survive but actually thrive. And, the best news of all is that these elements overlap and work together. For example, let’s say you write a simple email to a colleague thanking them for a job well done. You’re going to feel positive emotions doing this, you’re fostering engagement and building the relationship, the exchange will likely feel meaningful, and you might even feel a sense of accomplishment in taking the time to express your gratitude. Boom, you checked off all five elements with one email that probably took 2 minutes to write. Oh, and chances are, the recipient will benefit from all of these experiences, as well. That’s because flourishing is a good type of contagion. When you flourish, the people around you flourish, too.
It’s that simple and easy. You just have to be mindful and deliberate in your actions.
How will you use the Formula for Flourishing with your team right now? Write to me at [email protected] and let me know.
Also, if you want some simple practices to help you cultivate each of these five flourishing elements, download my book for free, right here: 25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability