Exhaustion is in the air, but you can generate the vitality you need right now.
We need first to understand why we’re all feeling depleted. There are two types of depletion: physical and psychological. We all know the signs of physical depletion and its remedy: take a walk, eat healthy food, do yoga, rest. But if you’ve ever had to drag yourself out of bed, even after a good night’s sleep, it probably has nothing to do with your physical reserves. More likely, your low energy results from your mental state. You are psychologically depleted.
Our psychological well-being depends on the feeling that we have a choice in a situation, are connected with others, and are competent enough to meet the challenges at hand. Consider the current world situation, and it’s no wonder that our choice, connection, and competence feels under siege.
How the Pandemic Limits Choice, Connection, and Competence
The pandemic has challenged our sense of choice. “I have to wear a mask. I have to get a vaccine. I have to work in a virtual team.” Suddenly, it appears that your choices are limited.
But choice is a matter of perception. Some people have struggled during the pandemic, feeling that their freedom is restricted. When this happens, they often react by making questionable choices to restore their sense of control. Other people think, “I can go to the store and wear a mask, or I can choose to stay home and order the item online.”
The pandemic’s effect on connection is obvious. We are in the middle of a global experiment in social distancing. It’s risky to get together in groups. People’s feelings of loneliness are skyrocketing.
As for competence, we’re all in unfamiliar territory filled with new conditions and demands. Competence can be as simple as trying to prevent your glasses from fogging up when you’re wearing a mask. More demanding examples include mastering new technology, homeschooling your kids, and caring for a sick loved one. It is an unrelenting barrage.
The erosion of choice, connection, and competence leads to feeling depleted—your psychological well-being has diminished. But you can restore your sense of choice, connection, and competence and generate much-needed vitality.
You Always Have Choices
You always have choices—even in the most difficult situations. You may counter that a prisoner doesn’t have options, but that’s incorrect. We can choose how we will respond to any challenge.
Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. He shared that when he was in a concentration camp, he felt a surge of energy when he shared his bread—even when he was starving. He would also help someone up if they fell, although the punishment was being whipped. In these dire circumstances, he concluded that nobody could take his autonomy away. That is certainly true for us. We always have a choice.
Mindfulness increases our awareness of the choices we have. If we are weighed down with worry, we’re less likely to see and appreciate the options available to us. Stay in the present. Ask yourself, “What choices do I have at this moment?”
We are hardwired to connect with others. A great way to feel connected is to volunteer; to contribute to something greater than yourself. Even with social distancing, you can seek out opportunities to help others.
There is overwhelming evidence that helping others is physically and psychologically beneficial. Helping others is helping ourselves. So if you’re feeling disconnected, you can remedy it by participating in something larger than yourself; something that unites people, not divides them.
Connection is also a matter of finding meaning, whatever your circumstances. Meaningful is not a selfish, self-centred, or me-against-the-world attitude. It is about contributing to the greater good. And it’s exhilarating when we do this. The best choices are meaningful choices.
Just a word of caution in our divisive times. Belonging to a tribe that pits one person or group against another or is based on an us-versus-them mentality won’t give you a true sense of connection. It might momentarily fill a void, but it will ultimately leave you empty.
Competence: Be Gentle with Yourself
We need to be gentle with ourselves. The pandemic is a unique situation in our lives, and we’re all stumbling as we navigate the challenges of a new world. We need to give ourselves a break and take a page from SLII®. We are all disillusioned learners (called “D2”) who struggle to master the world around us. We’re at D2 when wearing a mask, getting distracted while working at home, and on and on.
Being at D2 is uncomfortable. (Read our blog on becoming comfortable with this unavoidable phase). Keep in mind that being at D2 is a natural stage of development. With proactive self leadership, you will move through it to attain mastery.
Build Your Psychological Well-being on Choice, Connection, and Competence
Choice, connection, and competence are the building blocks of psychological vitality. And that stimulates physical energy. So the next time you’re feeling sluggish and depleted, consider if your need for choice, connection, or competence is under threat. Then take steps to consider your choices, connect your choices to meaningful values that contribute to the greater good, and appreciate how much you’re learning. You’ll soon be feeling vital.
About the authors:
Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies and the coauthor of Blanchard’s new Self Leadership program.