A few years ago, while conducting a management development training program, the topic was our individual perception of the world and the impact that it has on job satisfaction and workplace culture. Tossed around was the phrase “seeing the glass as half-full rather than as half empty.“ During tone of the breaks, a participant came up to me and asked why seeing the glass as half empty wasn’t seen in a more positive light.
I said that I think we are born with some natural tendencies when it comes to personality. Some are wired to be pessimistic and see the ‘glass as half empty’ and some of us are naturally optimistic, preferring to see the glass as ‘half full.’ The phrase is used to explain how people perceive both events and objects. One person focuses on how much they have while the other person is focused on how much they don’t have. Perception is unique to every individual and is simply someone’s interpretation of reality.
She replied “Yes — but half empty isn’t ALL empty!”
Today, there are plenty of opinions to choose from as we navigate these difficult, turbulent, tough, challenging, (insert your favorite adjective here!) times. TV’s talking heads, as well as those in print and online loudly lambast those elected officials and CEO’s for their failure to keep promises or achieve goals. Journalists seek out dissatisfied people who over share their personal experiences. Pundits yell at politicians for either having a plan or not having a plan to fix things fast, or talk among themselves about how terrible things are (and predict that things will get worse). Too much of this makes me year for Nickelodeon.
Today is a time of stress, conflict, and pressure. Some people feel overwhelmed and become depressed. Some get caught up and share in the distress of others. And still others find the pressure results in an ongoing crankiness. While you may not be able to do anything about the pandemic, the economy, or the political climate, don’t dismay. There are strategies for coping with the emotional stresses and strains of today’s work/social environment.
Fact Check: People throw around statistics to make their case. Anyone can find some statistic to make whatever case they want to make. Do some homework to see if the data being used has been slanted to create a specific impression. Sometimes the data is based on a statistically insignificant number or from a poorly researched study. Someone can say that ‘everyone they talk to’ says something, but they might only have spoken with 4 people.
Listen to a Variety of Voices: We all tend to listen to the news that reflects our own views. Change it up every now and then to get another view. FOX, MSNBC, NPR, ABC, or even The Daily Show, Full Frontal, and Last Week with John Oliver. Each has their own take on current events. Read the local paper, the national news, the Christian Science Monitor, Business Week, or Time. Surf the web and add a few new and different Twitter feeds to follow.
Help Someone Else: One of the fastest ways to take the focus off of you is to focus on someone else. Helping others is a two-way street: you make a difference for someone else and you feel great about doing it. Send food donations to the community organizations or soup kitchen, donate closet castoffs to shelters (or Goodwill when it reopens), Send a pizza delivery to the hospital staff, or contact your local synagogue or church and ask who needs help. It doesn’t need to be a long-term commitment. There are plenty of ‘one-and-done’ events that allow you to try many different volunteer opportunities.
Keep Busy Off Screen: Worry can take root in inactivity, so keep busy. Clean closets, run someone else’s errands, check in with friends and family, get to the park, ride a bike, read – there are other things to do besides fretting and complaining. Take a break from the phone, tablet, television, or computer.
Assess Your Life: A strategy I often suggest is to allow a period of venting. Honoring where people are has a place, and to ignore people’s real feelings can not only make you appear uncaring, but it can also come back to haunt you. Those unexpressed feelings often pop out anyway, creating a negative distraction. Allow people 10 minutes at the beginning of a meeting to complain uninterrupted, keeping an eye on the clock and then cutting it off when the limit has been reached. Review the last few months and determine how many of those days were good ones and how many were bad. If your percentage of good days is 70% or better, you might actually be happier than you sound. Figure out what you could do to make more days ‘good’ days. I start a monthly Executive meeting with a checking that involves sharing both the best AND the worst thing that has happened in the last 30 days.
Find Your Perspective: There is an old Yiddish folk tale about a man who lives in a small house with his family. He goes to the local Rabbi and complains about his situation and the Rabbi suggests that he bring the sheep into the house. He does, creating chaos. With each return trip to the Rabbi for guidance, he is instructed to bring in another animal from his farm. As he adds the goat, the cow, the horse, and the chickens – he creates more stress, madness and mayhem. When the Rabbi finally tells the man to release all of the animals from his little house, the man is thrilled to find himself living in peace. Yes, he’s now living in the exact same situation he started in! The point of the story is that nothing is so bad that it couldn’t be made worse!
That program participant who thought that half-empty wasn’t half-bad — could be half-right!