Autumn Leaves

Thriving over the Long Haul this Fall

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Here we are for the long haul this fall with no clear end in sight. The complexities of grief—over losing lives, jobs, opportunities, trust in our systems, and even losing our bearings in our continued confined quarters—are piling up. Kids returning to school, debt accruing, and a deepening sense of isolation add to the crushing weight of this season. 

Even in unprecedented times like this, thriving is possible. A thriving mindset can direct and motivate even amidst instability. To thrive is to grow in authenticity, with and for others, and for a greater purpose. Foundational to thriving is being adaptive and having a good fit with one’s environment in order to live out of one’s strengths and grow in one’s passions while contributing beyond the self.

Recognizing the need to be adaptive, knowing how to be flexible, and optimizing one’s environment—whether at home or online—could not be timelier. Right? Consequently, over the course of several blogs, I am going to unpack the idea of thriving, and share tips and pointers on how to thrive through COVID-19 based on psychological science and various spiritual traditions. Given the novelty, constant change, and upheaval of 2020, we will focus on how to approach the known elements of thriving, but in new ways. Here’s an overview of the basics.

Growth

At the heart of thriving is growth and change. In such volatile and tenuous times, we need to hold onto the importance of growth, but also recognize that it may not occur at the same pace or manner that we might be used to in a more normal season. Although thriving congers up images of vigorous growth, these days, think about maintaining vitality through “good enough” growth. Realign your expectations for yourselves and those around you. Encourage growth or mastery in small and realistic ways. This might occur by learning a new online platform for school or work, cooking something new (or cooking something at all!), coordinating a weekly check-in on Zoom with a group of friends, or practicing a new hobby or skill while still social distancing.

As an illustration, think of how much easier riding a bike is when you have momentum going forward. Human beings are similar—a sense of movement or progress is satisfying. No one likes to feel stagnant. Finding momentum is a challenge in a world that is, on the one hand, constantly changing and unpredictable, and, on the other, is never changing as we continue to live in the confines of our homes.

Growth Tip:

Pick something that’s realistic and attainable, something that’s enjoyable, possibly something new, and ideally something that makes a contribution to those around you. This will provide great stimulus for your brain on multiple levels: a sense of accomplishment, joy, delight, and satisfaction of being able to make someone else’s life better.

Purpose

While thriving involves growth, not all growth is good. Thus, to thrive is to grow towards one’s purpose. By purpose, I am referring to your goals, roles, and “souls.” When we thrive, we are developing the character and acquiring the competencies needed to pursue our most life-giving goals for leading and serving in this world. In addition to pursuing our larger purpose or calling, we also have a lot of interim, short-term goals to accomplish. It’s important to remember in these uncertain times that addressing and covering the basic needs of life suddenly takes more time, energy, and intentionality. Moreover, we thrive when we become our most genuine selves. This allows us to live in the most authentic relationships, and find fulfillment and joy in our roles as friends and family members. Lastly, purpose involves our “soul,” or our general sense of well-being, which involves our attention, focus, and living with integrity to our ethical and spiritual ideals. There is nothing like the shakeup of a global pandemic to remind us that we need to be connected to our deepest values and sources of meaning and hope. Our purposes are very much informed by our beliefs and values.

Purpose Tip:

Try to identify the larger purposes of your life, and how you can work toward that in some small way in this season. Revisit and refine this on a quarterly basis. In addition, now that we know that shelter-in-place will continue for most of our country, identify the basics that need to be covered this fall that will enable you to maybe (or maybe not) have a little space1 to pursue more meaningful goals.

Agility

Thriving also involves adaptive growth. The importance of being flexible or agile has never been made so apparent. We need to constantly adjust in order to keep our lives moving and maintain, on some days, our sanity (Right?), well-being, and relationships. As much as some people like surprises, the amount of change and disruption can be disorienting. Humans are inclined to like some structure and rhythm. During these constantly changing days, be intentional about imposing some rhythm and structure in your days and weeks.

Agility Tips:
  1. Keep important rituals and traditions (e.g., back-to-school photos).
  2. Create effective routine check-in times at home. I admit, as much as I’d like to have a big touchy-feely moment with all 5 members of my family, we do better checking-in as dyads or triads.
  3. Identify what you and the members of your household need to maintain well-being, social connection, and immediate, purposeful goals.
  4. Make an adaptable plan so all members of your family can get what they need individually, with others, and/or as a whole. Don’t leave anyone out of the thrive plan—parents included!

Resilience

Recovering and resilience are also key components to thriving. Since March 2020, almost every week has brought on new challenges—emotionally, socially, and physically at home, school, work, and our civic life. Please acknowledge that processing and adapting to constant change, especially when challenging, takes a toll on our psychological well-being, relationships, concentration, and energy; therefore, impacting our domestic, professional, or educational endeavors. Consequently, we need time and tools to recover from stress, repair our relationships, and restore our sense of direction and purpose. These days, we need to recognize that our energy is directed to both surviving and thriving. We need to attend to basic security needs of safety, connection, and sense of self. Thriving involves below-the-line “surviving,” as well as coping skills and intentional endeavors of exploration, creativity, generosity, and purposeful pursuits.

Resilience/Coping Tip:

Spirituality can provide a framework2 that facilitates healthy coping3 and be a resource for energizing, positive emotions4. Take a moment to explore your beliefs and values around COVID-19. This will help you make sense of your current situation, and influence your emotional well-being and healing.

Remember…

It’s important to realize that although COVID-19 has been challenging for many to get beyond the basics of making ends meet, it has also provided a great opportunity to reconsider one’s sense of meaning and purpose. Wherever you are on that spectrum—surviving by dealing with the basics or thriving in pursuing purpose—today, give yourself grace for the space you are in. When you feel overwhelmed, regulate and calm your nervous system by pausing, taking a handful of extended long breaths (with your hand on your belly), saying a meaningful prayer, or gazing into the eyes of a loved one for an extended moment. Take some time to think about these aspects of thriving—how you can be mindful about pursuing your own growth, flexibility, and purpose and, at the same time, be aware of the need to cope and address the basics of life?

Thriving Tip:

Keep your purpose (about your goals, roles, and souls) in mind. Be intentional about how you pursue your current and future aims, your relationships, and your well-being. Be purposeful and flexible about how and when you get there, while never losing sight of the direction you’re headed.


References

1. Learn how mindfulness can help parents create space from within: https://thethrivecenter.org/mindful-parenting-creating-space-from-within/.

2. Learn more about the three dimensions of spirituality: https://thethrivecenter.org/portfolio-item/religion-spirituality-as-thriving-resources/.

3. Check out Dr. Stephanie Trudeau’s post on meaning-making and beliefs during COVID-19: https://thethrivecenter.org/on-the-road-to-healing/.

4. Check out Dr. Susan Mangan’s post on boosting positive emotions: https://thethrivecenter.org/boosting-positive-emotions-at-home/.

About the Author

Pam King

Pam King

Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King is the Peter L. Benson Associate Professor of Applied Developmental Science at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology. King’s primary academic interests are applied research at the intersection of human thriving and spiritual development. Her work combines theology, empirical research, and community engagement to further understand what contexts and settings enable youth to thrive.

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