Tough Times Last, Apparently: Four Ways to Outlast Them

I’ve heard it said many times (and I think it’s attributed to Robert Shuler, the famous TV pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California): “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” I think you may join me in raising an eyebrow at that optimism. Apparently, tough times do last. The COVID pandemic is closing in on two years of disruption. About the time we think we’re nearing a conclusion to its deleterious effect on our lives, a new variant blocks the roadway to the finish.

In an email from Jeff Selingo, he referenced a recent NYT article suggesting that campuses were strategizing for maintenance with lasting COVID implications rather than planning for a post-COVID environment.

The second half of that statement may be more true: tough people hang in there even when the way is tough. You’ve had a real go of it these past months. You’ve been taxed, tried and tempted to give up. But yet, here you are, still hanging in there, still reading this post. I commend you. However, I have no intention of promising that things will get better soon.

Instead, let me suggest a handful of ways you can certainly outlast the tough times.

Practice gratitude. It would seem that there’s little to be thankful for during a crisis like the one we’ve been living through. But there is. You may have to dig a bit deeper to find it when life on the surface feels glum. I challenge you to take two minutes right now to list five things for which you are grateful. Family? Friends? Personal health? Technology? Work? Roof? Blanket? Home? Last weekend? Those suggestions are easy and a good place to start. But try this exercise again tomorrow at this time to add five more. By day three of your effort, you’ll find richer expressions of gratitude that will change your outlook. (And statistics show that if you keep at it for 21 days in a row, it will become a habit.) A thankful heart turns to a glad heart pretty quickly. Take your mind off the frustrations by replacing them with thoughts of your blessings.

Pause for reflection. Confession time: Until more recently, my practice of reflection has been minimal. I didn’t see how taking time to think about what was or is happening or what can happen would help me get things done now. Anytime I paused to reflect, my thoughts turned immediately to something I could be doing in that moment. I can be easily distracted by my eagerness to “do.” But, I’m learning the value (and the art) of stopping to consider how and why I am acting, behaving, responding as I am in the present. I’m appreciating what I can learn by rehearsing my steps leading to the present. And I love the privilege of imagining what might be or how things might be better next time. I’ve had more time than usual to develop this practice during COVID. Yet I hope the habits of reflection I am building stay with me after COVID doesn’t tie me to my home. I intend that an already full schedule made more robust by non-stop Zoom and other COVID-inspired disruptions will not preclude reflection time. The richness of that quiet time to simply ponder yields fresh thinking, better ideas and higher levels of conscientiousness. It’s given me greater appreciation for most everything (see above).

Partake in service. This piece of advice comes from my parents. Throughout my childhood, anytime I was out of sorts, they’d see moments to get me beyond myself by helping others. Mowing the neighbor lady’s lawn. Running an errand for a friend. Delivering something my mom had baked to someone she felt needed it. Helping my dad with a task. The point of their instruction was to help me see that it wasn’t always about me. In fact, it rarely was. During COVID, it was easy to take difficulties personally, as though COVID happened to you. When we take care of others, we do ourselves a tremendous service as well. We get out of our own heads and our self-pity. We raise our spirits by raising the spirits of others. Their joy becomes our joy.

Pass the dessert. I didn’t say pass on the dessert, I said pass the dessert. This is a good time to allow yourself a moment of ease. Eat cake. Have a bowl of ice cream. Or do something that brings you joy, especially if it’s not food. Moments of celebration may seem inappropriate in times of distress, but those are in fact the times when you need them most. Throw a party–even on Zoom—for no reason at all. Make up a holiday to enjoy with friends and family. You need this, and likely deserve it. And frankly, it will be good for everyone around you who depends on your smile.

The stress of the pandemic isn’t over; we have much yet to live with and through. We still need to “process” what we’ve experienced and how we’ll change going forward to accommodate a new way of thinking and living. We have great ideas inside us just waiting for an opportunity to be released. This tough time is likely going to last. Try building these four habits into your life and you will last, too.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.