Thriving in tough and challenging times Insight Article - July 23, 2020 Leadership Development Culture & Engagement Sign in to save MGMA Staff Members Tough and challenging times present obstacles that can create stress and emotional hardship unless we learn how to handle them, face them head on and embrace them. This helps us move beyond simply surviving and into a state of thriving. Chris Widener, a Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame inductee and author of 22 books, recently explained that “we all go through challenging times,” whether as individuals or collectively, such as with the COVID-19 pandemic, during his member-exclusive MGMA webinar, “Thriving in Tough and Challenging Times” (available on demand). Widener recounted how his family did quite well until his father died at age 41 in 1970; after which, his family moved frequently before he ultimately got a college degree in youth and family work, working with families that had been through distressing situations before moving into his current line of work. Perseverance, self-awareness and choice Widener suggests there are key factors distinguishing people who make the most of challenges and those who are held back by them. “The difference between the successful and the unsuccessful is not the absence of obstacles or challenges, but the presence of perseverance,” Widener suggested. Perseverance is not something every person has, he added, and those who do, have it in varying amounts. “One of the things that helps us with perseverance is having already persevered — the more we persevere, the more we're able to persevere,” Widener suggested. “It’s almost like a muscle, if you think about it — the ability to get through something tells us at the next stage that we are able to get through something again.” To build perseverance, Widener says self-awareness is crucial — “to understand the depths of our own strength, our own willpower, our own ability to see something negative, see something hard, see something challenging and yet, at the same time, being able to face it, and engage it and move through it.” Sometimes, the ability to persevere comes down to how much people can exercise self-awareness and ask of themselves whether they are someone who quits, limps their way through things or has a fighting spirit to keep trying. “Struggles are designed to make you better,” Widener said. That key aspect of looking at yourself also means that each person’s choices factor into their perseverance, he noted. “The fact is that every single one of us is living the life that we've chosen. … Wherever we are today is the sum of the choices we've made up until now.” Widener acknowledged that many people don't like to talk about their choices being responsible for their respective life circumstances. “And the reason they don't like to talk about it, I believe, is because it requires ownership and it requires taking responsibility,” he said. During tough and challenging times, Widener encourages leaders to reflect on what choices they make about their attitudes and actions. That process of introspection can be applied to whether those leaders are making progress toward their goals. Leaders especially have a need to make relationships a key goal as they work on themselves, “because we are relational people,” Widener said. He cautioned not to confuse the fact that today’s society is easily connected via technology with a sense of connectedness. “Communicating doesn't necessarily mean connection. … Make sure that we're making those kinds of connections both in the office and at home,” Widener said. Optimism and pessimism Optimism and pessimism are projections of how our lives will play out, and the choice to embrace one or the other often is the differentiator between a sense of dread and an attitude of learning and improvement, Widener noted. This is especially important for those in leadership positions. “Optimism is one of the No. 1 things that we can do to have other people follow us, to have other people admire us,” he said. Widener recalled that in addressing large seminars, most people will raise their hands when asked if they are optimists. But truly assessing your levels of optimism comes in the words you use, he said. Widener recommended three action steps for boosting an optimistic outlook: Assess how you talk: “If you had to listen to yourself talk for two weeks, would you follow you?” Widener rhetorically asked. Make an effort to offer praise: “People thrive on recognition,” he added. Consider your attitude toward change: Some people refer to “accepting” change, but another perspective is framing change in the most positive light possible — by “embracing” it, Widener said. Talking about his work as a motivational speaker, embracing change meant finding new ways to connect with audiences once live events largely were cancelled. The role of self-talk All of this work can be hampered by negative thoughts and pessimism that persists in our minds. Widener noted that affirmations of positive thoughts can help to replace those negative thoughts. “What I do is I teach people to, to record their most negative thoughts” and then replace them through repetition. Over time, those new thoughts will manifest themselves in new behaviors. “We need to reinforce our thoughts and our beliefs with our actions,” Widener said, which in turn helps reinforce those beliefs.