My reading life is starting to converge around a central set of ideas. 2021 isn’t going to be great unless we roll up our sleeves and make it so.
If you have a penchant for potato chips and the couch in times of trouble, consider an “opposite signal” strategy that requires little mental effort. When your mind tells you to numb yourself, come to life, instead: Exercise precisely when you most want to cocoon; eat nutrient-dense foods when you most crave junk. A simple way to start practicing this is to go outside for a walk at the moments when you feel the urge to curl up. None other than Hippocrates called walking “man’s best medicine,” and researchers have long seen it as the cure for many of our physical, psychological, and even social ailments
This strategy acknowledges the paradox of well-being that so many of us fall prey to: Our instincts are often wrong, and we sometimes need to do the opposite of what they tell us to do. When your mind says, You feel sad—but you’ll feel better if you eat a whole pizza while sitting on the couch watching television, your mind is lying to you. The unhappiness you feel is actually diminishing your brain’s executive-functioning ability, making it more difficult to make good decisions. Pizza and TV won’t make you happy for more than a moment, but what will help now and in the long term is a good walk outdoors.
In my conversations with a wide range of leaders, they repeatedly emphasize how important it is to be able to do something instead of letting go. Perhaps you feel like staying in bed all day watching Netflix and eating pizza, or “snug under the duvet,” as one of my clients describes this type of reaction. Once in a while this may even work well with a bit of constructive denial and self-indulgence, but not every day and not every time things get hard.
Yes, the current moment calls for compassion, but it also calls for a little more edge and collective defiance against the injustice of the virus. You want people to say “enough is enough” and rise to fight against the gloom. As with good parenting, the key is to find the right balance between caring and challenging, between compassion and containment, between saying “you are good enough as you are” and “get moving and get to the next level.”