We should never forget to take care of ourselves and our well-being, but it’s essential during crises and stress. In this post, AVP teacher Lidia Borisova shares four concrete tips for better mental health based on the Good Life Engine mindset.
What is the Good Life Engine mindset?
The Good Life Engine course that we created together with Johannes Kaira at Aalto Ventures Program in 2018 cannot promise that passing it will solve all the issues in your life, whatever they are. I don’t believe in such promises myself. However, I can promise that a student who passes the course will have a better idea of what is happening or might happen to them in their life, and they will be more informed about different options of how to fix it — if something needs to be fixed. You can consider the course not as a recipe but as a map that will help you navigate life with more clarity and comfort and, hopefully, see more opportunities for self-development.
I’ve been lucky — due to my work as a teacher of Good Life Engine, I’ve had the chance to invite great speakers to our course. They’ve taught our students about different life challenges, and I’ve learned from them myself, too. I was also involved in developing the tools we use in the course. Now, I have a personal collection of tools that I’ve been using myself and to create different teaching sessions at Aalto University and elsewhere. As a university lecturer, I started to face the problem of searching for relevant content through the mess of my accumulated slides. I created a database of different concepts and exercises to make the process easier. To easier navigate the database, I started structuring the tools into clusters. Now, I want to share a few mindsets and tools that could support you in these difficult times. I can’t promise they’ll work for you, but they have for me — I’ve used all of them myself.
You need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first to be able to help others.
When our environment is stressful, our lizard brain experiences stress. The same type of stress that an antelope feels when she is running from a lion. We are in flight, fight or freeze mode. Sometimes in all of them simultaneously. Our cognitive abilities shrink, creativity is absent, and some can hardly perform essential survival functions like eating and sleeping well. The good thing for the antelope is that if she manages to escape the lion, her stress mode disappears, and she can sleep easily. The problem with the current situation and the modern world is that the lion is constantly on the horizon, even if it never quite reaches us. So, we always sleep with one eye open.
Tip 1: Be a bit less of a leader now if you are one
Our flight, fight, or freeze mode can appear as panic, overactivity, or the feeling of giving up. Leaders often end up in an overactivity state. And you don’t need to be an official leader in the company hierarchy — a mother can also be a leader. You are a leader if you take care of someone.
Due to the well-embedded hero narrative in our culture — you know, save the world, fight the dragon — leaders can feel psychological pressure to start solving problems. It is totally fine if it is for a short period. However, it becomes problematic when the lion is constantly on the horizon. Solving all kinds of problems for everyone else, the leader is under enormous physical and emotional stress. In addition, the hero narrative doesn’t allow the leader to express their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. How could I say I feel horrible if so many other people have more significant problems, right? A potential scenario, in this case, would be a burnt-out leader in a short time. Thus, the tip: If you feel the urge to be active, try to go easy on yourself. Force yourself to take proper physical rest, even if you don’t feel like you have the right to do so during such a difficult time. It is like in an airplane — you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first to be able to help others.
Tip 2: Force yourself to think about the bright future
Sounds crazy, right? How can we think about the bright future during the war? However, it is precisely what we need to do every day to stay sane. One day the war will end, and we will have to reestablish our place in society, work-life, etc. Now, thinking about the future avenues will help you understand what you want and be ready to act when you have the opportunity. In addition, thinking about the future will bring you positive emotions now and help you get distracted from the negative ones.
Tip 3: Focus on what you can control and stick to your daily routines.
Ancient Stoics came up with the concept of the trichotomy of control. There are things that we have total control over (our daily routines, our actions, our decisions, etc.); stuff we have partial control over (we can try to win the competition, but we don’t have total control over the result) and things that we don’t control at all (natural disasters, war, pandemic, etc.). Stoics strongly advised (and practiced) the mindset of thinking ONLY about the things from the first category. Thinking and especially worrying about the second and third categories is a waste of energy. Thus, concentrate on the small things you can control: the daily routines. It will bring you a feeling of some psychological safety that we all need so much right now.
Thinking and especially worrying about things you can’t control is a waste of energy.
This logic is aligned with the core idea of the Good Life Engine course — the execution of small daily routines that will help students to stay mentally and physically well in the long run.
Tip 4: Do an easy eye-opening exercise to learn about your strengths
Frank Martela, one of the course speakers, introduced this exercise in his course about Good Life in Aalto. It’s based on the idea presented by Peter F. Drucker in his book Managing oneself: “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong.” Most likely, you are not an exception. You probably don’t have a holistic understanding of how great you are. So, try the following:
- Find a couple of people who know you well. They can be your parents or kids, friends, colleagues, teammates, or anybody else. It would be optimal to choose people who know you in different roles (one from family, one from work, one from a hobby, etc.). Ask these people to think about what your key strengths are.
- Ask them to write down at least one strength of yours and a specific example of a situation where this strength was particularly visible. They can write about two or three strengths if they want, but one is also good.
- You might feel uncomfortable asking for this kind of feedback, but people are usually surprisingly willing to do it. Also, it typically doesn’t take more than 5 minutes of their time. And gathering such stories from several people can give you significant insights into how others see your strengths.
- Read the results. You will feel so empowered after this, and you might learn something new about yourself.
If you want to learn more exercises and mindsets, you are welcome to join the Good Life Engine course!