The courage to connect
Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, examines how even in adversity we can learn to cultivate the confidence to express our authentic selves.
What comes to mind when you think of courage? It’s likely that you picture a firefighter, a doctor or a social activist. Courage isn’t always about heroes and heroism. Sometimes it’s a simple act of not giving up on yourself, honouring your own needs and challenging your old assumptions or beliefs.
As we dive into the post-lockdown reality and try to reconnect with friends and co-workers there will be opportunities to speak freely and share what the experience of being in lockdown was truly like. If we apply our everyday courage, we could mention in the conversation a little more detail to name the good, the bad and perhaps the ugly too. Bantering with colleagues about the inconvenience of social distancing or Zoom overdose and failed holidays is a norm. However, do we feel brave enough to discuss the impact on our mental health and our overall wellbeing?
Cultivating courage – a 3-step plan
A good way to develop and cultivate courage is to engage in smaller everyday acts before moving on to more difficult ones. Let’s consider these 3 steps:
- Courage in our thoughts
- Courage in our words
- Courage in our behaviour
Our thoughts are the inner world that nobody else has access to. Thoughts stir up emotions and lead to a variety of moods. Do we sometimes suppress our thoughts because we don’t want to feel a certain way? If so, why? It’s possible we consciously or unconsciously apply a degree of self-stigma. This is when we internalise and apply to ourselves some negative attitudes and stereotypes from the outside world. We might believe that being OK is the only way for us to be accepted and liked by others. Therefore, by having – and admitting to – any of our mental health challenges during lockdown (and even after) we might fear others will exclude us from their circle.
Step 1: don’t believe everything you think, especially don’t rely on stereotypes.
Our words exist in the external world. We communicate in writing or by speaking aloud and convey messages to others about our experience in life. What if the recent lockdown experience was far from a pleasant one? Do we trust others? How do we choose the vocabulary to share what has happened to us? Just find your own bold phrase like for example “I struggle sometimes with…” or “I think I may have a problem with…” And try to muster some courage and speak up. At first, maybe say as much as you’re comfortable to.
Step 2: don’t believe you need to be an expert communicator otherwise nobody will listen or understand you.
Our courageous behaviour can evolve too. What we practice grows stronger. You probably have read something in Mindful Memo about Mindfulness and how to stop living on autopilot. Start paying attention to your needs and the values you hold dear. Gradually, increase awareness of your behaviour. Choose how you respond to anything that goes on around you. Don’t keep the old habits if they no longer serve your mental health. If something bothers you but you’ve never shared it with friends or co-workers, open up and let others hear you out.
Step 3: Focus on connection and be your authentic self.
Expressing emotions in the workplace
There’s also a matter of building up our courage to start expressing emotions in the workplace. Let’s begin with an easy example taken from the Non-violent Communication (NVC) programme. We can express our thanks to friends and co-workers who have listened to us and offered their support.
Say thanks or write a thank you note, and elaborate on the following:
- What exactly you wish to thank them for. If possible, refer to an exact situation, e.g. a chat over lunch when you can talk uninterrupted and voice your worries.
- How it made you feel. Name a few positive emotions their support has evoked, maybe a feeling of safety, feeling visible and understood.
- Why it was important to you. If you can, link it to your personal values or explain the reasons you appreciate this person taking interest in your wellbeing.
Courage becomes our inner strength when we practice it more often. When we notice others practicing courage and opening up about their mental health, let’s remember to acknowledge it might not be an easy thing to do and offer some genuine encouragement to go on. We all are complex human beings and not everyone has returned to the office happy and unscathed by the local and global pandemics. And if the lockdown has impacted your mental health, then don’t play it down – tell someone about it.