By Mark Murphy
It’s nuts out there; believe me, I get it. We’ve got a pandemic, a recession, forced working from home, forced coming into the office, the insanity of social media, politics and more. It’s not hyperbole to say that these are unprecedented times.
And any normal person is rightly going to look at the world and possibly feel depressed, anxious, stressed and more.
But while these times are legitimately fraught (and maybe even horrible), there’s a psychological skill that can help anyone find some benefits from going through terrible times.
The psychological skill is appropriately called Benefit Finding, and it’s essentially the ability to find the good in the bad.
More technically, benefit finding means that we derive positive growth from adversity or tough times. Resilience is when we hit a tough time and get knocked down, and then we bounce back up. Benefit finding, by contrast, is when we go through those tough times, and not only do we get back up, but we actually find that we’ve grown and developed as a result of getting knocked down.
Benefit finding is one of the 18 Outlooks that drive employee engagement. People high in benefit finding believe that having had tough times in their career has actually led them to cope better with stress and with problems. And they tend to believe that the tough times they’ve had in their career have actually helped them to improve and grow.
And we know from the study Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think that psychological factors like benefit finding are better statistical predictors of employee engagement than having a great manager. So it’s a psychological muscle that is well worth developing.
Benefit finding isn’t limited to the workplace. And benefit finding can absolutely be learned. In a study of early-stage breast cancer patients who went through training on benefit finding, researchers discovered that these women experienced increased optimism and came to see that cancer had made positive contributions in their lives.
I need to pause here because I know how crazy that sounds; cancer can actually have benefits? Of course cancer is horrible, and yet, there’s a significant body of research that finds that cancer patients can experience positive benefits, like improvement in personal resources and skills, enhanced sense of purpose, greater spirituality, closer relationships with spouses and family members, and more. That’s the essence of benefit finding; it’s accepting that this is a horrible situation and still discovering something good amidst the bad.
Thinking about benefit finding in the workplace, there are positives to living through crazy times. It doesn’t mean that these times are good; life would be so much better if we were living in more normal times, if people weren’t dying from a pandemic, and if companies weren’t folding amidst a recession.
But given that these are the times we face, we need to do what we can to find something useful and positive that we can get out of it.
Here’s an exercise that, if you assign this to yourself and your employees, will immediately increase your ability to find something good amidst all the bad.
Step 1: We’re going to have to think about a time in our career that was particularly challenging or emotionally difficult. Maybe it was some big failure we had, some kind of stress, distress, pain, whatever it was that was going on. We want to think about that tough time in our career and get it firmly cemented in our mind.
Step 2: Now that we’ve got that experience firmly in our mind, we need to ask ourselves, “how did that experience change us? What changed as a result of that?”
Step 3: Here we’re going to ask ourselves, “what did that experience teach us?”
Step 4: Now we ask ourselves, “how has that experience better prepared me to face similar challenges in the future?” Think about going through that tough time; not only did you survive, but how did going through that experience prepare you to face similar tough times in the future?
Step 5: Ask yourself, “how has this experience helped me to grow as a person?”
Step 6: Finally, and I know this question can be tough, ask yourself, “is there any part of this experience that I’m grateful for?” For example, maybe it was an incredibly tough time causing incredible stress in your career, but did it bring you and your spouse a little closer together? Did it bring you and your colleagues closer together? Did it show you how to be a little more efficient and not sweat the small stuff? Is there anything that this experience taught you that, hindsight being 20/20, you’re now grateful for?
You can see what we’re doing here. We’re taking the bad situation, and all we’re doing is prompting ourselves to think about that tough time a little bit differently. Most of the time we think about tough times and we say, “Whew, thank goodness I got through that.” Here, what we’re forcing ourselves to think about those tough times, and poke on them a little bit and ask ourselves what we learned from surviving those tough times.
This exercise isn’t easy. But when you force yourself (and your employees) to go through it, step-by-step, you’ll typically find that there were some positive sequalae stemming from those difficult times.
To be clear, I would much rather we not experience these tough times. But given that they’re here, we need to find ways to cope. And benefit finding is an incredibly powerful psychological skill for doing just that.
This article originally appeared at https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2020/08/09/if-you-do-this-exercise-youll-actually-find-some-benefits-from-living-in-these-crazy-times/#50d00347704d