When Life Happens: Pushing Through It

It can be hard enough to focus on work when you get bad news, but if you’re independent and your entire business oftentimes depends on your mindset, the stakes can be much higher.

Every day, an independent learns of the loss of a friend or a family member. Doctors tell independents of diagnoses they’d rather not hear. PR pros have to manage major setbacks involving kids, spouses and parents, all the while being expected to perform in their work.

What makes these challenges tougher for independents is that if they shut down, the entire business stops. Even with back-up, at some point, it’s up to each independent to decide to dig deep and get on with the business of business. This requires mental toughness that is not unlike that of an elite athlete who must block out the distractions of life, even for a little while, to train and compete.

Finding perspective

Dr. Caroline Silby, a leading sports psychologist and the author of the book “Games Girls Play: Understanding and Guiding Young Female Athletes,” has worked with Olympic Gold medalists and other champion athletes. The first thing she advises is to find perspective.

“You cannot map out with any certainty what an athlete is going to see, feel and think during every performance,” she says. “Isolate the event as a one-time event to minimize the emotional impact of some challenging days.”

Silby advises individuals to adjust expectations, viewing each day separately, working to turn an obstacle into a challenge by testing how much can be accomplished when “feeling out of their groove and rhythm.”

“Athletes choose actions and focal points that allow them to put appropriate filters on the ‘noise’ in their heads,” she says. “For instance, some athletes count their steps to a mile. Others will use strategies to distract from pain, like focusing on what is going on around them, listening to music or imagining a moment in time that was uplifting.”

PR professionals can imitate this by focusing only on the task at hand, tuning into the sounds they hear, the things they see right in front of them. Still, Silby says we often can be distracted by information that elicits an emotional response as important and urgent when it may not be.

“Most often, you can feel tired or frustrated and have everything you need to be successful. So, carry on. You can feel sad and disappointed in one area of your life and feel the freedom and pleasure that another aspect of your life brings,” she says.

Yet, when fatigue and frustration become a pattern as opposed to an event, then it is time to respond and make some changes.

“When an athlete is dealing with personal loss, the daily objectives for training and outcomes are adjusted accordingly,” Silby says. “This way the athlete can align the demands placed upon her with available resources to fulfill those demands.”

Another important factor is mindfulness.

“Athletes incorporate mindfulness into their training as a way to train themselves to be open to the moment and see what is in front of them with clarity,” says Silby. “Simple breathing exercises and meditation can be as important to your work productivity.”

Of course, none of this can alter the underlying contributors to stress. A sick parent will still be sick tomorrow. Terms like “compartmentalization” may enter the picture.

“We work with athletes on the concept of being able to hold two opposing emotions at the same time,” Silby says.

This work involves following a process for acknowledging stress and feelings about that stress in one area of life, while allowing for an opportunity to focus on something else that allows the chance for success and pleasure.