Amy, Sally’s coaching client, called to say she could not make their appointment. As a hospital administrator during a pandemic, she had no time for a call. Sally expressed concern and offered to just take a few minutes for a check-in. Amy reluctantly agreed.
Sally was tempted to give advice or suggest ways for Amy to calm down. Instead, by using her VIA character strength of curiosity, she was able to curb her enthusiasm (zest) and inclination to help (kindness) and asked, “What is most helpful to you to talk about now?”
Amy answered immediately, “Can you share with me the ways you or your other clients decompress and build resilience?”
Sally again suppressed the urge to give advice (judgment) and again leaning on curiosity, asked, “What has worked for you in the past?” She was determined to persevere with helping Amy explore her own pathways to resilience, as she was much more likely to implement those than anything Sally suggested directly (teamwork, judgment, perspective).
Amy paused, took two deep breaths and a list flowed forth:
- Being in nature
- Meditation—she remembered she has an app she likes that she hasn’t used in a while
- Poetry reading—she has a big book of poetry that was given to her as a birthday present
- Planning something nice for the future—maybe a trip to a favorite place
Sally continued in a calm, soft tone: “So what has happened in the last few days?”
Amy responded, “I can’t go to the gym because it’s closed, which means no swimming. I haven’t been outside because the weather has been bad, and I get home too late anyway. I haven’t meditated in a long time—I really want to get back to that, it’s so beneficial. And with everything going on at the hospital, I don’t have time to plan a trip or listen to music.”
Sally paused to see if there were more thoughts, and hearing none, asked her next question, “What are some options?”
Amy barely took a breath before responding. “Well,” she said, “as I’m talking, it occurs to me that I can play music on my drive to and from work. The weather is supposed to get better starting tomorrow, so I can plan to walk at lunchtime. If I can’t get out, I’ll use my meditation app to do a five-minute meditation. And I can read a page of poetry before bed.”
She sighed. “Wow, it’s really easy now that I think about it. With a plan (prudence), I can make sure I take a few breaks.”
“What about the trip? Where do you want to go?” Sally asked. Before too long, Amy was describing her dream vacation in Bali—picturing the sights, imagining the sounds, thinking about the food she would eat and the activities she would enjoy.
As the conversation drew to a close, Sally asked, “How do you feel now?”
Amy replied, “I feel SO much better! My head is clearer, my mind is more focused, my mood has lifted, I have a plan for ways to help myself in the coming days. I feel great! I am so grateful that we talked and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to manage my energy more effectively over the next few days and weeks. It also occurred to me that although things are crazy right now, they are all focused on one thing—managing this one crisis. Everyday distractions and day-to-day issues aren’t relevant, so in a funny kind of way I am actually feeling more productive and more fulfilled than usual. I want to remember that!”
Sally asked one final question. “What did you learn today?”
Amy answered, “I learned that taking this timeout for myself was not a luxury I couldn’t afford, it was a necessity that will help me be more effective (perspective). When can we schedule our next coaching session?”
Personal timeouts during times of stress are not luxuries, they are necessities. They help us focus, reset, identify priorities, make better decisions, and feel better overall. And when we feel better, we are more able to be the person we want to be.
Here are some questions for you to consider as you plan your time over the next few days and weeks:
- What is one personal practice you will maintain?
- How do you feel when you maintain that practice?
- Who is someone you can explore options with?
- How can you help someone else explore their options for self-care?
Join Ruth on Tuesday, May 10, for a WBI/JCC Positive Psychology Hour webinar on how to buffer against burnout, adversity, and prolonged stress. Find out more and register. You can test your own level of burnout beforehand by taking this quiz.
Ruth Pearce, JD, PMP, ACC, CiWPP, is VIA’s Ambassador and Facilitator. She is president of ALLE LLC and co-founder of In It Together Coaching, which offers group coaching based on VIA Character Strengths. Ruth presents regularly at conferences nationally and internationally on how to use character strengths for project management and building engaged, empowered teams. She is the author of the book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management and in 2021, she launched her first LinkedIn Learning course based on the book. Ruth’s motto is Be Hopeful; Be Strong; Be Brave; Be Curious.