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All About You: ‘Look for the helpers’ in trying times

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

What a year 2020 was! I’m sure, like me, you hope 2021 is less dramatic. It’s been hard not to focus on the misfortune so many people around the world have suffered. From massive fires, storms and violence to the ongoing pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, economies falling apart, and all kinds of nasty disputes and disparities, no doubt it was a year of despair.

It was also a year of immense human compassion, courage and service.

Here’s some wise advice from TV icon Mister Rogers: “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” How true. Even during the most perilous times, rays of light and hope flow from people dedicated to helping others and risking their own health, safety and family ties to serve a higher purpose.

I encourage you to “look for the helpers” and other positive aspects during these trying times. It’s not in our nature to do it. We’re more apt to notice adverse events because they signal danger, which alerts our survival instincts.

Making a concerted effort to look for “good news” is a tangible way to help you cope better when times are tough. I just finished watching a documentary on frontline medical workers and what they’re going through. It was heartwarming – and also a bit heart-wrenching, but it uplifted my spirits and gave me a sense of hope rather than the despair I sometimes feel when I watch the news.

Another tactic that helps during trying times is to reflect on how you can learn from the situation. If you’re upset because you’ve lost your job or can’t visit your parents, it’s understandable but it doesn’t help you. However, you can use the situation to improve your coping skills or an aspect of your character. It’s similar to root-cause investigations. You can learn from harmful incidents even though you wish they hadn’t occurred. For example, I’ve become more empathetic about other people’s suffering this year and now show more compassion. How about you? What has 2020 taught you?

Three axioms I’ve been reflecting on lately are “Rise above it,” “This too shall pass” and “Pay attention to your breath.” These have helped me handle the duress from recent events.

‘Rise above it’

Whenever I start to get upset about something, I remind myself to step back and evaluate the situation objectively rather than get caught up in my emotions. I spent this past Thanksgiving at home with no “outside” family members. At first, it bothered me, but then I thought about it objectively and realized that my health and that of my loved ones are more important than a day of celebration.

‘This too shall pass’

No matter what’s happening in your life – and in the world – right now, it’ll change. Of course that includes the good stuff, which is why you should cherish your happy moments. Years from now, we’ll look back on these turbulent times with mixed emotions, but not with dread, because they will have passed.

On a more personal note, realizing the impermanence of my feelings has helped me handle depression, fear and negative moods because I know they “shall pass.”

‘Pay attention to your breath’

Whenever you get upset, stop and pay attention to your breathing. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, this is the best techique I’ve discovered to handle duress better. Reams of research results show that deep, focused breathing positively affects a person’s emotions, particularly anxiety. It’s simple and always available. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, if you start feeling anxious, slow down your breathing and notice how it feels.

Hopefully, 2021 will bring us much less to be anxious about than 2020!

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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