If you’re working from home full time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by this point you’ve figured out how to be productive, set boundaries, get promoted, manage child care or education if you’re a parent with kids at home, meal prep, do all the laundry, and still have time for self care at the end of the week, right?
It’s almost laughable to believe anyone can do it all, and yet some of us continue to shame ourselves for not being able to meet the expectations we set. While we mean well, we can’t stop ourselves from doom-scrolling, sifting through social media posts thinking everyone else has it all figured out, and watching and reading and listening to the news, all in the name of staying informed. But it’s exhausting.
At Smartsheet, our Benefits team thoughtfully rolled out a five-month long series of “wellbeing support” programs — one-hour workshops to support employees through the mental and emotional ups and downs we may be experiencing. The sessions cover a variety of subjects, such as managing emotions, improving sleep, mindfulness and meditation, and maintaining your energy.
The most recent session was about “abundant thinking,” which seemed like something my neurotic brain needed: it sounded positive, and gave me hope that perhaps my mindset could shift to allow me to get more done each day. Because honestly? My weeks have been a rollercoaster. One week I may lack energy and feel like my output isn’t where it should be, while other weeks I conquer my to-do list in four days and get a head start on next week’s tasks.
The times may be weird, but there’s no such thing as the “new” normal anymore. We’re in the thick of it, and much as we may not enjoy remote work — whether from home or otherwise — or struggle to manage all the things, this is what “normal” looks like these days. We might as well figure out how to optimize it, and that’s how I approached learning about abundant thinking.
The importance of an abundant mindset
The concept of an abundant mindset, or abundant thinking, may be more familiar to you by another name, the “growth mindset.”
Abundant thinking means you approach situations from a positive perspective, believing that there are enough resources for everyone instead of worrying you’ll never have enough, being appreciative of others instead of envious, being forward-focused instead of stuck in the past.
And the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly tested these beliefs: from supply chain issues with toilet paper and meat to antibacterial cleaners, from holding on so tightly to our old way of life to thinking everyone else has it all figured out while you’re struggling.
But improving your mindset to embrace one of abundance can lead to more positive emotions flooding your brain, enhance your wellbeing and performance, and result in more creativity and better problem-solving abilities. Your thoughts lead to feelings and your feelings lead to behaviors, and each of these components of your brain affect the other.
“At the individual level it correlates with both positive thinking and generosity,” says Christian Ferragamo, an organizational psychologist. “With this abundant mindset, we tend to think more positively, but it also has a greater impact on our self image and how we see ourselves. It tends to nurture our self-esteem, our confidence — we feel better about ourselves and our ability — and creativity. A lot of creativity and problem solving relies on creating a more abundant mindset. And I think most importantly, it really helps us stay resilient in challenging times.”
Boost your confidence and resilience by adopting an abundant mindset
Now that you understand the importance of abundant thinking, how do you actually do it? Here are the steps Christian recommends following.
1) Foster positive emotions.
One of the biggest ways to foster positive emotions is by practicing gratitude. This means setting time aside each day to truly count your blessings — no matter how big or small — and writing down a few items for which you’re thankful. This helps your brain regularly tune in to the good things in your life, a helpful shift in thinking since our brains are hardwired to think about the negatives.
Most of us are well-aware of to-do lists (and how they never end!), but a positive checklist you should consider keeping is one of progress. A progress checklist allows you to focus on the progress you make each day.
Whether you took a small step to schedule a meeting that will influence a bigger, strategic plan for an initiative, or you nailed a huge presentation, both items should go on your progress checklist accompanied by satisfying checkmarks.
Take a moment at the end of each work day to relish your accomplishments, and spend a few minutes setting your action plan for the following day. Not only does this help you set yourself up for success tomorrow, but you also create a routine that can serve as a bookend to each work day.
As many of us are working from home, finding ways to step away from the laptop (and your phone) at the end of each work day helps us delineate work time from personal time, recharge our mental batteries, and prevent burnout.
2) Increase your mental agility.
Practicing mindfulness is an easy, yet powerful, way to cultivate psychological flexibility. By fully immersing yourself in an experience — whether eating an orange or taking in a scenic view or even working in the Smartsheet platform — you train your mind to focus. It’s not about blocking thoughts from entering your brain; it’s about observing those thoughts rather than getting caught up in them (and worse, feeling anxious and stressed about them).
“The mind loves to wander,” Christian points out. “But the more we can become aware of those thoughts, the better we become at bringing ourselves back to the present moment, and we build that psychological flexibility.”
Another way to increase mental agility is to think about situations from a different angle. Our brains crave fairness to feel safe and be in a “reward” state. When we don’t feel like we’ve been treated fairly, we feel disrespected, which can lead to anger and frustration. If we act on this anger, it can backfire on us (which is not helpful).
If you’re in a situation where you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, take a moment to pause and think about the situation from other perspectives — not to justify what’s happened, but simply to stop the negative thought cycles so you can think more clearly. In these moments, Christian suggests asking yourself a few questions.
“What might this situation look like from another person’s point of view?” Christian asks. “If I’m feeling really angry in this moment and like I’ve been treated unfairly, if my colleague or boss would’ve seen this, what advice would they have given me in the moment? Another way of changing your perspective is [to consider] what advice would you give a friend in a similar situation? It’s about dampening those emotions and once those emotions decrease, it’s much easier to start thinking rationally to act on the situation in a way that’s constructive.”
3) Create collective abundance.
Collective abundance is about thinking in a connected way. Kindness and empathy are the cornerstones of collective abundance. It's the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand how they feel, and being kind and understanding to the needs of others.
With this in mind, you can weave small acts of kindness into each day. Simple ways to do this during work is to give recognition for a job well done or show appreciation for people’s efforts.
“When we give someone a compliment, particularly if it’s not expected, it really has a big impact on the brain,” Christian points out. “It releases dopamine and serotonin, and it puts the brain in a reward state. And those positive emotions lead to abundant thinking.”
Lastly is the concept of empathy bias, which is the “tendency to have more empathy toward others similar to us,” Christian explains. This concept appears in every culture around the globe, as research shows we tend to have more empathy for people who are part of our social groups (e.g. gender, race, religion, etc.).
To challenge this empathy bias, begin looking for similarities you share with people who aren’t part of your perceived social groups. What do you have in common? Find ways to connect by identifying your similarities. As you get closer to other people, identify the strengths they contribute to your life, your work, and more.
Yes, thank you, more please
The amazing thing about our brains is their ability to learn and be trained. And while it’s always been helpful to think positively, it’s never been more important to foster a resilient way of thinking than during a challenging time — which we’re collectively experiencing across the globe.
For more tips on how to adjust, download our latest report, “Empower Your Dynamic Workforce.”