With each passing day, the COVID-19 crisis continues to upend the daily lives and routines of millions of people. Amid anxieties about the health of family and friends, people have had to adjust to working from home, with kitchen tables doubling as Zoom-based conference rooms, or not working at all.
Many have been hit hard by the rapid decline of the economy, which in the past month has seen nearly 10 million people apply for unemployment benefits.
Yet, says Professor Adam Galinsky, though it might be difficult to comprehend at the moment, there are opportunities to work on professional passions and personal growth during the crisis.
Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business and chair of the Management Division, co-authored a 2018 paper that redefined what we think of as “grit.” Galinsky’s research found that grit is composed of two components. First is perseverance (or conscientiousness ); Galinsky defines this component of grit as being “ordered and responsible.” The second component is passion, which is “a strong feeling toward a personally important value or preference.”
To be gritty in the time of COVID-19, Galinsky advises adhering to usual routines, while allowing yourself the opportunity to work on other projects or interests that fall outside those routines.
Galinsky says that for those accustomed to the patterns of a 9 to 5 schedule, it is crucial to create structure for working from home.
“It’s what they teach astronauts,” Galinsky says. “Every day has a tight structure, otherwise you start to lose days and weeks, as well as your mooring on everyday reality.”
He notes that having structure helps people tap into their own sense of perseverance, which has the added benefit of decreasing anxiety and depression.
It is also important to compensate for the lack of commonplace activities, such as exercise and social interaction, that are lost during constant conference calls.
“When we go to work we get some physical activity by exercising and moving; this is critical because exercise has a similar effect size on mood as anti-depressant medication,” Galinsky says. “And we also interact with our colleagues and social interaction is another critical component of well-being.”
Galinsky says that for those who have been fortunate enough to keep their jobs during the outbreak, it is important to maintain a structure while also attending to an unfulfilled passion. “To the extent that your job involves ideas, this isolation can be a bit like a writer’s retreat," he says. “Research has shown that a sense of distance from your normal routine, while still creating a new one, can open up space for you to think of new ideas.”
Some are not so lucky. The loss of work can be disorienting and lead to loss of structure and a diminished sense of meaning. “But you can capitalize on this as an opportunity to invest in a back-burner passion within a perseverance-based structure,” he says.
Galinsky notes that with growing economic uncertainty, those out of work should take this time to create a system to find a new job for when the market rebounds and employers start hiring again.
“I would not send out resumes now,” Galinsky says. “Get ready to go once the world starts moving in the right direction.”
As the crisis continues to unfold, Galinsky recommends that each of us can cultivate a sense of gratitude. Recognize that many others have suffered more and the ways in which you are fortunate. His research has shown that this form of counterfactual thinking—imagining other realities—can help people find gratitude and that this gratitude can itself be an input into both perseverance and passion, i.e., grit.
“For people who still have jobs, the alternative reality is that you don’t have a job,” he says. “For those that don’t have a job but are not sick, the alternative reality is not having your health. Gratitude can be a motivating force. Remind yourself, ‘If I didn’t have X, my life would be worse off, and I’m grateful for what I have.’”