Want to know the secret to success and surviving long-term stress? Pivot.
The ability to pivot is your greatest superpower.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fear. We thought the pandemic would last three months. Then we hunkered down for six months. When the year marker hit, and the PPP loans ran out, and small businesses shuttered to a close, it became frighteningly real. The streets were empty. Tumbleweeds blew down city streets. Snowstorms blanketed us with despair. Electrical outages seemed a sign of a future apocalypse.
Life over the last year has changed at a relentless pace. Our whole perspective on reality, in fact, has morphed into a dystopian novel where we are isolated, there are riots in the streets, insurrections and government takeovers are real. At home, marriages and families are dealing with at-home schooling, illness, and death. At this writing over 500,000 Americans have died from the Coronavirus. There are not enough vaccines for everyone and not enough access to them for all of us.
We realize now that life will never be the same. We have faced and will continue to confront challenges that have never before been seen on a local or a global level.
Why are some people doing so well and others are suffering under the weight of it? We all know people who seem to thrive during this time. Their relationships are going well. They have gotten into the best shape of their lives. They have started new businesses, made new friends, cleaned out their closets. Why are they living happy, productive lives and others are suffering from trauma symptoms?
When we cannot predict our future, scientists say, we face the direst consequences to our mental health and daily well-being. If we knew what was coming and when we could be ready, we could rise to the occasion.
We are strong as a country, as a people, as a civilization. But it’s the not knowing, the consistent shock of the changes we are experiencing after long stretches of relative peace that convinces our brain to be on high alert, to remain frozen in fight or flight, lying in wait for the next catastrophe to hit.
Yet so many of us are thriving. I watch as my friends become bakers of sourdough bread, perhaps returning to a simpler time, or maybe preparing for a future where supplies could be limited and we will have to fend for ourselves. They are learning to pivot.
When grocery stores feel like dangerous places full of viral contagion and long lines, shortages, and angry, cranky people, they are turning to their own cupboards and working with what they have. They are choosing not to wait in line to hoard toilet paper. Instead of focusing on job loss and financial stress, these new at-home bakers have found a wonderful alternative — stay home and let the smell of hot fresh bread baking in the oven calm their frayed nerves.
Others who have lost their way on their previous professional career path are home in their pajamas, finding a way to pivot to new ideas, finding an entrepreneurial spirit they didn’t know they had.
Zoom has become the new office, and there are benefits to pivoting to an online work world. For some of us, Zoom has expanded our capacity to strategize, to face adversity while eliminating the need for a two-hour commute.
Lots of us are pivoting to a new appreciation for time; for space in our day to learn, to find friends online, to listen to podcasts, to expand our music collection, do online yoga, to hug our children.
Those who have the ability to pivot appear to be more psychologically resilient. Pivoters face adversity and do it without talking too much about it and without freaking out. My friend Gina lost her job and her kids are home full time now. She is a single mom and lives in a small apartment. She is on unemployment and running out of money, and patience. But I never knew her level of stress. Instead, I got an email from her with a link to her online Etsy account and it was exploding. She had been making handmade lampshades with craft items she had around the house. She posted photos on social media of her artsy pursuits, special moments gluing sparkly beads, laughing around the table with her kids. They were all smiling and messy and she looked happy.
People who can pivot can shift gears, fast, without folding. They can move quickly in a new, different direction. They find unique ways to deal with their current experience. They look for more positive avenues, they take advantage of what they have in front of them. Those who can pivot move quickly don’t dally on the negative, they don’t worry too much about the problem. Instead, they switch ideas fast, like a train switching tracks. They don’t get anxious about what’s ahead on the next track because they have learned from their last pivot experience that they can always pivot next time if things don’t work out.
Not everyone who pivots does it well, of course. But pivoting is not about how much money you’re making off of your TikTok videos. It’s about how you are making your new life direction work for you. Pivoting is a form of resilience under stress.
This new form of resilience is catching on fast. It’s showing up in young people who have moved from on-campus learning to at-home college classrooms. It’s in those who respond by creating teams that meet online outside of their daily job hours to brainstorm about how to help those who are struggling and don’t have access to food or healthcare. It’s those who are reaching out to their local politicians to encourage them to work on the major problems in our world today, getting involved on a level they never thought they would or ever wanted to.
While the global pandemic rages outside, we need to stay connected from the inside. And we have the power to do it. Being on the internet is like having a central nervous system, a system that connects us all, as a planet. It shows us that we are all truly connected.
There is no precedent for this type of global connection. We have never had to or been able to experience this range of empathy and global awareness. We know now that we are all going through the same thing. We are all suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and we are all learning to pivot. Some countries are doing it better than others. Because we are all connected on the internet and stuck at home to watch, we can see who is pivoting faster and better. We know who is at the forefront of resilience and we can see who heals from this virus and if we are aware and awake, we can learn how to act together to all help each other.
Adapting to this new world is going to be different for everyone. It’s not just the privileged who will survive. Some of us who grew up in more traumatic backgrounds may have an advantage. Of course, if you had an abusive childhood you might envy the more privileged who didn’t have to face the tough history you lived through. But with those disadvantages comes strength. You are now one of the stronger, more flexible survivors and you know how to pivot. If you are reading this article, you have always been resilient, because you have survived tough times. You can respond to stress and even danger by remaining mentally agile and you can deal with events as they occur in real-time. You see obstacles not as stumbling blocks or as the end of roads, but simply as moments to pivot, to turn toward something else, and these pivot moments actually lead you to perform at your most peak levels. Your past experiences now allow you to lead others. To lead others in how to achieve the best possible outcomes in the most challenging times.
Businesses that can pivot will survive this pandemic. Spouses who can pivot will stay married. Children who can pivot will do well in school. Governments who can pivot will handle this time of crisis by staying on top of the needs of their people, and pivoting when things change, when needs change, as the world changes.
We don’t know what the future will bring. If nothing else, this past year has taught us that hanging on to a sunny, positive outlook is not always the best strategy if it is rooted in ignorance. Yes, the future looks bright. But it might not be the future you are imagining right now. In fact, you may have to pivot ten times before you get through the next week.
Staying flexible is the opposite of staying perpetually on guard and wary of change. When we are stressed or traumatized we may scan the horizon for problems, looking for danger, our senses heightened. This causes exhaustion and doesn’t leave room for adaptability. Have confidence, instead, that you will know when to pivot and how to do it. You’ve done it before. How do I know?
Because you’re still here.
Ten Ways to Pivot to be Successful and Survive Stress
One. Have the confidence to know that you can pivot. Pivoting is your superpower.
Two. Believe in your own resilience. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.
Three. Feeling stuck is not a problem. It’s simply a sign that it’s time to pivot.
Four. Not sure what to do? Read a book, listen to a podcast, pull a Tarot card. You are ultimately your own best resource.
Five. Make a list of all the things you are currently grateful for, and notice how well things are going. You will always get more of what you appreciate.
Six. Make a list of what you want over the next week, and the next six months. Sometimes we just can’t see over the next hill.
Seven. Get outside. Breathe. Walk in nature. Get away from Zoom.
Eight. Get dressed. Or at least change your pajamas. Put on some shoes. Shave. Feel better.
Nine. Write down one intention and light a candle. An intention is not a goal. It is a visualization of what you believe you have already received. Yes, the candle is important.
Ten. Tell someone how great you are at pivoting. You are amazing. Brag about yourself. Don’t apologize for it. Pivoting is something that you are here to teach others.
Tammy Nelson Ph.D. is a Board Certified Sexologist, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and author of several books including her latest book Open Monogamy to be released November 2021. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times Magazine, CNN, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine. She is a TEDx speaker and host of the podcast The Trouble with Sex. She is in private practice in Los Angeles CA and can be found at www.drtammynelson.com