Sunday, June 22, 2008

A framework for getting through tough times, economic or otherwise

With the current state of the economy, every news cast, newspaper, magazine, and radio station has been offering a nightly segment on making our money go further by cutting expenses, shifting our investments, and finding places with bargains. Money experts like Jean Chatzky and Suze Orman are encouraging us to live within or below our means, pay down bad debt, and save, save, save. While a lot of these tips are very helpful, they are just that - suggestions and tips. I haven't seen a consistent, customizable framework to help us cope with specific, difficult challenges we're facing on so many fronts. Until yesterday.

I've been a loyal subscriber to Real Simple Magazine for several years. I look forward to its arrival each month and it's one of the few publications I read cover to cover every time. This month, their resident motivator, Gail Blanke, wrote a column entitled "How to Thrive in Tough Times." I expected another set of high quality tips and hints on personal cost cutting. What I found instead was much more valuable. 

A personal and executive coach, Gail offered exactly the kind of framework I have been looking for when evaluating a challenge and formulating a way to overcome it. A fun five-step process takes us through naming and evaluating the challenge, considering possibilities, and then taking action. 

Step 1 involves naming the problem in a discrete way and then asking, "can we do anything about our situation to quickly make the problem disappear?" If no, proceed to step 2. Gail's example in the article talks about a family who can't afford to take vacation this year because of the tough economy. 

Step 2 we consider all of the things we're missing out on or losing as a result of the problem. This can be an emotional coming to terms so take your time going through this step, face each fear and loss head-on, and then keep going. 

Step 3 now that we have faced what we're losing, consider a new possibility. This can be the most difficult step because we now have to let go of what we are losing and imagine a new reality. Eventually, the family Gail was working with formulated the big idea of having a vacation at home. 

Step 4 now the fun begins. It's time for imagining impossible things in the hope that we can make some of them possible. This is a free-for-all brainstorm. No idea is a bad idea in step 3 - get it all out there without considering limitations. This is your license to get completely carried away. The family in Gail's example came up with ideas like taking Latin dance lessons together, cooking classes, and visiting all of the local museums in town.

Step 5 leads us on the path to reflection. We put the best of the ideas from step 4 into action, and put our best foot forward in making them a reality. No half-hearted efforts here. And then carefully consider how this new found possibility is different and even better than the opportunity we had to miss out on in these tough times. Step 5 will be a work in progress for some time, and it may teach us that while the hard times are tough to initially confront, they end up creating the circumstances for which we are most grateful. 

I hope this framework helps us all consider new realities that we must create in order to move forward, even in the toughest of times. It's valid for personal matters, as well as professional, and can be used by anyone regardless of circumstances. It has enough structure to serve as a gentle guide and enough flexibility to make it valid in a myriad of situations. It can be used by individuals, families, and companies. Many thanks to Gail and Real Simple for finally offering up a tool that we'll be able to use for many years to come. 

No comments: