April 2020


During my adult life, I’ve lived through three major moments of global trepidation and uncertainty: the September 11 attacks, the economic crash of 2009/2010 and the current COVID-19 outbreak. In each case, our intertwined global community shifted from familiarity, safety and a reliable cadence into a discordant and uncertain day-to-day existence without adequate tools to cope.

Today’s message is about moving past fear. 

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Because while fear is real, it gets in the way of action.

My brother-in-law Gary (who is a psychiatrist) told me about some important historic research by Yokes and Dotson. In an attempt to understand the correlation between fear/anxiety and performance, they conducted a study. Their results showed that while a little bit of fear enhanced performance, any substantive levels of fear caused performance to plummet at disproportionate levels. Fear gets in the way of thinking. Fear gets in the way of doing.

He said that one of the most common presentations of fear is ”fear of the unknown”. Essentially, people start anticipating things that haven’t happened and likely won’t happen. They start playing for the future, thinking too much about the “what-ifs” and driving themselves crazy about things they can’t control. Since the number of possibilities is endless, the “what-if game” becomes a perpetual spiral.

What’s more, if you are thinking about the future, you are not connecting with whomever you are with and whomever you care about right now. The trick to moving from anticipatory fear to present calm is to stay in the moment.

The antidote to fear is connection.

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While the current risks prevent us from being physically connected with each other beyond our intimate families, this time of physical distance can be a catalyst to finding emotional depth. Depth in knowing ourselves and better defining our values. Depth in becoming comfortable with the unknown, (that “space in between what was and what will be”). And depth as we double down on communication and intimacy.

It’s times like these when we stop taking people and privilege for granted and can ask questions like what we’d like to be doing more of, what we naturally do well, what really gets our blood boiling and most importantly, who we’d like to spend more time with in the future. It’s a time to think about what we are grateful for.

Write those thoughts down so that you remember them when things get back to normal. This virus will pass, while these are long-term values and goals that will stay with you far longer.

Beyond this internal exploration, we also know that there are a huge number of small activities you can undertake now which will have big results for others. They all start with kindness.

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Kindness is contagious.

Kindness doubles when you share it. You can share it in your household, online, via phone, through FaceTime and even through actual written letters. Dr. Gary told me that kindness is clinically proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression by triggering the production of serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin.

The work Serena Chen and I did as part of  The Parlay Effect  also proved that when we act in these small, kind ways, other people emulate our behavior and behave similarly, creating an outward cascade of good. That’s the kind of “virus” I can really get behind. The Parlay Effect kind.

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What’s your Parlay Effect?

Share it Small: Start flipping fear to calm by reaching out and connecting with people you care about. Use your extra time for a longer-than-usual conversation. Hearing from you will undoubtedly pull them back into the moment as well.

Share it Big: Instead of perpetuating fear (and possibly spreading misinformation), let everyone in your extended world know not only that you are safe, but share a personal insight, a present thought, a new project or a future goal with them. Tell the world about kind actions that are tiding you over. You can even initiate group puzzles and games online to be connected and share some laughs. Kindness and connection will trump fear and isolation every time.

Share it with me: I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.