Victor Frankl defines “Tragic Optimism” as remaining optimistic despite the tragic triad- pain, guilt, and death. How is it possible to say “Yes” to life despite all these tragic events? How can life preserve its potential meaning despite its tragic aspects? According to Victor Frankl, life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those that are most miserable. This belief presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best (best means optimum in Latin) of any given situation. This is an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better, driving from life’s challenges an incentive to take responsible action.

Different Emotional Stances in Times of Crisis

So, what is the obstacle to the capacity of humans to turn tragedies into positive experiences? Could it be the variety of the intensity of humans’ experiencing emotions in stressful times? The airplane scenario, developed by Suzanne Miller as a psychological test, which is basically a simulation of an aircraft going through staggering turbulence; aims to assess whether people tend to be vigilant, attending carefully to every detail of a distressing event or, on the contrary deal with such anxious moments by distracting themselves out of it. These two attentional stances toward distress have very different consequences for how people experience their own emotional reactions. Those who attentively tune in to the event, unwillingly amplify the magnitude of their own reactions, especially this attendance zoom them out from their self-awareness. The result is that they experience emotions more intensely. Those who could distract themselves from the distress by attending to other activities (reading, watching, listening, etc.) are able to minimize their emotional response experience. Which of these responses seems natural to us is a sign of our position of attention, which is preferred under pressure.

Improving Personal Leadership

How can all this preliminary information be associated with the most current stress factor – COVID-19 Pandemic- which affects all over the world and forces people to get used to a new norm of lifestyle? COVID-19 pandemic caught humanity unexpectedly when modern life has been moving faster than ever. Soon after waking up from the misconception that this whole situation is temporary, people are constrained to lead their social and work lives in unusual ways. Perhaps, for the first time in a long time, humans have been left alone with their realm of emotions. Ancient wisdom emphasized the necessity of being a master of self for personal growth and for what an arduous work it is. Being one’s own master can also be defined as “personal leadership ability” in the present day. This can be explained as an individual’s efforts and work towards self-improvement after self-evaluation and assessment in one’s life zones conducted mostly with the help of a coach. Our thoughts, beliefs, judgments, emotional and habitual patterns formed since day one may not make this process easy, that is why Jim Roth warns “ Every day, stand guard at the door of your mind”. It is exactly for this reason that the COVID-19 pandemic can provide individual growth from a tragedy to humans. This crisis moment of change provides an opportunity for what “Existential Flexibility” means to us, as Simon Sinek suggests, and how we can prepare ourselves for it.

What Can be Done?

Every individual is trying to deal with this pandemic trauma (this is a traumatic situation and we will see the effects soon or later) in his or her own way. Although self-improvement of an individual is a personalized path, in general, the following suggestions might be helpful:

  • Following reliable resources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), State Departments of Public Health etc., in order to stay up to date to comply with the rules and regulations. On the other hand not to become addicted to other speculative media sources, including social media, while trying to reach out for news and updates. Even though we are in need of connecting with each other, we can still practice digital minimalism.
  • Protecting our physical and mental health is critical more than ever during stressful times. Especially if there is a serious disease factor threatening us to go in one-on-one battle with our immune system. To be more disciplined about healthy nutrition, regular sleep and exercise is absolutely needed.
  • Schools are closed or have switched to online education, most companies request their staff to work from home. All these changes created new life dynamics, thus, creating new daily routines and rituals is inevitable. Nonetheless, working from home sounds tempting; it has its own challenges. Creating new office (home office) habits, and being mindful about our most productive hours (cream time) while planning our day might be useful.
  • Even though we are under great constraint that limits our social and work lives, we become more flexible and free in terms of the time we can allocate to ourselves and loved ones. This means that the greatest contribution of this stressful period to individuals is the fact that now we have the opportunity to acquire new skills or to spend more time on the skills that we’d like to improve if we use our time wisely.
  • Communicating regularly with our loved ones, friends and family members can be a relief to help us to feel normal especially during this period. Applying digital minimalism doesn’t mean staying away from our circle of people. Considering that 90% of our communication takes place without the help of words, making video calls might be the best communication method nowadays.
  • As a matter of course, our exposure to negative and stressful news has increased. Being aware that things may happen for a reason, we can still strive to hope and to look at our lives positively. Focusing on positives might be perceived as impermanent and insincere and moving away from reality. However, no matter how bad the situation will be, it is a basic need of human beings to think and hope that everything will improve and be OK eventually.