The COVID-19 pandemic seems to take a toll on us mentally all around the globe:

  • UNICEF reports that approximately 70% of young people feel anxious, or very anxious about COVID-19
  • Nearly 70% of workers in the United States have felt more stressed during this pandemic than at any other point in their careers
  • In Hong Kong, 87% of employees report suffering from work-induced stress during the pandemic, with half of all employees showing symptoms of anxiety disorder

At the same time, Gallup has also reported the highest employee engagement levels since the year 2000. So there is also emerging possibilities and opportunities for us – also through a crisis – given that we choose to invest and look for them.

The most powerful lever for how we experience our life is our mindset. Fortunately, our mindset is something we can learn to take control of and work with – and at the same time it only works when we work it. 

The power of mindset

I came to realize the power of mindset and how we create our own experiences and our life, and even the physiological manifestation of it as I read the following study:  

84 female housekeepers, most of them not feeling very healthy, working in seven different hotels were tested in a study:

  • Half of them attended a 15-minute session where they were informed that their work was good exercise and followed the recommendations for an active lifestyle 
  • The other half (control group) did not receive this information 

Although the actual behavior of both groups did not change; after four weeks, the informed group had the perception that they were getting significantly more exercise. And this showed up in physiological results: compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index. All from a 15-minute information session. The rest of the group felt like before – exhausted and not healthy. 

The first time I heard about the housekeeper study, I realized how much of my life is in my control. 

So in this time where so much feels out of our own control, how can we empower ourselves back into the driver’s seat?

Meet the Prisoner, Tourist, and Player

Any change begins with awareness. When we can recognize our mindset, we can through practice learn to choose how we respond in and to any given situation. 

The Prisoner, the Tourist, and the Player represent three different archetypes or modes that our mindset alternates between in our working and private lives. They pop by to hang out in our minds and we hear them in our self-talk. 

“If only I had a better bike, I’d be much faster!” 

‘Oh Karen, look at you being such a slow biker in the group again. You might as well just quit.” 

“Look at him go! He’s really good at this, maybe I should ask him for some tips”

These are some of my archetypes visiting me during my weekend bike ride. Do any of these ring a bell with you? I’ve gotten to know my archetypes quite well over the years. Let’s see if you recognize some of them also for you…

Meet our first archetype

Our Prisoner:

blames other people and things, looking for external reasons why things are the way they are. They can be outspoken and aggressive, focusing on what is wrong, and typically not being resourceful. 

“If only the government would have locked us down earlier – so many people wouldn’t have been infected!” “If only the government hadn’t locked us down – our economy wouldn’t be in so much trouble!” “I would have delivered my work on time if the other team hadn’t been so slow.” “Why is it always me?!” Do you recognize some of these voices, or the tone of self-pity and accusation?

As prisoners, we often use the tone of judging others and typically frustrate ourselves and other people. Prisoners uses a lot of energy, but don’t get anywhere. And because the fun is gone, only other Prisoners want to be around us.

When we take on the role of the Prisoner, it’s similar to playing Monopoly and voluntarily sending ourselves to jail – only to then complain about it. But unlike real-life prisoners, our Prisoner archetype sits behind bars with the door open and the key in their hands. We’re wasting energy in unproductive thoughts and behaviors.

I guess most of us want Corona to go away – even entertaining the Prisoner thought of e.g.: “If only Corona didn’t happen, I’d be having so much fun right now”. What if we would swift that to “Only if I take time to focus on what I am passionate about will I learn ways I to find joy, also when I am alone”?

Meet our second archetype 

Our Tourist:

You might recognize by a dabbling, non-committal approach that doesn’t take ownership. They want to keep the option of walking away in case there’s a more exciting place to be. They learn just enough of the local language to get by, but rarely invest in becoming fluent.

As a Tourist we often think skeptical and cynical thoughts: “Here we go again. A new program. I’m going to wait and see, they change their minds so often”, “Who cares? Why bother?” or “I will leave this to others as they are better at it.” Are these thoughts sometimes with you? 

When we operate as the Tourist, our energy is lower and we are not committed with our full capacity. We might not be exerting as much energy as when we are our Prisoner, but we’re also not using our energy in anything productive or value-generating either.

Many of experience less to do and a sense of waiting as part of pandemic. Even though not travelling, maybe our tourist is sneaking in. To get out of that I ask myself the question: ‘What and where do you want to give your full energy today?’ 

Meet our third archetype

Our Player:

is in the game, in every positive sense of the word. They are committed, engaged, resourceful and resilient – focused on solving the problems and taking full ownership of them. 

As a player, we thrive in collaboration and have the courage to do the right things. We speak up when a change needs to happen and can be critical without pointing fingers, focusing instead on the opportunities at hand. We channel our energy into thoughts and behaviors that create value and positive impact for ourselves, and those around us.

Things that might be said or thought in a Player mindset include: “I’m pretty lonely working from home these days. Maybe my colleagues are too. I’m going to make sure to invite them for a virtual coffee to catch up.” “This work assignment is really tough. But I’m sure we can solve it if some of us team up together.” “Let’s give it a try!”

Others enjoy our presence, and as Players we don’t play alone. We become the change we want to see and attract followers and invite others in to play as well. 

Reflect on what activities put you in a Player mindset and invest time into that. What can you make happen during this pandemic? Who can you connect to? What might be the opportunity in this and how do you want to spend your energy?

What mindset are you currently operating in?

These aren’t characters we are permanently in every scenario. We can be operating in one mode towards ourselves and at work, but in a completely different one with our family and friends in the same day. We all also change modes at different times throughout the day. 

But just getting to know our archetype companions is a great start. With awareness comes choice – so as you connect to what mindset you are operating in right now, you can also ask yourself how you want to respond to the situation, and thus take control of how you and maybe also those around you experience it. You can consciously shift from responses that waste energy, into thoughts and behaviors that help you thrive in life. 

We are in control of much than we realize when we realize that our mindset matters most. We are the perfect bosses of our own life – who else could be?  

Recommended Reading:

Amazon best-selling book “The Heart Revolution. Transform Your Life – Transform Your Business” by Karen Tobiasen, Founder and owner of BreathingBusiness. Karen has more than 20 years’ of experience working with and leading HR, Culture, and Transformation in numerous internal organizations including SAP, Philips Lighting, and Nordea Bank. Her new bestselling book is the profound and practical guide for personal and business transformation. Check her book at and