How To Avoid A Mental Recession

Robert L. Veninga, Ph.D.

Economic recessions generally resemble three letters in the alphabet. First, there is the letter "V". This recession is relatively easy to survive. The "V" recession sneaks up on you and goes deep. Fortunately, there is a quick recovery.

The second type of economic recession is summarized by the letter "W". This type of recession fools you. Initially the recession goes deep and then there is a mini-recovery. Then the second leg of the recession hits and morale sinks. Fortunately the last line of the "W" is upward. This type of recession however, is taxing both economically and mentally.

Now we come to the infamous "U" recession. This is the type of recession that is most chilling because you never know how long the "flat-line" (the lower portion of the "U") will last. The "U" may be relatively brief but history suggests that "U" type recessions can stretch on for years.

Now the bad news is this: We are probably in a "U" type of recession which will take longer than the typical 406 days to get through. How do you survive it mentally? How do you keep the spirits up when profit margins go down? And when recessions end, how do you prevent the scars from the last one not blind you to the possibilities for the future?

First, keep your goals focused. Now more than ever, keep your professional goals sharply defined. How best to do it? I know one executive who spends fifteen minutes every morning outlining his goals. "It's the best 15 minutes of the day for it gets me focused on what is critical to our company."

Let me tell you a secret: Many executives get caught up in the bad news. And they wallow in it, especially when bombarded by negative messages from shareholders, directors and colleagues. The best way to counteract bad new is to sharply define your goals.

Second, if you are to prevent a mental recession, surround yourself with energized people. By that I mean individuals who are not intimated by bad economic news, but thrive on turning things around.

This leads me to this question: Who are the energized people in your life? Who are the key people to whom you turn for energy, positive advice, reassurance that the economic world is not about to end?

If you have two or three colleagues who are energized and who provide hope, consider yourself fortunate. If you feel you are in a mental recession, now is the time to meet someone who will provide perspective and energy. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this point.

Now we come to a third strategy. If you want to avoid a mental recession become creative. This is the time to become exceedingly creative. The reason? When economic times turn south, this is the time to reposition your company and your career.

It is easy to slide into a mental recession and lose creativity. Early in my teaching career I taught a class of 17 graduate students. When I met the class they were depressed over their prospect of finding good jobs in a tough economy. Fortunately, I had one outstanding job possibility. An Executive in Nebraska was looking for an assistant.

My good news was greeted with nonchalance because the students wanted to begin their career in a large metropolitan area. I told them about the attributes of Nebraska including a great business climate. I told them about Omaha, where Warren Buffet lives and told them about the University of Nebraska and its great resources. But they weren't interested. Except for one student who jumped into her car after class, travelled to Nebraska and met the Executive the following morning. Not only was she offered the job, but the Executive significantly increased the amount of money he was prepared to pay. The reason? "Any young person who wants a job so bad that they would travel in a snow storm to see me, is my type of employee."

There were 17 students in the class and 16 of them were in a mental recession. One wasn't. And she harvested the rewards.

You don't want to be in a mental recession because mental recessions lengthen economic ones. How do you avoid a mental recession? Keep your goals focused. Surround yourself with energized people. Be creative. Why? Because good economic times will return. They always have. They always will - providing you stay on top of your mental game.

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