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Strategies for thriving when emotionally hijacked

Understanding what motivates you can be helpful in navigating yourself and employees through a crisi -- coronavirus or otherwise.

5 min read


Strategies for thriving when emotionally hijacked

Susan Fowler

Have you noticed this contradiction? As leaders evoke the language of war to mobilize resources needed for battling the coronavirus, they also unleash fear, anxiety and panic — the least effective ways to mobilize a human being.

How do you avoid being emotionally hijacked when dependence on fear as a motivator is so deeply embedded in the leadership psyche? How do you create the positive and sustainable energy to overcome negative emotions, counterproductive behavior, sadness and depression — all proven enemies of the health and well-being you are trying preserve?

Now more than ever, we need to invoke peace by practicing three truths of motivation.

3 motivation truths: Strategies for thriving

1. You need to create choice. Don’t let the coronavirus rob you of an essential need: your sense of choice and control. Anxiety is caused when you feel a lack of control over the situation. It’s easy to see why your choices appear limited — stay home from work. Keep your distance. Deal with kids home from school. Don’t fly. The gym is closed. Major financial setbacks, if not ruin.

Choice is fundamental to thriving. But motivation science reveals a critical distinction: You can’t control the crisis, but you can control your choices.

  • You can choose to practice social distancing, or you can choose to believe guidelines are overwrought and political ploys.
  • You can choose to hoard supplies, or choose to be adequately prepared.
  • You can choose to panic over finances, or you can choose to proactively manage the resources and relationships you have (proactive behavior is proven to reduce stress and generate positive energy).

Sometimes, recognizing you have choice is all you need to make the right choice and regain your sense of control.

If your choices still result in pressure, stress or sadness, you need the second truth of motivation.

2. You need to create connection. You cannot thrive without a sense of belonging, genuine and authentic relationships, alignment with values and purpose, and contributing to something greater than yourself.

War as a metaphor for fighting the coronavirus is not an effective strategy for creating connection. War separates the world into “us” vs “them.” We tend to forget that the “them” is a virus and not our neighbor or another country. But invoking peace enables you to be mindful rather than over-reacting and self-reflective rather than selfish. Focusing on connection brings calm, joy and harmony, rather than panic, uncertainty and fear.

  • You stay home not just to protect your own health, but to safeguard others. You miss shaking hands or hugging, but you deepen connection by looking people in the eye and telling them you care in more creative ways.
  • You don’t hoard toilet paper, but leave something on the shelf for the next person.
  • You cherish the enforced time with your kids at home, embracing the opportunity to teach them the life lessons that get lost in the flurry of activities, sports and social functions.

Connection means aligning your choices with a higher purpose and contributing to the welfare of people you love, whether you know them or not.

As days pass into weeks and maybe months, you will need the third motivation truth to sustain your meaningful choices.

3. You need to create competence. Most people don’t do well with high levels of uncertainty. We can feel lost and inadequate coping with ambiguity. How do you create competence as life becomes more constricted? How do you make sense of impending doom and your inability to stop it? Motivation science proves that to survive, let alone thrive, you need to learn and grow consciously and continually.

Anytime it all feels like too much, ask:

  • What have I learned — what could I learn — about myself and the world around me? (Try asking a child what they learned today and watch as they realize school is not the only place of learning.)
  • What’s true? Learn from facts, not hearsay or internet rubbish.
  • How can I use my skills and strengths to help myself and others cope more effectively? How can I build new skills and develop new strengths?

A crisis a great time to create competence that makes you more resilient.

If you think these techniques are “too easy to be real,” all I ask is that you start right now by asking:

  • What choices do I have?
  • How do my choices deepen connection to the people and world around me?
  • What competence am I gaining; what can I learn and how can I grow?

Then, notice how your energy shifts. Imagine invoking peace within yourself by creating choice, connection and competence — and a ripple effect as the world responds in kind.


Susan Fowler is on a mission to help you learn the skill of motivation. In her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals,” she presents an evolutionary idea: motivation is a skill. Providing real-world examples and empirical evidence, Fowler teaches you how to achieve your goals and flourish as you succeed. She is also the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research, and eight books, including the best-selling “Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard and “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing.” Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit

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