Blue Monday: Adopting a challenge mindset to help combat the winter blues and feel empowered

For me, the name “Blue Monday” will always evoke fond memories of student life at Manchester, when the iconic hit by local band New Order would never fail to fill the dancefloor. However, as part of a PR stunt in 2005, a travel firm appropriated the name for what they claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, ie: the 3rd Monday in January. With credit card bills the only remaining sign of Christmas, cold and wet weather, and of course, a national lockdown to contend with, Blue Monday 2021 threatens to be a particularly gloomy day where dancing is probably not going to be our first thought.

Over the past year at Splendid we’ve launched various initiatives to support everyone’s emotional health, and whilst we have hopefully helped to make a difference, many of us may still be finding ourselves stuck in a “threat mindset”, when stress overlaid with negative emotions such as fear and frustration affect our ability to think positively or rationally.

One way to help to address this is to develop a “challenge mindset” as, for example, when playing a video game, despite being continuously wiped out, we keep coming back for more; keen to tackle the challenge, to learn and improve and to show what we’re made of.  The key to this is positive expectation, which stimulates the release of dopamine, increasing the brain’s focus on imagining success. It gets us fired up so that we are mixing stress with excitement rather than fear; a potent mix that has been shown to improve our mental performance as well as generally helping us to feel good.

The more we practise getting into this challenge mindset, the easier it becomes. Here are the basic steps involved:

  • Become goal-orientated
  • Choose goals that inspire us
  • Visualise success
  • Break goals down to actionable steps
  • Build in enjoyment and rewards along the way

 Handily, this happens to be a very goal-orientated time of year for us at Splendid, as we are all in the process of planning our objectives for the next 12 months. Now is the time to ask ourselves, are we feeling inspired by our objectives? If not, why not, and what would make them more inspiring? We have always asked staff to set at least one personal (non-work) objective and we’ve now added an objective about being kinder to the planet; we hope these will further add inspiration into the process.  

 Why visualise achieving these objectives? Shown to be highly effective in the sports world, visualisation techniques are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace, as, no matter how keen we are to achieve our objectives, in order to build positive expectations, we must be able to imagine ourselves succeeding.

So on Blue Monday we will be using our daily “headspace hour” for a group guided visualisation session. Following some basic breathing and relaxation techniques to settle the mind, everyone will be invited to revive some memories of past life achievements, to summon up the positive feelings associated with them, before mentally rehearsing achieving all the objectives set for the year ahead. What does success look like? How does it feel?

Once we have created such positive expectations, our mind will naturally start to focus on the opportunities and filter out threats towards achievement of our goals. What’s more, building opportunities, or actions, into our career development plans, helps to provide the steps needed to maintain a sense of progress.

Finally, at Splendid we are already used to the idea of celebrating all wins large or small. The reward of recognition can often be enough to boost motivation, but it’s always worth considering what else we can do to make our tasks more rewarding or enjoyable, as focusing on these elements will help us to stay alert, engaged and on track.

The challenge mindset can be a powerful resource in helping to combat anxiety and encourage positivity. I have enjoyed developing my own challenge mindset over the past few years, and it is proving to be a great help in staving off the winter blues this year.

By using it to super-charge this year’s annual career development process, we’re hoping to encourage everyone to feel more energised and empowered.

And finally, let’s never forget to dance!