Practicing Gratitude During COVID-19

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I’ll be honest, this “social distancing, shelter at home” era hasn’t been getting any easier for me. In a world that has been turned upside down almost overnight, I find myself fluctuating between fear, compliance, and sometimes frustration. I imagine many feel this way, but we soldier on and remain committed to trusting the process. I find myself more on edge, more impatient with people whose opinions differ from mine, and then I find myself completely heartbroken when I hear a story of a person who cannot connect with their family in their last moments. I’m all over the place.

The important thing to realize is we will all experience a range of emotions during this time, sometimes from one minute to the next. I’m so focused on my own struggle and managing my own conflicts that it’s hard to imagine taking on the care of others and their needs. Does this make me a bad person? No. It makes me human.    

Shifting my perspective has required more discipline and focus than I have had to summon in a long time. Have you found this to be true? I’ve dug deep into mindfulness, meditation, routine, prayer, and journaling, but nothing compares to the practice of gratitude. If you’re struggling like I am right now, or maybe just looking for more ways to practice self-care, I would highly recommend this simple act to bring your perspective back to a place of peace. Oprah Winfrey got me started on this practice so many years ago, and it has changed my life. Here are but a few of my suggestions on this subject, and I hope they can be of use to others at this time:

    1. Time. Like any self-care practice, set aside some time to quietly reflect. We live in a very fast world, changes are happening every moment. Gratitude can serve to effectively slow your world down. Whether you devote that time to your morning ritual, or your evening shut down, time is intentional and precious.
    2. Thought. Give careful thought to the many blessings you have, and resist the comparison trap.  Living in a consumer culture, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather on what we already have. Make this the next step in your reflection time, and if you are so inclined, write it down. Taking the time to write down your gratitude list is powerful. The key here is to look deeply into the actual blessings you have right here, right now. 
    3. Don’t force it. You shouldn’t have to dig too deep to find your well of gratitude. The important thing is to acknowledge and make space for your thoughts and emotions. You don’t have to rush right into enlightenment, it takes some time. Unconditional self-acceptance is more important than ever. Go at your own pace.
    4. Keep it simple. No need to make it too complicated, it might be just taking note of some of the more pleasant things that might have crossed your mind during the day. Your list might look different every day, and it should look different every day. Perhaps it’s the fact that you experienced some sunshine today. Or the fact that you have a favorite warm blanket you’re wrapped up in tonight. It might be that you’re grateful for the love of your family, even if you have to use some wonky video chat to stay in touch these days! 

Gratitude is about taking the time to be gentle and compassionate to yourself. This is so important during this stressful time. Allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings is the greatest gift you can offer yourself right now. And when it comes down to it, you deserve as much gratitude for yourself as you give everything else in your life.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

The Power of Reconnection

Written by: Jean French


It had been nearly twenty years since my mom had decided to stop talking to me. It was the hardest and most depressing time of my life. I wanted to end my life, as I felt that I had nothing to live for. I lost everything when I lost her. She was my world, and when she left me, it broke my heart.

I was harming myself nearly every day because that was the only way I could cope with the possibility of never seeing her again. I didn’t care as much for my other family members, but I missed the connection with my mom so much. I thought that she might hate me, and at the time, I believed that she did. Every time I went out in public, I would look for her. When I didn’t find her, I would come back to the home and self-harm. I would hurt myself, and somehow it made me feel better.

On August 30, 2018, I decided to send her a note on her 80th birthday. I sent her a text message, as I had done so many times before, but she answered me this time. She thanked me for my wishes, and we exchanged a series of texts back and forth. Before finishing our conversation, I asked her if she would give me a call when she got home. I gave her my phone number and was more hopeful than ever that we could rekindle our love and connection.

The next Monday, she called me and we talked for a while. Before we hung up, I asked her if she might like to meet sometime for lunch. She said yes, and for the very first time in a long time, I had a smile on my face that lasted days. I couldn’t stop smiling and crying tears of joy. We chose to meet at Sammy’s Pizza in the West Duluth neighborhood. When we saw each other, we immediately ran (with our walkers) to each other and exchanged a much-needed embrace. I couldn’t hold back the tears, as we were now mother and daughter again.

When other family members told her not to become involved with me again, she didn’t listen. I was just so happy that she wanted to be back in my life again. Since we reunited, I would spend every weekend with her at her assisted living facility. I couldn’t be more happy, and I have stopped hurting myself. In fact, it has been over a year since I have harmed myself. I love my mom and I now know that she loves me back.  

In this time of crisis, we can’t see each other. But I call her at least once a day, and she is happy to hear from me. I call her to start each day and say good morning, and in the afternoon to see how she is doing.  I finish each day by saying good night. This journey has given me a new perspective on the power of patience and forgiveness. Perhaps the one thing I wasn’t prepared for is the power to forgive myself. It’s made such a difference in how I interact with people. Life is just too short!

Driven to Distraction

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I knew that staying home would be a real paradigm shift; adopting new technology, applying new routines and rituals, and most challenging of all, the lack of social connection. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the devils of distraction and shiny objects that can take me away with a moment’s notice. For example, sitting in my office and gazing out at the diminishing glacier that used to be my yard, I notice something. The lawn is starting to show, and with it comes the stark reality of the amount of dog waste that has accumulated over the winter. Inevitably, I choose to react before the little piles begin to thaw, and hopefully before my neighbor sees me! It’s dirty business, but it’s done and I’m back on track…until the next thing.

Maybe it’s the constantly changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe it’s because I suddenly have more time than projects, or maybe it’s just that I’m not used to wearing pajamas until noon. Either way, it’s been a tough two weeks of adjustment. My mind tends to wander and then focuses on things like survival, stock market alerts, and public health announcements that are delivered daily by the local news. Behavioral economists refer to “uncertainty aversion” when we’re drawn to things we know and understand, a preference toward known risks versus the unknown. And that’s why, when faced with the radical uncertainty of a spreading virus, we naturally feel such extreme discomfort. Mind-wandering leaves us mentally time traveling into an imaginary future throughout the day. However, I’m here to offer hope and support, as I am now running out of distractions. Here are some of my newfound tactics:

Implement a self-care morning routine. Avoid the distraction of rushing to check on emails or stock reports, they will be there! I’m not typically a morning person, but it’s important to begin each day with positivity, it’s crucial to your productivity. My wife likes to run at 5:30 every morning, but that’s a little too much for me. I’ll settle for a walking meditation with the dog and then dive slowly into reading positive affirmations….the key being to move slowly. If you can carve out an exercise routine, that’s great! You now have your heart rate up, and blood flow brings all sorts of physical and mental benefits.

1) Create a schedule that includes two or three achievable goals. I like goals, but now that I have a more open schedule, it’s easy to cram a lot of content into the schedule. Or worse, get so overwhelmed, that other inane activities (like cleaning up after the dog) seem more achievable. Setting achievable goals sets you up for success, and nothing is worse than having an open landscape and with nothing to show for it. Achieving goals is also a springboard to other productive habits.

2) Avoid television and household chores during the day. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way. You’ve heard my story about my dog’s lawn ornaments, but I seem to have left out reorganizing the garage, raking the snow mold off the lawn, and rearranging the spice cabinet. As for television, I began the first week of shutdown by serving my lunch during the pandemic team’s daily conference. I just wanted to stay informed, but it ultimately led to little wanderings to ESPN or The Ellen Show. One thing always seems to lead to another. Research shows that quickly switching gears from one area to the next is a huge productivity killer. Same goes with multi-tasking, something always suffers.

3) Avoiding distraction requires a special kind of discipline. This is a really chaotic time, and I’ve often said to myself and others, “it’s okay to not be okay.” And for those of us interested in maximizing focus and productivity, this will mean employing radical and innovative measures to ensure that we stay focused on what matters most, our highest priorities. Right here, right now. May the focus be with you.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

Coping With Uncertainty

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I know this past week has been a big one for most of us. The news is always there: more infections, more restrictions, more fear, a two trillion stimulus package, and a long list of worries and questions. We’re not used to this. We’re also not built for disconnection and distancing. The overall situation is out of your control and immediate influence. Or is it?

Your view, your thoughts, and your perspective is completely within your control. I have been amazed and inspired by the companies and individuals that have made a gracious and glorious pivot to new practices. From curbside service, to Zoom yoga sessions, and even Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan has come out recently with one of the most profound musical contributions in years. I am emploring you to take the following actions: choose a positive viewpoint, look for new opportunities, think about how you can help, and choose to be proactive. When you make those choices, good things will happen for you and for those around you—whether that is the team you lead, the people you serve, or the team around you.

How have you adapted to this situation? I know that for me it has required daily discipline to commit to focus and not to distraction, and to focus more on the contribution than the challenge. I have had to find new ways to deliver support and service and new ways to connect digitally. I am now embracing the advantages of touching base via Zoom or Google Hangouts, and it is wonderful! In fact, I have found it to be even more effective as we are able to connect with very little distraction in the home. I only wish that I had used these platforms earlier. The idea is that adaptation requires a degree of agility and resilience. It will stretch you, it will change you for the better.

In this season of uncertainty, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to find your own way of coping, to be overwhelmed with the constant state of change, the cancellations, the children, the chaos. What works well in times like this is the power of gratitude, the power to slow your world down and see the simplicity in movement. I hope that gives you a jolt of encouragement today.

Let’s all keep moving forward, even if from home.

Be the centered one amid the chaos—even if you fail daily, months from now, you’ll know you made the attempt at a time when it was so needed.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.

The Promise of Spring


By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

A crocus flower blooming with snow on the ground

Lest we forget, this past Thursday was the first day of spring. And, as if on cue, the air was filled with birdsong and the sky a brilliant robin’s egg blue. On my walk, I noticed that Tundra swans had found an open patch of water to land and preen, and a pair of bald eagles joyously circling their nest on the St. Louis River.

As I paused to review the contrast of the moment, I saw the struggle. There, just below the surface of the snow, the flowers of a crocus were literally fighting their way through the crust of winters’ blanket. Always the first to arrive, the crocus is a hardy bulb and has a reputation as a symbol of cheerfulness and glee as it brings the landscape alive with color after a long winter. However, I also saw a different symbolism in the moment.

At a time where uncertainty is certain, where our lives are affected by the day, hour, or minute, it is also a time to reach out, to break through the crust. For the crocus to survive, it requires a careful mixture of fertile soil, water, and most importantly, sunlight. It is so also for us, with one exception. We need each other. Human connection is an essential ingredient in our survival, it always has been. Is it possible to stay healthy and connected while being encouraged to socially distance ourselves?

Indeed there is hope, and just like that crocus, it requires effort. Activities, events, visitations, and most community services have been cancelled but there are still many ways to reach out and connect.

Adopt technology to virtually visit with friends and family: This crisis has forced me to use some of the tools I have avoided such as Google Chat, Facetime, and Zoom. I could just kick myself! This is so cool, and now I can go on a video tour of my granddaughter’s playhouse. Recalibrate, retool, and reconnect!

Go online: Binging on Netflix is always tempting. But, once you are through the other side, what then? So many options await online. Many of our celebrities and artists have opened up free pages for their fans. Musicians are sharing their songs live on social media for people around the world to enjoy. The main theme here, taking action!

Communicate the old fashioned way: Yep, get out the pen and write a letter or thank you card. Think of it…when was the last time you received a handwritten note, and how did it make you feel? Not a post, not a text, but a real written message. It’s a simple way to connect with our loved ones, and I guarantee it will feel good. Finding ways to stay connected with others during this time can be challenging. Try using these strategies to feel less isolated and to stay connected with loved ones and others around the world.

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” — Elizabeth Edwards

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.