Modeling HEROs in the Time of COVID-19
- Dr. Betsy Shoenfelt
- Friday, April 24th, 2020
This letter to faculty was written by Dr. Betsy Shoenfelt in response to an April 20, 2020, weekly Zoom chat with Industrial-Organizational psychology graduate program directors.
In light of faculty concerns about how they and their students are coping with the impact of COVID-19, I wanted to summarize practical implications of some interesting research on resilience and how individuals cope with challenging times. Two industrial-organizational (IO) psychologists, Fred Luthans and Wayne Cascio, used the construct of Psychological Capital to explain how Nelson Mandela and other prisoners not only survived, but seem to thrive in the demoralizing context of Robben Island where he was imprisoned for 18 years before the fall of Apartheid. Wayne and Fred used the acronym HERO to explain the mindset that served Mandela so well. As an IO psychologist who also practices in sport and performance psychology, I find this model captures a lot of key principles of resilience and is a relatively simple and straightforward way to explain effective coping. Below is my conceptualization and interpretation of the HERO model that I use when teaching resilience to student-athletes.
HERO Model of Coping
Hope – having goals [both process (how) and outcome (what) goals, with SMART characteristics (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievement-oriented, Realistic, Time-bounded)] that direct effort and energy in a positive direction. For our students, this can be goals to complete papers and other assignments, health and fitness goals (minutes exercising daily, eating healthy meals and snacks, getting 8 hours of sleep, etc.), and personal goals individual to each student. As goals are achieved, it instills a sense of accomplishment and provides evidence that good/positive things are getting done.
Efficacy – a sense of agency. In conjunction with goals, the individual can see that there are areas of influence where they have control and can act to influence their behavior and the environment. They can “control the controllables” by operating within their circle of influence – the things they can impact. There are lots of things they cannot control, but they can control how they respond to whatever challenges they face. Accomplishing the goals they set for themselves will help instill a sense of agency.
Resilience – a belief that they can deal with the challenges placed in front of them. These are university students. They are intelligent and have skills that they can pull out their tool box to deal with the situation. In just a matter of months, some will be in the workplace and will be the ones others look to for leadership in a time of crisis. They need to recognize that they have the capability to deal with the situation they face.
Optimism – a positive outlook. It is human nature to focus on what is wrong, on the negatives. Students need to learn to reframe the situation to focus on the positives, what is OK, and what they can accomplish. (This is also known as positive self-talk or cognitive restructuring.) There are lots of things that are just fine. I expect that most of our students have shelter, sufficient food, running water, etc. We can look at our situation and see what a privileged life we normally lead. Now, we don’t have everything we prefer, but we are still in pretty good shape. Students are completing courses, some will graduate, etc. It may take a while longer to find a job, internships may need to be postponed, but all in all we are all very fortunate to be in the position we are in.
Be Grateful. Being aware of and grateful for what we have is an important component of effective coping. Take note of the positives, appreciate them, and be grateful for them. Some may find keeping a Gratitude Diary is helpful. Each day, write down three things you are grateful for. (It is OK to list more than three.)
Perspective is very important here. As faculty members, we can share our perspectives with our students. From our vantage point, a year delay is not really a big deal – think about that manuscript that took 18 months to get published. Odds are that we will be on the other side of COVID-19 in another 18 months. Students may need help to have a long-term perspective.
Some of our students and perhaps some of us will encounter truly tragic events associated with COVID-19. For example, we may have family or friends who become very ill and some may even die. These are truly awful events. Having to stay in our comfortable apartment or house longer than we would like to – or – not having our favorite brand of food – are not awful things. We need to save “awfulizing” for truly awful events. This perspective is important. Compared to a loved one dying, how awful is having to teach on Zoom? It doesn’t even compare. If teaching on Zoom for another year would save a loved one’s life, would you do it? Likely, you would do it in a heartbeat. Again, perspective is important.
All of these component skills are interrelated. Together they can ensure that when we look back on this interesting time, we will be proud of our COVID-19 Legacy. Five years from now, ten years from now, when someone asks you what you did, what you accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic, what will you say? Hopefully, we will all be able to say that, even though it was a challenging time, we were able to provide the support our students needed, they were able to make progress toward their degree, and we not only took care of ourselves, but were able to help others as well.
I hope this proves useful for some of you.
About the author: Dr. Betsy Shoenfelt is University Distinguished Professor in the WKU Department of Psychological Sciences and the Director of the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Graduate Program. She is a licensed Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, a Fellow in the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP), and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant® and Fellow in the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Dr. Shoenfelt’s recently published book, Mental Skills for Athletes: A Workbook for Competitive Success (Taylor & Francis, 2019), contains life skills for effective performance in high demand situations.