Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The Tend-And-Befriend Stress Mindset

With this summer's stress and time management study, I am trying to find ways to use  the stress mindsets (ways of perceiving stress) described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress to replace the best known stress mindset, flight-or-fight, for the purpose of managing time during stressful periods. (Hmm. Yes. That was a long intro sentence.) The flight aspect of flight-or-fight causes us to run from the discomfort of work stress, straight to procrastination. The fight aspect might help us to overcome work stress to get a job done, but it can also cause a lot of struggle on its own.

The last alternative mindset I'm going to write about is called tend-and-befriend. McGonigal says that while flight-and-fight is about self-survival, tend-and-befriend is about protecting people and groups.  That behavior can help us when dealing with stress because it triggers courage and hope and leads us to build social support networks and become better respected. I don't know how much it will help with time management, but I think it does have a particular connection to writers.

The Tend-and-Befriend Stress Mindset

McGonigal says this mindset "may have evolved to help us protect offspring, but when you are in that state, your bravery translates to any challenge you face." It's easy to see how this mindset will work in stressful situations involving parents and children. You have children who are ill or troubled, you want to tend to them. You want to seek out experts to help them. The same could be said for any care giving situation or any helping profession. You tend to others and look for help of some kind to do so.

A U.S. News article, Should We 'Tend and Befriend' in This Stressful Time?, states that tending can involve protecting the self, as well as others, suggesting that being careful about self-care could fall under tend-and-befriend. This article, as well as others I've found, also says that some people believe women are particularly likely to use tend-and-befriend. No, I'm not going to go down that road.

The Stress Mindset Intervention For Tend-and-Befriend And Bigger-Than-Self Goals

If you, whether you're a woman or a man, want to try to shift away from your present stress mindset to one of tend-and-befriend, McGonigal suggests:

  • When feeling overwhelmed, look for a way to do something for others. The value for you here is that doing for others makes us feel hopeful.
  • You can also make a daily practice of finding an opportunity to support someone else. This would help with building networks.
Additionally, McGonigal writes about bigger-then-self goals, which she defines as goals that have a purpose beyond personal gain and success. These are often related to a team, a community, or an organization and feeling part of them "takes the toxicity out of striving." Being part of these types of bigger-than-self goals help you build social support networks and become respected and better liked.

Writers And Bigger-Than-Self Goals

I may have written over the years of the marketing for creatives workshop I attended long ago at which an artist spoke about how getting involved with arts promotion for others had ended up helping her own career. She believed other creatives can find ways to work within their fields for the field, not just for themselves. This sounds a lot like bigger-than-self goals. Attending that workshop helped motivate me to start the Time Management Tuesday feature for this blog. I saw it as a way of helping writers find ways to manage time for their writing.

I'm aware of many other writers who do work for the field, or for bigger-than-self goals.

  • For instance, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is run by volunteers to a great extent. The annual spring New England SCBWI conference is run by volunteers at every level. There are regional SCBWI advisers throughout New England. They're volunteers. Smaller and shorter-term events are run by volunteers. There are informal gatherings that are run by volunteers. Social media contacts are made by volunteers. These are all people who see their connection with the SCBWI as a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Writers' groups usually have a point person who keeps people aware of upcoming dates and is the contact for new members. Keeping the group going is a bigger-than-self goal for them.
  • Debut writers frequently team up to manage marketing or publicity opportunities for their books. Their books are a personal goal, but working for the team is a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Blogging writers have worked as judges for the Cybil award. A time consuming task for a bigger-than-self goal. For that matter, writers are asked to serve as judges for other types of book awards for which they don't receive payment. Maintaining the award is a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Writers attend appearances for other writers, read their books, post about them on social media. Supporting others is a bigger-than-self goal.
Treating working for-the-field as a bigger-than-self goal has been helpful for writers, connecting them with agents and editors and providing them with a network that provides support in terms of publicity when they have books published. It definitely can provide tangible value.


The Drawback In Terms Of Time Management

McGonigal claims that helping someone else decreases people's feelings of not having enough time. Tending to others makes individuals feel better about themselves as workers. It boosts their self-confidence and that changes how they feel about the demands they face.


  • Taking on these bigger-than-self goals could be seen as contradicting the classic time management advice to learn how to say "no" in order to protect your work time.
  • I've heard of situations in which writers couldn't work at all during periods when they were tending to a larger-than-self goal like planning a conference or reading for an award. (That last one is from personal experience.)
  • I've known of writers who eventually gave up running a retreat or a writers' group, because the time demand became too much. Which sounds stressful.
  • Taking on more and more outside helper tasks is also a classic way of committing all your time so you can avoid personal work.
Tend-and-defend sounds like a mindset that may very well help us deal with the "toxicity of striving," as McGonigal says. This one, though, may not be very helpful in terms of managing time.

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