Hope you are doing well? Do a self-check with these four Cs

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It has become the opening line of choice for emails the world over in these uncertain times: Hope you are doing well.

Are you? Better than some people you know, probably. Michael Wiederman, Ph.D., director of leadership and professional development in the School of Medicine's Department of Family and Community Medicine, has a self-check he calls "the Four Cs." In a recent UAB MedCast podcast from UAB Medicine, Wiederman suggested that listeners "giv[e] yourself some permission to realize that these are unusual times and that we do need to spend more attention and time focused on our own well-being if we're going to be of any use to others."

As humans, our needs extend beyond the material considerations of food, clothing and shelter. "Once those are met, to really be satisfied and to feel like we're actually living a full life or living our best life, or whatever phrase you want to use, there are these... other needs that psychologists have identified that are more mental, emotional," Wiederman said. It is these needs that "really form the core of whether we feel like we're doing well in the world and that there's purpose and meaning and a reason to live."

Wiederman likes to group these needs into his Four Cs.

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1. Contribution/Calling

"We humans have a need to feel like what we do matters," Wiederman said. "It doesn't have to be in a worldwide scale or that we're changing the world, but that there is some purpose in what we do and that it actually matters to someone — that we’re contributing to something larger than ourselves.... It could be engaging in good patient care. It could be involved in some kind of hobby or avocation and feeling like we’re actually contributing to something beyond just our world or selfish needs."

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What if you don't feel like you're making a contribution? There is research "showing that when people volunteer to help others, that that really boosts their well-being and resilience," Wiederman said. "Find something that interests you around volunteering and contributing to those that need your help," he said. "When we help others, it does give use a sense of satisfaction that we are actually contributing to another person's well-being, or another group's well-being." 

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UAB's BlazerPulse community engagement platform lists hundreds of opportunities to volunteer, even in these COVID times — serving as a virtual reading tutor for students in Birmingham schools, assembling kits for United Way senior workshops or acting as a personal shopper for UAB's own Blazer Kitchen.

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2. Competence/Capability

"We have the need to feel like what we do is generally effective — that we have some level of competence in what's important to us," Wiederman said. "Maybe even more importantly, that we're getting better."

There is a form of cognitive bias in the psychology literature known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, "which shows that people who know the least about something tend to be the ones who overestimate their ability," Wiederman said. "The more we learn about something, the more we realize the nuances to it and the more we realize what we don't know. That's why the true experts in a field are less likely to even label themselves as experts.... they realize they don't know it all."

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To "know what you don't know," Wiederman said, you have to "plow into an area or a topic and try to learn as much as you can."

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Whether you are interested in improving your skillset for your current job, preparing for a new one or just exploring a personal interest, UAB employees have free membership to the 16,000-plus courses in the LinkedIn Learning online learning platform.

UAB's educational assistance program is one of the university's most popular benefits, used by more than 2,900 qualified employees and dependents each year. Learn about costs, using the program and more with our 10 FAQs about educational assistance at UAB.

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3. Control/Choice

"This one I think most of us can resonate with on a daily basis," Wiederman said. "We humans have a need to feel like we have some choice and some control over what we do and how we do it." This can be true even if what we are doing is something we wanted to do, as long as we feel that "we have no choice and people are telling us how to do it or that we must do it."

Make a change

Focus on "mental framing," Wiederman said. "I might fall into [saying] 'I have to do this,' or 'I have no choice.'" But "in reality I always have the choice," Wiederman said. "There may be terrible consequences if I decide not to do something, but it still is a choice. So if I can take that step back to realize that I'm doing it for my family or I'm doing it for my future." There are many "good self-help books out there that help us with our language, help us with how to frame our experience so that we're not unnecessarily causing ourselves to feel negatively about it."

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One simple, concrete exercise to regain control, Wiederman said, is to draw up a priority table. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a grid with two columns and two rows. "On the top, lable the first column 'Urgent' and the next column 'Less Urgent.' Then on the side label the first row 'Important' and the bottom row 'Less Important.' Then just walk through what you do on a day-to-day basis and what's expected of you and plot out where those tasks or responsibilities fall," Wiederman said. "Sometimes we fall into doing a lot of things that are urgent but aren't necessarily very important. It's the urgency that pulls us into having to do them, or feeling like we have to do them."

What is often neglected, Wiederman said, "is that upper right corner, which are the important things that are less urgent. There I would include things like relationships and recreation and other things that involve planning and reflection. These are things that are very vital to our well-being, but we tend to ignore [them] because of the tyranny of the urgent."

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4. Connection/Community

Not everyone feels like they are a people person, Wiederman said. Nevertheless, we are all "wired to need to feel like we have some connection or sense of community," he said. "It's not that we expect everybody to like us, but that we do feel like there are people who respect us and like us and there is a tribe to which I belong or a group of people with which I identify."

Make a change

Don't feel like you belong? You don't need to find a long-term commitment right away, Wiederman said. "We get little boosts from connections to people that are very fleeting," even if they are strangers, he said. There is a practice that psychologists refer to as "engaging in daily pro-social behavior," Wiederman said. But that's "just a fancy way of saying, 'I'm going to start the day by saying, 'Today my goal is to give three genuine compliments to people I encounter throughout the day. I'm going to keep track of whether I do that.'"

How? "Make a little tally" or put three rubber bands on your left wrist at the beginning of the day, Wiederman said. "The only way to get each rubber band to the right wrist is I have to give a compliment to somebody that’s genuine. So it prompts us to do little things when we interact with others to have that human connection." Research shows that people who engage in the practice for about a week "end up having better well-being and actually long-term effects," Wiederman said.

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UAB United is a campuswide initiative to unite all staff, faculty and students around the common cause of maintaining personal safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When you see a fellow Blazer wearing a mask, employing proper elevator etiquette or cleaning their personal space, why not give them a compliment?