Pandemic Level Up:
How to Upgrade Your Life
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
Last week, a client sent me this quote. I thought it was inspiring, profound, and right on point. The opportunity COVID-19 quarantine gives us is to halt or strip away anything not essential in our life right now. Of course, what’s interesting about this concept is what we define as “essential.” It’s incredible the things we think we “just can’t live without,” yet somehow, during the lockdown, we survive.
Yes, we are still going through the grief change cycle for those things we are missing, and for those areas of our life that will never be the same. And each time we realize another piece of 2020 is canceled, we might even start the grief cycle over again. Another client shared with me that her college-age kids living at home just realized they may not be headed back to campus this fall, sending them into yet another wave of grief, starting with shock and denial. Although we must work through these cycles of grief and change, this is also a great time to shift and transform our lives for the better.
Everything is in a change cycle right now – the entire world. Every part of our life has been unhinged and thrown up like a set of jugglers’ balls. They circle each other in the air, not sure if one will drop or where it might land. The balls of home, work, health, family, friends, hobbies, social network are all impacted. Every piece of our lives is in transformation or “up in the air”, from our daily morning routine to how our kids are educated to how we get work done to our eating and exercise habits. As our friends who like gaming tell us, we are being given a chance to move our “character to the next level of development,” or “Level Up” as the term goes. “Level Up” happens through experiences. We are in a big one right now!
So what does your “next level” look? How can we do to take advantage of this time of experience, change, and transformation?
This is a fantastic opportunity to change our habits and routines. Research tells us that we spend 47% (or more!) of our time living on “Auto-Pilot.” That means we are not actively thinking about or paying attention to what we are currently doing. Consider how much we think about (or NOT think about) things like brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, or even driving home. How often do we get someplace and not remember the drive? That’s us on “Auto-Pilot” – and not the Tesla kind.
Habit change requires the disruption of our mental and physical programming. And right now, we are being forced off “Auto-Pilot” every day because NOTHING is the same, and NOTHING is routine. As we are trying to take back some control in our lives and establish some form of structure, we have the opportunity to be deliberate about what we bring in and create for ourselves, our family, our employees, and co-workers. What do we want to turn back on, and what can we leave behind in pre-COVID-19 times because it was not serving us well anyway? This opportunity applies to every aspect of our life.
Below are some concepts to support this change.
1. Make Deliberate Choices
As we shift to a new lifestyle, we can choose the routines that will serve us better for the future, both during the pandemic lockdown and going forward. Do we want to incorporate more healthy, whole foods? Do we want more time for real conversations with our family and friends? Do we want to reduce our hectic and crazy schedules and only focus our energy on what TRULY matters? Do we want to be better leaders and connect with our team members in a more humanistic way (versus the stress of transactional, activity-based relationships)?
These are all choices we can now make as we are being forced off “Auto-Pilot” and offered the chance to create some “new norms” personally and globally. I would like to encourage each of us to take time to WRITE DOWN those patterns and habits we want to keep and those we wish to leave behind as we emerge from this strong transition cycle. I use a “start, stop, and continue” list for this purpose. Perhaps revisit those items regularly as you design the life you want for yourself and others going forward.
2. Take Cues from Mindfulness Research
A lot of people believe mindfulness is a “soft hippy trend.” However, progressive organizations like Google, General Mills, Target, Aetna, and many others have active and full mindfulness programs for their team members because of the financial and employee benefits they bring. Google even runs an entire Corporate University dedicated to teaching these techniques to other companies because they have seen such a shift from using it.
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation have been outlined in research, brain studies, and inside organizational examples for years. They include stress reduction (of course), better decision making, resilience to change and agility, physical health, and others. If you have never thought about how mindfulness or meditation can create the space for habit change, perhaps this period may give us all a pause to consider how it might shift and change us for the better and prepare us for the future as well.
3. Be Bamboo (say that fast three times!)
During times of significant transition and change, finding places in our lives where we can take back some control is essential. However, allowing for change while also resisting the “rigidity” of keeping everything the same is also very important. I like to think our best position during these times is to picture ourselves as bamboo – that strong yet flexible plant that seems to thrive in any environment and stand up to gale-force winds. When I lived in Hong Kong, I was amazed by the bamboo scaffolding used to erect and do maintenance work on buildings. It would bend under the weight of workers climbing up, but never break. It could withstand typhoon grade storms with flexibility and resilience unparalleled by other wooden or concrete structures that remained more rigid.
Maintaining our structure and integrity, including our values and boundaries under times of high stress, is critical. However, we also need to allow space for flexibility and “going with the flow” as well. Finding that balance of accepting the new norm while also keeping some loose control is at the heart of resilience during transitions. So look for the new norm and then look for ways to create some structure that will work with who you are and who you want to be in the future.
We are experiencing one of the more significant events to hit humanity in 100 years. We all knew 2020 would be a time of great change; we felt it. We just didn’t realize how or why. Let’s use this time where everything is unhinged and in transition to make new choices for ourselves, our families, our work, and our society. In gamer speak, we have been given a great chance to “Level Up” our lives and our world. Let’s take it!