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I hope we never go back to normal

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Old habits die hard but COVID-19 has given us the opportunity of a fresh start. Here are some things to leave behind for good as our lives return to normal.
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.
― Maya Angelou

There are signs some things are starting to go back to normal. Shops are reopening, schools are welcoming students back on campus, and the commute to work for some is starting up again. Parents will no longer have to be schoolteachers. Daily routines will return… and toilet paper and pasta is back on our store shelves.   

During times of uncertainty, many people crave normalcy. And yes, it’s only natural to long for the familiar and the comfortable. But honestly, I hope we never go back to normal. Instead of pining for the past, let’s press on for the new. 

American Futurist Alvin Toffler sagely said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Could this global pandemic be the catalyst for us to unlearn and relearn specific unconstructive patterns and catapult us into a renaissance of wellbeing? 

I want to share with you nine habits I hope we never go back to. By avoiding these habits for good, we can take advantage of the tools we learnt from being in isolation. 

Nine things I hope we never go back to: 
  1. Original social distancing

We are all getting used to standing a few feet apart and not shaking hands but social distancing is not a new concept. It is something we have been doing for a very long time, years before COVID-19 even began and I hope we never go back to it in its original form. 

Every time you picked up your phone in the presence of another person you were socially distancing yourself from them. By picking up your phone, your mind slipped into a wormhole, dissolving geography and eclipsing the limits of time, space and distance to connect with a pixel. 

Our smartphones can connect us to people all across the globe but disconnect us from the person sitting right in front of us. They are immensely powerful in their ability to connect us with people all around the world, but destructive in their ability to disrupt daily presence, rhythm and connection. 

Let’s not go back to normal. Imagine if from now on, we gave the person in front of us the dignity of our full presence and remember we don’t have to “post it to prove it”. 

2. Complaining

Is there any activity you were complaining about two months ago that you now can’t wait to go back to? It could be sports practice, meeting up with family regularly or going to school every day.

When you finally get back to it, stop the whining. It has been hurting you for a long time. 

Complaining does not bring out the best in you. In fact, it drains you of your potential. The reality is life is amazing, there is so much to be grateful for. I hope isolation forever tattoos this on our mind. There is sheer goodness in just being human. COVID-19 has helped us realise the things which feel like a daily grind are actually precious gifts.

3. Entitlement 

The world does not owe us anything. Bad stuff does happen to good people. Good stuff happens to bad people. Life is not always fair. 

The world is messy, people have flaws and in life you will experience disappointments. Getting angry every time something doesn’t go your way only breeds discontentment. 

The peak of COVID-19 was a disorienting time, and we weren’t all in the same boat. During this storm, some people were in cruise liners or yachts, others in kayaks, and some just holding on with a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. 

When things don’t go to plan, don’t become bitter and entitled. Become better and enlightened and look for ways you can rescue others in more dire situations.

Empathy and humility are the remedies for entitlement. During COVID-19, I was thrilled to see so many young people check in on their elderly neighbours or grandparents to make sure they didn’t feel alone and had adequate supplies. 

4. Risk aversion 

This was a massive global crisis and yet, for the most part, the world as we know it survived. Sadly, lives were lost, unemployment escalated, businesses suffered, and the economy was damaged. But we averted global catastrophe because we managed the risk and didn’t bury our heads in the sand. 

Many people don’t like to lose or have a fear of failure. They will do anything to avoid risk, including reducing their goals to something mediocre. But our great hope during COVID-19 was that things were going to get better. Nobody knew this would definitely happen and at the time it was a risk to believe in a better future.

But dawn will always rise. Hoping did not mean doing nothing. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident of a bright future ahead. 

Our destiny as a people is not in our inaction or compliance. Our future is in the practice of being active and engaged citizens.  Not running from risk but dancing with it. It is always present and should not be evaded.

Let’s learn the lesson that risk management, not risk avoidance is the portal to a better world. 

5. Busyness

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse said, “If you want to be creative, be less productive”. In the age of productivity and busyness, we don’t want that to be true. We want to tick off our list of things to do and announce “I cleaned the house, I did the laundry, I emptied my inbox”. 

We want to say, “I was busy and productive and therefore important”. Yes, you were busy, but were you creative? Did you do something to move you personally forward? If your mode of being is connected to being busy all the time, this can lead to soul exhaustion. 

During isolation, I trust you took the time to think and contemplate and reflect. This time of isolation should have inspired creative innovations for ourselves and others. I can’t wait to see what is produced. 

Pressing the pause button is a necessity for everyday life. I pray it is never enforced on us again in such a dramatic way but hope it becomes a personal preference and habit. 

6. Neglecting our family

One thing I loved seeing during self-isolation was whole families walking and exercising together. I saw dads walking with their daughters and making bread together. Mums were holding their young sons’ hand and kicking the football. 

I’m sure during self-isolation there were a few family disputes due to such close proximity for extended periods. But overwhelmingly, I witnessed families connecting. It was a pleasure to see comments online being replaced by conversations. 

7. Ingratitude 

Don’t ever postpone your happiness for another time. Learn to live in every moment. 

I spend a lot of time at high schools talking with students and teachers. So many people say, “I will be happy when…

  • I turn 16… 
  • I finish school…
  • I get my licence…
  • The kids grow up…
  • I retire…

Why not get happy now?

I desperately hope we come up out of these extreme circumstances full of gratitude for the little things. 

Life is made up of ordinary mundane moments. Find the wonder in the everyday slog and routine of life. Don’t let it pass you by. There is an American Indian saying, “While you are complaining about this and that, a great wind is flying across the sky.” Wonderful, breath-taking moments are happening all the time, yet too often we miss them, if our heart is not pivoted towards gratitude.

When researchers interview people who experienced unimaginable trauma like the loss of a child or a loved one, the thing they said they miss the most was the ordinary moments. They would say things like, “I miss hearing the sound of the garage door open and knowing my husband is home from work” or  “I miss the way my wife set the table” or “I miss hearing the kids laugh on the trampoline”.  

These ordinary moments are what we experience every day. If we can remember to stop and say, ‘I am grateful for this’, that’s when the wonder happens.

8. Knowing it all 

Sometimes we are so desperate to know something, we will make up an answer and call it a fact. So much of this pandemic was uncertain. As a species, we like to be certain and to know what will happen next. 

We love the concrete and deny the abstract. In this new epoch, can we get comfortable with not knowing? Can we come to school and work with more questions than answers? Can we humble ourselves to the point where learning is more esteemed than knowing? 

We need to ask ourselves these questions. Have the patterns of thinking I have come to adopt become biased? Do I have an inability to hear new ideas without becoming offended? 

Let’s not go back to normal. There is a big difference between truly knowing something and reciting what you have read online. 

9. Seeing Complexity as a Rarity 

In this modern world, people have become very proficient at using filters. We are experts at showing the world that our lives are amazing when we are actually suffering. 

Not everything is black and white and not everything is grey either. Wisdom is knowing that not every decision is binary. There are so many nuances and complexities. 

Our world is being divided between those who have trained themselves to handle complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them. We must train ourselves to discipline our minds and not be in a constant state of distraction. Instead of spending time scrolling aimlessly, we must teach ourselves to focus our attention on that which we endeavour to learn. 

Life is a struggle and always will be, but that idea does not have to take our joy away. Remember, the only way to get strong is to get sore! During resistance training your muscles fibres encounter trauma. The right amount of trauma causes growth. This can be applied to all areas of your life.

Managing complexity is better for your health than trying to avoid it. Go after what creates meaning in your life and trust that you can navigate through the complexity. 

My expectation is this isolation cultivated fresh insights for all of us. I hope you came out of this very significant moment in history forever changed with a new and awakened sense of purpose and direction. 

Do you have any other ways we can escape going back to ‘normal’? I would love to hear from you.  Email me at glen@glengerreyn.com 

Read more: Slow the spinning: How to stop worrying and start living

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