2020 has been a surreal year for every person on the planet and for many reasons. The most common factor affecting everyone being COVID-19. The virus has been a problem in itself but has also created secondary and even tertiary problems as well as a plethora of others. It has forced most of the world to rethink how we live our daily lives with every country instating guidelines to everyday life. The most prominent of these being, to varying degrees, “Lockdown”.
Depending on where you live, lockdown to you has meant something slightly different but to most has involved being advised to stock up on essentials and stay indoors to limit human contact and therefore limit the possible spread of the virus. I won’t go into mine or anyone else’s opinions on the idea of lockdown in this post. But I would like to share three lessons I’ve learned so far. Because everyone has had their own unique experience of the same thing (as with everything else in life), I think it’s important to share these experiences so we can all learn lessons we may not have been able to from our own individual experiences.
For me, as discussed in my post from when I first witnessed what lockdown looked like outside my home, I have essentially had 2 lockdowns. The first of which started in December 2019 when I became temporarily confined to my bed and ended after “lockdown as everybody knows it” had already begun. These lessons have come from my cumulative experiences from December 2019 till now.
I will also add that this is not a write-up about the coronavirus itself or any medical/health implications it has had. I’m strictly talking about the effect this time has had on our everyday lives as a society primarily through the lens of lockdown.
So here goes.
1. Actively Acknowledge Your Blessings (anything good in your life is its own blessing).
I think everyone can now safely agree that it is far too easy to take things for granted once we get used to them. In every human life, some things are simply accepted to be the norm. Whether it is being able to eat at least once a day, work to put that food in our mouths or even choose whether to eat or skip a meal. Every human being on the planet, from every walk of life, has something in their lives they accept to be normally occurring. Even if that normal thing is the absence of something they believe should be normal, everyone has an accepted view of their own normality. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. But, the moment that normality is altered to any degree, we have to react. That reaction may be working to return to “our norm”, welcoming the change with open arms or adjusting other aspects of our lives to accommodate the change. By the very nature of this dynamic, we interact with these aspects of our lives passively, only interacting with these “normalities” when reacting to an external change (like lockdown). This passive interaction is the beginning of taking things for granted. This becomes a problem when, without realising, we start building things we don’t take for granted around a foundation of things we do. Because when those foundations are altered externally, every aspect of our life linked to them is put at risk. This is partly why leading up to and through the beginning of lockdown, anxiety, misinformation and irrationality reigned supreme. So many aspects we had taken for granted in our lives had all of a sudden been altered almost overnight, immediately highlighting why they should have never been taken for granted in the first place. Anything you can think of that falls in this category is a blessing.
So how can we actively acknowledge our blessings? How can we avoid taking them for granted? A simple starter would be reminding ourselves of our blessings at the moments we experience them. While eating your next meal, having your next conversation or even reading this article, think to yourself, “There are so many ways this current situation could be far worse but here I am”. Regardless of how much life may not be ideal right now, you’d be surprised at how many things you have to be grateful for. Obviously, there will still be experiences you’d rather not have and those do matter. But your focus should be on the good things you do have. They matter more.
2. Take time to learn who you are.
Why are you the way you are (insecurities, biases, preferences, triggers, likes, dislikes, fears, loves etc)? We are shaped by the world around us for better or worse and have to control what that shape is. Passively moving through life will guarantee we become what someone or something else dictates. External factors don’t ever take a break, why should we. Actively living our lives ensures we get a say in who we are and who we become. The more actively we live life, the bigger the say we get. The first step for that is understanding as much as possible about who we are now. How have we gotten here? How have external factors affected us up until now? Also understanding, there is nothing wrong with finding out something we don’t like about who we are or how something has affected us. The important thing is how we use what we now know to dictate who we become.
The truth of the matter is we all have things in our past we would rather not relive through our thoughts whether we realise it or not. But not ever looking back at those experiences, people, places or whatever they may be, also means never resolving them. It may seem easier to just leave them in the past but that’s the equivalent of putting a lump of hot coal in our back pockets where we can’t see them. We may become numb to the pain and be able to move on like there is no pain but every now and then, we’ll sit on the coal and get a painful reminder it’s still there. We might change the angle at which we sit and keep moving on that way. But then it eventually burns through our jeans burning into our skin. So we adjust the way we walk and become more numb to the pain and move on forward a bit more. But then it burns through our pocket, revealing a bare bum with a lump of hot coal stuck in the cheek for the world to see. It is mildly embarrassing, but we put on a new pair of jeans and move on forward a bit more only for the cycle to repeat itself over and over again. The pattern becomes second nature and we’ll become numb to the negative effects and emotions that behaviour brings even as they become their own little smaller burning coals, which we deal with the same way, further creating and repeating this cycle of madness, normalising our abnormal behaviours, attracting unwanted attention to ourselves, attention which also becomes its own little coals. And without realising it, we’ve become that strange person that sits funny, walks funny, obsessively buys new pairs of the same jeans and always smells like a chimney. All this because we didn’t resolve one small lump of hot coal.
So, how do we get around this? Simple answer: we find a way to drop that hot coal before it does more damage. The not so simple part is how to drop that coal. Letting go of some of our past traumas can be difficult for several reasons: it means accepting we have no control over them; they tend to have become part of who we are; and sometimes, we simply want a chance to throw that lump of hot coal back in the face of whatever created it, but letting it go would take that away. Regardless of the reason, in the mean time, we are only just burning ourselves by holding on.
Lockdown has shown me the importance of dedicating time to find out how to identify, remove or even productively use my past experiences to improve myself and my life. I haven’t even touched on those experiences that were actually positive, but for some reason, we don’t value as much as we should. Because believe me, the same way the negative parts of our past that can’t be changed can become a lump of hot coal and progressively make things worse, the positive parts also can’t be changed and can become a [insert positive metaphor] that progressively makes things better. But it all starts with dedicating that time to actively find out these things that makeup who we are and working towards using them to make us even better.
3. We are all stronger than we realise.
All experiences change us, some more than others, and either positively or negatively. But more often than not, we still keep going. Maybe a little wiser, a little worse for wear or a bit more cynical, but most of the time we keep going. We all have some idea of what normal behaviour is according to society, our environment or self-expectations and for the most part, live our lives within those guidelines. But we rarely stop to recognise our ability to behave within any guidelines whatsoever even after traumatic experiences. We experience heartbreak, loss, failure, pain and so many negative things through our lives and still manage to live our lives. Most of the time never acknowledging we do it. But every time a new obstacle is put before us, we draw on our past experiences to help us overcome that obstacle. Again, most of the time not acknowledging that we do it. Like having a drink whenever you’re thirsty but never stopping to appreciate the fact that there was a drink there for us in the first place ready to quench our thirst. That is how we treat our inner strength. We only passively engage it when we need it and hardly think about it when it isn’t in use. But, if we were to acknowledge that strength was there as much as possible, we would go through life with a lot less fear of what could go wrong. We wouldn’t panic when something does go wrong because we would know we have the strength to overcome it. In fact, we would more actively engage that obstacle with the confidence that strength gives us, thereby getting rid of the problem more quickly and with less stress. But we need to be aware of that inner strength in the first place, even when it isn’t in use.
There are many ways to do this. We could remind ourselves of the obstacles we’ve overcome in the past and how we overcame them. We could remind each other of the same because sometimes we don’t see how we used our strength as well as someone else looking from the outside. Hearing another person’s take on our own resilience is extremely powerful. And that also means we have to be willing to remind others of their own resilience. You never know who may need to hear those words in the same way they might be oblivious to when you need to hear those words.
We could actively work on improving our strength/resilience like improving a muscle through exercise or a skill through practice. Put yourself out there in as many small ways as possible. Try something new on a regular basis. Do something selfless on a daily basis. Start at least one new conversation every other day even if it’s only to say hi via text message or social media. Things like this may seem irrelevant to inner strength and resilience but you will be surprised how trying small new things regularly will expose you to a lot of things outside of your comfort zone, show you how easy it is to face a lot of situations you thought would be more difficult and even give you the confidence to try out bigger and better things. By the time an unexpected obstacle then comes your way, chances will be high that you have faced a similar situation on a smaller scale and you will realise you already have what you need to get through it. It might be harder or take longer but you would know it is not impossible.
2020 has opened my eyes to so many things, good and bad, regarding all facets of life. The above merely being three I feel are the most positive to share. There have also been negatives but those are stories for another time. I surely hope they’ve been insightful. Or maybe you’ve already come to your own similar or vastly different conclusions. Maybe you’ve learnt something completely different from any of the above. Whatever the case may be, I’d love to hear it. Let’s all learn from sharing our experiences. Leave a comment below, on Facebook or Instagram. Even drop me an email if you want. There’s always more to learn.
Till next time, you take care of yourself and those around you.