Kate Forrest August 4 2020

When life throws a curve ball

The first in a two part article from t-three consultant Kate Forrest, who looks at how lockdown has affected us behaviourally and emotionally.

What a mind-bending year we've had so far...

Without warning we found ourselves in a different world where the way in which we lived, worked and interacted with others was completely upended. From how we usually buy our groceries, take our exercise, communicate with others, the rhythm to our working days, use of technology - the familiarity of our routines and patterns to which we were accustomed no longer fit.

Our customs, routines and communications are cues that we depend on to direct our behavioural choices – so when they were disrupted, we found ourselves emotionally and psychologically untethered, charting unknown waters. And at first, this was in equal parts exciting and terrifying. We were in crisis mode – running on adrenaline and responding urgently to new needs. 

Our world expanded as we found ourselves outside of our comfort zones, learning and adapting quickly to make sense of our reality.  And there were lots of positives that quickly emerged along with big plans of how to fill time.  No long commutes, a reduction in social obligations and the enforced lockdown = more quality time with family, increased connectivity to work colleagues and friends, time to learn a new language/instrument/hobby, bake banana bread and establish a new exercise regime.  In this space – many were feeling more motivated and energised by the experience. 

After a few weeks, the ‘lockdown honeymoon’ period gave way to a lower mood – a dip – as the shock of the change hit. The reality of being cooped up in the house with loved ones whilst trying to manage schooling and work, not being able to readily and easily get into the supermarket, endless Zoom/Teams calls, the same daily walking route through the local park and managing boredom all started to bite.

But something else was also going on.  As we immersed ourselves in our new lockdown culture, we started to explore new and different ways of doing things. A new and different exercise routine, a new and different rhythm to the working day, a new and different way to unwind on the weekend.  These new experiences have been at times hard to navigate and at other times, a revelation of options and alternative narratives for our lives that may not have been on our radar.

And so, we have learnt and adapted along the way – with these new routines being incorporated into our pattern of living and being.  And when this happens, it knocks on the door of our identity – presenting an opportunity to be curious about how we have always done things and a desire to embrace our new way of seeing life.

So, as we are being encouraged to reengage with society what does this all mean for us as we move forward, and what happens next? 

Upon our return to pre-lockdown conditions, not only is our sense of identity from that time different from what we are now used to, but it may also be different from who we were then and different from what we expect it to be like going forward.  Sounds confusing?  That’s because it is somewhat confusing to try and process!

So, there are three things that we need to think about and understand to help us to navigate the ‘what next’:

1. Our world, as we once knew it, has changed

2. We have changed

3. We have adapted to a new way of living and being, and now we need to readapt

Our world, as we once knew it, has changed

Lockdown measures have eased, and our world is opening back up.  We may be expecting our lives to settle into their familiar routines and be exactly the same as it was before this all started.  But while we were in lockdown, other things and people changed as well.  When we realise this, we may find ourselves disoriented and shocked. 

 We have changed

‘Our world’ is a rich, complex place involving feelings, relationships, routines and predictable patterns of interactions and behaviours.  It is where we feel familiar and safe and it is significantly related to our identity – the place where we are most ourselves.  As we have evolved during this period and adopted new ways of doing things and being, our perception of our world changes.  This can be from a personal or professional level – or both!  For many, this will be a truly life-changing experience affecting attitudes, feelings and connection to the world we are leaving behind.

 We have adapted to a new way of living and being and now we need to readapt

Any way in which we adapt will become our new world.  There are things that we will always keep, but the longer we spent in the lockdown phase and the more we may have explored different thinking and ways of doing things, incorporating them into our daily life, the more distant our previous world becomes.  We should also be prepared that when we return to certain spaces / activities that we will have to relearn routines and patterns.  And the more comfortable we became during the lockdown period, the harder the transition back will be if there is an expectation of returning to the ‘old way’ of doing things.  Where we are able to incorporate our positive changes, we will feel that we have grown but the flipside is that our world may feel like it is shrinking or imploding if we are not able to fully integrate our new ways of living and being or we are not recognised to have changed by others.

These principles hold true for our workspaces and well as our personal spaces.

Where we have an advantage is that we have all had this experience together – that we are not trying to navigate and readapt on our own.  This means that we will have changes to feelings, routines and impact in common with each other that also gives us a consistent language in which to explore and process together.

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