So What Has The Pandemic Ever Done For Us?
I was recently given the opportunity to be a speaker at the East Herts Citizens Advice Bureau Annual General Meeting. As a charity supporting some of the most vulnerable people in their community, the main topic of discussion was naturally going to be about how to continue to deliver against their purpose and vision in the midst of the ongoing effects of the global pandemic on all aspects of our lives.
So I thought I would take a leaf out of “The Life of Brian” when the question of “what have the Romans ever done for us” comes up in the resistance movement meeting. Needless to say, being Monty Python a long list of positives follow including aqueducts, schools, sanitation and so on. Have we gained anything positive from this experience and maybe even find something to smile about?
So there we were, doing what we usually do or don’t do and suddenly everything changed - we were in lockdown. It was strange, tiring, frightening and exhausting. It was truly apocalyptic for many. But we made some amazing changes to behaviour very quickly. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say.
- Businesses and business groups that said that video conferencing could never replace being in person suddenly found that actually it could and while not as great as real life, nearly as good was far better than no meetings at all.
- Families found that they connected more over the miles using any one of the various video calling platforms available - WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom and even Skype.
- Our shopping routines changed, our outdoor exercise routines were somewhat prescribed for us and you’ve never seen so many people out walking or cycling on a daily basis.
Our habits are involuntary, automatic behaviors controlled by our subconscious mind - our autopilot. The pandemic threw most of these out of the window for us. Neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists, and others who have undertaken research suggest that normally between 40 to 95 percent of our behaviour is actually managed by our autopilot. Even conservative estimates suggest that for over 50% of our waking lives we are on autopilot.
Our subconscious brain and its autopilot use far less mental energy than our higher layer conscious brain and so there is a tendency for our conscious brain to try and handover to the autopilot whenever it can. We see this all the time:
- Walking up stairs, our conscious mind hands over to autopilot and in no time at all we’ve forgotten why we went up stairs
- We drive down a very familiar road and forget that we really meant to go somewhere else rather than the usual destination
During the height of lockdown and the pandemic, our autopilot could not be used. We had to engage our conscious mind to think about:
- How to get enough toilet rolls, pasta, flour
- How to get an online grocery delivery slot
- How and where to homeschool our children
- How to keep an eye on elderly relatives and neighbours
- How to manage our work, income and so on
- How to manage our businesses
- How to clap and cheer for more than a minute every Thursday night
- How to make sure we got our allocated 1 hour of outdoor exercise a day
It was exhausting as we worked far longer than normal at a higher thinking level. But we accepted that and adapted quickly in such a short time. We looked after each other. We became aware of who essential workers really are to keep our communities and societies working and felt grateful for all of them.
In the work environment, we were able to quickly redefine how we could continue to do what we do given all the new constraints put upon us. Again, it was exhausting but look at how much innovation and change was possible and how quickly we all adapted.
Get Used to Being the Driver
So now we have experienced more conscious living, the key is to not slip back and allow autopilot to run as much of our lives as it used to. We can recognise when we are on autopilot and when we are consciously living. We can exercise that choice and become better at that. When we hear the phrase “getting back to normal” - to me that is a potential warning sign - it means getting back to autopilot and less conscious thinking.
One of my favourite sayings is “be the driver not the passenger” in your own life. So now you are the driver of your own bus, where do you want to go? Many people will talk about life goals but many surveys suggest that the one thing people want more of in their lives is happiness. Happiness is more a state of being than a destination.
According to the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai it can be thought of as maintaining a perfect balance between
- Doing what you are good at
- Doing what you love
- Doing what you feel rewarded for
- Doing what the world needs
Doing what the world needs, or giving in some way to help others, is one of the most common aspects of behaviour that crops up when surveys are done on what makes happy people as happy as they are. It seems that altruism is a very natural human trait and we are wired to feel happy when helping others.
The Citizens Advice Bureau, like many charities, is all about helping people who are often in very difficult and harrowing circumstances. But thanks to the amazing work and dedication of the team, they are there to help people on their life journey with timely support and advice with no motive other than to help them. It is the best of humanity in action and should be a great source of happiness.
We can’t take responsibility for other peoples’ lives but we can be proactive in offering support and guidance to them to become better at being the conscious drivers of their own buses to use that metaphor.
So What Now?
Rounding up this article to a few key takeaway points:
- Stay Conscious - when we use our conscious minds more, we can adapt and be so much better people, better communities, better organisations than when we exist mostly in autopilot.
- Review your habits - Any habit or routine is great if it serves us well but creating new habits, revising existing habits and deleting ones that don’t serve us well takes effort but is our responsibility as conscious human beings.
- Stay Happy - do things that make you and others happy; ditch or reduce things that do the opposite
- Maintain Stocks - always ensure you have a basic stock of loo roll, pasta, petrol, flour, prosecco and wine just in case.