Self-Reflection While the World Is on Pause
We can do much better than simply a “new normal” once we emerge from quarantine
A temporary pause on our busy lives
Fifty-two days under lockdown in the Bay Area of California. For other regions, it’s been even longer. That feeling of restlessness grows with each passing day that we must remain quarantined inside. The only human contact we’re supposed to have is with our families and loved ones, but some of us are also separated from them making the coping even more difficult.
When we do venture outside, it’s like walking out into a postapocalyptic film except everything is still standing. A world with much fewer humans where animals now freely roam across empty roads; a glimmer of what life must have been like in our ancestral past before we worked our way to the top of the food chain.
We know that this is all temporary and that (hopefully) in the next month or so we will return to our jobs (if we’re still lucky enough to have one) and society will begin to return to normal — or a “new normal” as some are referring to it as. A new normal where we have to continue social distancing and protective measures in the office, restaurants, grocery stores, and pretty much every other public place we visit, and in our social interactions.
But is a new normal really the best we can do?
Why set the bar so low when we potentially can achieve so much more?
Striving for a “better you”
Although this is an incredibly difficult time for all of us — and certainly some more than others — it’s also an incredible opportunity for us to engage in self-reflection to not only work on ourselves but also work on crafting a better society.
As you can read about in the story below, being alone is something that tends to be stigmatized in our societies unnecessarily. It provides such an important opportunity for inspiration and introspection that we rarely get when caught up in the hustle and bustle of our normal lives.
So rather than see this quarantine solely as a punishment and curtailment of our freedoms, we should take advantage of this extra alone time that we have to ensure we emerge out of this isolation better than when we entered it.
This is exactly the time to think about how happy you are with your current relationships, your job(s), and with yourself. If you’re not as happy as you could be, ask yourself why that is. Try to get to the root cause of what the issue really is.
In the engineering field that I work in, one of the common problem-solving techniques we use is called the “5 Whys” and this same technique can be used to help solve problems in your own life. It’s as simple as it sounds:
- State what the problem is
- Ask yourself why that problem exists and provide an answer
- Continue asking ‘why’ four more times (or as many times as you need to) to each answer you give to help get to the root cause of your problem
This way, you can begin to deal with those festering problems that you might have not given enough attention to before when you were too busy.
There are plenty of articles out there telling you how to live your life, but ultimately we are the ones who must decide what path to take. Use this time to determine if the path you’re currently on is the right one. If not, craft a plan to redirect to a new path. Write it down. Include each step you’ll need to take to get there and set some goals and milestones to measure your progress.
Reimagining a better world
By actively working to improve ourselves, we will inevitably improve our society as well. However, just like with our own lives, we need to ask ourselves hard questions about what’s wrong with our current societies and how we can possibly make them better.
For example, are our current economic and political systems really the best we can do? If not, what can each of us try to do to change them to make them more equitable, fair, and responsive to our diverse needs?
By trying to improve the systems under which we live, we can further improve our own lives and the lives of so many others. Being under lockdown should give us pause to think about how well these systems either help or hinder our societies from making progress. We can engage in the same type of “5 Whys” problem-solving to delve deeper into the root cause of these issues.
For example, one might ask why we were not better prepared for this pandemic? By determining the root cause(s), we can take actions that can help us be better prepared for any pandemics we might face in the future, so that they have a less debilitating effect on our societies.
There are a seemingly endless supply of issues we face currently, some regional in nature and others global. Why not use this time in isolation to develop ideas for how we can address them and then put those ideas into action?
When I engaged in this sort of deep thinking and self-reflection, one of the ideas I had was that we need to exercise “radical caring” if we want to truly address some of the greatest problems we face like climate change, which requires us to think and care about those beyond our family lineages.
What ideas do you have for addressing these problems? Bring them to the table and let’s discuss them collectively. More ideas are always better when it comes to complex problems.
Moving beyond a “new normal”
We are now living in unprecedented times. Most of us have never experienced a pandemic on the scale we are now facing and it is requiring us to adapt quickly to this new way of living in isolation including giving up many of the things we once enjoyed, even if just temporarily.
It is during the most difficult times that we grow the most as individuals. In fact, our current paths in life may be defined mostly by the difficult challenges we encountered in our past.
Now is the time to take advantage of this pause on our lifestyles to self-reflect and address underlying issues with both ourselves and with our societies. To not do so would be a great disservice both for yourself and for the future of mankind — and that is not an overstatement. It is the closest to a reset button as we will ever get; don’t waste it.
Before this pandemic, it was easy to think that we’re all insignificant in this world much like worker ants helping to build a colony. But now we see how interconnected and close we actually are despite geographic boundaries and other artificial divisions we have created, both in reality and in our minds.
I think we can mostly agree that the “normal” we long for now was never that great to begin with (unless you’re living that celeb life), and a “new normal” doesn’t sound like much of an improvement.
Let’s do better than normal because we can and because we need to.
Let’s emerge out of this chaos stronger as individuals and be more caring, understanding, thoughtful, and united than we ever have been before. Only then will we be able to effectively grapple with the crises we face now and in the future.