Massive attention is being dedicated to the plans of countries, states, and companies emerging from the lockdown. Last week, WWSKD was all the rage: “What Would South Korea Do?” Similarly, many of us are spending tremendous time, money, and effort within the private sector so that our businesses resurface as unscathed as possible. We are applauding those pivoting for the near- and long-term.
Around individual preparation for the future, however, there is substantially less rhetoric asking WWSKD — or, rather, What Would “insert-your-best-version-of-self-here” Do.
COVID’s quarantine uprooted our routines, removing nearly all traditional distractions and coping mechanisms. As a result, the crisis forced us to face ourselves and our lives. Whether you are in the thick of healthcare response or getting by with Netflix and chill, we all had moments — be it in micro doses or in major “ah-has” — where we learned something new about ourselves.
As we distance from the peak, now is the time for each of us to explore the biggest lessons of the last two months and ask what we plan to do as a result of those learnings.
Countries and companies have advantage over individuals in change management. Strong underlying incentives (solvency, revenue pressure) and paid resources provide the motivation and momentum to drive tangible, lasting changes based on new information that will propel them to approach the world differently, stronger.
However as individuals, there are two big risks that we do not change. The first is that we do not spend the time to reflect on our learnings. The second is that our learnings feel strong today but a distant intention next year. Without opting into committed action and building momentum, we will have intent to change, but we will not.
What we’ve learned: Keep, Cut, Accelerate, and Delay
In order to comprehensively explore lessons learned, it’s worth considering the following four categories:
1. What will you Keep?
The Keep category includes everything we have added to our lives during this time that we intend to bring forward into our future. It could include cooking more meals at home, using FaceTime to call friends, or volunteering.
Personally, I have taken great joy in a slower life. On a broad level, I will keep protection of free time. From a ritual standpoint, I have overhauled my morning routine. That will stay. On nice evenings, my partner and I take walks along the beach near our house. That will also stay.
2. What will you Cut?
Your Cuts — adding to your life by subtracting — can include spending on food delivery, dropping the kettle chip obsession you developed while hunkered down, or letting go of mental patterns or habitual ways that you realize are not contributing to your happiness.
As mentioned in my last post, I am unlearning some of my root fears. While useful at one point in my life to motivate me and drive success, they are no longer serving me. I am throwing out the window desire for approval.
3. What will you Accelerate?
Acceleration is an area in which companies are setting pace. From launching delivery services to remote interviewing, Reid Hoffman describes it well saying, “What are the things that we can now learn that we wouldn’t have prioritized learning, but we’re good to learn now?”
You likely have projects that have become more relevant now and will help you emerge from COVID stronger. On my end, I have begun exploring starting my own company, a longer term goal that was definitely not on my 2020 list. I have also pulled in building a community mediation practice, crucial to keeping me grounded as the year progresses.
4. What will you Delay?
The delay bucket is an interesting one. For many of us, the COVID lockdown forced postponement in new jobs, travel plans, investments, business launches, and more. Personally, I was on the early end of cancelling our mid-March wedding.
Still, it is worthwhile to consider what you might choose to delay in the next stretch of the year. With new information, does your plan for 2020 still make sense for you?
How we’ll grow: From Intention & Inertia to Commitment & Momentum
“First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed.” — Richard H. Thaler
Here is where things get tricky. Whether the recovery is V-, U-, or L-shaped, at some point life will resemble what it was pre-COVID. Perhaps with more sanitizer, but equally as busy.
While most of you have very likely made mental commitments about what you expect to adjust post-COVID, how can you be sure that your intentions to connect more with friends or slow down or change this or that will come to fruition?
It is not enough that we understand what we want to keep, cut, accelerate or delay. We must embrace risk mitigation and explore the humanness that is likely to stand in our way: intentions and inertia.
There is a reason many theorists from Aristotle to behavior analysts do not consider intentions to be causes. Intentions reflect causal explanations and despite all the intention in the world, action does not always occur. The biggest culprit? Inertia.
In one of the best podcasts I listened to over April, screenwriter Brian Koppelman offers that the best way to beat inertia is to build momentum. Koppelman is building muscle and resistance around his desired change through tactical, daily steps and and a weekly accountability partner.
The above is not complex in nature, but resisting it will take thoughtfulness and planning.
Build your changes into your routine now. Find someone to be your accountability partner. And start with micro commitments to build momentum.
What comes next: Strategically Entering Recovery
Continuing to care for the here and now is still very much a part of our lives. According to many mental health experts, we can expect feelings that arose during isolation to continue for the foreseeable future, either due to lingering emotional distress or longer term impacts from physical or financial traumas.
Simultaneously, we are presented with extremely rare conditions — a wake up call in the form of crisis, a slow down that provided a window into our self-satisfaction, and a small runway of continued isolation — to be able to strategically enter the recovery and our future lives as individuals.
Reflecting on the moments in your life when your biggest personal shifts occured, you will find that most of those occasions coincided with a material event. As Arianna Huffington writes, “Transformative change rarely happens without a catalyst and a crisis.”
We have this moment today.
Just like governments and companies, it is not the planning, but the execution that will matter. I say this delicately and with as much humanity as possible — your commitments do not have to be life changing if that doesn’t work for you. They can simply be deliberate. The real opportunity here is for us to reduce our learnings into the most meaningful for each of us, find areas where we can commit to change, and then move forward with momentum, more fortified and more strong.