At this point we should view the current stay home/social distancing period as a marathon rather than a sprint. Just as a marathoner shouldn’t be sprinting at the mile 2 marker, so too must we each settle into our pace.
This means focusing on self-care and family connection as well as work. It also means being realistic about the fact that, while we can’t know what the future will bring, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than the end. It may seem like a stretch to compare our current challenges with something as horrible as a multi-year imprisonment in an enemy POW camp, but there is a lesson we might learn from one story.
James Stockdale was a naval officer held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years in Vietnam. During his imprisonment he was repeatedly tortured and had little reason to expect to survive. He found a way to survive by blending healthy optimism with a strong dose of reality – an approach referred to as “The Stockdale Paradox” in Jim Collins’ leadership book Good To Great.
Here’s a discussion between the author and Stockdale:
“Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused,
given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by
Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then
they’d say,’We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and
Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas
again. And they died of a broken heart.”
You can see the connection to our current situation. Keeping our attitude right will involve realistic acceptance that we will certainly be living in a modified world for several months.
Saying that we are “closer to the beginning of this crisis than the end” may not be an inspiring message, but being realistic can help us each settle in and build worthy habits that will make us better people when this historical moment passes, as it inevitably will.
Here are some life balance dimensions you may want to consider during this time. Most of us are lacking true balance because we’re focused on only some of these while ignoring others.
Intellectual: Now is a great time to learn something. Read books (or listen to them). Look into online classes.
Citizenship: During this time of social distancing, getting involved in a community organization might be more difficult, but people are finding ways to create local connection. You might find opportunities to do the same. One important point: “citizenship” doesn’t mean “broadcasting political opinions” on social media. Citizenship is about making your community and your country better. It usually is hard and patient work.
Physical: There are a lot of jokes and memes being passed around about everyone’s proximity to snacks. This is a great time to adopt some better eating habits. A little habit I’ve been following of late is eating one apple each day for an afternoon snack. Nutritious, a great source of fiber, and helps me avoid what I otherwise might choose. Also, just because you can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. I have been using a combination of this seven minute workout app, this yoga app, riding my bike (in a trainer in my basement due to local weather) and mostly going for walks. Some people are going to put on the “Quarantine Fifteen”. Not you! (Also, remember although weight is important, “physical fitness” isn’t just about your weight).
Spiritual: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wisely summed it up this way: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. Various yogis and thinkers in other religions have made the same observation in their own ways. Regardless of your particular faith tradition – even if you don’t have one – now is a good time to deepen your encounter. I recommend doing this with a “guide” rather than thinking entirely on your own. Thinking Deep Thoughts on your own might appeal to your sense of control but is is a sure-fire way to get trapped in your own mental cul-de-sac built by your ego. “Guides” come in the forms of books, podcasts, online courses, clergy, and holy people you might already know. I have some book suggestions that might be helpful for your journey on my Great Books page.
Creative: You were put on this earth for something more than answering emails and going to meetings. To read a short rant on this topic go here.
Productive: Even if you’re out of work during this crisis, there are opportunities for you to labor and produce work that is of value. Most people today put too much emphasis on career while starving other dimensions on this list. You can achieve balance without sacrificing productivity and effectiveness at the office – even if your current office involves sweatpants, your cat, and your kitchen table.
Social: Can’t get out of the house? Use the phone or have a virtual chat. We are social animals – something we’re realizing as we strain at our stay-at-home leash. Our happiness is tied to the frequency and quality of our social connections. Just because you’re staying at home all day doesn’t mean you have to live the life of an ascetic hermit. Reach out to someone right now who you don’t typically connect with and set up a time to talk. They’ll be delighted to hear from you.
During this challenging time, I hope you and your loved ones are sheltering in place and are healthy.