Just as we thought we were over the worst, the next wave of COVID starts and we find ourselves in another indefinite lockdown or in my case lockout... The impact of health orders being issued on the largest population and business centres of our county has widespread social and economic impacts - where one lives almost doesn't matter. Getting restless and agitated at times like these is unavoidable it seems, and as I saw the launch plan of our new business and book go down the drain at the end of June, the same feelings beset me. And it got worse over the two weeks as I watched the news, read the commentary and browsed social media... Feeling this way is not healthy and so here are three things that I have resolved to do to go back to a more peaceful state of mind through the rest of lockdown and indeed COVID.
The state of the 'news'
We all need to stay informed during times such as these but doing so without getting 'worked up' with the news is challenging.
The problem is that the news we receive today is not really 'news' in the traditional sense of the word i.e. reporting on the facts of a given matter. Rather, most of the news comes 'laced' with commentary. Gone are the days when the editorial or opinion sections were clearly delineated from the facts. Opinion shapes the news these days and takes up the bulk of airtime.
This would all be fine if the opinions sought were from 'enlightened beings' who had freed themselves of their ego, personal ambitions and agendas and were therefore able to judge situations objectively and present us with clear, considered and unadulterated advice on the state of things based on their first-hand experience and expertise of the subject matter ... The problem is that such people don't exist today - not where COVID is concerned.
Putting aside the fact that everyone comes with their own agenda these days ... COVID is a once in a lifetime pandemic the likes of which the world has not seen since the Spanish flu if 1918-20. No one living today, regardless of their position or title has first-hand experience of managing an infectious disease of this magnitude in the highly mobile, connected and crowded societies that we live in today. The ever mutating nature of the virus makes it all that more challenging.
Yet the media keeps putting forward person after person on the pedestal as 'experts', presenting contradicting 'expert opinions' and confusing the living daylights out of us ordinary, non-expert folks. Those in power inevitably try to take control of the situation as conspiracy theories and fake news start adding to the noise, and before you know it even reasonable discussions and debates start being stifled. The polarisation this causes in our society is palpable on social media feeds and trends, and yes, I too was getting caught up in it...
The only option I feel we can do right now for our own sanity is shield ourselves from all the news or rather the endless commentary. When examined carefully they appear to be nothing but conjecture, with a whole bunch of people speculating on speculation...
So here's the first resolve.
Resolve 1: Stop engaging with the news
How to stay informed?
Figure out the essential information I need (e.g. what I can and cannot do under a health order for my business) and find a resource where I can get across this in a factual sense.
Does this mean I am parking my discerning intelligence and developing a blind faith in authority?
Far from it.
Living in a democratic society, my vote is the ultimate power I have and my ability to protest is the ultimate freedom I have.
Time will reveal the merits and motivations of the policies and the politicians making them - and depending on what they turn out to be, I'll be ready to protest and vote as need be.
For now, I am choosing to believe that the people in charge are doing the best they can. Sure there are political and corporate interests at play - there is no doubt about this - but as a colleague once told me, "no one shows up to work to do a bad job".
Fluctuating mental states and the social media
Comparison of self to others on any dimension is generally unhealthy. Comparing one's mental state with others is definitely a no, no. With the influx of social media in our lives, this is becoming harder and harder to do.
After swearing off social media platform in about 2016, I've had to re-engage with the dreaded world of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in 2020 as I went down the road of starting my own business - it felt like a necessary evil...
And sure enough, as soon as you sign-up, the platform delivers everything everyone is shouting out straight to you - even from people you don't follow... These platforms love content that creates heightened emotional states as it drives higher engagement so sure enough what you mostly see is people 'living the highs' and 'going through the lows'. With social media at everyone's disposal all it takes is a few taps to share our unbridled euphoria, anger, disappointments and sadness.
Unless someone has the disciplined mind of an accomplished meditator, which most of us don't, we spend our days and weeks vacillating through high and low mental states. This is a quintessential 'human condition' that gets exacerbated with the onset of mental health problems.
One of the alarming things that I have observed in myself when engaging with social media whilst feeling 'low' is that seeing someone else on a 'high' either makes me feel bad about myself or worse, envious towards the other. I guess this sort of reaction is what lies at the heart of the 'FOMO'.
The only time such posts have a positive effect of say inspiring me, is when I am engaging with a balanced mental state.
Conversely, when I am on a 'high', seeing another person on a 'low' quietly plants the poisonous seed of pride in my mind, inflating my ego e.g. by creating a thought around how well I was handling the situation relative to the other...
Again, it is only when I engage with these posts with a balanced mental state that I felt genuine empathy and compassion towards the other.
These things are difficult to spot, and even more difficult to admit
And this is it's important to spend time cultivating self awareness and being honest with ourselves on how we really feel about something.
It's also important to remember that it's never another person's fault - ie the people posting content on social media.
What we feel about a social media post or anything else in life is an internal experience. Our mind processes the information it takes in its own way and that differs based on what state it already was in. In the process it creates a subjective experience that may be completely different to what the person making the post intended!
So we should never never blame anyone, including ourselves, for how we feel. Rather take responsibility for it by checking into our own mental states, being honest about how we feel and doing what it takes to cultivate a more peaceful mind. The second resolve then.
Resolve 2. Engage with social media on my terms
Only use social media to the extent I need to for work by scheduling in time during the day or week to do this.
Also, engage with social media very consciously i.e. only when I can discern that I have a balanced mental state. It's not something I compulsively reach out to to pass time... This can be hard but there are several 'tried and tested' tricks I have used in the past to kick the 'social habit':
The first tip is to switch off all notifications on all social apps on the phone.
The second is to move all the apps right to the last page of you phone so it's harder to get to.
The most effective is to delete the apps off the phone completely. These days all apps including Instagram can be used effectively on the desktop. Given I am only going to be using social apps for business, this is the best option for me.
And of course you choose to delete all your accounts and exit the platform altogether
Seeing the negative impact social media has on my personal and societal mental health is also getting me to question whether these platforms are indeed the right ones to build a business and community on in the first place... This may go against all conventional digital marketing strategy and tactics at this point in time but the ethically sound answer is no. Another quiet resolve is to find an alternative!
The pursuit of knowledge
One of the things that the lockdown does is that it 'creates' time - for most people this would be especially true during the weekends.
When we can no longer resort to our habit of compulsively doing things - being busy, going out, living it up ... a space opens up in our life. Even for those like me that are not in a lockdown zone, but nonetheless freed up from having to shelve all the plans around 'doing', it is a significant amount of time.
I feel that how well we come out of this whole episode comes down to what we do with all this time ... and it won't hurt to take some time and work through this either!
My mind keeps going back to something I have been curious about for a long time - How many people I wonder can put their hand-on-heart and say that the education they received and the job they do is exactly what they want to be doing - it's what they love...
On my side, I have always felt that the choices I made around study and work were driven purely by the desire to earn a good living. I don't regret these choices, as I thoroughly enjoyed my work and it has given me security, freedom and the means to fulfil my responsibilities towards others.
But with all the focus on 'how to earn a good living', I feel that I missed out on the essential knowledge, training and wisdom on 'how to live a good life'. The two are not the same.
So what better way to use this extra time then to learn about something that I really care about and that I feel I have missed out on. And in today's digitally connected world where we have the the world's knowledge at our fingertip, self-study has never been easier. Onto the third resolve then.
Resolve 3 - Learn about the wisdom of death and dying
Sounds morbid? Perhaps to the Western ear but in Eastern wisdom traditions, accepting the certainty of death and appreciating the inherent uncertainty about the time of death, is said to make one live more fully...
There are entire teachings and practices developed around death and dying in traditions such as Yoga and Buddhism that I have been curious about for a long time, and what do you know, I found the the perfect book to get started on the journey sitting on my partner's bookshelf!
Who knows, maybe what I learn will give me the inspiration and courage to make different choices around the work I do when we finally come out of COVID.
The act of writing has always helped me to clarify my thinking - in work and in life.
When I began this piece, I was feeling unsettled - I knew something needed to change but I didn't quiet know what and why. Writing this post helped me work through the muddled thoughts in my head and figure out the causes, effects and remedies to my situation.
Sharing this with the tribe incase it helps others who maybe feeling restless about the whole saga too. My advice, pick up the pen and work through your own set of resolves. It is often 'the process' that is more valuable than 'the outcomes' themselves.