Does the quarantine have you stuck at home feeling anxious and lost? That could mean it's the right time to explore your new possible selves!
It's an understatement to say that Covid-19 has disrupted many of our lives. We can't go to work, we can't see our friends, we can't go to the gym. Even things we can still do are affected by social distancing rules. And while businesses are slowly reopening, many of us don't know when we'll be going back to work, or what our workplaces and industries will look like when we do.
Understandably, feelings of anxiety, isolation, uncertainty, and fear are common. Many of these feelings of anxiety stem from the disruption of our regular routines. We can no longer do the things we normally do, the things that are part of who we are.
We all have beliefs about what makes us who we are. These identity beliefs not only drive our actions and behaviours, but our actions and behaviours provide evidence that reinforce the beliefs themselves.
For example, if you are a "social person," you probably like to spend a lot of time going out with friends. Every minute you spend with your friends is another piece of evidence proving that you are a "social person." Our identity beliefs are self-reinforcing. Until they aren't.
The quarantine has disrupted large portions of our lives. Meaning that we can't do a lot of the things we used to do. What happens when you can't do things that reinforce your sense of identity? What happens when a "social person" isn't allowed to see their friends?
When there is a mismatch or conflict between our beliefs and our behaviours, we experience a mental discomfort that psychologists call cognitive dissonance. You might feel confused, lost, uncomfortable, unsure, anxious, or even guilty. The best way I can describe it is a mental ickiness. It's a feeling you know you don't want to feel, even if you aren't sure where it's coming from.
How Do I Fix It?
If that sounds like something you've been feeling, the first thing to do is identify the source of the cognitive dissonance. The following will help you figure out if part(s) of your identity are struggling to be realized during the quarantine.
Step 1. Grab a paper and pen, and write a list of 15-20 statements that describe who you are using the format "I am a ____________________"
Don't stop until you get at least 15, even if you find it challenging. Think about the roles you play and things that occupy your time. Think about your job, your career, your hobbies, social activities, interests, ambitions, and studies. Are you an artist, a mother, a teacher, a coach, a writer, a gym person, an entertainer, a jokester, a superstar, a cook, a manager, an adventurer or traveller, an introvert or a social person? Who are you?
Step 2. Go through the list and identify the statements that took up the bulk of your time before the quarantine started. In my experience, two or three of these statements occupy 99% of our time.
Step 3. On another space of blank paper, create a table with two columns like the one shown below:
Complete the sentence "Because I am a ____________" with the fist statement you identified in Step 2. Next, think about your life before the quarantine, and in the left-hand box list all the activities, behaviours, actions, and choices you made that were related to the statement above. Finally, in the right-hand box do the same thing but for the time since the quarantine started.
Repeat this activity for each statement you identified in Step 2.
Step 4. Examine each of the boxes you completed and compare the left and right sides. Are there any significant differences? Did you have trouble filling out any of the right-hand boxes? Did you feel uncomfortable or anxious or even guilty filling some of them out? If so, the quarantine may be preventing you from doing things that help define that important part of your identity.
When your behaviours (actions, choices, and activities) no longer match with important beliefs about who you are (the statements identified in Step 2), you may experience the unpleasantness and uncomfortable feelings of cognitive dissonance.
What Do I Do Now?
If you've identified the problem, you're well on your way to a solution. There are two options for resolving cognitive dissonance: change the behaviours or change the beliefs. Engage in new behaviours and activities to reinforce your existing identity beliefs, OR explore different and new beliefs about who you are.
Change the Behaviours
The easier option is, arguably, to find different or new activities related to the important parts of your identity. We may not be able to do all the things we used to, but the quarantine has given many of us a lot more free time, as well as a myriad of new technologies and opportunities to try new things.
For example, if you're a social person, you probably miss going out on the town, grabbing coffee with friends, visiting your family, even gossiping with colleagues as a distraction from work. As a social person during quarantine you could fill your days with phone calls to friends, video chats with family, zoom meetings and meetups, virtual Netflix parties, and Houseparty games. If you have extra time on your hands, you might even take this time to reconnect with people from your past.
As someone who worked as a personal trainer for years, I understand the challenges they may be facing quite well. Personal training is something that has always been done in-person, in close quarters, and often in busy gyms. Furthermore, most personal trainers take their own workouts and fitness very seriously. Trainers have had to adapt their workouts for home, using limited and even makeshift equipment. Some are using this time to enhance their knowledge and skills with online learning opportunities (many of which have been made available at significant discount during the crisis). And finally, a number of personal trainers are embracing the chance to transition their business online.
These types of opportunities may or may not be available and appropriate for your situation. Regardless, I believe there has never been a better time to explore the other option - to explore and build upon alternate, even new beliefs about yourself.
Change the Belief
We are currently in a period of great uncertainty. Many of us don't know when, or even if we will be able to return to the roles we played before Covid-19. This uncertainty can be a source of fear and anxiety, but I see it a source of excitement. You have an opportunity right now to explore your different possible selves!
Have you ever wanted to explore another career path? To start a business? To write or create? To learn something new?
Take a moment to review the list you completed during the earlier exercise. When you read the statements that describe your identity, are there some you wish you could devote more time to? Are there statements you don't see that you wish you could add? These are some of your possible selves.
I encourage you to explore any and all of these possible selves. Not at a pressured, frantic pace, but rather with whatever amount of time and energy that feels right. Do things that get you excited, do things that you want to do, try things out.
The path to your new career, identity, or self starts with exploration. For each of your ideas, start by exploring avenues to build your knowledge, skills and resources.
Knowledge: Find out as much as you can about careers or projects or topics that interest you. Read books, read online, watch tutorials, take online courses.
Relationships: Reach out to people with experience in something that interests you, whether you know them already or not. Ask for insight and advice. Ask for direction. Ask them how to get started.
Practice: Try new things, learn a new skill, brush up an old one, experiment with new approaches, test the waters for a new business idea.
These are only a few ideas to get you started. My advice is to take advantage of this time to figure out who you might want to be in the future. Plant the seeds of your possible selves now, water them while you can and see which one(s) show the most potential for growth, opportunity, and happiness.
What If I'm Not Sure Where to Start?
As a coach, I help people figure out what they really want, to make plans, and to help them achieve their goals. If you feel like you're ready to make a change but need some help getting started, visit my page to read more.
There you can book a free 15-minute virtual coffee with me and we can talk about your goals and challenges, discuss options, and figure out if coaching is right for you.