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Blog // Adaptability
October 15, 2020

Advice For Living Well During This Pandemic

This past week I’ve felt flat. My motivation has been low and my output even lower. It has been time to look back on some the best advice from 2020 on how to keep a good mindset during this pandemic.

Too much water. Not enough yeast. The wrong temperature. Too long on the grill. Not long enough in the oven. The mistakes kept piling up in the kitchen.

Elsewhere similar problems arose. The missed spots while vacuuming. Or the poorly folded t-shirts. And the sofa cushions that didn’t go into the right spots.

In my work, articles weren’t falling into shape. Editing took far longer than normal. Even preparing photos for each blogpost seemed to invite all sorts of obvious mistakes.

It was pretty clear I was starting to feel burnt out.

Can We Live Well During This Pandemic?

The pandemic has been exhausting. Covidtime has disrupted our normal patterns, flooding our psyche with concern for the well-being of loved ones as we process the horrifying statistics of death and suffering and wonder how long this will continue.

This past week I’ve been drawing from some of the best advice I’ve read about how to approach this extraordinary year.

Learn From The Sled Dogs

From the wilds of Alaska, adventurer Blair Braverman wrote an extraordinary piece on facing hardship, with lessons learned from running sled dogs through arctic winters. It contained the best recommendation for how to deal with this pandemic.

“…if you don’t know how far you’re going, you need to act like you’re going forever.”
– Blair Braverman

On March 9, I cancelled all my appointments until “June at the earliest” and put off house renovations until “at least September”. It wasn’t that I thought the pandemic would end in three to six months. Of course it wouldn’t.

But I did think that would be enough time to rally around the need to make some sacrifices for the common good. That changes like mask wearing, common in much of East Asia, would be accepted globally. Or we’d notice how this challenge presented opportunities to be kinder, to rethink our patterns of consumption and work, and to be more ecologically sensitive.

It didn’t work out that way (at least not where I live), and now we face an indefinite future of limited travel and ongoing restrictions.

So, it makes sense to assume this will last forever. It won’t – plagues have always come and gone – but, given the uncertainty, it’s smart to build a way of life that is sustainable. We need to anticipate our need for rest. Or be able to support those around us. Take care of our mental and physical health. And we need to feel like our life counts.

Build Spaceship You

In the early months of the pandemic, YouTuber CGP Grey released a video about coping with lockdown and quarantine entitled Spaceship You. The idea was that any kind of shelter in place was a bit like building your own spaceship, then blasting off to survive the crisis alone, in space.

To live well, you have to define the limitations of your space, to clearly delineate the areas where you sleep, work, rest, and exercise, to support your own mental and physical well-being.

CGP Grey had previously explored the danger of creating an “everything space”, where you do all your activity in the same environment (spoiler: it will make you miserable).

It’s tempting to cave into a loungewear, sofa-oriented, “what day of the week is it” routine. But this isn’t some extended semi-holiday. It’s life. By adding some design thinking to the space around us we can navigate our days feeling better and more focussed.

The Future Is Now

There’s a wonderful episode of Veggie Tales (the surprisingly winsome, Christian animated children’s series) which makes fun of the way technology is changing entertainment. The episode is bizarre – Dada-esque – and its recurring theme is “the future is now.”

I think about that every time I hear NYU professor Scott Galloway rant about how the pandemic has accelerated change in business and society. Galloway likes to use a quote from Lenin about the way change can be sudden at moments like these.

“There are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen.”
– Vladimir Lenin

From online shopping to work from home and online education, we’re seeing long-held patterns undergo years of change in a matter of weeks. Rather than expecting things to return to some past normal when “all this is over”, we should instead adjust to new realities in the way we work, or shop, or sell the things we make.

Turn Up The Volume

In an interview on the Knowledge Project, Jennifer Garvey Berger suggested the pandemic, especially the experience of lockdown and quarantine, will turn up the volume on the parts of our lives that need to change.

This crisis amplifies discomfort.

It makes clear the decisions you need to make. These could be changes you were already thinking about before the pandemic. Now, it’s impossible to drown out the call. It’s time to change.

This is also true for the voices we listen to and the ones we share with others. It’s a good time to prune our subscriptions, timelines, and inboxes. Make room for people who speak clearly, optimistically, and wisely.

Get To Sleep

Laurie Santos, creator of the Science of Well-Being, posted a great video full of self-care ideas that are supported by scientific evidence. These included exercise, gratitude, being sociable, accepting your emotions, and, of course, sleep.

Stress and anxiety, combined with changes in work and exercise routines, can make sleep harder. But sleep is the core of so many aspects of our health.

I’ve been researching and writing about the intersection of health, creativity, and productivity for five years now, and I’ve repeatedly read how the most solid way to improve your condition starts with getting better sleep. It’s the most reliable foundation for a better mindset, more focus, clarity, and effectiveness throughout the day.

Unknow Yourself

Anyone will tell you 2020 is a horrible dumpster fire of a year. In so many ways, that’s true. But it’s also been true of every previous year for a while – as if that’s the default story now. This year sucks. I can’t wait for it to be over.

The year 2020 has been awful.

But the story we tell about coping can also have some positive aspects.

A surprising example of this is how well many teenagers have fared during quarantine. While this year has been a challenging for many people’s mental health There are examples where the opposite is also true.

The teenagers mentioned in the article have be displayed better than normal mental health, due in part to improved sleep habits, more time with family, and less random social media consumption as recreational habits have switched to planned and intentional time online with friends.

The importance of the story we tell about our life situation is the subject of Lori Gottlieb’s TED Talk. Gottlieb suggests that if we want to live better, we could do with editing the story we tell about ourselves and our circumstances. The story we tell sometimes becomes a trap that limits our growth and our ability to deal with life.

“We talk so much in our culture about getting to know ourselves. But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself. To let go of the one version of the story you’ve been telling yourself, so that you can live your life, and not the story that you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
– Lori Gottlieb


These five strands of advice form the best recipe that I’ve found for having a good mindset right now.

Assume this will go on for a long time, design the spaces around you to take care of your physical and mental well-being, pay attention to voices you listen to and the areas of life that urgently need to change, get enough sleep, and be mindful of the story you tell about yourself and about this moment in your life.

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