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Blog // Adaptability
November 25, 2020

On Not Losing Hope

The pandemic isn’t over. We don’t know when it will end. An uncertain future means it’s time to look for lessons on how to avoid losing hope.

The UK is going back into lockdown. Sort of. It’s not the kind of lockdown which Melbourne just successfully endured, allowing them to tame a rapidly accelerating outbreak and drive the number of new cases down to zero. It’s not the kind of lockdown Adelaide went into when it appeared a dangerous outbreak was threading there.

Rather, it’s a lockdown full of exceptions, and protests, and general lack of compliance. But it’s a lockdown all the same. We’re told it’s until early December. Most people expect it will be longer. Possibly lasting the whole winter.

We got picked for a random test. The courier arrived this morning to pick up the sample. He wasn’t wearing a mask and stood under the arch of our doorway expecting me to hand the parcel to him. We need to redefine our sense of farce and irony to accommodate the idea of someone sent by the government failing to follow basic health safety in the middle of a pandemic.

Hope In Covidtime

All this raises the question of how to cope, how to hold onto hope, and how to carry on living well with such an uncertain future ahead of us.

When news of viable vaccines hit a few weeks ago, it was disconcerting to see how plans for summer 2021 started trending on social media. So many people seemed to expect that, come May, life would be totally back to ‘normal’, and it would be a summer full of festivals and parties.

Maybe. But probably not.

We’re still not close to any vaccine being rolled out at scale. And the effort required to ramp up production to the number of doses needed for restrictions to go away is going to be epic.

And when the vaccine starts being rolled out – assuming you’re in a country that does this well – you (and I) won’t be the first to get it. We’ll be waiting in line behind healthcare workers and front line staff.

When the pandemic started, many expected it to be over by the summer. Then they expected it to be over when schools and universities went back, then by Christmas. If those predictions were so wrong, why expect fresh predictions like summer 2021 will be right?

Those predictions were hopeful. But they were wrong. Because that’s not the right kind of hope, the kind of hope we need right now.

How To Maintain Hope

Imagine you’re lost in the wilderness. Conditions are bad. You don’t know how far it will be to safety. How do you avoid losing hope? How do you keep going?

Blair Braverman’s answer is to ”act like you’re going forever.” I mentioned this in a recent post on having a good mindset, but it bears repeating. If conditions are difficult and uncertain, then the safest strategy is to assume the journey will be long.

Don’t get lured into the false hope and inevitable disappointment of expecting rescue to happen soon.

Victor Frankl And Hope In The Darkest Times

We find a similar message in Viktor Frankl’s haunting book, Man’s Search For Meaning. Writing from his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps of WW2, Frankl tries to understand what allowed some people to survive and others to give up.

At first, everyone felt lost and full of despair. But some struggled to move on. In terms of stages of grief, they were stuck in denial and negotiation. They found hope in fantasising about how circumstances would change, perhaps through imminent escape or rescue. Their spirit broke when that didn’t happen.

The people who coped better were more internally motivated. They focussed more on what life meant to them rather than what life was supposed to do for them. They were better able to find small moments of humour or joy amid the horror. Or they focused on the tasks they could do, given their situation, which added meaning to their days.

Of course our situation isn’t as brutal or stark. Lockdowns and quarantine are nothing like concentration camps. But Frankl wrote from the harshest of human experiences in order to inspire all of us when we faced suffering and uncertainty in our own lives.

Frankl On Re-Entering The World

The struggles didn’t end once people regained their freedom. Frankl said survivors often returned to society with complex feelings of bitterness and disillusionment. The world didn’t seem to care much, either about the suffering that they’d gone through, or human suffering in general. This made many survivors feel bitter. And freedom wasn’t as wonderful or free from suffering as they had hoped, which made them disillusioned.

Having fun wasn’t enough.

Again, the internal motivation, your personal “why,” was what mattered. Just having freedom wasn’t satisfying. A clear sense of why freedom mattered, what do with that freedom, especially in ways that helped and supported other people, gave survivors a sense of meaning that helped them enjoy their lives again.

A Recipe For Hope

One day this will all end. We won’t “go back to normal.” We’ll emerge in a new reality. A changed world. How do we hold onto hope now and develop a mindset for that future?

Here are a few suggestions.

1. Believe in a better future. This will end one day. Restrictions will ease. Freedom will return. We’ll be able to move and connect again.

2. Accept that it might take longer than expected. Disasters don’t conform to our timetables and wishes. We should avoid false hope that it will end quickly or conveniently. So plan your life assuming it will last a while and set yourself up to cope with that.

3. Focus on your internal motivations. This is the time to reflect on what matters to you. Why do you want freedom, and what will you do with it when it returns?

This has been a year like no other. There’s been plenty to make us question human nature, but also so much innovation and inspiration as people respond to the challenges before us. There are reasons to be hopeful. But we also need to clarify what we hope for. Then make that happen as the world opens up for us again.

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