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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Pandemic lessons: Here’s what we learnt in 2020 that we ought to carry forward in 2021

Know how 2020’s silver linings can become golden opportunities in 2021

New Delhi | Updated: December 31, 2020 5:29:20 pm
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Written by Nikita Singh

2020 – A year to forget, but one that we will always remember.

In January 2020, most of us had new year goals – be it at work, places we would like to visit, or people we would like to see. And within a few weeks, the virus changed everything.

At both the individual and collective level, this has been a time of so many losses, and such deep uncertainty and anxiety. And yet, there are silver linings. Silver linings – as in ‘new learnings’ – that could be golden opportunities as we enter 2021.

Silver lining 1

Re-emergence of Empathy

People said “How are you?” or “I hope you are well” and actually meant it! The tonal texture of these simple words is now distinctly different- reflecting genuine concern instead of cursory pleasantries. The experience of similar kinds of challenges – be it the virus, impact on the economy or mental health has contributed to this. And this is a significant change, especially in a world that was beginning to get into an ‘empathy deficit.’ In fact, many organisations have now adopted ‘empathy’ as a core leadership behaviour.

Golden opportunity for 2021

*Practice active listening – Often, we think about how we are going to respond when the other is speaking. Instead, be totally focused on what the other person is saying
*Ask clarifying questions – Often we tend to jump to conclusions or misinterpret another individual’s intention. The best way out – ask questions to clarify your understanding. This will demonstrate empathy.
*Always know – Almost every individual is going through some stress or life circumstance that you don’t know about. Awareness of this helps us behave with compassion.

Silver lining 2

We learned afresh to embrace challenges- almost as a way of life

The year 2020 didn’t give us a choice but to accept, and then adapt. A growing number of studies inspired by acceptance and commitment theory indicate that rather than resisting them, embracing difficult situations increases resilience and well-being.

Golden opportunity for 2021

*Next time you feel pain, tell yourself to feel the pain completely and accept it. Initially, acceptance can be tough, but over a period of time, it helps us calm down and face the situation. Resistance creates dissonance in the mind and increases the likelihood of negative thought biases i.e. blaming self or others.

perfectionism, perfection, being perfect, happiness, seeking perfection, perfection and unhappiness, indian express, indian express news Pandemic gave us major goals. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

Silver lining 3

‘Health is wealth’ took on a whole new meaning

Who had imagined a world where we would use hand sanitisers after every interaction or visit outside of home? Where immunity boosters would become a daily feature in our life? More people across the globe are now rapidly adopting healthier food options, with a focus on increasing immunity. Focus on our health is a significant silver lining.

Golden opportunity for 2021

Embrace the mantra that prevention is better than cure

*Plan for one lifestyle habit you will start, one that you will continue, and one you will eliminate. Keep it realistic and then stick to it irrespective of early hiccups.

Silver lining 4

We practiced gratitude

Tough situations present the greatest opportunities for gratitude. The year 2020 has had more than its fair share of tough situations. These situations have taught us to be grateful for what we have rather than be remorseful for what we don’t!

In a world where we begin every new year with a list of countries we want to visit, we learned to be grateful for the nature and greenery around our houses. In a world where we want to visit all the new restaurants in our city, we learned to appreciate home food. In a world where large social circles were almost non-negotiable, we learned to appreciate our family and closest friends.

This year has made us realise that it is gratitude that leads to happiness, and not the other way around!

Golden opportunity for 2021

*Begin or end each day with three things you are grateful for. And make sure, you express at least one of these out loud – for instance, one of the three may be gratitude towards a family member or friend. Call them and articulate how you feel. Verbal expression can make all the difference.

Silver lining 5

We learned to nurture our relationships

This year helped us relearn how to nurture or rekindle relationships that “a lack of time” didn’t allow us to keep up with.

Research by WHO indicates that the world has been experiencing a ‘loneliness epidemic’. What is important to remember is that feeling lonely is different from being alone. We can feel lonely despite having a network of people to reach out to. This is where proactively connecting with our friends and family will help. Investing in our relationships is also key to enhancing our resilience and emotional well-being.

Golden opportunity for 2021

Prioritise your relationships like they are work projects. Here are some ways that many of us adopted amid the pandemic:

*Block time for calls/meetings with friends in your calendar
*Make a list of the people you would like to be connected with and reach out to them periodically
*Wish your colleagues, friends and other social connections on their birthday. Go out of your way to do something special when you can
*Offer help when you see the opportunity to do so.

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Silver lining 6

‘Sustainable lifestyle’ found meaning and expression

People across the world retreated into radically different lives during periods of extended lockdown. The desire to ‘stay safe’ created some dramatic behavioural and consumption shifts that academics have likened to a massive climate change and sustainability experiment.

Curtailing long-distance travel, reduction in outdoor shopping and recycling material at home are just some examples. Google trends show that during worldwide lockdown, the global number of online searches for “how to grow plants at home” went up steeply!

Golden opportunity for 2021

*Make sustainability and impact on the environment the key criteria when making purchase decisions.

Silver lining 7 (learning)

This year has made us question, “Are we looking for happiness in the wrong places?”

There are two kinds of happiness:

Hedonic: Think all the pleasures of life – chocolate, new clothes, a bonus, promotion and a massage.

Eudaimonic: Think connection with loved ones, purpose, service, meaning and spirituality

Both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness have a positive impact on us. However, hedonic happiness is incredibly short-lived. It is eudaimonic happiness that helps ensure stable, long-term happiness. In 2020, many people experienced eudaimonic happiness through spending time with their loved ones, helping the less privileged, and looking within to introspect on their own purpose.

Golden opportunity for 2021 (application)

*Make service or volunteering a part of your life: Even if it’s once a week, take some time to help others, without expecting anything in return
*Make time to reflect: Reflection helps us to pause amidst the chaos and create meaning. Meaning becomes learning. Learning influences our mindset and actions. Spend a few minutes everyday reflecting on the pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Ask yourself relevant questions, and watch the magic.
*Nurture the relationships that matter to you (refer silver lining 5)

Ask yourself, “What lessons will I carry with me to shape 2021 into a year of hope and possibility?”

As life begins to return to the semblance of “normalcy” in 2021 (with vaccine availability), we will begin again to enjoy the many “hedonic” aspects of our lives we have missed so much – travel, eating out, having friends over for dinner and going to concerts. But we must also consider what aspects of our Covid lives are worth preserving, to help us create a better normal for ourselves.

The author is an organisational psychologist, leadership consultant and wellness coach

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