2020 Hindsight: What Have We Learned
Was 2020 a wasted year?
2020 felt like the year that would never end. Between the physical, social, and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a bizarro presidential election, and heightening racial tension, this is a year that many of us would love to strike from our memories. But that would be a mistake. Like it or not, 2020 has offered us a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow. But just because the lesson is there doesn’t mean that the knowledge is absorbed.
So what are some of the lessons that 2020 had to offer? Perhaps the biggest lesson is that nothing is certain. Since the end of March, not a day went by where I didn’t hear someone talking about their struggle of dealing with uncertainty, how they felt that their life’s stability had been shattered and that they had no idea what was going to happen next. But guess what? Life has and will always be uncertain. As with so many other things, the pandemic simply shined a spotlight on truths hiding in plain sight. Just as change is the only constant in the universe, the only thing you can ever be certain of is that nothing is certain. And if we were to be completely honest with ourselves, it’s the unpredictable nature of life that makes it exciting and enjoyable.
From the I Ching to algorithms
We sometimes tend to confuse probability and possibility with certainty. Yes, there are probable outcomes to every situation, and for centuries people have searched for ways to predict those outcomes more accurately. We have always been fascinated with ways to know the unknown, from casting bones and consulting oracles to running algorithms and hiring analysts. But the nature of life is fluid. It is when you come to accept that at any given moment, everything is subject to change -that nothing is set in stone – that realization opens your mind to the possibility of new and better ways.
“Just as change is the only constant in the universe, the only thing you can ever be certain of is that nothing is certain.”
A false sense of certainty can lull us into a state of complacency. Why would you want to change something if it’s working for you right now? As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem with that way of thinking is that it stonewalls innovation. Remember, everything around us, and in us, is changing every moment. It may not be rapid or radical change, but it is change none the less. And if we don’t learn to flow with the currents of change as they occur, we eventually find ourselves either capsized or washed to the shore by a wave of change. Businesses that traditionally relied on in-person interactions have been forced to either shift, pivot, or evolve if they wanted to stay open. And not everyone was successful in finding an innovative solution. In times of upheaval, it is not “survival of the fittest” but the “survival of the agile.”
Agility and adaptability
When I was a full-time martial arts instructor, I would coach my students on the importance of agility. I explained how a master is not only agile in their movements but also their thinking. To survive in combat, you have to be able to move quickly and easily. But you also have to be able to adapt your techniques and strategies. The longer it takes for you to adjust, the greater the odds of ending up on the losing end. Remember, what is true on the battlefield and the competition arena is true in the boardroom and the halls of government. Agile businesses found inventive ways to survive. The organizations that thrived during the pandemic were those that were quick to adapt. Adaptation to the economic upheaval caused by COVID-19 required leaders to go beyond simple change management; it required recognizing that new problems require new solutions. And the only way to develop new solutions is to be willing to abandon old ways of thinking.
If there is one thing that 2020 confirmed for me, it’s that the practice of mindfulness-based strategies has never been more critical. Mindfulness has helped me gain a deeper appreciation of all the blessings I have, even when it seems that there is nothing to be thankful for. Mindfulness has given me the ability to step out of emotional reactivity and into a calm awareness of things. Mindfulness doesn’t make things magically change, but it does help you change how you look at things. And when your perspective changes, you begin to see things that you didn’t see before. Obstacles suddenly become opportunities. Isolation becomes an opportunity for introspection. The things that you thought were falling apart you now realize were actually falling into place.
“Mindfulness doesn’t make things magically change, but it does help you change how you look at things. And when your perspective changes, you begin to see things that you didn’t see before. “
Humans have one of the most extraordinary powers in the universe – the power of the mind. We can create, we can imagine, we can contemplate, we can choose. The human mind is one of the most powerful tools in the universe, making it one of the most dangerous weapons. Mindfulness is a method for developing better control of our minds. When you learn to apply mindfulness-based strategies to your life, you can create tremendous improvements in your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even financial wellbeing. So if you have been practicing mindfulness in 2020, renew your commitment in 2021. And if mindfulness has been missing from your life so far, now is the time to start.
What are some of the other lessons that 2020 had to offer? Here’s my shortlist.
Remote working is here to stay.
For decades, most business leaders believed that productivity would suffer if employees were given the option to work from home. Now, as a result of the need for physical distancing, most organizations have been forced to allow their staff to work from home. According to a Stanford University study, in 2020, 42% of the American workforce worked remotely, a number nearly twice as high as in previous years. And research by Prodoscore indicated a 47% increase in productivity attributed to remote working. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it would be difficult to demand a return to the old paradigm.
Businesses need to consider how to help employees better manage stress.
The stress of our current situation is impacting everyone. While most employees now benefit from working at home, they are still dealing with job-related stress on top of the stress caused by the pandemic. But perhaps no group more than in the medical profession. In a typical year, around 90% of doctors and nurses experience a high level of work-related stress. And as we can all agree, 2020 was anything but typical. As a mindfulness and wellness expert, I have witnessed an increase in requests for developing corporate programs and stress management presentations. The current situation highlights the fact that productivity and profitability are impacted by the workforce’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
Self-care needs to be a priority for everyone.
Self-care is about more than going to the gym and eating right. Self-care is taking care of all aspects of your life to be in the best possible condition. While physical health is vital, your mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial wellness are all critical when adversity strikes. This is a concept that I refer to as the “Five Pillars of Holistic Wellness.” Life is holistic by nature. You can’t affect one area without it impacting all of the other areas of your life. While it is beneficial to have employers offer assistance, it is ultimately up to each individual to do the work necessary to make sure that their “Five Pillars” are strong enough to support them when things get rough.
We need to master mindful communications skills.
When emotions run high, it’s too easy to say things that are hurtful and not helpful. Social media has created an environment where everyone has their own personal soapbox to stand on. While that is not necessarily bad, social media gives people the courage to say something without considering the consequences. Or, as Mike Tyson put it, “Social media made you all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.” When we practice mindful communication, we learn to become aware of the impact of our words. Mindful communication also teaches us how to listen to others, not merely hear them.
Every moment is precious.
This is a lesson that I learned years ago as a result of my battle with cancer. However, the past year’s events have illustrated that it’s not just my life that can change in a moment. We have just witnessed how a global shift can occur in the blink of an eye. All of the things that we depend upon and often take for granted can be stripped away. Never forget that tomorrow is not promised, and this moment is all that we really have. So please make the most of it.
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So what have we learned?
Pema Chodron said, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” If we wish to see the hardships of 2020 stay in the past, we must learn our lessons well. And we should not just be committed to learning; we must also be diligent in applying that knowledge in 2021. Always remember, you are not a passive bystander in your life. While some things are outside of your control, you have the power to find order in the chaos. But if you want to experience different results, you must develop a different attitude and take different actions. If you want to change your life, you first have to change your mind. Let’s all do our best to learn from the past, apply that knowledge in the present, and create a better future.
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