Personal growth in a pandemic: 7 ways to come out better than you went in

Sign saying 'Not today COVID-19'

“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, your side hustle started, or more knowledge, you never lacked time. You lacked discipline”

Unknown

Is intentional personal growth possible in a pandemic? Should we be buckling down under quarantine, feverishly working towards transforming ourselves and achieving goal after goal after goal? Or is the pursuit of personal development on top of coping with covid-19 just too much pressure?

When the Governor shut the state of Pennsylvania down back in March, I left the University campus that afternoon wondering when I would be back. It quickly became clear I would not be heading back to my office and would be working from home for the remainder of the semester.

The weeks that followed were a chaotic mess riddled with uncertainty. The University quickly ‘pivoted’ to online learning, throwing assignments, classes, and exams into disarray. The mass exodus of students out of the residence halls, taking with them their rent refund checks, left an enormous hole in the University’s finances. Unlike many of my colleagues and so many others across the globe, I was extremely lucky and blessed not be furloughed or laid off.

2020 has really been a year like no other. The pandemic has been a rollercoaster of upheavals, adversity, and anxiety, all taking place while we are for the most part stuck at home. It seems somehow ironic that we could be experiencing such massive shifts and changes in our lives, all while we sit on the couch. The world is changing so rapidly around us, evolving into the ‘new normal’. Yet despite the ever-changing circumstances around us, for a significant majority of us the pandemic has forced us to slow down, retreat inside, and spend time doing, well, nothing much.

For the personal growth-minded individual, this unique situation represents a great opportunity. A break from routine to reflect and make changes. No daily commute, no social obligations, and nowhere to go. Perhaps furloughed or laid off, or voluntarily taking time away from work. Or perhaps you are an essential worker and spending more time than ever at work (thank you healthcare workers and everyone else keeping us going!) However the pandemic has affected you, it has presented you an opportunity to grow and change for the better, if you choose to.

As quarantine and lockdowns were being mandated, two opposing messages began to emerge from the coaching and personal development community. On one side, performance and entrepreneurial coaches began to tout this as a time for massive action. Time to focus, grind, get the six pack abs and the side hustle going. No excuses.

The other side emphasized the need for self-care, compassion, and well-being. Recognizing the struggles and anxieties created by the pandemic, many well-being centered coaches advocated for being gentle with yourself, finding inner calm, and staying healthy.

My personal coaching philosophy emphasized that moving from surviving to thriving doesn’t necessarily mean constantly striving towards bigger, better goals. Sometimes attainment-based goals (career, starting a business, achieving a better body or relationship) need to be set aside while we focus inward, building our reserves of energy, resilience, and inner strength. We do not constantly need to be pushing forward, and in fact, sometimes it is in taking rest and stepping back that we find the strength to continue on.

Dawn Breslin, creator of the harmonizing wellbeing coaching method, suggests personal development and self-growth flows like the seasons in nature. Nothing in nature grows and pushes forward continually, but follows a cycle of growth, death, rest, and rebirth. Spring is the time for planning, preparation, and planting new seeds. Summer is a time of growth, energy, fun, and pushing forward. Fall (or autumn for my UK friends) is a time of winding down, letting go, and ending. Winter is a period of rest, restoration, and regeneration ready for the coming spring.

Personal development experts and coaches tend to focus solely on the spring and summer seasons – setting goals, planning, then launching into massive action. They operate from the belief that we should be in an endless summer, constantly pushing, growing, and achieving more and more. But this approach is unsustainable and eventually we need to allow things to slow down and let go. Just like in nature, we need time to rest and restore and prepare in the spring for the next summer season.

I invite you to consider for yourself not ‘what goals should I achieve during this pandemic’ but ‘how can I use this time to reset, recalibrate, and move forward with a positive mindset and intentional action so that I am stronger, more resilient, and have more clarity around where I want to go and what I want to achieve.’ Emerging from the pandemic better than you went in doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve achieved a whole bunch of massive goals, but that you have moved forward mindfully in whatever way is most beneficial and meaningful to you.

1) Focus on fitness and physical health

When we think about fitness and health goals, our natural default is dissatisfaction with our current state and a desire for better. We want to be fitter, healthier, stronger, and have the energy we need to live our best lives. We might also have anxieties and fears around contracting the virus or caring for those that are sick; anything we can do to boost our physical strength and fitness is going to be an asset to us and help us if we get ill.

While this is an ideal time to put some serious work into your fitness and physical health goals, make sure you are focused on what is going to be most beneficial for you. There can be a stark difference between what you ‘should’ do and what is actually best for you. Society tells you that you ‘should’ work out more, you ‘should’ push yourself at the gym, or that you ‘should’ diet and lose weight. But in these challenging times, perhaps pushing yourself to do those things is not the right options for you. If you’re under intense stress at work, trying to stick to a restrictive diet might not give you the energy you really need to get through it. Or perhaps you just got laid off from a toxic workplace and what you really need for your health is a couple of weeks resting on the couch and destressing before you start hitting the gym.

Related article: How I get myself to work out first thing in the morning

Increasing your levels of fitness and physical health is certainly important right now, but listen to your body and let go of the ‘shoulds’. Find a way to build on your fitness and physical health that is realistic, achievable, and gives YOU what YOU need, not what clever ad campaigns, social media, or other people say you should do (unless that other person is your physician, in which case you should definitely listen to them!)

2) Review your goals

“When everything changes, change everything”

Neale Donald Walsch

If the pandemic has thrown you a curveball and you’ve suddenly found yourself in completely unchartered territory, now is the time to reevaluate your goals. Perhaps your change in circumstances has closed some doors and opened others, or perhaps the virus has changed your perspective on what is really important in life. Whatever your current situation, we are living in a time of uncertainty and change; adjusting our goals may be a necessity.

A great tool to help you dig deep into each area of your life and determine whether your goals have or need to be changed is the ‘Wheel of Life’. Another is Vishen Lakhiani’s 3 questions (I’ve previously written about them here). Both of these tools can help you reassess your life and whether the goals you’ve been striving for are still the right ones for you.

3) Review your career and current employer

How are you feeling about your current job? Are you happy in your role or have you been thinking about a change? If you were laid off or furloughed, do you want to go back to the career you had or are you looking for something new?

Take some time to think about what you like about your job. What do you dislike? If there are more things you dislike than like, ask yourself ‘why do I stay?’ Now might not be the best time to be looking for another job or career change, but it is a great time to reassess and evaluate whether you are truly happy and fulfilled where you are. Perhaps it is time to begin letting go and planning for something new.

Times of stress and challenge often bring out true colors. This is equally true for employers as it is employees, and many of us are now finding out the true value their employer places on them as an individual and as a human being. How did your employer respond to the virus? Did they place priority on people or profits? How do you feel about how you and your colleagues were treated?

My husband works for a major global banking organization who, from the outset, have gone above and beyond to take care of the safety and welfare of their associates. However you may personally feel about the banking industry, I cannot fault the lengths they have gone to in supporting their employees through this crisis. Conversely, others have not been so lucky and have found their employers to be more concerned with keeping tabs on their employees, getting more out of fewer workers, and generally displaying a lack of compassion for their staff.

Consider how your employer treated you. Do you feel valued? No doubt, employers were put in tough situations with even tougher choices to make to ensure their business or organization survives the pandemic. Yet even amid struggle, there can still be compassion. Did they do the best they could for you as their employee, or just for themselves? How does this impact your desire to continue to serve them or do you deserve better elsewhere?

4) Finish unfinished projects

Unfinished projects tie up our energy and prevent us from moving forward. Our goals list becomes littered with outdated goals based on projects we didn’t get around to finishing (or even starting in some cases) that keep us stuck. Perhaps it’s a home study course you started, a DIY project that remains only partially done, or a side hustle you began but never pushed forward with. Now is a great time to either finish it or admit to yourself are not ever going to complete it and LET IT GO. Get busy and get it off your to do list or stop setting it as that ever-present goal that just never gets achieved and move on! You’ll open up new space and energy to focus on those things that are truly important and will have a real impact on your life.

Related article: 8 ideas to beat procrastination and get stuff done

5) Take time to rest and restore

My furloughed colleagues began returning to campus at the beginning of August. Although each one was grateful to have returned, there seemed to be an underlying sense of loss behind their smiles. Although stressful and full of financial worry, being furloughed had given them back their summer – something they had not experienced since being at school. The opportunity to spend several months at home enjoying time with their family and taking an extended break from the stresses and hassles of everyday working life had been an unexpected and wonderful gift. Now, back at work, you could tell they missed it.

For most, extended breaks from work are uncommon. Typically we are allowed a week or two off a year, with the odd few holidays scattered about. Unless you are a teacher, or working in a profession that allows for extended time off, the pandemic may be the only chance you have to enjoy a long summer like you did as a child.

Now, I’m not suggesting you blow off work if you’re telecommuting, nor am I suggesting you should spend every day lazing about instead of job hunting. I am suggesting that, where you can, you take advantage of being able to spend more time at home with family, resting and restoring, so that when you do return to the workplace you feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. You might not get to enjoy this much flexibility and freedom again for quite some time.

Related article: 3 positive mindset strategies to beat the back-to-work blues

6) Get outside and enjoy nature

Getting outside in the fresh air and enjoying nature is one of life’s pleasures that has been shown in countless studies to be extremely beneficial to your health and mental well-being. Dr. Stephen Illardi includes spending time outdoors as one of the six steps in his clinically-tested drug-free approach to depression. You’ll also find it as one of the six happiness habits in my 21 Day Happiness Habits Challenge. During the pandemic, getting outside (and away from people!) into nature is possibly one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. It’s free, it’s healthy, and it’s one of the only pastimes NOT under lockdown or closed due to the pandemic.

However, be mindful of your choice of outdoor location. News reports are suggesting certain areas, such as beaches, are being overcrowded with people looking to get their dose of sun and fresh air. It is not a good idea to choose a location that will have large crowds of people as there is potentially an increased risk of contracting the virus. Opt for a location with minimal people, such as hiking in a state park or visiting a lake off the beaten track. As well as being a safer option, the added peace and quiet will do wonders for your stress levels and well-being!

7) Work on your mindset

Cultivating a positive mindset is crucial to self-development at any stage, but particularly so during challenging times. Positive psychology is full of strategies to help you build a resilient, positive, and growth-oriented mindset to help you navigate the challenges before you and come out of the pandemic swinging for the fence.

Here are just a few strategies you can try:

I won’t go into more detail on mindset strategies here (after all, I have a whole blog of articles you can check out for different strategies and techniques) but will wrap up by saying that spending time on your mindset will be the most valuable thing you can do during this time to ensure you come out of the pandemic better than you went in.

Need help figuring out what to do with your life? Continue reading…

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