The power of doing ordinary things
One of the worst things about times like this is the feeling that there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop people from panic buying or spreading disinformation and fear. You can’t fix a health system that’s in desperate need of fixing. You can’t stop the spread of this virus through at-risk populations across the globe. You can’t hardly even get away from the noise of the press and media slapping you with updates that keep getting worse by the minute.
The good news is there are things that you can do.
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First
On every airline flight the attendants tell you, “In case of emergency put your own mask on before helping others.” They do that because if you don’t put your own mask on, you may not be able to help anyone else and you both may die.
The next thing you need to do is rarely mentioned. You need to check the people next to you and make sure their masks are in place. And keep checking and reassuring them until the crisis has passed.
Check on your neighbors, check on your distant family, check on your co-workers. This is responsible action and is a much better idea than watching the news for hours on end.
As a bonus you may find that getting your attention off yourself feels good and it’s a great way to calm everyone.
Rational Risk Management
We all like to think we’re rational but, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the time we’re anything but rational. We’re not Spock or Data, we’re human. Even when we do our best to be rational our emotions and biases and handed-down family beliefs often take over. I’m not sure how else to explain people buying a year’s worth of toilet paper in response to a respiratory disease.
An article by Simon Loh, Director, Group Risk & Business Continuity Management at SP Group looks at how businesses are managed on a daily basis, assessing risk and making decisions using statistics as well as personal experience.
“Studies in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics have shown that the human mind is unfortunately susceptible to bias, blind spots and irrationality. Two human shortcomings, in particular, give rise to cognitive difficulties: i) emotion which hinders self-control necessary for rational decision-making, and ii) peoples’ ability to fully comprehend what they are dealing with.”
Imagine how much worse our decision making process gets when we’re in a crisis, when we’re being fed wildly inaccurate information, and when people are dying from an invisible virus.
What Can You Do?
Well, I highly recommend reading his article as he’s an expert with years of experience in decision making and his article is well written.
Acknowledge that your impulse decisions are likely to be wrong. Take a deep breath, step away from the situation, and force yourself to come up with at least one more option for action you can take.
Here’s a good action that will serve in almost any situation — get more information. And do it from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, not some guy you friended on Facebook.
Here are more things you can do specifically regarding this pandemic.
Stay Away From People
Call it social distancing, self-imposed quarantine, or whatever term you want to use. If you’re around infected people you will get infected. And you can’t tell who’s infected until days after they’re spewing the virus all around them. So stay away from people.
Find delivery services still operating in your area and use them to stock up on things that will actually help you get through this.
Learn how to work from home, even if your company doesn’t support this. It’s your life and you’re responsible for taking care of yourself.
Cancel plans for travel, parties, visits and anything that will put you in contact with people. You can always call, use Skype or Facetime and keep making the effort to stay connected.
Stock Up On Food
It’s easy to see that a year’s worth of toilet paper is not the right way. The first issue is simple: you need enough food to get through the situation. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Mormons is that they teach people to always keep a year’s worth of food on hand. But if you don’t want to go that far, here’s a well written article from Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS called How to Stock an Emergency Food Supply.
We always have a supply of brown rice, beans and dried soups that don’t require refrigeration. Living in Florida you have to get through hurricanes that often take out the power. We also keep a supply of drinking water for those emergencies but, as she says in the article, that’s not likely to be an issue in a pandemic. Still, we do it all the time because it’s how we take care of our future selves.
Maybe you can take a lesson from those Mormons and always keep a few weeks worth of food stocked so you won’t be caught short in the next emergency. That might fall into the category of rational risk management.
When The World Goes Crazy
The 1960’s were extraordinary times. I know I’m dating myself as a Boomer but that’s okay because I am. One of the writers that influenced many of us was Carlos Casteneda.
While Casteneda’s writing is now considered fictional, his accounts of his apprenticeship to a Yaqui shaman in northern Mexico do offer wisdom from that philosophy. One of these gems that has stayed with me is the shaman’s instruction when the world goes crazy:
In extraordinary times, do ordinary things.
When I received news that my mother had died, I went to the kitchen and washed dishes.
I’ve cleaned house after hearing news of tragedies like 9/11.
This morning after scanning the mind-numbing news I went for a walk with my wife and took pictures of flowers in the sunlight.
The morning of our wedding my wife took the beach sunrise photo above, finding calm and power in a most extraordinary day.
I think this is another version of the wisdom to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
When we step back from the intensity of the situation, take a breath, and do ordinary things, we become grounded in the present moment. We may even be able to appreciate our lives and relax from fear just a bit.
According to epidemiologists, this pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. It’s not going to burn itself out in a couple of weeks or when summer warms up.
It might be wise for us to start doing things, ordinary things, to make sure we get through it in the best possible way. And, maybe, we’ll be available to help someone not quite as fortunate in the process.