5 mins read

If we think about the events that have shaped the last century – most are defined by tragedy and the loss of lives. However, the lasting legacy and impact of an event is also determined by how we respond to it. From World War, I and II to 9/11 – these history-defining events often showed the very worst of human behaviour but also had a way of bringing out the best – with stories of compassion, unity, bravery and sacrifice coming to the fore.

COVID-19 is one of those crisis moments. The challenges brought about by the outbreak of COVID-19 are unlike any other most of us have seen in our lifetimes. There were times when it brought out the worst in us – we saw people coming to physical blows over toilet paper, and being aggressive towards essential workers who were out doing their jobs despite the risk to their safety.

But it’s not all bad — the crisis also brought forth some of the best examples of human behaviour. Frontline healthcare workers went above and beyond their call of duty to care for those suffering from the virus. People looked out for, and after their elderly neighbours. We also saw people diligently adhering to the indefinite self-isolation restrictions imposed by the government, which helped in controlling the spread of the infection.

It is rare for the society to get an opportunity to reset its priorities collectively. Strangely, we have that opportunity, and it is now.

So, what will define our response to COVID-19? What will we be remembered for in the years to come once this is all over? Will it be that this dark period in our history exposed the very worst in us? Or will it be a critical turning point, known forever as a time that brought us closer, together despite the social distancing? All of us hope that it’s the latter – but there’s much work to be done. We must take individual responsibility for our actions to ensure that as a society, we’re doing the right thing, this time around.

Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, now is the time to think about who we want to be – and how we want to be defined. Our lives and livelihoods depend on the behaviours of each other and at critical times of change and uncertainty; we are called upon to be our best selves.

There are many things that we can do to put ourselves in the best possible position to be the best person and professional we can be during COVID-19, and beyond. Here are my learnings:

Set clear goals to focus yourself

In times of crisis, life can get pretty overwhelming. It can seem like there are a million and one things going on at any one time – so much so that whether it’s in our personal lives, or our working lives – we don’t know where to start.

That’s why in times of uncertainty – setting clear goals becomes more important than ever. And it is essential to write these goals down, so they’re properly captured, and we’re extremely clear on what we’re working towards, and the steps needed to get there.

A good goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

An example of a SMART, professional goal may be that you want to learn something new about coding every day for the next month.

It’s specific – you want to learn a new skill.
It’s measurable – you can ask yourself at the end of each day – what do I know now that I didn’t know yesterday?
It’s achievable and realistic – it’s something you have complete control over.
It’s timely – you’ve given yourself a month to achieve it.

It may also be that you start with a larger goal, and then work backwards to think about smaller goals that you can work towards to achieve it. For example, your long-term goal may be to retire at 55 years of age, so you need to consider the steps required for you to be able to make that a reality – Manage your finances, plan your investments, budget your living expenses etc.

A good tip that can help you stay on track while working towards your goal is to write it down and display it somewhere you can see it every day. I write mine on a whiteboard at home, as a daily reminder of what I’m trying to achieve.

Listen to your body and mind – Allow yourself time to relax

When life gets tough, it’s easy to forget to take time out and continue doing the things you enjoy. It can somehow feel wrong – and we might burden ourselves with guilt about continuing to enjoy the pleasures of life at a time when there is so much suffering in the world.

Isn’t it time we cut ourselves some slack?

It is crucial for our mental health and wellbeing that we look after ourselves in times of crisis. Personally, I’ve been allowing myself to take time out and enjoy meditating, going for a run and working out in the comfort of my own home

I find these activities are a chance to rejuvenate the mind. By allowing time for yourself, you allow your mind to wander, which provides an opportunity for you to sit back, reflect and allow new ideas to develop. Some of my best new thinking has come from a session in the sauna!

Besides, exercise is a great way to take your mind off the stresses of the day. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. The endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain and trigger a positive sensation in your body. It is the perfect way to bring out positivity and clear thinking while staying fit.

There are so many other great hobbies that can help take your mind off the stress of work, and day-to-day life, and help you achieve clarity of thought and bring out your best – like playing a musical instrument, reading a book, or learning to cook a new dish.

Maintain your sense of humour

Don’t forget to laugh! It is so vital through difficult times that we hold on to our sense of humour, else we risk falling into a negative state of mind.

Laughter is essential for keeping good mental health in times of uncertainty. Humour also gives us a break from always thinking about the challenges posed by our new realities. 

Studies show that humour sharpens thinking. One particular study focusing on the effects of humour on formal education found that students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when it included jokes about relevant topics. 

The bottom line is, be mindful, be kind to yourself. 

Sometimes, it is imperative to look at ourselves objectively, at our why, to understand what drives us, defines us and makes us the kind of person we are. What are our guiding principles and the values we live by? Do they require a reset? Fortunately, there is no better time to retrospect and reset if needed, than now, when everyone around us is at it too.