Joe looked chipper. Unusually chipper.
You’re very energized today, I say to Joe. I feel his energy busting through my Zoom screen. And I ask:
Where are you? That isn’t your home office that I know so well.
I’m on my first road trip since COVID, Joe says. Joe is the Head of Operations for a global manufacturing enterprise. I got in the car and drove for 7 hours to visit one of our sites. Pause.
I realize how much I love staying in a hotel now and then. Eating out in a restaurant last night was just fantastic. It was my first time dining out since the pandemic.
I see that I was in a Covid rut. Staring at my computer screen all day. And I didn’t even know it.
The last statement is what gets me. And I didn’t even know it.
Ruts have a way of doing this. Joe is not alone in facing a COVID rut. And there are other, deeply entrenched ruts that are more insidious than a COVID rut. The job rut. When we have been in the same role for too long. The life rut. When our life routines no longer challenge us or bring us joy.
The common thread? In a rut, life imperceptibly dulls. Energy and enthusiasm begin to wane. It happens in little drips. The drips we don’t notice. Until a numb dullness becomes the norm.
I didn’t even know it. That’s the brutal part.
How do we stay resilient? How do we notice the seemingly imperceptible?
This, perhaps, is a lasting lesson from our collective COVID experience. Resilience habits are not a nice-to-have luxury skill. Yes, circumstances may suck. Our job is to show up energized every day of our lives. Resilience habits help us do so. They remind us to stay conscious of our energy levels and, when needed, take action to positively disrupt our lives.
Do you think you might be in a COVID rut? Seize the COVID lessons. Here are some ways in which any of us can start to un-rut ourselves:
1. Take Inventory
That means, yes, pause for a moment and ask yourself a few questions. Am I energized by the tasks I perform and my engagement with my colleagues and clients? How does my current level of energy and engagement compare to what it was 6 months ago? A year? What have I been doing that has either positively or negatively impacted my level of energy and enthusiasm? And, most importantly perhaps: What are personal habits that have imperceptibly crept in or slipped away without me noticing?
This is your time to notice. We don’t un-rut when we don’t see.
2. Go on a mini-retreat.
You know it's a good idea. So why don't you do it? Has COVID become another reason to not retreat? Academia understands the power of the break. Sabbaticals are a revered academic tradition that institutionalizes the need to take a break from routine and explore new ideas. You and I get to define what a retreat in pandemic times might look like. Concerned about safety and crowds? Depending on where you live, take a drive to the mountains for a day and hike in the woods. No family. No chatter. Just you. If you live in an urban beach town, as I do in South Florida, consider driving to a remote beach an hour or two away. Like Joe. I like hotel life. Spending a night in a great hotel with a leisurely morning to follow is a perfect retreat for me. Simple.
We're stubborn when it comes to avoiding retreats. This stubbornness precedes COVID. I live in a beautiful home with a pool and a guest house, in a beach town just North of Miami, 15 minutes from a major airport. Cherished friends who love me and love this town have been invited to come and stay. Often. The reason they don't come is invariably the same. Too busy. Too much to do. Can't get away. Not the right time. A rut perhaps?
3. Make your world larger.
The core of a rut: Routines no longer energize us. Our world starts to feel small. The constraints that come with pandemic life amplify this sense that we're trapped. A resilience solution? Ask yourself How can I make my world larger? Expansion is the way out of a rut. And expansion is possible within the confines of our homes, without taking a road trip to anywhere. What would a mental/emotional expansion look like for you? What podcasts might you wish to listen to? What books might you read? What movies or documentaries might you watch that fall outside of your comfort zone? Who could you call and have a conversation with, the sort that might offer fresh perspectives? What action might take you from current thinking to amplified thinking?
4. Take little steps.
We think of a new action to get out of a rut. Then we think of another. And another. And another. We overwhelm ourselves. And then we retreat and do nothing. Because it all feels like too much. Don't overwhelm yourself, please. Don't. We do not get out of a rut by becoming manic action machines. We don't get out of a rut by overwhelming ourselves. Resilience sometimes requires doing less. Take one simple action at a time. Take little steps. Set achievable goals. Create easy wins. That's how we unleash momentum.
5. Question your pay-off.
You might think, wait a minute, there is no pay-off to a rut. I HATE being in a rut! Sure. But perhaps there is a little part in all of us that enjoys being a victim of COVID circumstances. I mean, really - we didn't create what's going on. The rut and all that comes with it were done TO us. It's not our fault. We can't change circumstances. Right?
Perhaps not. But a rut can serve as a convenient cover for deeper questions we have avoided for too long. Big life changes that perhaps are waiting to be made. Destructive habits that are waiting to be released. Our rut becomes the not-now excuse. The not-the-right-time-for-this rationale. That's the pay-off. We choose rut over transformation. It isn't pretty.
I didn't even know I was in a Covid rut. Those words inspired me to write this post. Ruts lull us into unconsciousness. Resilience is possible only when we become conscious again. Consider your daily routines. Might you be in a Covid rut?
If the answer is YES, take little steps. Begin.