Over the past few months, virtually all of us have had our daily lives upended, our reality turned upside-down, to what has become known as the “new normal.” As we emerge and outside restrictions begin to ease, we have two choices. We can try to go back and recreate what we had, or, we can look ahead and use this experience as a launchpad to an improved “new normal.”
I have decided – and so have many of my coaching clients – to use this challenging time as a real opportunity to move forward. That means redefining our normal and deciding what we want to take with us, what we want to change, and how we want to redefine ourselves, our relationships, our work, and our lives. But before you can start that process you need to do two things: First, we each have to “empty your cup” and then you need to look at your behavior(s); decide what to keep, what to change, and what to let go.
Emptying your cup
Bruce Lee would often tell the following story to illustrate the idea of being open and developing ourselves: A professor goes to learn from a wise Zen master. It becomes immediately obvious that the professor is more interested in showing off his own knowledge then in learning: he interrupts the Zen master and follows each story the Zen master tells with one of his own instead of listening. (We all know that person.) The Zen master pours a cup of tea. He fills the cup and keeps pouring until the cup is overflowing.
The professor stops him, tells him the cup is overflowing and that no more will fit. The Zen master responds: “Before you can really learn something, you have to empty your cup.”
When we try to learn something new, we often put new information, habits, and ideas right on top of our old ones. In order to learn, we have to make room for the new by removing the true barriers; behaviors that are not working for us. What does it mean when we put new information “on top of the old?” When we bring our past into the present moment, and for that matter, into our future, we base our actions on the past, holding people, as well as ourselves, to a standard of behavior that may no longer apply. “I’ll never be able to write without making mistakes,” or “my boss always treats me unfairly,” are two of many examples.
We use the past to predict the future or to make decisions in the present. When we learn from our mistakes, this benefits us. But if we hold on for too long, it can also be very limiting, causing us to label other people as what we used to know them to be.
How does all of this relate to creating an improved “new normal”? Take some time to reflect, and analyze your actions of the past three months and answer the following questions:
- What changed for the better? Did you spend more time with your family? Time to get stuff done?
- What changed for the worse? Lack of sleep? Less money? No child care?
- What did you do to adapt that you enjoyed? What brought out the best in you? What would you like to keep? Similarly, what did you dispense with, out of necessity, that you don’t miss? (i.e., Do you really miss things that were impediments and distractions?)
- What did you do to adapt that you didn’t enjoy? Staying up late every night to finish projects? Working out at home?
- How did you adapt to change? How was your mental health? Did you feel calmer, more anxious, angry, frustrated, relieved? If you had periods where you felt one way and another where you felt differently, take note.
- What did you do to adapt to change? Did you engage in behaviors that had a numbing effect, i.e, drinking, Netflixing, etc., or did you start to exercise, meditate, spend more time with the family, paint, etc.? In another recent article, I wrote about the common use of “external fixes” to distract us from our problems, like shopping or socializing. Fixes that were curtailed by coronavirus.
- What did you do for self-care when your cup was forcibly emptied of “external fixes?” What have you changed to meet your own needs and those of your family that works better? What have you missed that you know you need to reintroduce, with a greater appreciation? What would you like to introduce that would make a difference?
- How do you empty your cup – and your life – of the things that do not benefit you, so that you can be open to the things that do?
Take the time to write down the answers to these questions; it is time to empty your cup.
You accomplish that by letting go of all the things that happened over the last three months, especially things you’re not proud of. You can do this by letting go internally, or by taking a moment to forgive any judgments related to those things. When you feel a sense of relief and lightness inside of you, you’ll know that your cup has been emptied.
Now what? It’s time to act and decide what’s next? Take out a pen and paper and decide what to keep, what to change, and what to let go. While we all have moments that we wish we had handled better, I believe we can be proud of how we managed the past few months. If you find that you’re judging yourself too harshly, take some time to do what I call the “forgiveness process.” Accept your weaknesses. Give yourself permission to have them. Then empty your cup.
As we emerge into whatever lies ahead, remember that we all have the ability to take the best of ourselves and redefine a normal where we give our natural strength an opportunity to shine.