Adapting to Change and Challenges in the Time of COVID-19

Nature is rarely at rest. It resets itself on a continual basis. This adaptive cycle can be thought of like an infinity loop resting on its side. At the top left of the arc is a phase of exploration, learning and discovery. From there the cycle moves seamlessly to launching experiments that let it continue moving to the top right of the arc, which is a phase of maturing and sustaining successful experiments. Momentum then continues toward the bottom right of the arc, where nature lets go of that which no longer serves the larger system. This release frees up energy and resources that power the cycle to the top left of the arc to begin again.

Nature has thrived on this planet for 3.8 billion years. Its adaptive cycles have made this possible by allowing continual evolution of the larger living system. This means it’s more capable of meeting the challenges and disruptions that it faces. But humans are also living systems, and we can use nature’s ease and pattern of adaptation to guide us through disruptions.

Around the world, we’ve had to learn to shelter in place, and face many challenges and opportunities to begin our own adaptive cycles. There is still immense uncertainty around COVID-19 and what its ultimate impact on our habits, routines and lives will be overall. We are living in a time of endless unknowns. Our lives are full of movement and change, and very little of it can be controlled.

Personally, one of my annual routines is a vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I use this time away to purposefully break free of my routines and interrupt my habits. This forces me to “reset.” I think about what in my life is and is not working, and I come up with new ways of approaching life. I also release or renew commitments like eating healthier, exercising regularly or taking time for creative projects.

While I may be at home and not the beautiful shores of Lake Superior, I find myself experiencing something similar while I shelter in place. A lot of things that used to be part of daily routines can’t happen right now. I find myself with free time in my calendar as things are postponed or canceled. I can now think about activities that were impossible with my busy schedule before. For example, I can now write my next book. I can also take spontaneous walks or simply step outdoors and breathe in fresh air, whenever I feel like it. In spite of the unknowns we all face, my mind feels calmer and clearer. I am beginning to open up to possibilities, and I am closing myself off to fear.

When it comes to evaluating our habits, it can be helpful to use questions that force ourselves to think of specific aspects of our “old” normal lives. Consider asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is the best and most important way I can use my time right now?
  2. Am I consuming less and learning what I truly need, versus what I simply want?
  3. Am I beginning to see what is essential?
  4. Does this time provide me a new value of measurement of success that’s less about money and more about simplicity or meaningful connections?
  5. Is there a creative activity I can engage in that will help me connect with the present and the future?
  6. What should I invest in now that will help me in the unclear future?
  7. Are there thoughts, feelings or behaviors I can release that aren’t helping me adapt to the evolving new normal?
  8. What are new thoughts, feelings or behaviors I can adopt that will support me now and guide me into the unknown future?
  9. What has been brewing inside me that I haven’t been paying attention to, but that I can now listen to and act upon?

It’s important to always remember that fear and worry drain energy and siphon the life from our days. They may not be of any help as we move forward. I believe being realistic about the challenges we face is important. We need to conserve resources, for example, so that we have contingency plans. But planning doesn’t have to come with worry and fear. I have come to believe endless worry never actually changes anything.

I am letting my creativity flourish because it forms a connection from me to life within and around me. Creativity is a life-giving force and can powerfully counter negative emotions like fear and worry. This is the perfect time to reset our defaults and open ourselves up to adapting to what is new. This can only happen, though, if we make a conscious choice to reset and to reflect, and to let go of what no longer serves us so that we can adapt to the next phase of our evolution.

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Author: Dr. Kathleen Allen

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2018) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. She writes a… View full profile ›

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