Back to "Normal"? ... Heavens NO!

I was eaten alive with anxiety. The knot in my gut kept me awake at night and distracted me all day as I attempted to complete my dissertation. I plopped down in a chair in my major advisors office, and I said to Dr. Pat Love, “I will be so flipping glad when I get this dissertation defended, and life gets back to normal!“

She listened thoughtfully and nodded, and when I finished, she said something that did not resonate at all! She sympathized with, “It’s not been so long ago since I completed mine that I’ve forgotten what you’re speaking about. However, my life never returned to ‘normal’, and I hope yours doesn’t either!”

For the past several years, I had learned that most of what she had spoken to me was great wisdom, but I hoped to God that she was wrong this one time. She was not.

I’m glad things did not go back to “normal.” Because “normal” in most cases means “familiar.” The very word “familiar“ could easily be defined: “inside one’s comfort zone.“

I would say that I have heard those words I spoke in her office come out of at least 70% of my clients’ mouths over the past month. As I am writing this, it is exactly 40 days since we were encouraged to social distance and shelter in place due to COVID19. 

I’m sure that my clients feel much the same as I felt the day that I had plopped down in Pat’s office to bemoan a difficult time. And I’m sure that when I tell them that I hope nothing returns to ‘normal’ for them … I’m fairly sure that they have similar feelings, hoping that I am wrong.

(I want to insert that I am very sad for people who have contracted this virus. People who have lost friends and family to it. People who have lost their jobs or been placed on furlough. This blog is not without great compassion for those people).

This has been a season in which we have all been taken out of our comfort zone. Many psychologists are saying that 100% of adults (and many teens) have been affected by this virus. Some have had their health affected, but everyone’s mindset has been challenged. Without exception (except for children, to whom I hope we have been successfully mentoring how to thrive in the midst of hardship).

If we will pause, I think we can all be grateful for being “shaken up.“ Or perhaps better stated: “shaken out of our comfort zone.“ I have embraced and welcomed the shaking.

Why? Because I learned as I completed my doctoral degree, that I could emerge on the other side bitter… Or better. Thankfully, I had someone who helped me, and influenced me to choose to come out better. I expect to do the same thing during this pandemic.

Why on earth would we go back to “normal”? The familiar. When we can choose to come out better?

Here are the inventory items and questions I’ve encouraged my client to explore during this time. In order to emerge better instead of falling back into the familiar. 

1. Examine and realign priorities. One of the things I have taken time to do is to look at my priorities, and align the time I assign to what’s important. For example, I am 100% devoted and faithful to my 15,000 steps daily, and completing three workouts weekly at the gym (and now in my newly created home gym). However I have recognized that I have prioritized the needs of others above what I am dedicated to for my health and well-being in many cases. Although I never miss on my 15,000 steps, if people need my help or my time, whether clients, friends, or others, I have been guilty of giving them my prime time, and completing my 15,000 steps just as the clock strikes midnite. No, I don’t become a pumpkin, but I do have to put an X on my success card for my 15,000 steps for the day if I don’t make it. I would find myself doing that even if I had a 5 AM alarm the next morning. During this period of time, I have re-prioritized my self care to a different place. It’s been very refreshing, and I have no intention of returning to the “familiar.” How about you? Will you reprioritize and NOT GO BACK TO “NORMAL”?

2. Evaluate toxic interactions. Because of our inability to escape and go to the mall, go to the sports bar, the gym, or where ever else we normally escape to, I have had many couples report that they are more and more aware of their toxic interactions. Some have even confessed that they have been more careful, and their normal habit of “dropping toxic bombs” has lessened because they can’t  escape after doing so.

I so appreciated the honest confession of one of my clients who was speaking about that this past week. He said that he realized that he would say toxic things in order to give himself permission to go hang out with the guys.

I asked him if he could give me an example. He shared one that he had done just before he got “locked up with her for six weeks.“ He said that she had dressed up and prepared them a special dinner on a night when he wanted to go watch a game with the guys. Right after dinner, he asked her, “Why are you dressed up like a slut?” Of course she went off on him, and he justified his need to get away from her “rant.”

He said to me, “I had to stop doing that ‘stuff’ (no that’s not the word he used… but you get the drift). Because now he can’t escape. I asked him how he felt now that he realized and admitted what he’s been doing. He actually ducked his head and said pretty quietly, “Very ashamed.“

I asked him if he had learned to speak to her with TREKy TALK (TREK = Truth, Respect, Empathy, and Kindness). I teach my couples: “no TREKy, no TALKy.“ (You can read more about TREKy TALK in another blog by clicking here). He said they had been practicing it more and more since they were “stuck at home together.”

I asked him if he thought it would be better for the relationship if he kept this new change instead of going back “normal.“ What he said was interesting. He said: “For the first two weeks, I was so ready for this to be over so I could do what felt more natural to me. But now that we’re about three or four more weeks into this, I will never go back to the old “normal.“ Because things are better between us than they have ever been!”

What about you? Can you be courageous enough to take this time to look at toxic interactions? And make healthy changes? Please do! And then … DO NOT GO BACK TO “NORMAL”!

3. Make note of the toxic people in your life. During this time, I’ve been participating in a 20-day “Rise Up Challenge” with Pete Vargas iii at Advance Your Reach.

I have participated in listening to incredible speakers an hour and a half a day for 20 days. Being exposed to that, and having limited contact with others, helped me become aware of who contributes rich things to my life. It also become clear who are the takers, the criticizers, the complainers, the toxic people in my life. I’m not proud to say that I identified a few people that are not supportive, take more then they give, give nothing at all, or are my worst critics.

I know these things! I teach these things. And yet it took this period of time, and exposure to daily positive input and encouragement to do an inventory. I’m not a big believer in making dramatic changes, like blocking people on Facebook, or telling them how awful they are. I will just move forward limiting the amount of time I devote to anything toxic. I hope you will do the same. Then … DO NOT GO BACK TO “NORMAL”!

4. Make note of any toxic thought patterns that have come up, and do not carry them forward with you. As I mentioned above, psychologists are saying that 100% of peoples’ mindsets will be affected by COVID-19. HOWEVER … I looked very carefully, and I didn’t find your name anywhere on the list!

I imagine you can look back over the past month or two and note “ways of thinking” that have negatively impacted you. And, unless you live in a cave, those negative thought patterns are not limited to impacting you. They affect everyone around you!

I was speaking about this issue on a webinar recently, and during the Q & A, someone asked a very good question: “How would I know if any of my thought patterns have been negative?” I told them that I was going to give a very broad guideline, but then address theirs specifically. Here is the broad guideline I gave: “Any thought pattern that fails to empower you or propel you forward in a positive, purposeful direction is likely a negative and or toxic thought pattern.” The guests responded, as likely many of us would if we were willing to be so honest: “OMG! I guess that means that everything I’ve been thinking has been negative or toxic!”

I heard a great speakers this week who said, “We must become aware that every thought we have does one of two things: it either propels us forward, or creates backward momentum.” He went on to explain that some people think there is a neutral category. He stated that he did not include the neutral category, because if left unattended, neutral would always create backward momentum.

Likely, if you’re reading this blog, you have already noted and made some improvements to your thought processes. The Internet has been filled with people contributing valuable content about how to use this time to improve the quality of our lives.

Just in case you are still noting some negative mindsets or thought processes that are toxic, it’s not too late to make a change.

If you’re one of those people who thinks: “It’s just the way I am. There’s nothing I can do about it!“ … start right there! The truth is, we can all make positive changes at any given moment. All it takes is a new decision, adopting a new way of thinking, and practicing it regularly.

I have a friend who spends most of his time in “funks.“ (If you struggle with funks, read my blog, “Get Outa That Funk” by clicking here). He called me a few weeks ago and asked if he could have about 15 minutes of time.

He told me he wanted to talk to me for a few moments about his “life of funks.“ Many years ago, he came through my Coach Training certification program, and when I was teaching about “funks“… he volunteered for me to demonstrate an exercise with him. Although he had improved greatly, he said that this virus had thrown him back into funks.

After asking him a few questions and requesting examples that demonstrated his funks… It was easy for me, as an outsider, to see where the challenge was. He, like many others, was not accustomed to being around his significant other, all day, every day. So he shared things like:

         She doesn’t want to spend time with me

         She says things to tick me off on purpose

         She doesn’t have any respect for me

I ask him, “Have you asked her to spend any time with you? Have you spoken with her about the things that she says that upset you? What makes you think she doesn’t have any respect for you?”

Interestingly enough he had not had any communication with her about any of those things. I asked him what thought process was going on with him that he was assigning negative motive to her in so many situations? After a long conversation, he discovered that after a few difficult moments years ago, in order to protect himself, he had adopted a toxic thought process: “Always expect the worst, and you won’t get disappointed.“ He had set his reticular activating system (RAS) in his brain to always be looking for the worst in her. (You can read more about your RAS by clicking here). As you know, when you set your RAS on a negative search, it will deliver 100% of the time! 

We spent some time revising that toxic process, and he chose to eliminate that toxicity, and change it to, “She is an amazing woman who contributes greatly to my life, and I will look for things daily to be grateful for.”

What about you? What toxic thought processes do you have going on that do not empower or propel forward your relationships, your career, your finances? It’s not too late to turn them around!

I hope you will choose not to let COVID19 infect your thought processes. Then … DO NOT RETURN TO “NORMAL!”

5. What do you have right before you that is an obstacle or challenge that is on someone else’s bucket list? As we’ve all listened to stories, learned to do new things and get creative during this time, I bet you’ve learned to “make do” or “create” things that you’ve taken for granted.

I was speaking with a client last week who was complaining that with everyone being at home all the time, parking and arranging vehicles had become a nightmare. Usually he was the first out in the morning, so his parking place was assigned behind another in a tandem parking situation. He was saying that he was sick and tired of grabbing three sets of keys to rearrange vehicles several times a day.

Here in North Dallas, we’ve had some weather challenges with. As he lamented rearranging four cars, which all had covered or garage parking at his home, I was considering a single mom who had saved for years and had bought her first car that was “not a junker.” Three days after bringing it home, we had hail, and it beat her little car terribly. I was reflecting on her tears about living in an apartment with no place to protect her new little car. She said, “Someday, I hope to at least be able to afford an apartment with covered parking.”

He was complaining about rearranging cars in tandem garages, while covered parking was on her bucket list.

What have you noted that you have before you that might be on someone else’s bucket list?

When we first entered this pandemic, toilet paper and paper towels were NO WHERE to be found. Client after client came in saying things like: “I’d kill for a roll of paper towels.” Thankfully, I learned from my mother to never get down to less than you would need for a month’s supply on ANYTHING! (Because I grew up on Galveston Bay and we always had to be prepared for hurricanes). Therefore, I was not disturbed by the scarcity of paper products. I had plenty.

I realized that what was “in my way” in my storage closets was on many people’s bucket lists. I actually took the time to practice gratitude for what my Mother taught me (despite the way that family often “makes fun of me” for my stockpiles). I started giving clients who expressed dismay about the scarcity several rolls of each. It was fun to do, but made me take time to think of what I have in front of me that is on other’s bucket lists.

I hope you’ll take time to consider this … and DO NOT GO BACK TO “NORMAL”!

6. Inventory those things that you have become grateful for, that you previously felt “entitled” to. OH MY! I’ve had lots of time to reflect on this, and I will NEVER go back to “normal”!

For years, I have been entitled to jump in my car and drive a few blocks to Nail Addiction and spend an hour with Thai (nails) and Van (pedicure) most any time. Since I paid them, and tipped them well, I was ENTITLED to that! Or was I?

Now, just like many of you, I’ve had to figure out how to do my own nails. I could tell you stories about accidentally supergluing a fake nail in my hair, and the biggest mess of nails you’ve ever seen! I realized I had Thai’s cell phone number after my second manicure disaster. After I got all the superglue off of me, I texted him and told him how thankful I was for the great job he had always done on my nails, and how much I had missed the time we spent laughing.

It inspired me to do the same with many of the people who provide services for me.

I’m working with a great adolescent gal, and had the opportunity to speak with her about the difference between “being entitled” and “being grateful.” Because of COVID19, she has not been able to work her job that she uses to make her car payment. Of course, her parents picked it up.

I asked her if she had expressed her gratitude, or just taken the attitude of being “entitled.” She admitted that she had not thanked them … and committed to going home and doing so. The following week, she told me that she had told them the whole piece I shared about being entitled vs. being grateful. She said her mom teared up and said she needed the lesson too, and had been remiss in thanking her teenage daughter for pitching in and helping with her younger siblings. She said she had acted “entitled to” her teen daughter’s help. She said it was such a bonding experience that her dad took it to a dinner table discussion. What a beautiful thing! It is definitely contagious!

Be grateful (not entitled) and DO NOT go back to normal!

7. Who will you be as we emerge from this time? Yes! You get the privilege of deciding who you will be.

Will you be the one who has gained ten pounds and has bags under your eyes? The one who is angry at the world and totally hopeless about financial recovery? Or will you be the one who has taken your health and fitness to a new level, and stepped into a new mindset filled with hope and determination?

It is OUR CHOICE! We may have limited control and influence over what has happened to us. But we have 100% control and influence on how we react to it, and how we deal with it.

I was speaking about this with one of my clients in another state whose husband pastors a church. They had experienced many challenges, including her husband’s salary being cut 50%. He had experienced some heart challenges due to the stress of being in the middle of a building program when the virus arrived in the US.

When the cardiologist gave him heart health lifestyle changes, she took them seriously. She adopted new cooking and exercise habits for herself, and said she felt like she was dragging him around the park for a walk daily. She said she was going crazy, so she took a clothing design class online.

Because she had lost weight, she was able to take an old outfit and remake and repurpose it. I asked her who she was going to be when she emerged from this period. She said to me, “Girlfriend, I’m going to strut down the middle aisle of the church on the first Sunday back in my fancy new dress, 10 pounds lighter, and I’m gonna say, ‘Yep! I didn’t get this way watching Netflix and eatin’ bon bons! What have all you girls been doin’?” I laughed til I cried because I could see her doing just that! How about you? How will you emerge? You get to determine that!


Take the pastor’s wife’s advice … “To hell with NORMAL! I’ve got new stuff to strut!”