Join us on Instagram every Tuesday throughout March as TV presenter, host of the ‘Only Human’ Podcast and talking therapist Jeff Brazier, and former Scottish International and Harlequins rugby player Tim Visser discuss a variety of issues in our new series #StrongMinds.

Each week, Jeff will be sharing his thoughts here to give further information and context to the topics discussed during the session….   

Episode One – Transitioning between lockdown and whatever lies ahead.

We’ve just got the news we all wanted – the roadmap out of lockdown restrictions and greater freedom as we head into the summer months. I feel a mixture of great excitement for golf, cinema, holidays, hugging and dancing. However, I can sense a slight worry that the routine I have built for myself, which I’ve grown fond of, won’t be easy to maintain when the quicker pace of life inevitably resumes. I’ve found myself pondering these kinds of questions:

  • How should we protect ourselves from getting swept into the normal pace of life, losing the habits from lockdown that we have gained and enjoyed?
  • How to marry the things we want to welcome back into our life with the things that we have done in lockdown that we don’t want to let go of?
  • For those who are apprehensive about change – how can we focus our minds on the many positives so that we can reduce our sense of discomfort?

The ‘Season of Opportunity’ sounds good, but transition isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. In fact, some find change terrifying. With that in mind I have written 10 helpful tips that are hopefully as relevant for those who are excited as those who are slightly apprehensive or those who, like me, are experiencing a little bit of both.

1. Calm down.

Step back, take the pressure off! You will make mistakes, you won’t get it perfectly right first time because you are only human. We learn as we go, so lower those expectations so they are kind and realistic, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Imagine going back to the gym and trying to do your usual workout without recognising you’re probably a little bit rusty and naturally not as fit as the last time you walked through the doors.

Don’t get sucked in to believing the perceived standards set by some on social media. However you feel is ok, but don’t let it be on account of what others are doing.

If fitness is part of your plans, can you design that first gym session taking into account where your fitness might actually be and title it, ‘introducing myself back to fitness’? Maybe your goals lie elsewhere but follow the same example and plan for the first time being as realistic as you can. Gradual progress keeps you keen, whereas unrealistic expectation can leave you disappointed and demotivated – so it’s important to control this.

2. Don’t label it.

There’s a reason we keep correcting outdated titles and expressions and that’s because they’re not helpful and ultimately misleading. If we wrongly label what happens over the next few months as ‘being back to normal’ I think we could be setting ourselves up for potential disappointment.

Without meaning to be dramatic, things can never go back to what they were because you can’t just erase the last 12 months from our memories. There are some things that might be slightly different to what we expect, so an open mind to the slight variations will help us cope with any unfamiliarity.

Some people may wish to continue wearing a mask or feel uncomfortable standing in a crowded place. Those people will require some patience to adapt at their own pace. Be ready for any eventuality, take nothing for granted and we will be well placed for taking it in our stride.

3. Try to be flexible

Change comes more naturally to those who consider themselves adaptable enough to cope with the changes as and when they present themselves.

If we refuse to acknowledge that change in our routine is inevitable we will create unnecessary discomfort for ourselves. It’s like standing on the beach with your back to a wave, you can deny its existence but it’ll knock you over anyway. Those of us that adopt a more rigid approach to life will have just got settled into a pattern, only for things to now be changing again.

How flexible are you around change? Try to list the three things you think you’ll struggle with the most and put some focus around how you can reduce the impact.

4. Focus on small habits.

Habits are the building blocks of our daily routine. Whilst wholesale changes won’t be required if you don’t want them, there is undoubtedly opportunity in a transitional period such as this.

We can clarify our goals by setting new targets for fitness, sleep, nutrition, mental health and hydration and use the next few months to identify the steps and daily habits required in order to make it work.

Goals are important but it is your habits that will carry you closer to them on a daily basis. Look at what you need to do each day, at what time, and with who in order to achieve those outcomes. Remember, habits don’t set in immediately, be patient and trust the process (instead of asking why you’re not there yet, like kids in the backseat.)

Write down three goals and then list three additional actions that you’ll need to take daily to get you there. Don’t focus on the goal once its set, focus on the daily process. Trust that if you achieve those three daily habits over time, the desired outcomes will materialise. Little habits, big changes.

5. Preempt the fall.

The more I think on this subject, the more I realise that the biggest test we are all likely to face is dealing with the temptation to go back to old ways and forget about the progress we made in lockdown. I think it could leave many of us feeling really dissatisfied.

We need to ask ourselves what we might find difficult and why? My wife and I had a good conversation about what we’ve gained in lockdown as a couple and what we’d want to protect.

We’ve taken the dog out and made three meals together every day in each other’s company and it’s sad for us to think we will do this far less when we both go back to working and commuting.

To establish an acceptable compromise beforehand makes you feel prepared for the change and safeguards you from one day realising you’re not as happy and can’t work out why. Change is usually gradual but this one won’t be. We have to take things slowly and go at our own pace or you might find yourself feeling a little lost.

Kate and I will make sure that our days at home happen on the same day where possible and that we ensure we have nice plans for Saturday nights and Sundays. It really helps to start imagining what your week will look like in the near future and start making decisions around how much and how often, so you create the right balance. It’s easier for us to set those standards now rather than when we’ve dived straight in and feel like we’ve lost control.

6. See the opportunity.

Transitions take us forwards. This is a chance to design the new you.

What’s your routine? What are your best habits? We make resolutions going into the new year and this feels vaguely similar. We have the chance to state our intentions for the future as we come out of one period and transition into the next. When the restrictions begin to end one by one, our lives will get busier, which will leave less time for us to be mindful of our habits.

From today though you can purposefully step towards creating the version of yourself you’d like to be this summer. What changes would you like to start making now?

7. Gain some perspective.

What did we learn from lockdown and what will we take with us? The importance of grabbing moments with family, enjoying the simple things like walks in the country, giving ourselves time to think without being distracted have all been too good to let fall by the wayside. So, make these pleasures a part of whatever happens next, before the pace of life stops you from taking the lessons from lockdown with you.

My challenge is to write a letter to your future self. Tell yourself what you have found that you like about life during lockdown, what benefits you have felt and the things you want to keep enjoying in times ahead.

8. Recognise a change in your values.

Values dictate your sense of identity and play a big role in deciding if something is right or wrong. It’s conceivable that the impacts of lockdown may have put values like family and social life higher up the list than they once were. I can also see how, for example, education and fitness may have become less important during the last year.

Will you ensure your life reflects your new values and not just the old?

In coaching we have a wonderful exercise called ‘Core Values’. Try to find it online or just imagine what your 10 top values were before lockdown, compare them to what they are now and then write the 10 that represent the version of yourself you’re taking into the summer.

9. Focus on your strengths.

We need to know our value and recognise what is special about us more now than ever. Knowing you’re able to cope with the transition ahead by exercising patience and trust is important for those who know they usually struggle with change.

What will you fall back on if you do struggle to cope with the return to the pace of life we once knew? Life doesn’t just happen to you, we have a big hand in it.

See stress as a challenge, not a threat, and remember you’re not going through this alone. Lean on your support network when you are struggling and remember, you’ve been through lots of changes before, and you survived.

I keep a journal and the front page is my list of strengths. I refer back to it when I need to be reminded, because we all forget sometimes. So my tip is to buy a notebook or journal, and use the first page to list everything that you know is a strength of yours.

10. Control the pace.

I think we used to rely on Sunday to be the one day that we slowed down. We’ve just had 12 months of reflection and, though it was somewhat forced upon us, it was still helpful in that we stopped and evaluated in ways we had rarely done before.

This slower pace of life has been nice, so before it cranks up again and we lose sight of those connections we’ve made to ourselves I would like you to think of three specific ways that you could check in and remind yourself that you still need to slow down and give yourself those moments you might have grown used to in lockdown.

Meditation, walks in the park, sitting with your face in the sun – don’t let life get out of hand without building natural pauses into every day. Stacking one habit on top of another is a clever way to introduce those reflective pauses. So, for example, if you drink tea a lot every time you boil the kettle you can take those minutes to clearing your mind and just being still. We must not forget how to stop, reflect and control our pace.

#StrongMinds will run at 8pm every Tuesday evening throughout March on Instagram @DavidLloydUK, or you can catch up via IGTV.