Could Embracing A Long Term Pandemic Mindset Be A ‘Superpower’?
For those unaware, I have been on what I term a “low COVID information diet” since approximately February/March.
After a frantic period spent worrying about how much risk my precondition posed (asthma — and now apparently taking a PPI), and then another one buying just about every form of PPE I could get my hands on, I settled into a kind of uncomfortable peace with the long and dreary continuance of the pandemic. And that’s more or less where I am now.
Following the initial period of binge-watching YouTube updates and ascertaining everything I could do to keep myself safe, I decided that the only information worth knowing about was that which was immediately actionable.
- Is the government restricting me from venturing beyond 100 meters from my first door? (In March, where I live, that was the case).
Other questions people might want to know the answers to (depending upon their risk aversion profile):
- “Is wearing a mask mandatory in my locality?”; “can I visit a restaurant?”; “is air travel safe?”
In order to capture these (essential) updates and not the others (speculative) ones, I have been scanning Google News about once a week for COVID-related news and keeping an occasional eye on r/China_Flu to see what people are thinking and feeling without the filter of the media. To do this, I mentally parse headlines (and Reddit posts) syntactically — although it would undoubtedly be smarter to set up some kind of filter for this purpose (any developers game?).
For instance, if the headline contains the word “might” then the article, in all likelihood, consists of mere speculation. Example: “coronavirus vaccine might be released by year end.” This is information I can probably live without knowing.
Unfortunately, I cannot banish asthma from my lungs or stop taking my acid blocking medication (at least for now — rebound reflux from 40mg is not fun!). So I don’t really need to know about how much more danger I might be in by having this condition and by taking a drug in this class.
Rather, I just need to know to live my life cautiously. In fact, poorly controlled asthma is probably a greater risk factor than having the condition while otherwise healthy. Some asthma medications have even been touted as remedies for the condition. So the net action required from me by knowing this information is effectively nill.
When I really whittle things down, there’s actually relatively little information about the pandemic, beyond government restrictions in my locality, which I really do need to know about.
To identify these, I have defined a set of criteria for things which I do definitely care about.
Those are changes which, for me, would constitute big enough disruptions to the dreary status quo that I might run out to the street cheering for (is that what’s going to happen when this ends?).
What would get past the cheering-man-in-the-street razor?
- It being safe again, without reservations, to abandon mask wearing
- It being safe again, without reservations, to abandon social distancing
- It being safe again, without reservations, to fly internationally — without the subsequent requirement of a quarantine period at the destination
Sticking to looking out for the above, and ignoring other updates, negates the ability to do things like empathize with the plight of other nations struck badly by the pandemic or to keep abreast of the many vaccine trials underway. Your picture of the pandemic, at any one time, will likely be missing detail.
But I would argue that for those worried about preserving their sanity (and, during the pandemic, that is a risk not to be sniffed at!), the benefits might outweigh the cons.
A Word of Caution
Unfortunately, as anybody attempting this will soon discover, hermetically sealing oneself against the incoming tide of ‘irrelevant’ information isn’t really possible.
For instance, I don’t find the daily case numbers in my country of particular interest (they are lagging indicators most useful for policymakers to assess the effectiveness of action taken a few weeks previously).
Nor, as a non-epidemiologist, am I much interested by comparisons of case rates between countries because I imagine there are many factors that can account for differences. This is simply raw intelligence that requires the analysis of experts to make it practical. And I am not a public health expert.
Rather I think that the capacity of my local hospital network is a more salient metric to keep track of. Unlike the above, this is information which I can directly action.
For instance, I can assess: will they be dangerously overburdened or can I expect to receive adequate treatment should I require it? If the former applied, might the risk of travelling overseas be less than falling ill and being inadequately treated?
Despite the above, I continue to hear about all the above from family members and talkative clerks at the post office. My point is that you can’t cut yourself off entirely. But a bit of caulking can seal you from the daily barrage of speculative information that many of us feel better without following.
Could A Long Term Mindset Be The Key To Maximizing The Pandemic?
I describe the above not to advocate for my own approach to keeping track of the pandemic — even though I feel like some might benefit from it — but rather because it fits nicely with a mindset that my friend Peter Duffy advocates.
Besides being an astute spotter of emerging tech trends (and an incisive reader of non-fiction), Peter, who works as a technology consultant, has a voracious interest in personal development. For anybody whose interests touch upon both, his How Curious! newsletter is well worth subscribing to:
How Curious! - Revue
How Curious! - A short monthly newsletter packed with awesome new discoveries and personal recommendations! #Books…
Duffy has already made some concrete changes in his life on the basis of the pandemic and its likely continuance.
If my approach represents a way to — from an informational standpoint — make the pandemic a noninteresting fait accompli until the media announces otherwise, Duffy’s philosophy is to take action and make decisions based upon that knowledge.
This approach fits tidily with the latest prognostics which are decidedly less rosy than those which emerged just a few months ago (and yes, I do think think that general forecasts from recognized thought leaders is in the category of pandemic-related information which I think it is worth consuming).
My friend’s line of thinking is that the current reactive mindframe (from which most react to the pandemic) is detrimental. And that it is preventing most people from realizing the upsides that this period of transition offers.
This mindframe is exemplified, in part, by assiduously following every speculative update about the pandemic. Why? Because I reckon that a lot of people following the pandemic in this manner are doing so because they hope to chance upon a glimmer of information which might forecast its imminent conclusion — upon which they can revert to life as they lived it previously. Undoubtedly, they will be the best positioned to quickly ‘exit’ the pandemic. But perhaps — by never truly accepting it — they will also emerge bereft of its benefits.
Instead, consider accepting — or even embracing — the fact that the pandemic, and all that it entails, is going to be with us for another 18 to 24 months. Truly embracing current life as normality over the medium term might prove the catalyst for some breakthrough personal change.
To make this concrete, let me provide a few examples. The former are ways of looking at things from a reactive perspective (check the news to find out when it’s going to end). The latter, from my perspective, reflect the latter approach.
- Instead of seeing working from home as a novel trend, consider asking whether this could be the new means of working for you going forward. And if that’s the case, are you tethered to where you are currently living? If not, are there other countries where you might be happier?
- Instead of thinking that this might be a cool time to try out freelancing — or continue doing it — consider whether this might be an opportunity to begin remote working for an employer. There’s more stability — but a less diversified income base! — and getting benefits is nice.
- Instead of using the “pandemic pause” as an opportunity to take a Udemy course or to upskill, realize that it’s probably going to be long enough to fit in a more substantial period of retraining — such as even taking a remote degree. What might you already have achieved had you thought along these lines from the very outset? But it’s not too late! Based on current forecasts there’s still likely enough time to undertake even a short degree program before it ends!
The point I’m trying to make here is simple — and I hope I’ve delineated a connection between minimal news consumption and long term pandemic planning.
If you can tune out the day to day noise of the pandemic updates and pay more than lip service to the fact that this is the “new normal” there is an awful lot of potential for the kind of personal change that you can orchestrate during it.
Who would want to look back in 18 months time, with humanity only just starting to reemerge into normality, and regret blithely hitching one’s hope that the end was just around the corner?
Through accepting the pandemic’s continuance during the medium term, and by ignoring the non-actionable updates circling about the internet, it might be possible to emerge from it on a more fulfilling and exciting trajectory. One you can continue on long after the world is back to “normal.”
That’s a benefit that most would not want to dismiss.