How To Create Your Own ‘Normal’ When Life Feels Beyond Control

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Self

What is "normal," these days? How obvious the expectation, even the definitions, of normal used to seem!

In today’s world, you may find yourself yearning for what it previously meant to you.

To me, normal was full of ordinary choices such as work routines, going out with friends and colleagues, shopping for basic needs and special wants, and family activities.

These examples would be enhanced by having or promoting relatively good health. 

Imagining what normal represents led me to wonder what it truly meant before and what it will mean for the uncertain future.

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So, what is normal now?

Even though normal may have had elements of boredom in its predictability, the appeal seemed to hinge on knowing what would and could happen, having say in what you do and how you do it, and feeling a sense of freedom when doing everyday activities.

Especially now, this sense of what normal means seems based on an illusion of control — an illusion that life is predictable and that important life choices are mostly up to individuals.

Even in the past, those assumptions did not always pan out. But they provided some calmness and optimism in spite of realities.

This led me to also wonder what normal really was. Generally, it implied ordinary, predictable, or usual situations.

To me, little feels that way even now in our often sheltered lives, given the continuing tumult and changes. Nor do I sense that what was considered normal will remain so clear in the future.

Normal may be more dynamic process than static perception.

So many major variables and points of view keep normal in motion. They include worsening weather events due to climate change and disrupted animal environments that spew new viruses and bacteria.

Both bring minor to significant dangers. Other examples are political, social, and online behaviors that breach what are considered norms.

Viewing normal as closer to a process related to individual expectations and situations that naturally ebb and flow could provide new and hybrid opportunities to influence outcomes.

The very lack of predictability would create openings to strengthen self-empowerment in work and relationships.

Creating new rituals of normalcy.

New rituals benefitting most everyone can be learned and adapted to encourage opportunities and thwart dangers, as normal becomes redefined. For example, many people choose to stay physically safe from exposure to the novel coronavirus.

That means wearing a mask to protect themselves and others, as well as assessing and avoiding exposure in everyday activities.

Making other smart choices to sustain health include following guidelines for washing hands, especially after touching one’s mask and public surfaces.

What's old is new again.

Even something as seemingly simple as eating in a restaurant comes with new and sometimes limited sets of rituals for pleasure and connection with others. Yet, today’s adjusted norms are not so new, historically.

In the Business and Pleasure of Dining Out by Amanda Foreman in the Wall Street Journal, I was surprised to learn that eating out has had a long evolution before becoming what many used to consider routine before today.

In Roman times, wine and prepared food was “to-go” or served at a counter in larger establishments. According to Foreman, the earliest example of a modern restaurant started in Kaifeng, China in the Song Dynasty.

Europe joined the “club” in 1782, and the U.S. in 1830 with Delmonico’s in New York City. So take-out has a long history in the world, but fine dining in the U.S. is relatively new.

What is considered normal cycles through history.

This suggests how what is considered normal can be as much a matter of cycles and cultures as yesterday’s habits and expectations. For example, emerging from the destruction of businesses in the pandemic are a million new businesses.

As hundreds of thousands of small businesses are succumbing, the economy is re-framing with new businesses starting at a faster rate in more than a decade, according to the Wall Street Journal.

New locations and lifestyles emerge.

Continuing the process of reframing, many workers and organizations are experimenting with new locations and lifestyles. Some find the Monday through Friday routine the same, wherever the location.

Such new locations and businesses are probably just a taste of the structural changes in motion and to come in how work is done, whether from continuing technological change or pandemic shocks or both.

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Movie theaters, production people, and their supporting real estate and advertising, are also affected by shifting safety requirements.

Consumer habits related to a range of entertainment are already moving to online options, not to mention use of drive-in and outdoor locations for movies and even political presentations.

Online shopping, which can be another form of entertainment, is not showing huge upticks, though. According to a Rand Corporation report, it varies especially with income and age.

Much talk of the “new normal” continues to attract attention.

A marketing pitch touts “the magnificent new normal” and NPR’s "New Normal" format, tends toward describing deviations in the present and takeoffs on what exists.

Imagining the future, especially during these times of upheaval affected by local, national, and international changes, all in complex interaction, certainly is a challenge beyond individual intuition and insight.

As a result, it may just be more realistic to accept that normal has natural flux rather than stability, like life in general often does.

That view could decrease frustrations and possibly anxiety from disruptions, especially in these times. Such shake-ups can also be calls to action for making your own improvements in many avenues of life, including love.

Create your own balance.

One choice is to create your own balance between staying informed of and savvy about the promising vaccines and therapeutic advances without overwhelming yourself.

The barrage of continuing coronavirus research and news is further complicated by the tensions between scientific and political versions.

For some useful differentiating categories, read former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s entire discussion of the known unknowns and known knowns.

What can you influence in this new normal?

Being unable to know the future gives you some freedom to create your own. There are a range of openings and choices for your action. Here are some options.

In Parade magazine’s collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic on America’s New Normal, are mostly heartening trends that show promising opportunities, now and for the longer run.

How do the following three insights inspire your insights and actions?

Sixty-five percent of people polled gained new perspective on what really matters.

Seventy-six percent have tried new coping mechanisms.

Sixty-two percent adopted at least one healthy change.

Yet, 55 percent reported an increase in mental health issues, understandable given all the current tumult, dangers, fears, and losses.

Below are some additional suggestions to consider and adapt to your own preferences for making a difference in your life, or, at least, to use your influence. That’s more possible than actually controlling today’s complex, challenging situations.

Whatever your amount of discretionary time, give yourself gifts of it for defining and creating your own normal. If you can carve out an hour a day, that’s a promising start!

If not, what regular commitments on a weekly basis will you promise yourself in order to sustain momentum? How will you schedule it?

Use the precious time you set aside to create your own normal for progress and pleasure. Strengthen your sense of empowerment during these uncertain times with new motivation and energy based on better, healthier rhythms of behavior.

Perhaps discuss choices with a partner, friend, or colleague for reinforcement and mutual assistance. If need be, engage a professional for insight, encouragement, and consistency of action.

Here are 5 additional ways to adapt and create a new normal in your life.

1. Identify what you savor in your life now.

Choose about two or three processes, actions, or habits that you want to continue or adapt to present realities. Possible criterion: Are they fun for you to do? As the New York Times reports, laughter is good medicine, in fact.

2. Name your present intangible assets to enjoy and expand.

They can include people you trust and respect and who bring stimulation and pleasantness to your life. Do you have a relatively balanced give and take, ideally sharing healthy habits, values, and sense of humor?

By the same token, limit connections with people who cause deficits in your life as much as possible. Your time is not expandable nor renewable.

3. Think about what you’d enjoy learning or teaching.

Such deepening gives you a two-for one. Your choice could include a transferable, soft skill that strengthens and enriches your daily activities and possibly your work, as you define it.

Examples may be collaborating, listening, and synthesizing information to appreciate new and better combinations of possibilities and connections with others.

4. Explore a project related to your future.

Map out a schedule of small, manageable steps you can do now to spark hope, enthusiasm, and preparation for your future.

With whom would you discuss it, if only to hear your ideas out loud? How would you assist anyone who helps you? Possibly test your ideas by volunteering.

5. Learn from others.

Learn from others’ interesting lives for inspiration and insight about what to emulate or avoid. Choose among biographies, movies, and online sources.

Whether or not you agree with me that “normal” is a definition in motion and possibly a process in itself, add your ideas to the suggestions above to create your own normal.

Then you’ll be less likely to be trapped in the expectations, distractions, and disappointments of not meeting previous or others’ definitions of normal.

Instead, you’ll be in charge of some important, worthwhile aspects of your life for moving through and beyond this challenging time of changes, dangers, and adjustments.

So, focus on your opportunities that await you in the space, time, and experiences you create ─ your own new normal!

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Ruth Schimel, Ph.D., is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. Obtain the bonus first chapter of the upcoming, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future on her website, where you’ll also find your invitation for a free consultation.