It seems like this is another time when lots of folks are hitting walls. The combo of the pandemic + winter + holidays is taking a toll, people are forgetting about their human needs, and I find myself thinking a lot about my aloe plant.
Let me explain.
For years, I lived in downtown Kansas City. I loved my last apartment…but my aloe plant did not. With one window, which was kept closed the majority of the time, and an owner who rarely remembered to water it, my resilient little plant was far from healthy. Pale green mottled with brown, it withered a bit, growing very slowly at an odd angle to soak up the limited light, but it refused to die.
Fast forward 3 or 4 years. This plant now lives in a window with lots of indirect light. It gets watered regularly (thanks to my partner’s green thumb), and it is thriving. It has grown significantly, with new shoots, thick and green, and has more than doubled in size. It still grows at an angle, a reminder of the hardship it’s been through, but it is now a vibrant and healthy plant.
My hearty aloe is a constant reminder of the importance of our human needs. While resilience is crucial – without it my plant would have died – we cannot underestimate the impact that our conditions have on us. For most of us, 2020 has been the equivalent of my downtown apartment.
Unmet Human Needs
Humans have some basic needs that, when unmet, make it quite hard to thrive. Most people know this in relation to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (and his theory of human motivation and personality), but today we are talking about just three. These are three, often overlooked, needs that seem to have been particularly thwarted lately.
1. Security and safety
Probably the most important human need. It’s hard to grow and to reach your highest potential when the foundation upon which you’re standing isn’t solid. Without a sense of security and safety, we are not able to focus our attention on much of anything besides the impending threat. We are not able to relax, explore, or open up to what life has to offer.
We are inherently social creatures – it’s natural human behavior. We need to connect, to belong, to care and be cared for. Our social need is on par with food and water. It is not optional. While we’ve found some creative ways to maintain our relationships in the era of social distancing, zoom just isn’t the same as being able to hug or share a space with someone.
While routine can be quite beneficial for us, monotony isn’t. I’ve said for years, “I don’t do boredom well,” and I know I’m not the only one. We need some variety in our day-to-day experiences. Without it, life starts to feel dull.
Creating the Conditions to Thrive
There’s a huge chunk of our current conditions that we can’t really do much about, there’s no step-by-step playbook for how to get through today’s challenges. Even with the promise that a vaccine brings, we’re still smack in the middle of a global pandemic and have to take certain precautions, which limit our daily lives. We can’t forget our human needs. Whether it’s working or learning from home or masking and distancing in public, you’re probably not spending your day in ideal conditions.
We also can’t control the weather. Winter brings cold temperatures, precipitation that makes it harder to get outside, and darker days. This season tends to drive us inside where we fall into easy habits that, again, may not create ideal conditions for thriving.
Fortunately, as humans, we do have some ability to actively construct our environments and circumstances.
My challenge to you is twofold. First, do not underestimate the impact that our human needs have on us – on how we feel, how we think, and what we do. It is really hard to blossom when you’re not in fertile soil. Compassion – for yourself and for others – is critical right now. It may not be your fault that you’re feeling stressed, ambivalent, or scattered or if you’re not doing things the way you’d like or as well as you used to. Like my poor aloe fighting to grow while starving in a dark apartment, your current experience may simply be a result of the conditions you’re in. Be kind and understanding toward yourself, and show that same care to others.
Second, it’s time to get intentional about creating the conditions you need to thrive. You’re going to have be a creative problem-solver here. Are there things you can do or change that will set you up for success? Sometimes, it’s not about your mindset (though I would argue that’s always important), it’s about the practices, routines, and circumstances we’re in. Some are just more conducive to thriving than others.
Take stock of what your typical day or week looks like now compared to pre-COVID or to another time in your life when you were closer to your best. What are some concrete differences? What can you do to recreate those more ideal conditions? These tips may help.
For security and safety:
- Finally learn to wrangle worry (ASCEND has techniques to help or try out a mindfulness app like Headspace, 10% Happier, Waking Up, or Calm)
- Limit news consumption
- Make a point to reach out to people. Send a text. Send a letter. Bring back the spontaneous phone call. Share something you enjoyed or that made you think of them.
- Do a random kindness for someone. This is a great time of year to give to someone less fortunate.
- Bundle up and go for a stroll. Take a different route or go to a different part of your city or town. Just a change in scenery can help.
- Plan a new experience each week. This is 100% possible, even with the limitations COVID imposes.
If you want more guidance, we created Self-Care [by design] to help you identify the practices you need to do to support you showing up as your best, every single day. In other words, to help you create the conditions you need to thrive.
Regardless of the conditions you’re in, keep building your psychological strength! It’s what buffers you against adversity and helps you thrive.