The COVID-19 Identity Crisis: How to Embrace the New Norm

If there is one thing we can learn from this global crisis, it is, behavioural change that is imposed on us is not always easy especially when the future is uncertain and there is no published recipe for success.

The side effect of this virus for many is the impact this new norm is having on our mental health and coping strategies. Our work and home identity “rug” – that which we define ourselves as – has been ripped out from under us and many are now forced to adapt in a more isolated environment, with new struggles.

Evaluating our identity is a critical step to building resilience and embracing new norms during times of dramatic change. Our identity started about the time you could push a glass off the living room table – we learned quickly what is right, what is wrong and how one should behave and strive to be. This learning was important as it helped us become successful and adapt to the realities of the world rather than become a misfit.

One’s identity encompasses beliefs, personality, values and many other attributes that inform characteristics and behaviours. Since many of us created our identities subconsciously, it begs the question: is our current identity authentic or is made-up in order to conform to societal norms and expectations? Either way, is it helping or hindering you during these times?

In Ilja Grzeskowitz’s book, The Change-Maker Mindset, he states that when we need to change our behaviours dramatically, we must first change our identity. For example, I identify as a highly innovative, energetic, action-oriented and independent individual (which helped get me through my younger years). But a number of years ago, I was told that in order to lower my stress, I needed to relax, breathe and let go of worry.

All the advice, training, meditation, self-help books, counselling, deep breathing and more that I have done (and continue to do), has only made an incremental difference. Why? Because it conflicts with my identity. Until I change the acting role in my created “movie” – a.k.a. life – I will continue with the same script.

Our identity was created to serve a purpose – mainly to attract others attention and to meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We complicate and reinforce our identity more through our social norms, the cars we drive, our social media posts, the clothes we wear, the job title we have and more. This all informs how we behave in life, the work value we bring, the skills we exercise and the way we communicate.

Our identity works for the most part in our ‘normal’ and predictable world. Now, with COVID-19, it may become a tripping hazard as the rewards of our identity may not be as readily available.  We are forced to change our habits but what about the identity that informs those?

Now, we may not be driving to work and instead wearing our PJ’s at home, void of a title on our door, and drinking home-made coffee. How we ‘did’ our life based on our identity may not work as effectively now and we may feel like a fish taken out of water, not knowing what to do next.  It may be time for an identity makeover.

Creating a new identity is exciting as it begins to direct our behaviours to a future we want and also helps us to adapt to current realities and needs. Do you want to stay safe, get fit, make more money, get along with your whole family, be happy in your marriage or be satisfied at your work?

If things are not working the way you wanted, remember, wherever you go, there you are. ? Changing your identity is paramount, otherwise, you may simply see the same results: behaviours aren’t likely to change until who you identify as does.

In recreating your identity to adapt to the new norms due to COVID-19, try answering the following questions: What does success look like to me? What do you want people to think about you? What expectations of yourself and others do you need to let go of? What do you want people to say about you once this is all over?

Once you know where you are going and can identify what it looks like, it’s easier to behave in ways that get you there. When one is challenged with adapting to a new norm, it may be time to check in with your identity.

Kwela’s Leading Self workshop opens the doors to self-awareness by uncovering how our life events inform who we are today.

Glen Sollors, Partner