Business Psychologist Insights Learning and Development
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Back to work: a sailor’s technique for adjusting to life after lockdown

Emerging from lockdown and back into our working lives is a lot like the experience sailors have on returning from sea. There are readjustments to be made, and perhaps changes in your day-to-day life. As we reflect on this period of upheaval, we talked to professional sailor Pip Hare, who has some wise words for those of us struggling to get back to ‘normal life’ after the coronavirus pandemic.  

19th Aug 2020
Business Psychologist Insights Learning and Development
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Young man standing on the yacht in the sea at sunset
iStock/mihtiander

Recently, Insights has been working with professional round the world solo sailor Pip Hare, who is aiming to compete in the world’s most demanding single-handed sailing competition, the Vendee Globe, in November.

Instead of feeling despondent that you are going back to the same old thing, why not use it as a chance to innovate and make a change if things aren’t working – both in work and the rest of your life? 

After speaking to Pip about her experiences, I have reflected more deeply about the qualities required to be a solo sailor. Spending months away from loved ones, with little contact from the outside world, in often treacherous conditions requires immense strength of character. On the other hand, remoteness of the ocean requires the vulnerability to be at one with the experience knowing that it is just a moment in time to be savoured. Needless to say, the return to normal life is incredibly tough.

While our experiences may not be as extreme and we may not have had a choice with lockdown or quarantine, there are lessons we can learn from athletes like Pip in how she deals with returning to everyday life following a long stint in isolation. This can help us gradually find a ‘next normal’, particularly in the workplace.

Dealing with feelings of overwhelm

It is normal for solo sailors to feel overwhelmed when trying to resume ‘normal’ life. Pip told me how she actually finds managing the stress on the boat easier than on land as there are “more variables on land, and people”. She manages this by sharing her experience with others and giving herself enough space to exercise and reflect alone. She puts strategies in place that aim to recreate feelings of solitude, by meditating for five minutes at a time and running.

In the same way, even though many of us have probably been looking forward to returning to work, it can be overwhelming going from being alone or around a handful of people, to being surrounded by people everywhere. Be realistic about what you may be able to do and whom you will be able to see. Remember to pace yourself and let other people know if you are struggling. Try techniques such as meditation or exercise to reduce overwhelm. Meditation could help for instance, if you now have to travel on a packed train, after several weeks of solitude.

Mourning the loss of what you had

It is common for professional sailors to miss the intensity of the ocean. They deal with this in a range of ways, including using imagery to take them back there. Visualisation is important for Pip, as it helps her rationalise the bits she struggles with. She also uses music to regenerate those feelings of the ocean.

In the post Covid-19 world, some of us may have actually enjoyed the space that has been created to focus on what we want to and reflect on so many aspects of our lives. Some of us may now miss aspects associated with lockdown. Use this as a teacher – are there some things we can continue to do or take with us into our new world? How can we find ways to visualise and recreate the positive aspects of lockdown?

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Feeling a loss of purpose

The reality of solo sailing is harsh and there is danger to life. For Pip, racing is not about recognition. She says, “there aren’t many opportunities in your life when you get to focus on one thing – having that intense focus on that one goal is a privilege today in the modern world. I love to surprise myself in that way and prove I can solve any problem”.  

Compared to this, normal life may seem dull and lacking purpose. Pip makes sure that every time she finishes a race, she has another goal to work towards. In the short-term, to avoid the post-race low, Pip will be taking on another attempt at the Three Peaks yacht race, double-handed.

While some people may be desperate to get back into the office, others may not want to return to the ‘rat race’. Once lockdown has ended, instead of feeling despondent that you are going back to the same old thing, why not use it as a chance to innovate and make a change if things aren’t working – both in work and the rest of your life? Is there a new challenge or goal you could work towards?

Reflect

Spend some time reflecting on what you have learned over the lockdown period and how you might be able to carry these lessons forward into the workplace. Only by working on becoming self-aware will you be able to make any kind of change. You could ask yourself:

  • What have I spent my spare time doing during lockdown? What’s my experience of that been like – energising, draining, or engaging?
     
  • What are my relationships like with others at work? Have they changed? Have you found more closeness despite the distance?
     
  • Realistically, we have a finite amount of energy and time – what do I want to take forward and continue doing with my time and energy as a new way of normal emerges at work?

Make sure you use that reflection to inject some energy into everyday working life. Perhaps the change you seek might be gaining a new qualification, asking for a new challenging project, or renegotiating your working hours. In some cases, it may be as extreme as embarking on a career change (though make sure you spend a lot of time reflecting before doing this).

Gradually adjusting to the ‘new’ normal

Although it may be hard to adjust to normal life after the Vendee Globe event, I see Pip forever pushing herself and growing – whether that’s through solo sailing, running, baking, or teaching.

We can learn lessons from this. With so much focus on the day-day getting through Covid-19 and lockdown, we may not have thought about what happens after – we may feel in limbo for some time as we all figure out what our 'new normal' looks like.

We can manage this by focusing on what areas of our world we do have some influence over and consider making small changes gradually, creating plans which are flexible when it comes to our work and life, with the foundation of deep self-awareness.  

Interested in this topic? Read The legacy of lockdown on learning and development.

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