Britain went on lockdown this week, about a month later than it should have done, three weeks later than my parents, and a week after my household. I have some thoughts, as you may imagine. But everyone else on the internet has thoughts too so I won’t blame you if you skip mine. There won’t be a quiz at the end.
Thought #1: You have ONE JOB.
Unless you are working on life-critical tasks, like healing the sick or providing food, your ONE JOB is to reduce pressure on the health services. That’s it. You can do this by delaying or preventing getting sick, and avoiding accidents. Staying home, not going shopping unless you are literally running out of food, and being super-careful about washing your hands, is quite possibly the best chance you’ll ever have in your lifetime to actually save lives.
The problem is that staying home and washing your hands doesn’t feel like doing anything. But it really, really is. Because staying home is hard. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not sexy (though I predict a baby boom in nine months time), and it’s very hard to see the results of your (in)action. Imagine how much easier it would be if you got a message every now and then saying thank-you from a person who will live because you stayed home. It would feel so much more worthwhile. But we just have to trust the data. Human beings respond very well to feedback, but this staying-home business doesn’t provide it. Tough! Do it anyway. This article may help you understand why it’s necessary: https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca
Thought #2: Stay physically healthy.
This is part of your ONE JOB. This involves exercise, eating healthily, sleeping well, and so on. You know how everyone has panic-bought all the bogroll in the world? Well, if you’re eating right, and squatting to dump (as you should), then you need much less of the stuff! And on the subject of bogroll- half the world doesn’t use it. Literally. There are many other ways to clean your arse. So don’t panic if you run out.
If you’re stuck for exercise ideas, my solo training course may help. It’s usually $500 (plus tax), but I’ve dropped the price to $20 (plus tax) for the duration of this crisis. You can find it here: https://swordschool.teachable.com/p/solo-training And if you can’t afford the $20, email me and I’ll send you a discount code to get it for free, no questions asked, no judgement. A lot of my friends and students are out of work until we’re out of lockdown, and that $20 is needed for food or other essentials.
Thought #3: Stay mentally healthy.
This is also part of your ONE JOB. It’s reasonable to be upset, depressed, sad, angry, annoyed, or frightened in the current circumstances. But none of those things are fun, healthy, or helpful so do what you can to avoid them. This has a great deal to do with what you focus on, and your sense of agency. Here are some ideas and examples that may help:
1) Focus on your area of control. You don’t control the epidemic, or the weather. You do control whether you did push-ups today, or how you speak to your housemates. This article on area of control is helpful if this is an unfamiliar concept: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/10/07/how-big-is-your-circle-of-control/
A great tool for becoming better at choosing what you focus on is mindfulness meditation. I’ve written up a super-basic guide here: https://guywindsor.net/2015/12/how-to-start-meditating/
2) Watch out for the cognitive error of grieving for an imaginary future. It’s well established that winning a gold medal at the Olympics feels great (at least at the time), winning bronze feels great (because you got onto the podium). But winning silver usually makes you feel like crap because you’re grieving for the lost gold, not happy about doing better than every other person on earth bar one. This podcast describes the phenomenon in some detail: https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/a-silver-lining
Yes, a lot of people are facing a much worse future than they might have had if this epidemic hadn’t occurred, but being miserable about it won’t change it. And that future would probably never have happened the way they think anyway, because people can’t predict the future. This comes back to focussing on your area of control.
3) Make Good Art. Neil Gaiman was, and always will be, right on this.
I don’t know what your art is: writing code, painting, baking cookies, it could be anything. And it may well be that it feels like you can’t do your art right now (if your art is the flying trapeze, you can’t do it because all the flying trapeze tents are shut. Or should be.) For laughs, here’s me on a flying trapeze. About as scared as I’ve ever been in my life.
But there are related things you can do, to prepare for when your trapeze tent re-opens. Area of control?
And ideally, whatever it is, share it. Which brings me on to my next thought:
4) Help others. There is nothing more empowering. It can be super-simple. Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard himself, is reading one Shakespeare sonnet per day aloud. I think it’s only on Twitter, but here’s a screenshot:
It’s very interesting to compare this shot-at-home Sir Patrick sat on a sofa in comfortable clothes reading out of a book, to the more polished professionally produced sonnet readings of his you can find on Youtube. To be honest, I actually prefer the homemade version.
Joe Wicks (aka ‘The Body Coach’) is doing a half-hour PE class for primary school kids every morning at 9am UK time. Good man.
You totally don’t have to be producing content like this. There are a million ways to help people, the most important one right now being STAY HOME.
If you can afford it, it's also a really good idea to continue supporting any creators, local businesses, or other services you'd like to see survive the crisis. There will be massive economic problems created by this epidemic, and unless there is major support from governments (which seems frankly unlikely), thousands of businesses will close because they can't weather a several-month catastrophic drop in income. So think about what you usually spend money on, and see if you can keep sending it to the same place. Of course, if your job is at risk, or you've already lost much of your income as so many have, then this doesn't apply.
So what am I doing? Fair question. I’m STAYING HOME: we took the kids out of school before they closed and went into voluntary lockdown about a week before the government got off its fat arse and acted responsibly. I’m limiting food shopping trips to one a week maximum (food delivery services are overwhelmed here, and so it seems fair to leave delivery slots for those more at risk). It will do us no harm to be out of bread or milk for a few days. No, we haven’t stock-piled anything- I think that’s antisocial. If you’re the sort of person who always has a year’s food supply in the house, then good for you. Stockpiling in times of plenty is fine, but panic-buying in an emergency when you’re not actually short of food is simply bad behaviour, unworthy of a martial artist.
I’m being careful about doing my breathing exercises, eating healthily and not too much, taking cold showers to boost my immune system, maintaining my relationships (sooo much skype! I even have my phone not-on-silent, which is totally new and bizarre), and I’m working on several projects (hopefully making good art):
My latest book From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice: the Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi is going to press this week. Hurrah! It will be released on May 1st, but if you want to support the work you can pre-order the hardback (expected in a few weeks) and get the epub right now here: https://gum.co/longsword It’s not cheap- these limited pre-orders are to raise money to pay my editor and graphic designer. Sales are limited to 75 total. If you’re short on cash, then just wait until general release in May.
I’m starting up an online coaching program. We had the first couple of sessions this week, which has been really useful to find the bugs- the biggest barrier right now is the technology: data transfer speeds not sufficient, sound quality, and so on. I’ll write it up properly later.
I’m also doing a ton of woodwork (I have a blog about that coming- turns out we sword people have a lot in common with our crafty colleagues). I’m currently working on a Pilates ladder barrel for my wife, and making a box for transporting tools for me.
I also helped my 11-year-old daughter make a desk surface to fit under her high-sleeper bed. I did most of the sawing, but she decided the size, shape, and the decoration, which she did entirely herself, including sanding and painting. Good huh?
So, the days are just packed!
One final thought (for now): laugh every day. It’s good for you. This motivating speech from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dubbed by Janey Godley is perfection:
Well put. Thank you. The hardest part of staying home for me has been watching all my co-workers continue going to work and making me wonder if I am the crazy one,. the “alarmist”, the one who is over-reacting.
If anything, we’re underreacting. STay safe my friend!