Coping with the exceptional

In exceptional situations, new routines can be developed, and new languages of comfort found.

Normality gets a bad press sometimes.  People criticise Mr Normal as somehow being average, unremarkable, undistinguished.  While this is true, those attributes are not necessarily a criticism – unless you dislike them.


In the current emotional and economic climate, many people will be craving a time when things can ‘get back to normal’.  In many countries, what seemed so easy such a few weeks ago – going to a cafe, restaurant or pub; meeting with others – is now discouraged or prohibited.  This is completely understandable, as the world of humans is trying to suppress a virus.  But it places us in exceptional times, when people are being required to act in ways that are not natural habits for them.


While this is all going on, and assuming we are all trying to adapt to new ways, we had better get good at embracing the exceptional.  The main blocks to doing this are:

  • Our bodies are built around habit.  Our digestive systems, for instance, thrive on a degree of regularity.  Change disrupts our bodies, until we adapt to new routines.
  • Our minds operate with schemas – sets of thoughts that habitually work together to help us navigate the world.  For instance, our capacity for language involves being able to move into a particular ‘language set’ in a particular context

The main blocks are also our main ways out of the problem.  Once we know how they work, we can train our bodies, and our minds, to adapt to new situations more easily.  In particular:

  • We can quickly develop new routines in new situations, and stick to them.  For instance, if you are quarantined and have to stay in your home, you can develop a daily structure based around your limited environment.
  • We can quickly develop new schemas for new situations.  For instance, notice how social groups rapidly develop new language sets for specific situations (we already have a more developed common language of self-isolation, social distancing, vulnerable people, etc.).  These language sets can include common jokes which take the pressure off, iconic memes which become symbolic of a common experience, and many other forms of art and expression.


In changes times, am I developing my skills of adaptation?

Am I working to develop new daily routines which make sense in this changed situation?

Am I also working to develop new languages and thought-sets which help myself and others to navigate exceptional times with more confidence?

We can all learn to adapt quickly to the exceptional, and in doing so, we can help others to feel more at home in changing times.