If you think of any programme, whether that is a weight loss programme, a diet plan, a bodybuilding programme, a language course, almost anything where the aim is that you become better in some form or another; one of the best ways to get others to join in, is by what we call a ‘before and after’. This is where you take a photo or tell stories of what life was like in the so-called ‘before’ and then show a photo or tell stories of the so-called ‘after’. People would look at someone who was totally overweight and then “lost 10 kilograms in just 2 weeks” and they would be motivated to follow the same programme, because they saw the results.
In some form or another – and actually against its will – it feels as though the world has been put on such a programme as well. Many people are talking about the ‘after’ and saying things like: “life will never be the same again”, “the way we work changed permanently”, “there will be a new normal”.
This certainly is the case and it is important that we set new goals, move forward and think about the future. We’ve got to ask ourselves how we can make the most of this opportunity and what we should do next. It is vital that we have a clear vision for the future and pursue it with energy and enthusiasm.
However, whenever I hear about any improvement or self-development programme that refers to a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, my question is always: “But, what happened in the middle?” What is the ‘and’; what happens between the one photo and the next one? Because that is the real key if you want a better ‘after’. If it’s not for the middle bit, there would be no change. The ‘before’ and the ‘after’ would look exactly the same. We all know this. However, when it comes to life, that is often the part we skip over. Yet, that is the important part – and although we are starting to come out of it, we are still somewhat in that part. And if we want our ‘after’ to look different to our ‘before’, we have to do something while we are still in the ‘middle’. Otherwise we will discover that nothing changes, if nothing changes.
We can look at our current situation and say that we have been forced to stop; that life as we know it, came to an abrupt halt. Some people may even go a step further and say that, even though it wasn’t planned and not ideal; that it cost lives and it cost economies to plummet, that they can see life as it was, maybe wasn’t ideal; that people focussed too much on rushing from one thing to the next, forgetting the importance of relationships. That this time of lockdown forced them to think about who and what is really important again.
This is all true, but unless we change something, nothing will change.
When I was working with people struggling with substance misuse, I saw this pattern repeat itself many times; some event would happen that made my clients stop abruptly. It could be that they were arrested for something they did while under the influence of a substance or it could be that they lost their job or lost someone who was really important to them as a result of their behaviour. Whatever it was, they came to a point where they hit what the AA calls ‘rock-bottom’. A point where they suddenly saw things clearly and knew things needed to change. They knew their ‘after’ needed to be different to their ‘before’. However, unless something changed in the middle-bit, unless they took important and sometimes difficult steps in the middle, their ‘after’ would not look much different than their ‘before’. If they went back to exactly the same environment and do things exactly the same as they had always done them, it was just a matter of time before they would end up in exactly the same place they were before.
In other words: If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got.
That is why this time we are still (barely) in, is so important. Although many people are keen to get going and move into the ‘after’, it is important that we should use this time to honestly reflect on the ‘before’ and make sure that we do indeed improve on what we did previously. Because, if we do what we’ve always done, we will get what we’ve always got – and I think we would all rather want the ‘after’ to look better than the ‘before’.