Good-bye to the “new normal.” Hello to what?

by | May 23, 2020 | Blog | 2 comments

Have you been binging on comfort foods, TV shows, movies, songs and albums these past couple of months?

This behavior is perfectly natural. Don’t let anyone try to judge or shame you when you’re indulging, sampling or fantasizing about things that provide comfort.

During times of high anxiety and uncertainty, such as this pandemic, we often reach for tried and true things that provide pleasure and temporary relief from the difficulties of the moment.

Our go-to comfort choices elicit happy memories. For example, recall happy times you’ve experienced with friends and family. You were enjoying yourself and feeling positive about your relationships as well life in general. More than likely, you also were relishing the immediate moment, not worried about what was next.

It’s normal to try to recreate these feelings now.

However – And you were waiting for that, right?please don’t look for familiar sounding words and phrases to describe what’s happening now outside the doors of our homes.

Take the phrases “back to normal” and the “new normal” that’s on the lips of so many people these days.

There’s nothing normal about what we’re experiencing right now. In fact, it’s an unprecedented crisis, including a health component and a jolt to our economy.

We can’t go “back to normal” because our experiences during this pandemic have changed us – the working at home, the greater uses of technology, the temporary (and in some cases permanent) shutdowns of non-essential businesses, the social distancing, the masks, etc.

As for the “new normal,” it suggests a smooth switch to a new way of life. Yet, considering the invisible virus is still circulating, we’re likely to be living in volatile, shifting health conditions until we can stabilize the virus. This might be with a vaccine, herd immunity, mutation of the virus or something else.

And we also have to acknowledge we can’t predict what will happen to the economy, especially in countries like the United States where businesses of all types are so dependent on consumer confidence. If consumers don’t feel confident to spend – or don’t have the income spend – that will have a huge adverse impact on the recovery.

Then on top of the health and economic problems related to the virus, we’ve got to deal with natural disasters and other VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) incidents.

So when we use ordinary words and phrases to describe extraordinary times, we’re contributing to a huge mismatch between our language and our reality. That discrepancy can make the situation we’re facing feel even more unsettling.

It’s like trying to walk in a heavy blizzard with high winds when you were expecting just a few snow flurries. It’s hard to move forward when you can’t easily see around you. Plus you feel like you could fall any moment in any direction.

Words matter. We need to choose them carefully, especially if we want to signal that we’re moving in a new direction.

About two-and-a-half years ago, an in-person NeuroLeadership conference (which feels like a lifetime ago), allocated a significant part of the agenda to discussing how to thrive in disruptive times.

One of the techniques that works is to use disruptive language to align with the environment.

Using disruptive language – or at least not the same old mundane words and phrases — provides three benefits:

  1. You signal people that change is here, and you start to orient them to the new future.
  2. You help them stay focused on the one big thing, which makes it easier to pay attention and set priorities.
  3. You start building a common vocabulary, which helps improve shared understanding, cooperation, coordination and collaboration.

For more about this, check out Why and how you need to disrupt your words.

Yet what’s the new disruptive term that best captures our new era?

I don’t know. I’m hearing a few new phrases to go along with my ideas, and I’d like to know yours.

Please take this poll to weigh in. You can rate the suggestions as well as add your own. (If you have trouble with the link, go to Also please, pass it along to others to take!)

We’re in this together – including naming “it”!


  1. Terry Limpert

    A great question to raise. Words matter.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Terry. And words matter even more after our latest crisis — the historic response to George Floyd’s death by police. If we’re serious about dealing with social injustice, racial equity, income inequality, police brutality and everything else related, we have to embrace our new era with a new name rather than talk about going “back to normal” or entering a “new normal.” Even a “better normal” is too wimpy.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *