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The other day I was standing in line at a pharmacy, masked, socially distant, still rubbing the store hand sanitizer into my already recently sanitized hands, when a child in line in front of me, aged about 8 I’d guess, asked his mum, “when will all this be over”?  My heart melted. Poor little guy. I assumed he was philosophically debating the pandemic and the effect it was having on his life, his family and society at large. His mother answered “As soon as I get these, then we’ll be going straight home and you can play it then”.  Clearly his question was less philosophical and more Minecraft related.

Are We There Yet?

I smiled to myself (well obviously to myself, masked as we all are). Here I was, projecting my own curiosities about the global pandemic on to an 8-year-old, who really only cared about when he could get back to his Xbox. The kid had his priorities right. Still, it remains a fair question for most. When will it all go back to normal?

In terms of trauma or addiction, recovery is seen as a journey and not as an outcome. That is an important distinction. While a desire to return to our sense of self or the ‘way things were’ is understandable, recovery focuses on developing hope, supportive relationships, empowerment and meaning.  That applies as much to someone on an addiction recovery journey as it does to someone who is recovering from loss (of a partner, relationship or their job).

Admit You Have a Problem

What we all need to realise is that we, as individuals, your customers and indeed society as a whole, are in recovery. We are in recovery from trauma. And I’m not talking about the trauma of being forced to listen to another ‘friends’ podcast, eat their sourdough or juggle your way through another home-schooling week, although all of those things are traumatic. For some it is deep trauma (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, worsening depression and anxiety) and for others the trauma may be less obvious, subconscious even, but it is there. The trauma of social isolation, disconnection, lack of physical proximity and/or intimacy. The trauma of captivity, loss of freedoms (to travel, to socialise, to participate in sport). We are all facing a recovery journey.

man looking behind a window during lockdown

William Anthony, the Director of the Boston Centre for Psychiatric Recovery has a beautifully simple definition of recovery. According to Anthony, recovery “involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life, as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of (mental illness)”. While his area of interest and expertise is mental illness, you can insert anything into those parenthesis – addiction, loss or any trauma.  Recovery is your personal journey to find new meaning and purpose, and society is entering that recovery phase in 2021.

Recovery is a deeply personal process, success strongly related to an individual’s support community, environment and personal resolve.  An often-used recovery model (developed by Dr. Mary Leamy, a London based psychologist) is CHIME. This stands for Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning & Purpose and Empowerment. These five pillars are common in successful recovery journey’s and are a useful framework here too, if we are to understand what is needed from brands and businesses over the next year.


In recovery, this is mainly about feeling supported by those around you.  However, connectedness is deep-rooted both physiologically, psychologically and indeed spiritually. As a tribal animal, we seek belonging in community and this connectedness results in a sense of physical and mental well-being.

Physical intimacy is pleasurable, fun and obviously beneficial (reduced stress levels, depression, chronic pain, better cardiovascular health… the list goes on. Later enjoy some physical intimacy with your partner. Maybe you can show them this blog and tell them it’s homework?). But, of course, physical intimacy doesn’t have to be sex. It can be massage, a hug, to hold hands or as simple as physical presence and proximity (although having sex tonight as your homework is way more fun than ‘physical proximity’ homework).

Friends Have More Fun

However, aside from the physical, social connection has also been shown to be a key driver of health and happiness. Research has shown that those with strong friendships and community connections are healthier, live longer and the opposite is also true. The trauma resulting from social isolation has negative effects on our health. And we have all lived through a lot of social isolation recently.

group of friends travelling together in a covid free world

A feeling of belonging to your community, perceived social supports and rich interpersonal relationships are key to recovery, and these are also sought values of your customer today.  The question you need to ask is how you are going to deliver on Connection? In your personal life, you may have put some effort into staying connected with friends and family via Zoom. But what about your customers?

It is time to think about Tribal Brand Belonging. Harley Davidson drivers tattoo the brand logo on their skin. Red Bull and Apple fans self-identify through the brand. They feel they ‘belong’ to something bigger than themselves by being part of the brand culture. We need our customers to feel ‘connected’ to us. They are open to connections right now, more so than ever before. Do not miss this opportunity to connect.

We’ll Take You There

KLM, the Dutch Airline, brought short travel 8D sound videos to us during the sheltering. If you couldn’t travel to Holland, then they were going to bring it to you.

Most airlines forgot about their passengers while grounded. KLM kept the connection. Here’s a lovely simple quote from the genius that is Brené Brown. “Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued”. From a Customer Experience perspective, make sure you deliver on all three of those pillars with your customers.

water calm spirutual

Connection is also spiritual. The scientific view is that we are all individuals, an amalgamation of atoms and molecules separate from one another. The Buddhist view of interconnectedness would propose that we are all one. We are not islands. Each wave may seem unique and an individual entity, but each is more connected to the ocean than its individual self.  Foster that sense of inter-connection with your customers. Invite them to collaborate with you. Dress in orange floaty robes if you want (they are surprisingly airy and comfortable; it’s no wonder Buddhist monks are always smiling).


Hope is often confused with blind optimism or dreaming & wishing. Dreaming is a kind of escape from reality, and in severe trauma has its place (as we seek to protect ourselves from what is happening, we can project ourselves to an alternate reality).  However, hope is more about a belief in oneself and an ability to persevere regardless of circumstance, it is more based in reality than dreams. It is a mindset that drives us forward, even when we face significant adversity. The Russian philosopher Dostoevsky said that “to live without hope was to cease to live”. It is an intrinsic human quality.

stairs to hope

Dr. Charles Snyder developed a hope model that has become widely used today. It has three components – goals (what do I want to achieve), agency (my own motivation and self-belief that I can make this happen) and pathways (the solutions to how I will achieve my goals). In fact, you can even take his test here to see how you fare in terms of hope on a personal level. 

Success Favours the Hopeful

Similar to the research studies on connectedness, those that have a more hopeful attitude tend to have better mental health and well-being, higher academic achievements and better physical health (from the execution of healthy habits). That shouldn’t surprise anyone – if you score highly in agency, the ability to self-motivate and believe in self, then that tends to be evident in many of areas of your life.

Map those onto your business or yourself for 2021 – goals, agency and pathways. Set goals, clear concise measurable goals. For the larger ones, break them into smaller achievable markers. Look at how you are going to motivate those needed to achieve them, including yourself. How can you ensure that the drive to succeed lasts through the rollercoaster of this pandemic? Look outside yourself and your organisation to inject this motivation (not so subtle a pitch to hire a motivational speaker!). Plan for multiple pathways for success. Those that achieve tend to have the ability to pivot to or have many alternative routes for success, many ways to reach their goal.

crowd in a rock concert

I bought my 14-year-old son tickets for a Guns N’ Roses concert in 2020. Needless to say, it never took place. Just before Christmas I received an email with the new date for June 2021. Tens of thousands of packed sweaty bodies in a mosh pit, this June?  That promoter is someone holding out a lot of hope.


This is about recovering your sense of self, who you are and who you might want to be post trauma. For society at large, this is a huge question, existential perhaps. For those recovering from addiction, removing themselves from negative influences and fostering a ‘new identity from within’ is key. This is about acceptance, letting go, accepting past sufferings and loss.

This is perhaps the most philosophical or spiritual element of the framework. Who do you want to be (and in tandem, what do you need to do or cease doing to be that person?). For society as a whole we have the same question to ask. Post pandemic, who do we want to be? As individuals we are looking at a recalibration of how we want to live our lives. How and where do I want to work? Am I in the right career?  Am I in the right relationship? Is this the right home for us? The ways in which many of us self-identify have been challenged over the past year.

How Do You Identify?

Some self-identify through sporting activities, either playing or fandom. Others self-identify and get pleasure from shopping in stores, browsing, finding that elusive bargain. Those with strong faith self-identify through the routines and rituals of attending a church or mosque. Without such self-identification or self-expression outlets, we are less certain of who we are.

So, if we are yearning for identity, trying to decide ‘who we will be’ facing into this recovery, don’t you think this is a good time for a brand or business to help? A gym business will reap the benefits of my self-expression through health and well-being (a strong global consumer value) by supporting this identity in their gym and in my home. An entire new Working From Home (WFH) economy will emerge to serve a new behaviour.

Channel Your Desires Through Me

The journey for identify will result in strong brand advocacy for the brands that play this right. This is about fostering a spiritual sense of belonging with your customer, and that can be difficult to imagine. But get it right, and you have a customer for life. Social belonging is often a key way for us to express identity, and so every brand and business should be contemplating how they become the conduit for developing social opportunities.

Some brands have even brought people together through identifying as others. I loved last years’ Getty Museum pandemic project, encouraging people to interact with their art by posting recreations online.


If the last part of the framework was more spiritual, this one is definitely more philosophical. What does it all mean? Life. You. Why do we bother? Finding ‘meaning’ in what we do and why we do it is key for anyone on a recovery journey. Having a meaningful life and social roles and goals give us purpose. Without meaning, why bother recover? In fact, those that fail along their recovery journey will often say that very thing. “I just didn’t really see the point”.

As compliance fatigue sets in across our society, we need a new purpose. Safety and health were our primary focus for the last year.  Everything we did was to protect ourselves and to protect others. Some of us have maintained our sense of purpose using new channels or in new roles, while others are struggling, unable to get a hold on their new sense of meaning.

I Desire Therefore I Am

As customers move along their recovery journey, their short-term ‘purpose’ is likely to be very obvious. To connect, to have physical experiences, to fulfil their purpose through their desires and pleasures. The Big Take Back is rooted in this short-term motivation for pleasure. For some it’ll be blue sea, white sand and a Pina Colada. For others it’ll be a packed football stadium or music festival. Others want to simply meet friends in bars or indeed unexpectedly, rediscovering social impulsivity.

Brands and businesses also need to re-evaluate their own purpose post-pandemic. A brands purpose is why it exists beyond making money. Gone are the cold capitalist commercial interests. As CMO of Mastercard recently said “This is a time to serve, it is not the time to sell”.

You, Me and Three C’s

To be relevant to our new society, you will have to be seen to actively practice Collaborative Compassionate Community Commerce (that’s a lot of Cs). Aligning the brand with a customer’s individual sense of purpose will strengthen those bonds of brand advocacy we spoke about earlier.

But don’t make the mistake Ford did – there is no point in talking about purpose and then turning that into “look what we did for you, now buy a car from us”. Have a look at this car crash communication (pardon the awful pun).

That is just a ‘tick-box’ purpose, conditional and will not resonate well with the new consumer. It is 10 seconds of community and 20 seconds of capitalism, not a good mix.


Similar to the ‘agency’ element of hope, this is about taking personal responsibility for the recovery journey, about taking control and focusing on your strengths. With our social and personal freedoms minimised over the past 10-months, Freedom & Autonomy remain a key value of the Captive Economy consumer.

We are likely to see a short-term fading of the ‘all in this together’ rhetoric as we emerge from this last series of lockdowns, and the emergence of ‘what I want’. As I said at the outset, recovery is a personal journey, and we will all set out on that journey in our own ways.

F**k This, I Won’t Do What They Tell Me

We have been ‘told’ how to behave for 10 months. Told where we can go and when. Curfews, queues, masks to be worn, 2m distance kept. No gatherings, no New Year’s Eve celebrations. We will want those freedoms back. We are tired of being ‘told’ what to do and once it is safe to do so, people will seek to express and take back control over their own lives. Empowerment will be a key value for any brand to tap into.

“You want it, we can help” will become a winning approach.

Ryanair caught a lot of flak for their recent ‘Jab & go’ TV campaign, aimed at getting holiday makers to book their Easter and Summer 2021 flights early. “Vaccines are coming” was the claim, so book now. Some thought it was in bad taste, but I honestly feel it is simply a brand leveraging the consumer need for empowerment and control. We want to feel like we are in control, and if booking a seat to a holiday destination makes us feel that, then the brand has aligned itself with a relevant consumer value.

So, having journeyed through the CHIME model, what have we learned? Hopefully you have seen that recovery is an emotive, personal journey. It is part philosophical (Meaning), part spiritual (Identity), part psychological (Hope / Empowerment), and part physical (Connection). If as a business, you can reflect and communicate any or all of these values to the market over 2021, you increase your relevance and tribal brand belonging.

I’d like to attribute that quote above to someone incredibly famous or intelligent, but actually I just made it up myself. It sounds right though. Maybe I should make it into T-shirts?


This is Part One of a two-part article on The Big Take Back: The Psychology of Recovery. The content here is an extract from Ken Hughes’ insightful new keynote speech The Big Take Back. Click here to find out more or click to book this speech for your event.

Ken Hughes is now considered one of the World’s leading virtual speakers on the subject of consumer values, organizational change, leadership and agility. His virtual keynotes are famous for their high-energy, thought provoking content as well as their impactful and inspiring delivery.

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A blog to  inspire and delight