Yesterday, I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This feels like the beginning of the end for my pandemic arc. Today, let’s go back to the beginning.

I’m taken back to the moment when I realized that COVID was here to stay. I was with my family in East Texas. We had just eaten dinner at a restaurant following my grandfather’s funeral. I looked up at the TV, which was set on a news channel, and saw the headline that the W.H.O had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. My dad made me laugh by remaking on how confused he was at the headline at first. “Who declared it a pandemic? Who?? Why are they asking?”

As the news continued, I felt my anxiety rise as it finally started to hit me. This was real. This would affect my life.

For the previous couple of weeks, I, like many others, passed COVID off as another flu. Another H1N1. Nothing too scary, just something we’d hear about on the news. It was wishful thinking.

This was obviously a lapse in judgement. Even late into the game, I ignored the signs telling me that COVID was real and that I needed to prep. Over the past year, I’ve tried to analyze myself and ask why I missed something so big.

One of the traps I fall into is giving more weight to an outcome or decision because that’s the reality I wish to live in. I wanted it to be true that COVID wasn’t a big deal, so in my reality, it wasn’t. Eventually, I had no other choice than to accept what was going on.

Over the past year, I’ve been employing this trick of trying to remove my own wish fulfillment from my decision-making process. The key is seeing reality as it is, and not as you want it to be. This is a core tenet of many spiritual practices like Buddhism and meditation, both of which I’ve grown interested in over this past year.

But this tool—seeing reality as it is—isn’t just helpful when looking inward. When I disagree with someone, or think they’re acting irrationally, I try to look at their incentives. Their wishes. To return to the COVID example, I’ve heard and seen people who don’t wish to wear masks. I hear them say they aren’t effective, or that they aren’t worried about COVID so they’re not worried about protecting themselves. In their own eyes, they aren’t doing anything wrong. Humans are self-justifying machines. Look at the split left-right brain experiments to see just how good we are at justifying actions. For people choosing to not wear a mask, I truly believe that their reality is one in which COVID isn’t a big deal, that masks aren’t going to help, and/or masks are only effective at protecting oneself.

But just to be clear: wear a mask.

When evaluating decision-making, try to look at motives. What is the world that this person wants to live in, and are they constructing their own reality to match it? The bubbles and communities we’re a part of go a long way to altering our perceived reality. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re receiving inputs that counteract your own reality. Approach them with a sense of humility. Who are you to say that you’re right? Even if you don’t change your mind, you’ll have a better understanding of those who disagree with you. Let’s have some empathy.