Beyond keeping up with the latest IHME model and rising unemployment numbers, how can we spend these days that seem to drone on, one obscurely melding into the next? Unless you’re incredibly popular and find yourself attending more than several Zoom happy hours a week, chances are that you have some extra, government-mandated margin in your life. And during that extra time, it can be tempting to spend many of those waking hours feeling listless, lonely, and languid.
Although most of us would choose for things to go back to normal as soon as today, chances are that we are stuck in this holding pattern for a while longer. We are justified in our desire to feel secure again, to re-establish normalcy. But until we’re able to give our friends a much-needed hug, meet colleagues for coffee, or finally take that trip we had to postpone, we should consider that we might never get this highly concentrated dosage of personal time ever again. If this happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, how can we make the most of it?
Here are some habits we can develop during this period that will help us create structure and security in our private lives, even during a time when the world around us feels unpredictable and unsafe.
Being Intentional Can Boost Morale
We aren’t a society that is built for atrophy. Instead of behaving like we’re a besieged city, many of us are looking for ways to contribute and be productive. Thankfully, we don’t need to wait for permission to think innovatively or invest in our personal or professional development.
By being intentional, even when it feels like our social and outside lives have gone into hibernation, we not only boost our morale, but also contribute to a resilient spirit.
Learn a new skill or invest in passing along your wealth of knowledge to someone just getting started. Whether it’s working toward a professional certification, learning a new instrument, or tutoring a middle schooler in math, don’t let your mental muscles atrophy. Keep them sharp by challenging yourself to acquire new knowledge or sharing your expertise with a novice.
Discernment Is Empowering
Whether it’s a virus, a trade war, or the upcoming election, having a reliable way to filter and spot disinformation is important and empowering. The best way to begin this is by asking questions. Don’t take for granted that the information you’re reading is infallible. People, even experts, can misread or misrepresent data.
For weeks now, we’ve received a barrage of infection stats, death rates, and transmission models. Perhaps the two most alarming came to us in the form of the Imperial College report, led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, and the University of Washington’s IHME model. Dire warnings set off alarm bells in government, healthcare, and the public at large. However, when situations are highly fluid, models can change.
Even experts can get their calculations wrong or incorporate previously unavailable data to lend to a different result. A little bit of skepticism toward claims of inevitability or false choices is healthy.
Two Ways to Build Structure
By building structure in our lives, even during times that seem incredibly unstable, we’re creating the framework needed to make the most of the time we’re given. Two immediate ways to build structure into our lives are:
Establish regular rhythms. Unpredictability has its place in our lives, keeping us flexible and nimble enough to face uncertainties with confidence, but oftentimes the successes we experience come from long practiced habits that shape our lives much like the water has served to carve out the beauty of the Grand Canyon. Developing and sticking to a daily cadence removes the sense of aimlessness that can easily creep in when schedules have been upended.
Recognize your decision rights. A requisite to dealing with uncertainties is to acknowledge that there are certain things you possess decisions rights over. You don’t have a say in determining which businesses are deemed essential by local governments or which travel bans are lifted and which aren’t, but you do have a say in where you choose to shop, volunteer, or worship and how you spend your time each day.
Psychologists refer to this as having an internal locus of control, which is fundamentally a belief that your ultimate success and failure have more to do with your choices than external circumstances. Citing a study of college students over the decades, writer and professor Arthur Brooks points out that, “an external locus is correlated with worse academic achievement, more stress and higher levels of depression,” while an internal locus of control recognizes that ultimately the buck stops with the individual. We are each responsible for our actions and the habits we create.
Long after this virus leaves, your character–your substance and “you-ness”–will remain. Is the you underneath the surface doing okay during this time? Or do you find that the moments when all is quiet, with no IG or Hulu to provide distraction, that you feel incredibly uncomfortable? There isn’t a better time than now to add a greater level of discipline and character development to your self-care routine.
People keep saying that we’re living in an unprecedented moment. And we are. But merely existing during a significant and difficult period in history does not automatically guarantee personal growth. However, taking the time to reflect on your decisions and habits, while many of your outside commitments are in hibernation until the winter of this virus is over, could be a significant step in emerging from this challenging time as a stronger, wiser, and more resilient you.