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What to Keep and What to Leave Behind

As the end of quarantine approaches, you may be wondering how your life will change when this is all over. For most of us, the routines and rituals that structure our lives have been radically disrupted during this time. You may have been forced to develop many new habits: working from home, cooking more often, new forms of exercise (or none at all). While no one would have asked for this, some good may have come of it. But which new habits should stay? And which should go?

There's good reason to pay extra attention to your habits right now. Research has shown that, when your routines or environment are disrupted, your habits become uniquely flexible. Good ones are easier to build; bad ones are easier to break. This is good news if you’ve started eating entire tubes of cookie dough pantless on the sofa, as this behavior will likely reverse when quarantine does. That said, some bad habits are harder to drop than others, so don’t be cavalier if you’ve fallen into addictive substances or behaviors.

On the other hand, if you picked up some good habits during quarantine, like cooking dinner, then you’ll need to be deliberate about retaining those habits, as habits tend to be tied to environmental cues.

Given these points, here is our list of recommendations on which new habits to keep, old habits to reintroduce, and bad habits to leave behind.

Keep For many, the biggest change associated with quarantine has been the shift to remote work. You’ve probably found that this has some perks -- beyond just getting to poop in private. Maybe all of those meetings that should have been emails are actually just emails now. Maybe that 8am conference call is capped at 40 minutes by your boss’s free Zoom account. Being forced to get clear about objectives and priorities may have made your work more efficient. Make sure your boss and co-workers understand that as things return to normal.

Another quarantine change that’s worth hanging onto is the newfound gratitude many of us feel toward the workers that hold our society together. It’s human nature to habituate to regularities in our environment. This means that if we don’t actively remind ourselves to be grateful, we’ll default to taking things for granted. It doesn’t need to take a pandemic for us to feel closer to the grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and numerous thankless professionals whose work we all depend on.

A final change worth keeping is any newfound clarity you may have reached about your priorities. If you’ve found yourself connecting more with family, practicing better hygiene, only spending money on necessities, and/or giving back to your community, don’t let these priorities slide when the perceived urgency around them subsides.

Reintroduce There are three main areas of daily routines that you want to reintroduce, but perhaps in a more thoughtful way now. The most important is social time. You probably came to realize how small positive interactions, such as with your bodega guy or even a complete stranger who let you pet their dog, accumulated a greater sense of belonging. Perhaps the inadequacy of social media as a substitute for face-to-face interactions is now salient to you. Maybe you have noticed a longing for physical contact -- a warm hug from a friend you’re having to stay 6 feet apart from.

Love and belonging are human needs that are critical to wellbeing, or “self-actualization” as Abraham Maslow put it. By paying attention to how we are feeling in the absence of these things, we can use that information to inform our future behavior. For example, if you are missing your water cooler chat with coworkers, maybe you weren’t doing a great job of meeting your social needs before quarantine started. If that’s the case, then you should consider switching from working out alone, to joining a workout class, or some equivalent change that is feasible for you. Your psychological needs may not seem as important as your psychical needs, but you can’t flourish unless all of your needs are being met.

The second is outdoor time. If you live in Chicago, then you are probably used to the Seasonal Affective Disorder (a.k.a. SAD) and cabin-fever that come with being stuck inside for months on end. But if you live in California, and you are used to spending lots of time outdoors, then you are probably experiencing the same vitamin D withdrawals, and sleep disturbances that I am. Your body and your brian need outdoor time, not just to calibrate our internal clocks (i.e. Circadian Rhythm), but it has scientifically backed benefits, such as reducing blood pressure. Outdoor time has also been shown to be a mood, focus, and creativity booster, in addition to being a stress-reliever. So if you live in an area that is grid-locked: take a walk to a nearby park when you can; consider buying a plant or two for your home; and maybe once a month, drive somewhere where you can be surrounded by nature.

The third, is dedicated environments. If your bed has become your office, your productivity has probably taken a hit. If your living room has become your yoga studio, you probably noticed your practice isn’t quite as zen as without the spa-like ambiance of a studio. Whatever you have to do, it’s easier to stay on task if you are in a space that is dedicated to that task. For example, when I was in college, I would force myself to go to the quiet section of the library to disincentive wasting time on social media, and to encourage myself to work as hard as the people around me (this phenomenon, whereby the knowledge that you’re being observed results in a behavioral change is called The Hawthorne Effect). So if there is a dedicated space available to you, geographically and financially, go ahead and make it easier on yourself to do what you need to.

Leave Behind Some habits that you want to leave behind are unhealthy coping methods and overconsumption of news. Unhealthy coping mechanisms vary widely. It’s not ideal to rely heavily on comfort foods, but it’s not as bad for you as substance abuse, just for example. So depending on what unhealthy coping skills you may have to unlearn, you will have a very different experience when quarantine ends. Some people will require professional support, others can probably make do. Asking for help when you need is something to be proud of -- for the record.

Aforementioned, some habits will undo themselves when this is over. Over consumption of news is one of those. You’ll probably stop checking so compulsively when you no longer feel like it’s a matter of life and death. But this is still a good opportunity to recognize how your news consumption, and/or social media use impacted you. If the effect was at all negative check out our blog on how to Curate Your Feed for Success.

To be clear, these are just suggestions. Figuring this out for yourself will depend on your own values, goals, and priorities.

Written by Sophie Wright

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