Time To Change
We live in troubled times. An idea that might help us cope is seeing this as an opportunity to reset some personal habits.
David Sparks (of MacSparky fame) is one of my favourite podcasters. In a recent episode of the Focussed podcast, he celebrated his 5th anniversary of working independently. He said the best piece of advice he got, when setting out on his own, came from Merlin Mann, who said that working for yourself was a brilliant opportunity to reset your habits.
I love that advice. Normally when you set out on a new venture, a lot of people want to point what could go wrong or want to make you hyperaware of how you might fail. What if you run out of money or no one notices you or you fail to be successful?
When we set out on a new adventure, however, we usually want something more than just money, fame or some abstract notion of success. Especially as we get older.
We want our life to change.
Of course now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, our lives have been reset, and we’ve been sent on a new adventure, whether we wanted to change or not.
So, why not choose the changes we want, as best we can, given our current situation?
Start Small, Very Small
A lot of words have already been written about how epically productive we might all become in this situation. Apparently, Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine. And Isaac Newton’s most productive period was also during his quarantine.
Shakespeare was already prolific and Newton was probably at the point in his career where he had the knowledge and just needed the time to make his breakthroughs.
But, most of us have been thrown into this feeling unprepared.
Calls to suddenly become super productive, super fit or in some other way super human feel extreme at a time when we are feeling the pain of sudden changes in our lives, worrying over the plight of our loved ones and for many, struggling frantically just to get home and get the basics of life covered.
So, what can we do?
We can start by being kind, to ourselves and to those around us. For many of us, the goal right now probably isn’t thriving; it’s just getting by.
And we can continue by focussing on small everyday habits to improve our new reality.
What Habits Do You Want To Change?
It might feel like it’s too soon to be looking for positives in this situation. But really, it isn’t. Our world has changed and even when we get through this, months from now, life will be different.
So let’s make the difference one we can hopefully enjoy and find satisfaction in. Rather than wait and hope this all blows over in a few days, it might be better to accept the possibility it will carry on for many months and learn to make the most of what we currently have.
Since many of us are now working from home, we could look at habits around how we work or how we create a working space in our homes.
Similarly, since we are so concerned about hygiene, it might be time to consider how we tidy and clean. Maybe, you could do a spring clean like our grandparents used to do. A Marie Kondo makeover of your cupboard might feel like too much, but then again, maybe it’s the perfect time.
The same goes for those crafts and hobbies you always wanted to take up, or unfinished DIY projects, or even that dream of learning a new skill or another language. This might feel like a lot to take on right now, but you could consider how you would make a start on doing something new sometime soon.
It may seem a bit scary, but why not ask yourself: “If this could last for 3 or 4 months, what would I do just now to make this situation better?”
Some Changes I’ve Made
I’ve been in isolation since March 9 (24 days, as I write this) and I need to cook a lot. There are extra meals for the freezer just in case, and more servings every day since I’m feeding three instead of one for lunch, with my spouse working from home and my kid back from university and studying online.
The positive is so many cooking ideas had slipped me by but are now my daily and weekly habits. I’m getting back into things like sous-vide cooking and making sourdough bread. I’m also making bacon and nut butter. I’m smoking salmon and slowly becoming some kind of urban frontiersman.
I’m also practising guitar every day and not using the excuse of no longer having a studio or not being able to crank up a guitar amplifier because of the neighbours.
With so many new opportunities for online learning springing up (sadly driven by economic necessity as the situation gets desperate for face-to-face instructors), I’m getting back into learning Japanese. And I’m doing more Pilates than my schedule previously permitted, since my favourite studio in New York has started putting classes online.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I’m putting more daily effort into communicating clearly with my family and close friends. My mindset wasn’t great in the final months of 2019 and I was treating staying in touch as an unwanted chore. This ran totally against my values and I’m now back into clear open communication as a trackable daily habit.
There are other deeper habits I’d like to change: making more time to read, making more music in this confined regime and finding a space in my week for more calligraphy.
But, all that needs to be balanced against how difficult life is at the moment. For a couple of weeks, I was struggling to write, not sleeping well and unsure where to buy basics like flour or eggs. My usually quiet daily routine, built on long periods of solitude, is now shattered by the presence of people I love. I always wished I could spend more time with them, but now I sometimes resent them for being in the way. And my self-identity, as someone who travels frequently, is struggling with the idea of having no clear sense of when I can board a flight again.
It’s not easy.
The Most Important Habit Is Reframing This Situation
Currently, it’s easy to feel trapped and under attack. The world feels strange and unsafe.
We need to think about how we think about this before we can start to feel differently, and then we can explore how this might be good for us.
You could begin with the language you use. Consider that it’s an unusual situation instead of a crisis, for example. Then look at the news and media you consume. Staying current on your local heath updates is important, but consuming a constant stream of every news story and opinion piece perhaps isn’t and might even be corroding your mind.
After all, you’re not stuck at home; you’re safe in your home. You’re not bored; you’re in need of stimulation. You are can change the way you think about this situation and the way you react to it.
You are building your future, whether intentionally or not, so why not just get into it, even if the first steps are small, because there is no going back.