The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in its impact on all of us. It has put the physical and financial lives of billions of people around the world at risk, not only in the short run, but, in all likelihood, for many years to come. The pandemic is truly a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) experience. Though the crisis has many implications that affect all of our lives, when it comes to day-to-day activities, the word that keeps coming to my mind is “disruption.” The unfortunate reality of COVID-19 is that it has thrown a huge monkey wrench in the machinery of our lives What had been predictable is now uncertain. What had been within our control is no longer the case. What had been habit and routine is no more. In other words, our daily lives have been turned upside down.
But that disruption can be a good thing. As I describe in my book, Change Your Life-inertia: Break Free from Your Past and Take Control of the Forces that Propel Your Life Trajectory, our lives can feel like an asteroid hurtling uncontrollably through space. In a sense, due to our upbringings and ongoing life experiences, our lives can develop an inertia that doesn’t encourage change even if the path we are on isn’t what is bringing us meaning, satisfaction, or happiness. The challenge is that, for anyone who is familiar with Newton’s Laws of Motion, it can be very difficult to change course because inertia keeps our lives on their present trajectory.
The COVID-19 crisis has certainly exerted a powerful force on our lives that requires us to alter the path we are on, at least temporarily. Most of that force isn’t positive or healthy because it lies outside of our control. At the same time, we don’t have to be asteroids hurtling through life. Instead, we can be Captains of “Starship You” in which we take command of our lives and use this massive disruption as a positive force to make beneficial changes that will help us in the short term and in the long run.
Certainly, the most immediate and noticeable disruption in our lives has been the “shelter-in-place” order that has been authorized by most states in the U.S. and in most countries around the world. This directive has required us to stay in our homes together either alone (if we don’t have roommates, partners, or family) or with our families. Not being able to go to work, attend school, socialize, run errands, or travel are all new and disconcerting disruptions to the rhythm and flow of our lives.
At the same time, these unsettling changes present us with a surprising opportunity to use this disruption to reflect on and take action to make positive and healthy changes. The goal of these changes is to improve how we deal with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic in the near term and to create a positive and healthy new direction in our lives in the future.
With that objective in mind, here are five “life hacks” that you can do to improve the quality of your life now.
Time is our most precious resource because it’s nonrenewable. We want to take advantage of every moment we have. Thanks to the shelter-in-place order limiting commuting, errands, or after-school activities, we now have several extra hours each day to use as we wish. What a wonderful opportunity to be intentional in how we spend those hours.
Take a look at your week and identify specifically what new free time you have. Then ask yourself how you would like to spend it. It might be with your partner or family. It could involve exercise or returning to a neglected hobby. You could devote this time to a new avocation such as learning to cook, taking up a musical instrument, or registering for an online course you’re interested in. Your options are nearly endless, and whatever you choose should pass a simple litmus test: “Am I maximizing the value of this precious time that is available to me?”
As a married parent of a teen and a tween, I can attest to the fact that it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of family life and lose touch with our spouses and children. Work, school, extracurricular activities, homework, and social life all exert a gravitational pull away from the people who are most important to us. Shelter-in-place gives us the chance to spend more time — not just “quality time” — to connect with and strengthen our relationships with our family.
Dinners together every night, walks and bike rides in your neighborhood, weekend outings (close to home and maintaining social distancing from others, of course), games, movies, and just plain old conversation are just a few ways in which you can really connect with the people you love the most.
Admittedly, being together almost 24/7 can also have its challenges as the constant contact can cause everyone to get on each other’s nerves. This tension can also be an opportunity to practice kindness, empathy, and patience with those who deserve it the most.
One of the most ubiquitous observations I’ve made while walking our dog in our neighborhood since the shelter-in-place order took effect has been the daily piles of junk on the sidewalk ready to be disposed of by our local garbage collectors. With so much free time, everyone seems to have gotten the “declutter” bug. I’m a huge believer in simplifying our lives by getting rid of the junk that we Americans love to accumulate in our closets, storage sheds, and garages. (And to think that garages used to be for cars!)
Without realizing it, clutter can have a big impact on us psychologically and emotionally. As we fill our lives up with stuff that we no longer use or need, clutter can create a claustrophobia that we’re not even aware of. We can feel an undefined closing in around us, a sense of feeling overwhelmed and trapped. Decluttering your space can also declutter your mind, freeing you of unnecessary “mental junk” that encroaches on your thinking and emotions.
The question I’m often asked is: “How do I know what to throw out?” It’s pretty simple; if you haven’t used it or noticed it in the last six months, say goodbye to it. And there is social value to decluttering as well. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so when you give your stuff away to a charity, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army, those old clothes, games, and toys are going to people who are in need and would value what you no longer do.
Those extra hours in the day that I mentioned above can be well used by committing to an exercise regimen.
Admittedly, there are fewer options for exercise with the shelter-in-place order in effect. No swimming pools for laps and no health clubs, gyms, or other fitness-related facilities for weight training, spinning, yoga, dance, or other exercise activities.
You can walk, run, or bike outside (while following the social-distancing guidelines, of course), acquire an indoor bike trainer, or purchase some dumbbells, exercise balls, stretch cords, or other exercise equipment for your own “gym” in your house. Some gyms are letting members borrow exercise equipment for home use. There is now a booming online exercise business with tens of thousands of videos offering a plethora of exercise programs that are fun and motivating that you can follow from the safety of your own home.
5. Change Bad Habits
This disruption of your daily routine offers you a unique opportunity to break unhealthy habits that were too difficult to overcome while you were entrenched in your life before the COVID-19 crisis. Your eating habits are one such area in which you are forced to change. If you had a habit of stopping by that donut shop on the way to work, you no longer can. If you got that latte at Starbucks every day at lunch, sorry. If you ate out more often than not, game over (though, in theory, you could do take-out).
Here’s a good exercise for you to engage in to see which bad habits you can break while in “lockdown.”
- Identify one or two habits you wish you didn’t have (e.g., snacking on junk food whenever you take a break at work).
- Clarify what is bad about them and why you want to break the habit (e.g., causes you to overeat and gain weight).
- Specify a new habit with which you can replace the old habit (e.g., instead of eating when you take a break while working at home, take a walk around the block).
- Create an enjoyable environment for your new habit (e.g., listen to music or podcasts or talk to friends by phone during your walk).
- Accept that you might fall off the wagon periodically, so just recommit to the new habit and get back on the wagon (e.g., if, in a moment of weakness, you bought some potato chips at the store, finish them and resist the urge the next time you are grocery shopping).
- Seek support for your new habit (e.g., if you have a spouse or roommate working from home as well, ask them to help you by not buying snacks themselves and joining you for your walks).
- Choose a reward for staying committed (e.g., treat yourself to a nice take-out dinner each week).
There is no way that we can completely turn the COVID-19 crisis into a thoroughly positive experience. At the same time, to allow it to be totally negative adds insult (e.g., really bums you out) to the injury that’s already being inflicted on us (e.g., financial, social). Instead, see the pandemic as an opportunity to exert positive forces on your life-inertia and make healthy changes. You garner several important benefits from taking this approach to the crisis. First, you’ll feel a lot better psychologically and emotionally during a time that is a natural downer because you are using your time and energy in a constructive way. Second, your experience of the crisis will be much more positive and uplifting. Third, the pandemic will go by faster because you’re focused on more positive things. And, lastly, when the COVID-19 crisis finally passes, you can take the new changes and enter the “real world” happier and better positioned to enjoy your life to the fullest.
Want to learn more about how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in healthy and constructive ways? Read Dr. Jim Taylor’s new book, How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis, or listen to his podcast, Crisis to Opportunity (or find it on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, or Google).
Featured image: Shutterstock
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