Times of change often lead us to rethink our lives, make plans for the future and vow to take up healthy and productive new habits. On holiday, for example, it’s easy to convince ourselves we’ll quit that boring job, travel more, break up (or make up) with our partner, move house – or begin that book we’ve always dreamed of writing.
But once we get back, unpack our bags and return to the day to day, all too often these plans begin to seem unrealistic, scary or simply too much work.
Right now, we’re in a time of huge upheaval – but also stasis. We’ve been forced out of our usual patterns of work, study and socialising. Most of us are going nowhere, and feelings of boredom, anxiety and grief are rife.
Those who have been furloughed or made redundant might be contemplating a new career. Those working from home may be thinking differently about work-life balance. Motivational memes and Instagram posts are encouraging us to use this time productively to take up hobbies and acquire skills. Relationships are being proven – and tested. We’re all asking how long lockdown will last. Should we ask the same of our plans and dreams for post-lockdown life?
“Changing your habits usually starts with a change in routine,” explains clinical psychologist Steph Hicks. “Significantly changing your routine usually takes a huge amount of motivation, but this change has been forced on all of us. I’m not at all surprised people are making new plans right now.”
Any break from our routines, especially one that leaves us with more time on our hands, encourages us to “rethink our values and maybe think about values we haven’t considered in a long time”, Hicks tells HuffPost UK.
This could be as simple as slowing down and looking after ourselves a bit more. Charlotte, a 34-year-old advertising creative from New York, is taking a rare break while in lockdown. “Quarantine has made me realise I basically haven’t stopped for three years,” she says. “I haven’t taken a vacation. I never really understood the idea of self-care; it all made me feel like I was slacking off. After this is over, I’m going to be sure to make more time for myself. This has made me realise that it just wasn’t healthy, the way I was working non-stop.”
Others have been using the free time for projects they couldn’t fit in previously. Tamsyn Black, 29, an events manager from Bristol, has seen her industry slow to a standstill during coronavirus. “I think for me, creating a lot of new goals is a way to take some control over this situation,” says Black.“I’ve made a spider chart of all my plans; it’s colour-coded. But I think I might have too many: I want to learn Spanish and Tarot, start putting more on my blog, learn how to use WordPress, and organise all my photographs from the last few years.”
Hicks says she is interested to see if we will stick to our newfound habits once lockdown begins to be lifted – whenever that might be. “Obviously, this isn’t the same as being on holiday,” she says. “Our routines have been different for so long now. There’s that old saying: you have to do something for 30 days before it becomes a habit. There’s actually something in that.”
For some, quarantine has galvanised bigger life decisions. Kara Rose Marshall, 29, a model and mum from London, has spent lockdown outside the city, living at a friend’s farmhouse with her partner and their son. The time away has already made her reassess her priorities.
“I’ve learned that family is more important than postcode. It’s made me realise so much about London, and how I don’t actually need it anymore,” she says. “We won’t move yet. But I’m not looking forward to coming back to London.”
Is a period of huge change and uncertainty a good time to be making big life choices? For most of us, quarantine is a situation and state of mind we’ve never experienced before. Can we be confident about the decisions we make in it?
“It’s important for people to think about why they want to make a change,” says Hicks. “To examine the personal value that’s behind it. In everyday life, a lot of people feel pressured to pursue things that society deems to be interesting, or more glamorous – but these might not truly line up with our own values.
“For example, a person might think they should travel the world, but really their values tell them they care more about their family and that’s where they’d rather be. Think about what’s important to you. And be honest with yourself.”
If you are determined to keep new habits and plans, Hicks says, don’t wait until the end of lockdown. “Commit and embed the changes into your life now while you have the time to do it.” It’s hard to know what things will look like on the other side of quarantine or even how long it will be until our routines are truly back to normal.
For many, planning active changes is a source of comfort and control. Only time will tell if the dreams we’ve had for ourselves during this time will follow through into life after quarantine.