It’s fun to listen to others talk about how they turned the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity to create some fun and productive new habits.
Lots of people learned how to bake or they created new routines with their children, who joined them at home all day while they learned from home. Others found creative ways to party virtually with friends. And some got into the best shape of their lives.
But not everyone. A study by Blue Cross Blue Shield reveals a 23% increase in alcohol consumption at home since the pandemic began. It also points to a 19% climb in smoking; a 15% increase in vaping, and a 13% spike in drug use as a way to cope with being cooped up.
It could be that with no end in sight, some people became depressed and anxious, and they turned to substances to quiet their pain. Or they figured the stay-at-home thing would just be for a little while, so what’s the harm? They would quit when things got back to normal.
The same goes for the things we didn’t do: The gym was closed so we quit exercising. Churches shut down so we put our spiritual lives on hold. We couldn’t see friends in person, so we gave up on socializing.
As normal seemed to get farther and farther away, those habits helped us create a different kind of normal—and not a good one.
But it seems the end is in sight. Is the damage reversible?
Psychologists and optimists say it is. The key: Be intentional about getting back on track.
The beginning of spring is a great time to do that, pandemic or not. It’s a time of growth, beauty and hope. It’s a time for fresh starts.
That means shaking off whatever bad habits you started during your time at home and learning from your own behavior. It also means holding onto any good habits you tried out so they continue after you’re able to get back to your workplace and your social life.
Here are five ways to separate yourself from new habits that you don’t want to keep as you spring ahead:
1. Start small
If you can quit smoking or give up daily desserts or wean yourself from video games right here, right now, go for it. But the habit didn’t form overnight, so there’s no need to expect it to disappear in one day. Create a plan for yourself. Choose just one habit at a time to concentrate on. If your long-term goal is to lose your Quarantine 15, for example, develop an action plan that includes small, realistic steps you can take on your months-long journey to your ideal weight. An example: Stop eating dessert on weeknights. Or limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day. Or delete all of your game apps except for one.
The next week, add one more step, and so on. Make a schedule. Know what’s next.
The same goes for adding new, productive habits, which can become an alternative to the behaviors you want to end.
For example, you could make a plan to start reading one chapter of a good book every night before bed instead of playing Candy Crush on your phone. Or, for a couple of dinners a week, you could replace your usual carb-heavy sides with creative veggie dishes like riced cauliflower.
Be patient with yourself. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
2. Stop talking
If your answer when someone asks, “How’ve you been?” is “bored,” “unhappy,” “frustrated,” “sick of this,” or all of the above, change the conversation.
Complaining about how awful things are for you is 1) unnecessary because everyone feels that way about the situation the pandemic has left us in, and 2) reinforcing your bad feelings.
So much evidence is out there that says if you think positively and speak positively, you will feel better and do better.
If you go on and on about how tired you are, it won’t stop you from feeling tired. It will simply shine a spotlight on it, so you feel it more intensely. And it will let your friends know that you’re not someone they can rely on to put the pandemic aside for a few minutes to have a cheerful conversation.
Instead, attract good things to yourself by presenting an upbeat attitude, steering your conversations to fun plans for the future; reporting what you’re excited about right now; and engaging friends and family with humor, silliness and wishful thinking.
And find something—anything—to feel grateful for: your health, your paycheck, your children, your best friend. Feeling grateful and acting grateful can benefit you and everyone around you.
3. Think ahead
Likewise, don’t get stuck where you are—physically or mentally. The best way out of a rut is to make a plan to get out.
Making plans is a sign of hope. When you make a plan, you signal to yourself and those around you that you’re expecting better times. And when you make a plan, it gives you something to look forward to.
In fact, if you plan for a fun experience—even if it’s for down the road—the anticipation of having that experience will make you feel happy and hopeful. According to one recent study, planning future fun can improve your mood even more than simply deciding to pick up and go on the spur of the moment.
It turns out that the delay between when you book your trip and when you actually go on it can make you happier than if you booked today and left today.
Even if you don’t feel ready to venture out while the safety of the world is still uncertain, book a vacation for a few months from now. While you’re waiting for it to happen, you won’t be able to help but feel excited and happy about what’s to come.
4. Embrace change.
Most of us have had more time to ourselves lately, especially if we’re no longer spending time commuting, socializing, shopping or traveling. Spend some of that time thinking about whether your pre-pandemic life is really the one you want to return to after the world settles down.
Do you love your job? If not, take the opportunity to do some research and learn what you want to do with the skills that you have.
Don’t have the skills you need for your dream job? Enroll in a virtual course to learn what you need.
Have you realized that you don’t like living alone? Or with roommates? Turn your attention to finding a living situation that suits you better.
Not happy with your progress at work or in life? Consider updating your “brand”—the way you present yourself to the world.
There’s no better time to work on becoming the best version of yourself than when you’re spending time alone. By the time you can get out among co-workers, friends and the public, you’ll be ready to show everyone who you really can be.
5. Start writing.
One of the best ways to find out where you want to go, to be assured of getting there and to track your progress along the way is to keep a journal.
If you’re on a weight-loss journey, keep a food journal that includes how you felt when you ate something that made you feel bad about yourself later. If you’re on a quest for a promotion, keep a written list of the actions you take each day to make that dream a reality.
Journaling is also a great way to unburden yourself of the grief and sadness that this pandemic has stricken all of us with. On the other hand, keeping a diary of your hopes, dreams and successes puts all of that positivity at your fingertips and reminds you of every awesome thing you accomplish each day.
This pandemic has stuck around for a very long time. But you don’t have to be stuck with any damage that it might have created in your life.
Be intentional about changing what you want to change. Make a plan for it. Train yourself to think that it’s possible and to visualize a time when those changes are in play—for the better.
And always look ahead, not behind.
Dr. Cindy McGovern, known as the “First Lady of SalesTM,” speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership. She is the author of Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf ConsultingTM, a sales management and consulting firm. For more information, please visit, www.drcindy.com and connect with her on Twitter @1stladyofsales and on LinkedIn.