“Did you know we have ancestors from France?” Before I could say anything in…
Just over a year ago the COVID19 pandemic dramatically altered many of our core habits. In the span of just a few days, we stopped eating in restaurants and started cooking at home. (After we washed the groceries, of course!) We stopped going to school and started “learning” at home. We stopped commuting and started Zooming instead. Others kept going to work but with masks, shields, and other PPE, a term most of us had never heard of a year before but is now part of the vernacular.
Overnight there were no more business trips or soccer practices, there were no more in-person church services or in-person mental health services. Some of us had more free time and took up new hobbies like baking or painting. Others suddenly had no free time because they were now working from home while also schooling their kids at home.
I could keep going but you get the point: the pandemic changed our habits. And now a year after the onset of those changes, I think it’s worth doing a little checking in and evaluation: How have my habits changed? Do those changes reflect what I value? What should I keep? What should I dump?
I think the habit changes that the pandemic wrought can roughly fit into three categories:
- Good changes
- Necessary but unsustainable changes
- Unhealthy changes
Some of the habit changes the pandemic forced on us were good. Here’s one example.
Many overloaded individuals and families suddenly found themselves experiencing what life could be like without five nights of after school activities or weekly business travel.
People from all corners — psychologists, doctors, pastors, life coaches, teachers, sociologists — have been sounding the alarm for some time that all of us, and kids especially, are too busy. The overloaded frantic pace of life had become normal and even something to be admired.
Especially during the early lockdowns, there was a forced slowing. People rediscovered the joys of eating together each evening at home. (For those who live alone however, this forced at-homeness dramatically increased loneliness and isolation.)
This forced, unprompted, even unwanted slowing I think was a good thing. I have heard many people comment about how they have enjoyed the slower pace. This is a good change we ought to do our very best to preserve as life returns to “normal.”
Now, obviously, many other habit changes were not good. Some were not good but necessary. Others were just plain unhealthy, even destructive.
Necessary but unsustainable changes
Some of the habit changes, in particular early on, were necessary but not sustainable. For example, suspending in-person church services, in-person school, and limiting visitation at nursing homes and hospitals.
Another example in this category of necessary but not sustainable would be the dramatic uptick in texting and social media use. During the early days of lockdown, we all found ourselves longing for connection and it was easy to ratchet up messaging and posting as a way of meeting that longing and need for connection.
However, technologically mediated relationships are not sustainable or healthy in the long term. Not only are in-person connections better for our spiritual, mental and physical flourishing, overuse of technologies like texting and social media can leave us chronically distracted at best, and clinically depressed at worst.
Finally, there are pandemic prompted changes that are simply unhealthy. Here are a few personal examples.
Driven to try to understand all that was unfolding, I started checking news websites multiple times a day, even hourly to get the latest “news” about what would happen next. This quickly became an unhealthy habit that kept me glued to my phone.
Also, in an attempt to lighten the burden of all that heavy news, I found myself watching nightly YouTube clips of late night hosts like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel. My evening reading time was replaced with YouTube scrolling.
Through all of this, I watched my weekly “ScreenTime” reports on my iPhone climb higher and higher. After reading Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation five years ago, I had made drastic changes to how I engaged with my phone. But it seemed like within a matter of just a couple months I’d slid back into the old negative, unhealthy ways of engaging with my phone.
So as life slowly begins to return to a new normal, don’t let the pandemic keep choosing your habits for you. Choose your habits on purpose. Here are three questions to help you keep the good changes, undo the unstainable changes, and escape the unhealthy changes. Get out piece paper or notebook and take a few minutes to work through these questions.
How did the pandemic change your habits?
Make a list of changes you’ve noticed — good, bad, and ugly. For example, your list might look this:
- Stopped going to in-person church
- Started cooking at home
- Kids involved in fewer activities
- Stopped Bible reading and prayer habit
- Started looking at Twitter and news sites multiple times per day.
Bonus points: Ask someone you’re close to what habit changes they’ve observed in you.
Which of those changes do you want to keep and which do you want to dump?
Create categories for the habits on your list. For example, your categories might look this:
- More cooking at home
- Fewer activities
- Twitter and news site doom scrolling
- Going to church
- Bible reading and prayer habit
How will you implement those changes?
Finally, decide on a few next steps to help you solidify or change those habits. For example, you might write:
- Read The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family and make a plan for limiting activities.
- Set a reminder on your phone to register for church and invite someone to go with you.
- Sign up for a Bible reading plan on YouVersion or engage with theFormed.life
- Delete Twitter from your phone and pick a different way of getting news instead of checking the web every 2 hours. (For example, I now listen to two news summary podcasts each morning while I drive or exercise — Up First and The World and Everything It.)
As you work through those three questions and start taking next steps, you’ll hopefully get a better sense of self-understanding and how the pandemic has adjusted your habits. As you do this exercise, apply the words of the Apostle Paul:
Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 GNT)