How to Get Yourself Back on Track in The Post-COVID World
The world has begun taking baby steps to return to normal. Post COVID-19, offices, restaurants, and malls have begun opening, people have begun traveling, and we can finally start pursuing the goals that got derailed in 2020. (Although we’re far from being out of the woods yet.)
Everyone is thrilled. At the same time, many people are secretly dreading the change in routine. After all, we had just gotten used to the lockdown life.
I was bored to tears staying locked up at home. All I did was work, watch TV, and complete a few household chores. I wished things would return to the way they were before 2020. But the constant stuck-ness, busyness, and languishing had begun to feel “normal.” This had become my comfort zone.
When gyms and cafes reopened with safety protocols and travel restrictions eased, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, I took far too long to get out of home and pull my life back on track. Not out of the fear of contracting the virus, but because I wasn’t able to take action towards my goals.
Why do we backslide after making resolutions to improve our lives? Is it because we’re lazy or lack willpower? Not really. It’s because of the condition of homeostasis.
We Crave The State of Homeostasis
Our bodies have an automated function to remain within narrow limits and revert to them when changed. This state of equilibrium, this resistance to change, is called homeostasis. And it’s a good thing.
Think about it: If your body’s temperature moved up or down by 10 percent, you’d be in trouble. The same applies to your blood sugar and other body functions. Homeostasis is why you can recover from a fever or function optimally despite drastic changes in weather.
This state applies to psychological and behavioral traits too. Homeostasis doesn’t distinguish between change for the better or change for the worse. It resists all change. [hat tip to George Leonard for explaining this concept in book Mastery.]
We got used to negative feelings like moping and languishing, and always staying busy in the pandemic era. Now, concepts like happiness, pursuing goals, and self-improvement have begun feeling alien.
One thing is clear: we have to leave the 2020 lifestyle behind. The quickest and most effective way to do this is to prioritize self-care, to engage in activities that fill us with a sense of purpose and meaning, and that stretch us physically and mentally.
I’ve divided my self-care activities into two categories: things I must do daily, and things I must do weekly.
My daily tasks are healthy eating, reading, writing 1,000 words, and meditating. My weekly tasks are learning new concepts, three sessions of exercise, and connecting with interesting people. These activities will help in my long-term goals of becoming stronger, building my newsletter and network, and discovering new opportunities.
Ideas to Prioritize Self-Care
There are many things you can do to do things that improve your mental and physical health. Three broad steps have helped me do so in the past few months.
1. Set a schedule.
Each decision you make exhausts your mind’s muscles like a rep at the gym exhausts your physical muscles. If you have to keep making minute-wise decisions about what to do, your mind will get tired quickly. And a tired mind chooses what’s easy so as to conserve energy. Like checking emails and messages, watching Netflix, and eating junk food.
Knowing what you have to do in advance makes it easier to follow through on those tasks. You experience less internal resistance, preserve mental energy, and work at optimal levels.
Here’s an example of my schedule for things I must do daily:
- Meditating for 15 minutes as soon as I wake up.
- Reading from 30 minutes before breakfast.
- Writing 800-1000 words immediately after breakfast.
- Learning a concept from 8:30 to 9:30 PM for five days a week.
I also schedule my diets and workouts for each week on Sunday.
This simple step has increased my success rate to follow a routine from 20 percent to 80 percent. That’s a huge jump! I’ve also reduced the time I spend on social media or Netflix, and feel much better than I did a month ago.
Schedule important tasks for your well-being and growth on your calendar. They could even include meeting one friend in person each week or working on that passion project you couldn’t start due to lack of time.
2. Maintain a streak.
Be strict while following your schedule, but not rigid. Strictness means having the self-discipline to stick to important tasks when easier, tempting things call for your attention. Rigidity is failing to manage such tasks when more pressing issues demand your attention.
An important meeting coincides with your “me-time.” A family member needs your help. You get delayed unexpectedly by traffic or a task that took longer than you expected. Fixating on your routine will mount your anxiety and make you crash and burn.
It’s better to be flexible and tweak your routine according to the situation. If you miss a task for an unavoidable reason, adjust it to another time slot.
For instance, if a meeting is scheduled in between my writing time, I pre-pone my writing session and postpone my reading in the day. If I miss a workout session, I hit the gym the next day.
“Sow a thought and you reap an act, sow an act and you reap a habit, sow a habit and you reap a character, sow a character and you reap a destiny.” — Parag Parikh
The aim is not to be militant about doing a task at a specific time every day; the aim is to not break the streak. Do the task every day and turn it into a habit. If you miss one session, that’s ok. Aim to not miss two sessions or days in a row, even if it demands putting in the work when you don’t feel up to it.
Don’t feel like writing? Just sit at the desk and stare at the blank page, or create junk. (Nobody will see it anyway.) Don’t feel like working out? Just make it to the gym. Once you get there, your body will gear up for the workout within minutes.
3. Measure your output
Nothing motivates you better than progress, which becomes visible when you track and measure your actions. Even if the outcome is tiny, you feel inspired to know that your goals are within reach. This, in turn, increases your likelihood to stick to the process.
Tracking the number of words I write daily has increased the number of times I publish each week. Jotting down what I eat every day is helping me stick to my diet and regain the weight I lost during the lockdown. Keeping a note of the weights I lift each week has increased my strength. I’ve safely progressed from squatting 110 pounds to 240 pounds in a single month.
I also measure my learning outcomes based on the results when I apply them. While learning value investing, I checked whether I was getting better at reading financial statements and identifying good stocks. While learning traffic building, I tracked whether my actions increased traffic and newsletter subscribers. While building my network, I track how successful I am in connecting with new, interesting people and keeping in touch with my existing network.
Progress makes you experience emotions more powerful than any drug can offer. It turns a task you earlier avoided into one you feel excited to do each day.
The pre-COVID normal might feel alien right now. Yet, it’s what we all crave. We want to feel as good as we did before.
It’s not hard to revert to that life. Just focus on tiny, consistent growth. Take action to get closer to your goals and you’ll become who you want to be
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