“I sometimes wonder if I squandered this gift of time,” said Ms. Scott, who is an organizer of the Oregon Truffle Festival. “I have all this anxiety that we’re just going to go back to what people think of as normal. As we come out of our cocoons, am I emerging from something and moving toward something new? Or am I just stuck?”
While some people did develop healthy new habits during pandemic lockdowns, it’s not too late if you spent your pandemic days just getting by. The good news is that the end of the pandemic is probably a more opportune time for meaningful change than when you were experiencing the heightened anxiety of lockdowns.
“Covid-19 was an awful time for many of us,” said Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale who teaches a popular online course called “The Science of Well-Being.” “There’s lots of evidence for what’s called post-traumatic growth — that we can come out stronger and with a bit more meaning in our lives after going through negative events. I think we can all harness this awful pandemic time as a time to get some post-traumatic growth in our own lives.”
So What’s Your Next Chapter?
One of the biggest obstacles to change has always been the fact that we tend to have established routines that are hard to break. But the pandemic shattered many people’s routines, setting us up for a reset, Dr. Santos said.
“We’ve all just changed our routines so much,” she said. “I think many of us have realized during the pandemic that some of the things we were doing before Covid-19 weren’t the kind of things that were leading to flourishing in our lives. I think many of us were realizing that aspects of our work and family life and even our relationships probably need to change if we want to be happier.”
One reason fresh starts can be so effective is that humans tend to think about the passage of time in chapters or episodes, rather than on a continuum, Dr. Milkman said. As a result, we tend to think of the past in terms of unique periods, such as our high school years, the college years, the years we lived in a particular town or worked at a certain job. Going forward, we’re likely to look back on the pandemic year as a similarly unique chapter of our lives.
“We have chapter breaks, as if life is a novel — that is the way we mark time,” said Dr. Milkman. “That has implications for the psychology of fresh starts, because these moments that open a new chapter give us a sense of a new beginning. It’s easier to attribute any failings to ‘the old me.’ You feel like you can achieve more now, because we’re in a new chapter.”