I never expected to star in my own version of Groundhog Day. Did you? We’re about 200 days into the pandemic. For many people, that’s 200 days of relatively the same, exact day. We don’t have our usual weekend structures, making it easier for work to bleed into home life and relaxation time, so each day blends into the next. Today becomes yesterday, which becomes tomorrow, which feels like all the same.
The most devastating adjustment for many people has been the loss of rites of passage. Weddings and graduations are canceled. People are dying and grieving alone, unable to help their loved ones in the final moments before death or come together to honor their lives in funerals.
But beyond these foundational milestones, we also don’t have the lighter joys of family vacations, sporting events, or summer festivals. While not as poignant, they provide essential markers to delineate this week from the next and offer moments to look forward to. Now they’re gone.
On the macro level, a lot of people have sadly accepted this loss and moved on. But on the micro-level, stuck in our routines, many of us haven’t developed alternatives to the usual enjoyments we once took for granted.
Those routines are the antithesis of creativity—of the feeling of newness so many people need these days.
When the pandemic first struck, many articles advised people working from home to develop routines to help create a sense of normalcy. While this is good advice, the flipside is that routines can lead to ruts.
Ruts are stale. They trap us in the rigidity of thought, and rigidity of thought is a formidable, unseen enemy. They make us prisoners of our own perspectives. Without new stimuli or pattern disruptions, it’s easy for our thought processes to constrict. When we constrict, we lack creativity, which is the lifeblood of innovation in life and business. While we can tend to our home and work lives, we can’t tackle them with the creativity they deserve.
Besides this, ruts are destructive to our mental health, and until a vaccine permits some of our old freedoms, taking care of our mental health should be a fundamental concern.
So, what can we do?
- Start with mindfulness, a practice of observing oneself. Determine if you are in a rut. Maybe you’re not. This is not one size fits all, and if you’re thriving, that’s genuinely fantastic. If you’re not thriving, pay attention to when and why.
- Try doing anything different. Don’t underestimate the power of altering your routine. Something as simple as reading books in a new genre or reading in the mornings instead of the evenings can help change your perspective.
- Identify and invert your habits. If you work out hard every day, take a walk instead. If you’re not working out, start. Invert the habit and see how you feel.
- Try something new. Meditate, play games instead of watch TV, Zoom your extended family. Ask yourself what you haven’t done before and try it.
- Develop plans for the future. What are the top ten things you’ll do when life returns to normal? Is there a favorite family restaurant you’ll visit? What about your top big life achievements? Have you always wanted to go to Greece? The pandemic has been a reminder that life is short, so make those plans you’ve always wanted to make. It’s important to have moments to look forward to.
- Create your own mixed table. Schedule and bring people together to work on thought challenges, questions, or issues you have for yourself or what your world will look like after the pandemic. Think about what you can do about it.
- Schedule your creative time to avoid slumping into a rut. That creativity is essential, but if it’s not scheduled, it won’t happen.
COVID is the neighbor none of us asked for — the kind who starts construction projects at midnight. And he’s not moving anytime soon. So, we have to learn to live with it. It is the difference between cringing at the realization that you have no idea what day it is and looking forward to a new hobby you explore every Tuesday. We don’t have those vacations, and we don’t have those summer festivals, but we can alter our routines. We can plan for the future, and schedule creative time, and infuse energy back into experiences that now feel banal and repetitive. If we’re mindful, we’ll prevent rigidity of thought from taking hold and be able to infuse our businesses and lives with the creativity and thoughtfulness they deserve.
Originally published 3 December 2020 in Real Leaders, the Preferred Partner Publication of YPO.