In the first month of self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, I heard myself say, “I can’t wait to go back to normal!”. In the second month, I realized I had no idea what “normal” even was anymore. As I start the third month, with businesses gradually opening up, it’s been so long since I’ve lived my “normal” daily routine, I’m anxious about facing the change again.
Perhaps you’ve heard that it takes an average of 21 days to form a new habit. That idea comes from a book, “Psycho-Cybernetics” published in 1960 by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In 2009, a new study showed it actually takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
It got me thinking-if I start from March 13th (which is the day it started for us), and count the days until today, I get the magic number 58. In our state (MN), the Governor has issued a stay-at-home order until May 18th. If everything opened on May 18th, the number of days we’ve been in self-isolation is 61. So, if you consider the study I mentioned above, we will be just 5 days shy of the 66 days it takes for new behaviors to become automatic.
My next thought was, “Great-I’ve finally gotten to a certain level of comfort with my self-isolation routine and now I’m going to go through the discomfort of figuring out my new normal post-pandemic!”
What will the new normal after Covid-19 look like and how will it affect your personal safety? You will have to establish new baselines in the establishments you patronize, you will need to adjust your readings of body language, and you will need to establish new boundaries for yourself and your loved ones.
Let’s talk about the first item, establishing new baselines. A baseline is what you would normally expect to observe in your environment. For example, the baseline of a coffee shop may be the smell of fresh brewed coffee, a low-level of sound as people are working quietly, and looking around, you would see tables of people reading, working on their laptops, or talking in small groups. What is the new baseline going to look like post-pandemic? For coffee shops, probably not a whole lot of difference. The tables may be more spread out with less available seating. If there are groups of two or more people, some of those people might be wearing masks. Be curious about whatever environment you’re in to establish the new baseline, so you can easily spot the anomaly or something that doesn’t fit.
The second item, adjusting your readings of body language. It makes me think of a funny meme I saw the other day:
Before Covid-19, it was very unusual to see people covering their faces with masks, unless they were concealing their identity while committing a crime. Now, a lot of people are wearing masks as well as the criminals. Being able to read body language, is more important than ever. What are they doing with their hands? Does the individual keep touching their pocket or reaching their arm around to their lower back? Those are signs that the individual could be concealing something. Maybe they just stole an item and they want to make sure it hasn’t fallen out of the hiding spot, or maybe they have a weapon and they keep touching it to make sure it’s easily accessible. If you weren’t a people-watcher before Covid-19, consider this your opportunity to start a new hobby.
Lastly, what will your new physical and emotional boundaries be and how will you enforce them? If you are a hugger like me, I need to consider that it may not be as socially acceptable. Even handshakes may be something that will only be allowed after vigorous use of hand-sanitizer. If your personal bubble was 2’ before Covid-19, it has probably increased to 6’. If there’s someone else bagging fresh avocados in the produce area and you have the ingredients for guacamole on your shopping list, you’ll probably wait patiently for the other person to be finished before picking and bagging your avocados. Decide what you are comfortable with BEFORE you go back out after all the stores re-open. Run through mental scenarios on how you will enforce those boundaries and what you will do if a boundary is crossed.
Setting your emotional boundaries will be crucial to your mental health as you re-enter your community. When I first went into self-isolation back in March, I crashed hard emotionally in week 2. I was overwhelmed with having my two kids home with me, I was sad to watch my business stall, and the confusion of information changing daily was unsettling. I continued to try and spread positivity, but my emotional tank was empty, and I was hurting myself trying to give something I didn’t have. As businesses and individuals adjust to re-opening protocols, give yourself plenty of space to decide what you’re comfortable with. If you’re not sure about going back to eating inside restaurants or attending a gathering of more than 10 people, don’t let others force you or make you feel bad about your decisions. Do what is best for you and decide how you will respond to invites. On the flip side, refrain from passing judgement or shaming those who are the first through the door of their favorite restaurant.
As you look forward and contemplate your new normal, take the time to listen to your intuition, and make decisions based on what’s best for you and your loved ones. You got this.
“We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges.”