On Habits


For the last 2 years that I’ve lived here, this has been the vast majority of my Mondays-Fridays. In quaran-time, it’s been more like this:

The new world involves more work, more intentional exercise, and is altogether less interesting. And yet, if I think about going back to how things were in the before time, it sounds exhausting. I should say at this point that I’m aware I’m at the very bottom of people impacted by Covid. I have a job I can do from home, a home with enough space to work, and nobody else to have to organize around. There are things I wish were different in life in general, but specifically related to this crisis, I’m unbelievably fortunate. This piece isn’t about my personal circumstance, though.

Very few of the things we do throughout the day are done by conscious choice. After the first time or two, I never actively thought about how to do the drive to the ferry terminal, or whether I want to walk up the steep hike from 1st to 8th avenue to get to the office, or any of the other autopilot actions that keep us going throughout the day. And the longer we’re unable to do those things, the more those habits are being eroded. We’re going to have to relearn a lot of things.

Not just work-day related things, either. Some of us used to go to church, which meant getting up in time to be presentable on one of the days when you don’t have to. We might pretend to be virtuous and say this was always a positive, thought-out choice, but for most people, most of the time, it was habit. It’s a muscle which is atrophying, one we’ll have to train all over again, and naively we assume it’ll come back naturally. It won’t be easy.

Social interactions are not generally between people equally enthusiastic about them. Some people can’t wait to go meet x friend/check in on x relative/etc., and other people reluctantly go, knowing it’s the right thing to do, and, as with all habits, having had certain mental patterns worn in through positive reinforcement. By the time we get to use them again, the paths we travel down on autopilot will be overgrown with months of anxiety, apathy, and much else besides. It’s difficult to imagine now, because we’re all full of frustrated energy - the positives of brewery patios and coffee shops and whatever else we miss looms large. But it’s coming.

When the starting pistol fires for a return to real life, some people are going to find, perhaps to their surprise, that they don’t want to. It might be you. Or me. But we should be prepared for it. Much good has been said and written about the ways we need to bear with one another as everyone has different and unpredictable reactions to life under lockdown. I think we’re going to need just as much forbearance and patience for all of our unpredictable reactions when we’re eventually released.