Why are our post-Covid resolutions so short lived? It’s a question I’ve found myself pondering as I pack out my weekend calendar for the fifth consecutive weekend in a row. During lockdown, I (like everybody else) gained a new perspective about how I wanted to live my life. I was going to stop cramming my weekends. I even wrote all about it.
Spending my weekends pottering around the house, making cookies and pruning the garden was my ideal. I enjoyed spending three hours lovingly cooking a roast dinner on a Sunday. Now, you need a head torch to get to the end of the garden, there’s not a cookie in sight and I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a roast.
How did I lose this new found perspective for life so quickly?
While we’re on the subject of losing perspective, I’ve been quite shocked about how quickly people have stopped wearing masks. During lockdown I regularly lamented that it’d take years before we stopped wearing our masks.
It took one single week for most of you. In fact, even on the train where we’re still meant to be wearing masks most people are like ‘what’s Covid again?’
It made me wonder if the reason behind the quick switch back to our ‘old lives’ is in fact down to simple Covid fatigue. In running head first towards normality, have we just forgotten all the pearls of wisdom we learnt during our government-imposed lockdown?
Perhaps it’s as simple as that – perhaps I just want to see so many people and fit in so many activities to make up for lost time. To make up for the fact that I had a baby that nobody met during lockdown and emerged an entirely different person.
No, it’s not that
Then, I quickly remembered that I hate most people.
I also realised that my short-lived attitude towards new changes I try to make reaches far beyond Covid.
I vow every night to exercise the following day only to scoff at the mere notion of exercise the following morning. I vow to drink more water only to wander past my water bottle and simply not pick it up at least ten times an hour.
We all do it. We gain a new perspective and vow to make changes – whether it’s after a big life event or a day-to-day realisation. We go in all guns blazing and then we just stop. We either gradually or quite immediately revert back to our old ways.
Are we capable of change?
Let’s speak about psychological essentialism. This is the belief that members of certain social groups share an inborn, fundamental and unchangeable essence.
In 2017, a study led by Steven O. Roberts at Stanford University found that there was a link between people who believed in essentialism and their support for boundary enhancing initiatives. To use a simple example, people who believe in a clear distinction between men and women are more likely to support ways to enhance the gap between the two. Men who fall into this category will likely be against women earning the same as men or perhaps they’ll believe that women should stay at home and raise children.
Essentialism in relation to boundaries works both ways. If you are somebody who believes men and women are equal, you are more likely to voice support for equal pay.
This might seem obvious, but it’s the very crux of one theory on how our entire opinions landscape is formed and more importantly in the context of this blog post, how difficult it is to change.
Essentialism isn’t a modern theory. Plato and Aristotle both believed that every unique opinion had an essence – a set of traits that make up its identity. They saw it as a way for the brain to represent and classify things in a logical manner.
In fact, if you think about one opinion you have right now and trace it back to its conception, you’ll see the theory of essentialism at work. It’s even more fascinating to do this with an unpopular opinion, because the trail back to its origin is often easier.
Let’s use one of mine to start things off. I love dipping biscuits in coffee. It’s way better than dipping them in tea. I can trace this back to my parents love of sweet, milky coffee (two sugars) over tea. Growing up we rarely had tea compared to coffee. Now, when I dip biscuits into coffee I’m not only enjoying it, I’m also filled with this nostalgic throwback to being a teenager and having a cup of coffee and biscuits while Friends was on.
This is a pretty non-offensive opinion. It only really affects me but given the choice, I would always dip my biscuits in coffee over tea. Now, can you see how essentialism can become a little bit more tricky when it’s dealing with more intricate matters?
Our behaviours are so ingrained in us and apparently, it takes more than a global pandemic to shift them. It’s why we struggle to stick to New Year’s resolutions and it’s why I struggle to keep a day free each weekend.
It is possible to shift our perspectives
Just because my need for some quiet time at a weekend clearly isn’t enough for me to change my habitual behaviours, doesn’t mean that this is the case for everybody.
Many people have been profoundly affected by Covid. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one and it has shifted your focus to believe that some things in life are more important. Perhaps you almost died of Covid and again, it has re-sharpened your focus.
Even then – and even with the very best of intentions, it becomes quite easy to slip back into your old ways.
I guess the crux of this question lies with how badly you want it. Some people will wake up in the morning, decide they want to lose weight and never look back. Another person might’ve lost their wife to Covid only to slip back into working 70 hour weeks after a year.
No one person is better than the other. It’s simply down to where your priorities lie.
But, I really do want to keep up with my new perspective…
I hear you – so did I, or so I thought.
If you really do want to stick to the changes you’ve made as a result of the pandemic, it seems that the answer lies within self-monitoring.
A 2015 study into change motivation published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (there really is a journal for everything, isn’t there?) found that fitness apps and watches provided people with enough accountability to stick to their goals.
If you’re somebody who counts their steps, the gamification of the app/watch (which – to put it simply – means the way that it encourages you to be in competition with yourself and others each day, turning it into a game) will help you to stick to your targets.
With that in mind, I’d need to give myself a target to keep a day free each weekend. If I achieve it each month, I could get myself a treat. It’s the same principle as giving children a sticker chart and rewards for good behaviour. Deep down, we are still those children.
Look at what you’re giving up
This is the final point I’d like to make on our post-Covid resolutions. During lockdown we had very little going on in our lives. Taking a day out each weekend was no big hardship because we had bloody nothing going on. I filled my days with utter nonsense like deep cleaning the skirting boards, for goodness sake.
Would I really give up going to a friend’s birthday lunch or the christening of a family member simply because I wanted to sit on my bum all day? The answer is no, I wouldn’t.
While it’s nice to have time out, I’m not going to give up spending quality time with people I love. These little moments are ultimately what life is all about, after all.
What I have learnt, though, is that I’m more selective about what I say yes to – and as a YES person, I’ll be very pleased if this is one of the new perspectives that really does stick.