“Do you realize this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to stay home and practice all day?” That’s the message a musician friend posted today, and it stopped me in my tracks.
June. I think we are all staring June in the face right now. The reality is, if all goes really well, we might think about slowly emerging from our stay-at-home bunkers in June.
Today is April 1, so that’s a clean two months, stuck at home. That’s depressing, until you remember that any day you and your loved ones aren’t sick, any day you can take a deep breath on your own power is a GREAT day right now. Still, staring down two months inside the same four walls is a daunting task.
Unless you have a goal. Then, it might very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Have you ever wanted to learn how to play guitar, or learn a foreign language, or get in really good shape, or quit smoking, or really change the way you eat or cook, or train a new puppy? Two months is an almost ideal amount of time to take on a big, life-changing project like that.
While getting started on any self-improvement project can be the hardest part, in truth, changing habits and making the change stick is the hardest part. You might have heard somewhere in your life that it takes two weeks, or 21 days, or 30 days, for a new habit to form. Those things can all be true for some people in some circumstances, but science tells us that it takes much longer. Here’s a study conducted by University College in London that found the median time for a habit to change was 66 days.
Let’s call it two months. So, now’s your chance.
One of the key concepts I’ve learned in the past several years while writing about behavioral science is the power of talking to your “future self.” Bob at Dinner might want to eat a second cheeseburger, but Bob in the Bathroom that night feels very differently. So if Bob at dinner can forge a kind of relationship with future Bob, he (and by he, I mean me) can talk himself out of indulging.
“Don’t eat that, Bob at dinner, or I’m going to hate you for it,” says late-night Bob.
Stretch that idea out further and you can start to see its power. Bob who’s going to see the doctor in three wants doesn’t want to have that uncomfortable cholesterol conversation, so Bob at the grocery store puts back the box of cookies and buys more broccoli. Bob thinking about spending a lot of money on a vacation consults Bob who wants to retire at 65, and they agree on a humble camping trip instead.
There are great studies around the way people make decisions about tomorrow, today, and how they weight the value of something now vs. in the future — the fancy term is hyperbolic discounting, and you can read about it here if you like. People who are good at hyperbolic discounting enjoy a much easier life, frankly. Not only are they better at saving money, but they are healthier, they are less likely to do drugs, and they’re even more likely to stay married.
How does this apply to conoravirus? Right now, think about June 1 you. The worst is over, you are free to start commuting to work again, you see old friends at the bar. It’s going to be great. But, you will ask, where did the time go? Sure, on April 13 it seemed like you’d been home forever. But on June 1, or whenever you might be free to move about the country again, you’re going to think the quarantine flew by. And you’re going to ask yourself: What did I do with my time?
If the answer is: I mastered a few new classical pieces, or a built a backyard deck, or I renewed my relationship with my parents, or I finally worked out seven days a week, you’re going to feel great.
More important, you will have survived. The other day I had my dark emotional coronavirus moment. I suddenly realized I had nothing to look forward to. No upcoming vacation, no speech, no fun work trip, no holiday, no music gig is on the horizon. Really, nothing is on the horizon. That’s a tough spot. Research shows that one of the most important elements of vacations is anticipation. That’s what helps us get through the tough times. Having something to look forward to.
Shelter-at-home orders mean we’re going to have to get creative with our “something to look forward to’s.” We can’t control when all this will end. As Dr. Fauci keeps saying, the virus will set the timeline. But one thing you can control is how you spend the next 60 days. By June, you could have spent every day practicing music at home, and people will thank you for that. Or, you could finally tackle that stack of books which has been sitting the corner making you feel guilty. You could even write one — four pages a day would pretty much give you a book by June 1. I’m straining here to see this silver lining, I know, but it is there. These 60 days could be considered a gift; and every day when you can breathe fresh air is indeed a gift.
So start today! Make June 1 you proud of what you do with this time. It’ll make your post-coronavirus celebration that much more special.