We were talking about habits last week. Well, I was talking about habits last week. We tend to take habits for granted but they are so important. Your habits probably dictate more about who you are than all the things you consciously do. In a way, what are we but a collection of habits?
Initially I wasn't sure that the pandemic would change people fundamentally. I suppose, like everyone, I thought it depended on how long it went on for. And like many of us, I chose to remain optimistic that the worst-case scenarios would not come to pass. But here we are, four months on from when lockdown really kicked in.
Four months is a long time in habits. Some say you can create a new habit in about three weeks. If you just force yourself to do something every day for three weeks, using your puny willpower, you will eventually hardwire it into your consciousness and suddenly it won't require that massive effort of will anymore. You will just start doing it automatically.
Personally, I think you can lose a habit quicker than that. I think if you don't do something for about a week, it can become very hard to get back into it.
Think of how many habits you've lost in the last four months, and think how seismic they are. They could be things you never thought about much, you just did them, as your default position, but they could have been a big part of your life.
You have possibly changed more in the last four months than you have in years, without even trying. And some of it could be for the better, and some not. Some of your changing habits could be changing the world too.
I don't go into town anymore. Now this is partly because I don't work in town anymore, but it's definitely mainly pandemic related.
I used to love going to town. I'd come up with some idle excuse to go in, and then I'd build in some messing around. So the tent pole of the visit might be a coffee with someone or a few pints or a haircut or some message, but I'd always call into a few places while I was there, have the chats, buy something I hadn't intended to, grab some food, and all the while pick up various bits of information about what's going on in the world.
If it was an evening visit, I might end up having a few more pints than intended in one or two other places I hadn't intended to go to, and I might end up meeting people I hadn't intended to meet. And me and others doing that contributed to loads of activity and commerce and swapping of gossip and ideas and news, sometimes with people you wouldn't normally swap news with.
And now that habit is gone. And all the other ripples that habit caused are gone too. And I suspect that's the case for a lot of people.
I've been into town a few times recently, but it's not the same, is it? You have to think that if town doesn't get back its mojo soon, habits could change for good.
Who knew that unfashionable suburbia could become the place to be? But finally, the suburbs have come into their own. Suburban restaurants and pubs that do food are surviving better than town ones. And some places have morphed into slightly different businesses to meet changing habits and take advantage of all the suburban footfall.
But I will be making the effort to get back to town. I like town. And I want town to survive. I want town to be there for us when all this is over, when the vaccine hopefully comes in the autumn (I am choosing to maintain a habit of optimism. What's the point in being pessimistic?)
I've lost other habits too. I used to get up early and thrash up and down a swimming pool. That won't be happening for the time being. When I used to do it, I never really thought about it. I just got up, and, without thinking, like I'd been programmed to do it, I went and did it, almost in a fugue state. Not any more.
I had got up to swimming a mile in the morning just before "all this". I had never got up to doing a regular mile before in my life. I might never again. I have gained another habit instead of this, which is that I have tea and biscuits after my lunch every day, and more rubbish after my dinner. I graze on crisps between meals, and I sometimes get supermarket donuts for breakfast.
I have put on over a stone in weight. Had to buy new jeans. I know it's because I've developed bad eating habits. But somehow, to ask me to stop eating all that stuff now would be like asking me to stop breathing. It's a habit now. It's just who I am.
But I will do it. I will build good habits again and lose bad ones. But I think a lot of people older than me will not. I think some cocooners were aged by this and they won't de-age again after it. I think a lot of young people, who were not as set in their habits, might not go back to old behaviours either. They won't see the sense in going to a pub again maybe. They might not see the sense in going into shops again.
In the future, when they talk about how the pandemic changed the world, they will talk about the people who died, the people who got sick, and the people who lost their jobs.
And they will probably talk too about how people and the world changed. And they will say that some of that change happened because people who'd been doing the same things unthinkingly for many years, suddenly changed their habits.
Sunday Indo Living