Instead of driving to the other side of town for a face-to-face meeting, you switch on your laptop to convene on Zoom.
Instead of going out to your favourite restaurant for a fancy meal, you braai on your stoep, as the banana bread rises in the oven. Instead of hanging out in a crowd or visiting friends, you revel in the solace of family.
In just a few days, the world as you knew it has turned upside-down. As you ease into the everyday routine of la vida lockdown, what once seemed strange now seems mundane: the lockdown life.
Humans are creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of change. As we adapt, so we survive. And as we survive, so we learn new and exciting ways to thrive.
The SA life insurance company, BrightRock, whose slogan is “Love Change”, has been studying the science of change, and the way people cope and deal with it in their daily lives.
The findings, shared on the Change Exchange, an online portal for tips, tools, stories and techniques on the art of embracing change, show that we all have an extraordinary capacity for changing our behaviour to suit our changing circumstances.
Now more than ever, as the threat of Covid-19 draws us inward, for our own safety and the greater good, what can the science of change teach us about adapting, surviving and thriving?
For one thing, it tells us that we can change a great deal about ourselves and the way we function in the world.
According to research, the best way to change fundamental personality traits that trouble us — being too untidy, too outgoing, too shy or too fixed in our routines — is to focus on changing our behaviours.
Our daily habits reflect our personality, and repeating these habitual behaviours can create a feedback loop that makes you believe your personality is fixed.
The happy truth is, you can change who you are. People who decide to include cooking lessons in their routine, for example, can change their view of themselves from being “hopeless” in the kitchen to being accomplished.
Dance classes can transform someone who “can’t dance” into the life and soul of the party, even if the party is only held on TikTok or Zoom. But this also works on less tangible personality traits.
If you’re naturally shy, and you decide to make at least one useful contribution in every video meeting, you can start “seeing” yourself differently. Maybe I’m not so shy after all, you might conclude.
By making a conscious decision to change your behaviour, you can shift fundamental aspects of your personality. This notion that changing your habits can change your life, is becoming increasingly accepted among experts in the field of behavioural modification.
Studies of people recovering from brain injuries and strokes suggest that our brains are very adaptable. This is why we are capable of learning at any age.
Picking up Mandarin might be harder at 70 than it would be at age seven, but you can learn a new language or skill at any age — just as stroke victims can relearn how to speak using different parts of the brain.
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Not only does this brain plasticity make us more adaptable and flexible than we imagine, but it also extends to deeper aspects of our personality, such as our levels of gregariousness or self-discipline.
These aspects of our personality may be affected by the national lockdown, as we shift our lifestyles and habits from social interaction to social distancing.
While keeping your distance is vital during the lockdown, it’s important not to cut yourself off from the world completely.
A 2018 study at Caltech found that long-term social isolation can harm your mental health. But even in lockdown, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you can still open up to the world.
Stay connected through phone calls and video chats, and remember to strike a healthy balance. During a national disaster or emergency, people tend to rely on their immediate circles more than usual.
A sense of obligation, such as checking in on a parent or doing the shopping for an elderly friend, may hold some relationships together. But a 2020 study by Michigan State University found that there’s a “sweet spot” between sticking together and becoming resentful.
So keep up the small acts of kindness, but don’t become a burden to the people around you. Maintain your distance physically, but stay close emotionally. And work through the pandemic by remembering that you are part of a community.
Visit changeexchange.co.za for tips and tools to help you navigate life's change moments.
• Follow the conversation using these hashtags #UnitedApartSA #LoveChange
• This article was paid for by BrightRock.