Many people can pinpoint memories from their past with vivid detail – the day of the week, weather, even what clothes they were wearing at the time. But if time and memory during the past months of quarantine have seemed to lose their meaning, you aren’t alone. A lot of people are feeling like they are in their own personal `Groundhog Day’ movie right now.
We’re Losing our Memories and Track of Time
The monotony of life during this crisis is affecting our memories and how we perceive time. Even those with superior memories are struggling through the pandemic. People with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) typically can recall nearly all events in their life from a certain age, including the dates and days of the week things happened. But they aren’t immune to the repetitive schedules we’ve all faced during pandemic, and researchers say that’s affecting their superpower memories.
A study to understand how the social isolation of the pandemic lockdown has affected memory, moods and emotions is planned by the University of California. But it seems that nearly everyone, HSAM or not, has forgotten things during isolation because it’s harder to assign things in time when routines are the same.
When we don’t have events to mark one day or week from the next, time can seem to become stagnant. Research shows that both boredom and anxiety can make time appear to slow. With COVID-19 threatening illness, financial hardship and social instability, there’s plenty of anxiousness right now.
One way to combat the perceived creeping of time is to try something new. While some of us are enjoying more downtime now that we aren’t traveling for business or commuting to and from work, it could be the right time to take on a new hobby, develop a new skill, take a class to reflect on your resume or challenge yourself with a DIY project. Others are busier than ever before, balancing working from home while managing children out of school, so trying something new could mean making just a small change.
Why are you open — or not — to trying something new? Consider these factors that can influence your willingness to explore new horizons:
- Boredom — While familiarity can make life comfortable and routine facilitates efficiency, it can often feel like you’re living on auto-pilot mode. When the same-old, same-old becomes dull, boredom often inspires adventure.
- Intrigue— You know that spark of interest… when the idea of learning about something new creates a tingle of excitement? That’s a signal. That’s intrigue.
- Necessity — People often re-evaluate their personal or professional situation when it comes to trying something new. The need to save money or find a new job often spurs you to explore what otherwise might be unusual or threatening.
- Opportunity— Sometimes, trying something new comes as a result of something external — e.g., an invitation from a friend to take a weekend jaunt, a kid’s activity that takes place in another part of town, or a job offer in a new city.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
THE RESISTANCE TO TRYING SOMETHING NEW
Moving from predictable to the unknown means taking a chance, a risk. Fear often blocks taking that step, but overcoming that fear can lead to positive outcomes. As you contemplate trying something new, ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?
In his 2007 book Happier, former Harvard professor, now lecturer and writer, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar cites the value of rituals in making people happier. Rituals provide the structure people need to complete daily (and bigger-picture) tasks — from exercise to dating.
When people develop and follow rituals, they have more time, says Ben-Shahar. “…The routine frees them to up to be creative and spontaneous…” He explains this theory of rituals comes from research conducted by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book, The Power of Full Engagement (2003). In essence, the ritualization of certain activities provides discipline to complete certain tasks and time for spontaneity to explore and try new things.
PAVING THE ROAD TO CHANGE: INFORMATION, EXPECTATIONS AND MINDSET
Access to credible information plays a critical role in trying new things. You’ll likely be more willing to embark on a Paleo diet if you’ve read a comprehensive article or book on the subject and feel equipped to give it a go.
The experience of family and friends can also be a lure. “The role of close family and friends is also important in guiding people to information that can assist in decision-making,” according to a 2017 Pew Internet Research Survey, How People Approach Facts and Information.
While this data focuses primarily on people’s trust of available digital information, the research introduces a valuable perspective on the role of informed decision making. “Nearly three-quarters (74%) say having more people in their social circles with knowledge of key issues would help at least somewhat in decision-making, with 37% saying this would help a lot.”
In addition, before trying something new, set realistic expectations. If you normally go for a morning bike ride, taking an indoor spin class at the gym might take some getting used to. Don’t allow “newbie” frustrations get in the way of the experience; remember, everyone was new to the class at one time!
Most important, approach the experience with an open, flexible mindset. New things are unfamiliar, by nature. Acknowledge — and appreciate — the novelty.
10 NEW THINGS TO TRY
- Learn something new — In today’s world, learning comes to the learner — with online learning tools such as Masterclass and Udemy – you can learn on your own time from anywhere at your own pace. Peruse the lists of classes which range from magic tricks to photography to cooking to skateboarding. With such a wide spectrum of topics, there’s something that’s bound to spark your interest.
- Explore a new part of the neighborhood, city, country or the world — ‘Travel’ doesn’t necessarily demand that you spend a lot of time or money. No matter where you live, take a look at neighborhoods you have never visited; plan a day trip with a friend. If you are waiting to take that long-imagined trip to Europe – or wine country – or wherever, start planning now for when it’s safe to travel again. The research itself can be a new and rewarding experience — before you even pack your suitcase.
- Forgo “the usual” — Dining out currently includes a whole new level of adventure as restaurants begin to reopen across the country. Before you go back to your typical pre-pandemic meal, branch out and try something different even at your most familiar spots.
- Host a multi-generational meal or book club — Invite your friends of all ages for a socially distant safe meal where everyone brings a favorite food. Or find a book that friends and family of different ages can read and discuss over a Zoom meeting.
- Color it up — One minor change in a hairstyle, clothing, sunglasses or other apparel can introduce a new look, even if just for a day.
- Take photos and give them away — Inventory the photos of friends or pets or a memorable excursion. Then, find five photos and frame them – digitally or traditionally. Display them for yourself or give the framed collection as a gift. Take a look at the many online options for photo books and other image items as well.
- Reach out and say hello for a week — Create a new 7-day challenge for yourself. What can you do every day for a week to connect with longtime friends? Put a list together of at least seven people to contact during the designated week. Then, email, write, text, or share a message each day with a different person on your list.
- Meditate — The list of physical and psychological benefits of meditation is ever-increasing. Have you tried it? Perhaps you can start with an app like Headspace, a great introduction to meditation for people who are new to the practice.
- Change your routine — Switching up your normal routine is a great brain-gym activity. Swap your eggs and toast for a bowl of oatmeal. Enjoy a walk around the block during your lunch hour instead of checking Facebook. Take a different route home from the grocery store.
- Go solo and have fun — In America, 45.2 percent, or 110.6 million people, 18 and older are unmarried, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2017 data). Go solo — on a hike, a nice dinner, a weekend road trip, an outdoor concert, or almost any activity. Remember, it’s the new things you don’t try that you will miss the most.
Trying new things can reap myriad benefits, from expanding your horizons to building confidence. While seemingly small, they can build a strong foundation for making larger-scale change in your career, relationships and life.