The Surprising Freedom of the Pandemic World
In the pre-pandemic world, unbridled freedom meant we were free to follow — and often succumb to — our base desires, unhelpful social norms, and the siren call of the marketers. Instant gratification reigned supreme.
In the lockdown, we are forced to be more…discerning; we deliberate on what we truly want because our “freedom” to go with the flow got flushed down the drain.
The decisions that we now make thus deliver another kind of freedom — freedom to reinvent ourselves via thoughtful, intentional decisions that reflect our authentic selves.
For example, in the pre-pandemic world, it was easy to go out partying. Friday night settled in and you and your friends were already looking up which club has the best music. The fact that Friday was dedicated to clubbing was rarely questioned — it was Friday and that’s what you and your friends did on Friday. Simple.
In the lockdown world, you can’t go out — your freedom to writhe your body to the sweaty symphony of electronic music alongside your buddies is restrained. Tough cookie. But here’s where it gets interesting: are you suffering because of the lack of apparent freedom, or have you actually gained another kind of freedom, freedom to mindfully choose how to use your time?
You can enter any habitual behavior instead of going out clubbing: spending time with certain friends, eating at your favorite fast food joint, wasting time on needless chitchat during lunchtime. Heck, even seemingly positive behaviors such as going to the gym can be scrutinized. I, for one, have realized that my gym habits are mostly automatic and they’re not helping me at all to overcome the plateau I’ve been experiencing lately. In the lockdown, although gym-less, I’ve been able to identify what changes I need to do to progress further.
This claim isn’t unfounded. What we do on day to day basis is largely a result of habits (guesses range from 43% and upwards). You can understand that intuitively; most of what you do each day repeats, and often for a good reason — efficiency (or so you’d think). But as you well know, productive routines can quickly turn into “ruts”.
Without going into detail on how habits work in full, a large chunk of habits is anchored in your environment and the triggers within it. You see a fridge and a thought pops up to grab a beer. You see the car keys and think of going shopping. You see your partner wearing no pants and think of sex. Many times, the thoughts that emerge after being exposed to a trigger lead to action — you drink a beer, go shopping, or bother your partner about sexy time.
Well, the pandemic has upended many of the environmental triggers and the habitual actions associated with it. Thus, the pandemic has given you, unwittingly, the tools to reinvent yourself and prune the weeds from the garden.
So, I suggest the following:
- look at important areas of your life. Some examples include health (sports, nutrition); relationships (partner, friends, family); mental health (mindfulness, delayed gratification); or personal development (reading, writing, skills acquisition).
- See what habits dominate the landscape and whether they are helpful.
- Use the newfound triggerlessness of your environment to reinvent new habits and routines that are more in-line with your authentic self.
As Sartre — writing about German occupation during the Second World War — put it:
‘The circumstances, atrocious as they often were, finally made it possible for us to live, without pretense or false shame, the hectic and impossible existence that is known as the lot of man.’
The question is: what do you intend to do with with the new circumstances, with the “lot of man”? Will you use it to build new associations or to rethink whether your values correspond with your day to day behavior? Or will you rather focus on all the things you aren’t allowed to do and squander the opportunity to reinvent yourself?