How to Break the Covid-19 Groundhog Day Cycle

The 1993 comedy groundhog day, with Bill Murray, tells the story of a man trapped in a time loop. He is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he succeeds.

Fortunately, we are not in a mystical time loop – but the Covid-19 lockdowns have had the effect of making it seem like time has stood still. Why is that? It was Aristotle who concluded that time is the measure of change. Many of us have not had the opportunity to experience or embrace significant changes during the lockdown; hence the feeling that time stretches to create an endless day.

Let’s look at the science of how we experience time, as well as ways to break the cycle and regain a sense of momentum.

What Happens When Nothing Happens?

Our experience of time is elastic, which is why the hours pass when we are having fun, and also why the same hours drag on when we are bored, lethargic, or otherwise disengaged. The lack of stimuli in our everyday life can induce boredom, which makes us sleep more. So the days seem longer.

However, those same days seem to have passed in retrospect. This has to do with the way we form memories. If there is less new information to process, then our perception of time flies by.

Now that we understand what we run into with our perceptions of time, there are four actions we can take to get through the Groundhog Day routine.

# 1: create an artificial sense of time

For eons, humans have divided time into hours, days, weeks, etc. In containment, it is much easier to lose track of these markers. However, one way to experience momentum is to create goals that are not tied to traditional time measures, but are instead contained within a single day. The idea is that these goals provide several small progress signals that serve to break up our day – for example, the number of steps taken. It might be 5,000 steps before your first meeting, 10,000 steps before lunch, and 15,000 steps before you relax in the evening.

The goal is to measure progress in a different way rather than over time. The added benefit is that this technique takes advantage of a concept behavior scientists call the goal gradient effect. This explains how the closer we get to a reward, the more motivated we are to keep looking to achieve it. An oft-cited study reflecting this tells how a car wash loyalty card with ten stamps needed for a free car wash was completed faster than a card with eight stamps needed.. The difference? The car wash card with ten stamps already had two stamps on it. It didn’t matter that this pre-stamped card required the same effort as the other card (eight visits). The fact that it was pre-stamped showed progress towards the ultimate goal.

Another way to create an artificial sense of time is to identify and / or create time markers to inspire change. This is known as the new start effect, and it harnesses the motivational power of new beginnings. The best known example is the start of a new year and the resolutions that follow, but you can turn any event into a new beginning.

# 2: the exhaustion of addresses

One of the hottest topics on the minds of my clients right now is how to deal with the wave of burnout that their employees are experiencing. When Covid-19 started, we felt like we were together and would be back in the office shortly. Not only did this not happen, it was compounded by a prolonged period of uncertainty. This uncertainty is exhausting and can lead to burnout.

Measuring burnout within an organization or even checking with yourself how you feel can be accomplished quite easily. Asking yourself how motivated you are, how you feel about your energy level, and whether simple tasks and decisions seem easy or demanding is a good place to start. Then focus on what you can control. Motivation is what we need to fight burnout. Motivation is a combination of our ability to complete a task, our belief that it is of value, and our belief that there will be a reward in the end. Use it as a guide to select the types of projects to work on.

# 3 get off autopilot

These days of rinsing and repeating have probably created some subconscious habits that are not in our best interests. One way to break things up is to change the pattern of behavior that is causing the stress, pressure, or unhealthy behavior. To do this, you must first identify your stress trigger. This is important because we often ignore what triggers our stress response, or we don’t consider it deeply enough. Then think about what is stopping you before focusing on what can motivate you to break the cycle of automaticity. As noted earlier in Forbes, disruptive times such as another lockdown can be used to initiate new health habits.

# 4: find inspiration and meaning

In a world without time, the goal always exists. The goal is strong motivation and can be one of the most effective ways for employers to keep employees motivated when every day feels the same. A big part of the individual goal is finding meaningful activities to engage in. Employers can and should, as part of their goal, help individuals understand this – but any individual can do it on their own for themselves.

The goal combines existing pressures and needs in the outside world, with pre-existing internal motivations to find the sweet spot of what actions will feel useful. With more goals injected into our lives, perhaps we can break the cycle of the lockdown time loop and come out proud of what we have accomplished.

About Clara Barnard

Clara Barnard

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