When Behavior Designed to Pass the Time Becomes a Pastime
Many people confined at home grant themselves license to indulge.
Relaxing their usually strict lifestyle, they decide to "live a little."
From food, to alcohol, to binge-watching entertainment, many behaviors that were formerly taboo are now tolerated. In addition, because for many people every day looks the same, indulgences that were formerly off-limits are now on the daily calendar. They are becoming the new normal. But at what cost?
Developing New Routines
People forced to shelter in place have also been forced to change their lifestyle, sometimes drastically. True, some homebound overachievers have stepped up to the plate and already built their own gym, opened a new online business, and learned a new language. For most people, however, new at-home behavior includes, at least in part, some type of objectively unproductive (but enjoyable) way to pass the time.
Marketers capitalize on this reality by preying upon the newly bored and vulnerable.
Liquor stores advertise free delivery, only too happy to help you meet your minimum purchase requirement. In the entertainment realm, there are new video games available, and a plethora of unwholesome, adult-content sites ready to exploit the curiosity of first-time customers with too much time on their hands.
Some people engaging in behavior they would not normally consider, justify less-admirable, unproductive activities by rationalizing they are merely short-term ways to pass the time.
But at some point, the pajama party will be over.
So between now and then, how can we ensure that our new activities do not become bad habits?
We are Creatures of Habit — Bad and Good
As creatures of habit, people operate well with daily structure.
Whether or not we work outside the home, we follow some type of weekly routine.
When our lives are disrupted and we are forced to stay home, left to our own devices (and vices), we are vulnerable to developing bad habits. But we can also develop good ones —that might last much longer than our period of quarantine.
Studying habits in an educational context, Logan Fiorella (2020) explains that developing positive habits can increase the chances of beneficial activities, such as exercise, studying, and sleeping, becoming the default choice. He explains that this can actually operate to bypass the need for "conscious deliberation or willpower and protecting against temptations."
Within the educational context, he explains how habit-focused interventions may produce durable alterations in student behavior by disrupting activation cues related to bad habits, while creating supportive contexts for beneficial habits.
Although Fiorella’s research envisioned an education setting, a controlled environment, such as your home, also contains habit cues. From the remote control to the refrigerator, there are opportunities to change the circumstances that prompt bad behavior.
One way is to replace solitary activity with virtual engagement.
In terms of developing positive routines, online, we can find everything from support groups, to educational opportunities, to meetings of like-minded enthusiasts; and the options are expanding by the day. These new opportunities provide a productive way to pass the time, and a chance to make new friends and connections in the process.
Vices and Virtual Company: Choosing Engagement Over Indulgence
Homebound and hungry for stimulation?
Choose to engage, not indulge.
Thankfully, social distancing does not prevent socializing.
Videoconferencing platforms have become an enormously popular communication choice, because unlike the telephone, they allow us to actually see other people, which can provide a sense of both comfort and connection.
Virtual platforms support everything from one-on-one conversations to online conventions. Faith-based services are held religiously, with expanded opportunities for fellowship. And with the currently increasing number of free seminars and meetups available, you can likely find something to attend every day of the week.
And of course, offline friends and family are still a part of your life.
Loved ones continue to have birthdays and anniversaries — now celebrated online. Friends and co-workers get together virtually to recognize personal and professional milestones, like promotions and retirements.
But on a more basic level, we don’t need to have anything specific to discuss or celebrate to have a reason to connect. Virtual gatherings and happy hours are trending, utilizing a wide variety of teleconferencing options, simply to promote human connection.
Produce Positive Routines
Apparently, as the saying goes, we are indeed creatures of habit.
Thankfully, we can take steps to ensure the habits we develop are good ones.
The bottom line is that because the way you pass your time might become a pastime, choose your activities wisely.
Make it a point to engage rather than indulge.
And yes — there is likely a free online seminar to learn how to do that too.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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