One of the difficulties of lockdown is staying focused on the collective goal and avoiding stay-at-home fatigue. This occurs after a period of restriction, when we start to get cabin fever and feel tempted to break the rules, even if the virus hasn’t changed and the risk remains the same. During the initial lockdowns, one study following cellphone data showed that people started going out more frequently and travelling longer distances from home, after they passed that one-month mark of being confined to their home.
One simple explanation for stay-at-home fatigue that has been used by economists is called ‘diminishing marginal utility’. During the first few days in lockdown, you probably had the opportunity to do things in the house that you were fairly enthusiastic about. Maybe you binge-watched Netflix, or built a blanket fort with your kids. But after several weeks at home (in the first lockdowns) your kids were driving you nuts, you got tired of trying to direct their learning, you sank into the dregs of Netflix shows and you just wanted it to stop.
In other words, you used up all the ‘high utility’ (i.e. high happiness) activities and were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Cue stay-at-home fatigue, and the creeping desire to get out.
We might hit this point earlier, this time around
Many of us also appear to be driven by what it called ‘idleness aversion’. This may be a conditioned thing that we’ve grown to expect in life, but briefly, it’s our desire to get out of the house and do something, whether it’s a visit with friends or a trip to the burger place that’s more a craving than a necessity. Research shows that we don’t actually like sitting around and doing nothing for extended periods of time all that much.
1. Reduce the overwhelm. You’ve done this before, you can do this again. Think about what worked for you last time and do more of that.
2. Make a public promise. If this fits with you, tell people what you are doing. When you go public with your intentions, it immediately strengthens your resolve, so announce it to friends and family on Facebook or by email. A public commitment shifts your own thinking about your seriousness. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of others.
3. Set up accountability partners. Recruit people like you to help you stay the course and build each other’s resolve. Create a system of accountability so that you can report your actions, successes and failures every day. This may be a friend or it could be on Facebook, or in a forum of some kind. Don’t just announce it once and then disappear; let the world know about your progress, and your successes.
4. Expect difficulties. There will be life situations that might get in the way of your efforts and it is so easy to allow them to undermine all your hard work. Think in advance of possible problems that might arise and decide how you will deal with these situations and how you can stick to the plan.
5. Think of the consequences. Another way to strengthen your resolve is to think of the consequences before you take an action that will lead to them. Not just for you, but for everyone and all the effort that’s been put in so far. Pondering consequences certainly isn’t a magic pill, but it can help if you usually don’t think about the consequences until they become real. Because that will most likely be too late.
6. Imagine others you respect can see you. Last but most definitely not least, you can benefit from some social pressure. Next time you want to choose the easy way out, imagine other people whose opinion you respect can see you. Would you still take that unnecessary trip if they could see you? And what would disapproval from them feel like to you? Yes, you’re essentially manipulating yourself, but if it works to strengthen your resolve to stick with a course of action that you value right now, then it’s certainly a tool you can go to.
This is extracted from my book, Steady, available at sarbjohal.com