Disruption of Social Distancing

Many of us are fortunate to deal with only the easiest part of the pandemic, which is social distancing, and avoid the hardest part, which is illness and death. Even the easiest part, which may look like relaxing on the couch, is very messy and destructive.

Justin Timberlake’s remark that 24/7 parenting of his five-year-old son “is just not human” was poorly received. You have just one kid and a lot of money, responded the Internet. What about parents working from home full-time while their toddlers need attention? Or a single parent who must balance a full-time job and parenting? Or front-line workers who have families too? One thing is clear, social distancing has disrupted everybody’s life and we all have to find our new normal.  

Disruption Fuels Innovation

Disruption is one of the fundamental drivers for innovation. In his Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs mentioned that to his great surprise, getting fired from Apple turned out to be a powerful force that lead him to the most creative periods of his life.  Steve attributed that positive outcome to the disruption of his heavy routine as a successful expert and its replacement by a new curious beginner mindset.  That’s right. Experts live in their comfort zones and don’t seek changes. Experts don’t question dogmas, challenge assumptions, or look outside of the box. They are experts but not innovators.

Steve’s observation is supported by science. Psychologist Kathleen Vohs and fellow researchers tested and proved a hypothesis that disorderly environments encourage “out of the box” thinking and creativity. Kathleen’s research participants in messier rooms exhibited some signs of anxiety by giving preferences to unhealthier snacks. However, they also generated more interesting and innovative ideas in comparison to those of participants in cleaner rooms. Kathleen’s experiments showed that “out of the box” thinking can be triggered by disruption of any scale.

Tim Hardford took it even further in his book Messy, by exploring the theory that disruption makes us more alert and laser-focuses our attention on the development of new and creative ideas. One example from the book is about situations when traditional commuting routes were affected by transit strikes and road closures. These strikes and closures led many people to find new commuting routes better and faster than their former ones.

My Social Distancing Wins 

During lock down, my husband and I have been working from home and taking care of our four-year-old child. Here are some of our “new and better routes” discovered at the time of disruption and distress:

1. I embraced ongoing exercise. Without a gym, I learned how to exercise throughout the day. My tools are resistance bands, stairs, a Bosu ball, and dumbbells. I developed 15-minute cycles of exercise which help me go through days filled with online meetings. Before going up the stairs, I do ten jumps on the first step. I do “standing glute kicks” with resistance bands while cooking. As a result, I work out more and feel better.

2. I learned more about and connected better with my family. For example, during social distancing we made it a rule to find thirty to forty minutes of formal learning every day with our young child. Through these daily lessons we learned a lot about her learning style and preferences. As a result, we are much more connected, and her learning is more enjoyable and efficient.  

3. I found ways to be more productive. One example – we used to get groceries when we needed something in the middle of a week. Now I buy groceries once a week. What surprised us was that the absence of required items didn’t have any impact on our life. Clearly, we were spoiled by too many choices before. Moreover, substitution of ingredients in recipes now helps to create better and more innovative meals. Online shopping is another big time saver in the current situation.

4. I enjoy a healthier routine. Drinking enough water is much easier when working from home rather than in the office. A more flexible schedule allowed for earlier dinners. As a result, we can fast for at least fourteen hours a day between dinner and breakfast. In addition, there are no vending machines or other places for unhealthy snacks at home. These healthy routines are bringing not only a healthier life but a sense of stability.

5. I realized the importance of social life. Social distancing has made two things very clear to me. First is that social connections are hugely important for a healthy and happy life. Second is that developing friendships gets harder as we age. I clearly realize that building new social connections and strengthening existing ones today rather than tomorrow is essential for a happy and healthy post-retirement life.