I’ve stopped counting a while ago. The days spent in quarantine keep passing by. It must be something around 40 days now, right? Which, so I’ve heard, is where the word ‘quarantine’ comes from: 40 days or “quarantena” in the 14th century Venetian language. It refers to the duration that all ships were required to be isolated, before passengers and crew could go ashore, to prevent diseases from spreading.
So here we are, 40 days in. Almost ready to go ashore, I would presume. But what have these 40 days taught us? And whatever we learned; will it stick? I’m no psychology expert, but some say it takes about 18 days to form a habit. So now, we are past that period. Others say it takes some 60 days for a habit to stick. That would imply, we are not there just yet.
I’ve looked into some of the new habits and skills we quickly needed to master during these 40-something days and wondered about how they will stick.
Sure, many of us have gone through hard times in life that forced us “switch on” our survival mode. We turn back to behaviour that is most likely shaped by the smaller or bigger traumas we’ve suffered in our lives. We are not, however, necessarily aware of those traumas. But we are all aware of behaviours we are not really proud of, but that – however briefly – might bring peace of mind. That is survival mode. It’s how we’ve learned to cope with fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s behaviour we have definitely all seen over the past 40 days: at times in our own houses, in supermarkets, in our team meetings, as well as on the stock markets. Clearly, this global pandemic is doing just that with about the entire world: it has forced the world into survival mode, a habit I feel we’d rather not want to stick to.
No wonder people are looking for answers. This situation is completely unprecedented, and we all find ourselves lost in the mist of confusion because of it. We need information. Or perhaps it is better to say, “we need clarity”. Because information is coming from all angles, in a wide range of forms, and its levels of quality and thrust-worthiness vary greatly. Sure, we’ve become increasingly aware of the fake news that is out there. What was simply non-existent before 2016, has – over the past 40 days – reached new heights in Google searches. Certainly, when driven by fear, uncertainty and doubt, we are not satisfied with (fake) news. We want facts. Facts about the disease; the possible cure; the safety measures and – of course – the number of patients. Because the latter is what is driving every decision currently taken in the world. People have formed daily ‘number-gazing’ habits because of it. Worldometers.info, for instance, a website that displays the number of Corona patients around the world on a daily basis, has reached the milestone of 958 million visitors in less than 2 months. A webpage that was non-existent a couple of months ago has become one of most visited webpages in the world today. We are chasing facts like we have never done before. A habit or even skill we would rather get rid of, but right now, we cannot live without.
Adapting on the fly
Driven by the uncertain nature of the numbers of this pandemic, we all have to continuously adapt our decisions to the reality at hand. Until now, it was simply impossible to plan ahead. And even though our knowledge of the virus is increasing every day, for the most part, it will remain impossible to plan ahead for the next 18-36 months. Not a single calculation can predict what exactly will come next and when things will start to change. We are living in a pandemic reality. Returning chaos will be the sole certainty we have for a while. Agility and flexibility alone are what will keep us afloat. To survive as a person, a family, a team or a business, adapting on the fly will be an essential habit or skill to incorporate in our routines.
Learning on the spot
The ever-changing reality will make us – sometimes even force us – to learn new things. Suddenly, parents have had to home school their kids; entire companies need to switch to telework; hospitals need to reorganise all their activities in line with a highly contagious virus; and people are learning to live with the rules of social distancing. This period in our lives is not only the biggest digital crash course ever (as is often mentioned by Steven Van Belleghem), it is also the most elaborate running training, the biggest stress test, the most challenging organisation of hygiene measures and so much more. Driven by fear, uncertainty and doubt, we are gradually taking a brand-new approach to our lives.
The common denominator among these new ‘on the spot’ lessons is that these are most attached to the essentials in our lives. Whether as a business or an individual person, we really need those to survive, or to be healthy and happy. And we are looking for ways to be able to continue accessing these essentials. Actually, those new ways are sometimes much more convenient, because we finally get rid of all the deadweight. It might even make us realise that life was way too complex; we simply could not find the time to do the things we really want to or have to do. Therefore, I believe this situation will make us identify what is really important to us. In the future, I expect hospitals to focus much more on their actual purpose than before. People will work from home more often. Crowded places will be organised differently. Neighbourhoods will welcome a bigger sense of community.
Point of no return
While it is hard to predict which of these habits and skills will actually stick over a longer period of time, this pandemic reality has definitely lowered the thresholds that tend to complicate us picking up new habits. In some cases, we will have reached a point of no return, and it won’t be easy – or even possible – to pick up the old habits again. But before we start wondering about whether or not these habits will stick, let’s focus on mastering the ones we actually need now. Let’s manage our survival mode by using facts in order to adapt on the fly and learn on the spot so we can focus on our own true purpose. This applies to each and every one of us, from companies and brands, to (care) institutions and governments. After all, we are only 40 days in. Just imagine all the things we will be able to achieve in the months to come.
Christophe Jauquet is a health marketing expert who inspires consumer businesses and healthcare organisations around the world. With his experience at the intersection of healthcare, marketing and technology, he guides companies and brands to remain relevant in the light of this Healthusiasm trend.