Trading Cognitive Inertia for Joy

Do you feel frozen into a routine? Like, maybe you’re still extremely busy, but you’re busy with the same limited places that you go, and things that you do? 

I hadn’t realized I was. I mean, I’m physically going to the church multiple times a week now, I’ve ventured into a store or two. It’s so different – and better! – than last year. 

But this past weekend, as part of officiating at a wedding, I attended a dinner party. Everyone was vaccinated, and because of the people who were there, I felt safe being there. I mean, covid-safe. Which is kind of like “covid-fine.” As in, “I’m fine, I mean, I’m fine within the context of there being a global pandemic and much uncertainty about what the future will bring. But fine!” 

For me, covid-safe is the knowledge that though I may feel like I’m throwing caution to the wind, I actually have looked at the details of the situation, made a deliberate choice … and can then relax. 

We’re not used to relaxing right now, not about covid. And if we have avoided getting the virus during this time, our brains can trick us into thinking we have to keep up the same behaviors we used before the vaccine, in order to stay safe. What worked for us in the past can easily become superstition as we move into different circumstances.

And we are in different circumstances. We are not all in the same circumstances as each other, but even those with children under vaccination-age, things are different than they were a year ago. Adults have been vaccinated. We know that covid is spread through aerosols, and those aerosols are, in large part, thwarted by masks and fresh air. We didn’t know that a year ago.

But it is easy to be captured by cognitive inertia

Cognitive inertia is our human tendency to resist changing our minds to a changing situation or new knowledge. It is believed that this was one reason why the 1918 pandemic was so deadly. People had experience with regular influenza, so they didn’t take seriously the threat of this new strain. 

But cognitive inertia can go the other way, too. Living under pandemic conditions has become our new normal, and it’s hard to make changes. True also is that most of us are tired, probably carrying some low-lying depression, and it’s just easier to say, “Eh, no,” when faced with the opportunity to break out of our restricted routines. 

But is this the life we want? 

Attending that dinner party was a wake-up call for me. I was reminded how much fun it is to be around smart, funny adults. We got into deep conversations about the state of the world today, some good-natured arguments, and celebrated the happy couple. 

Celebrating … do you remember that? 

It is becoming clear that we’ll never get a church-bells-ringing moment when covid is vanquished and we return to a carefree world. We are living with great uncertainty. Alarming articles predict surges. (I will note that it is now virtually impossible to get any information that doesn’t take into account the potential for that article to influence behavior, which means those fully vaccinated and boosted receive the same advice as those who have never received the vaccine.)

Each of us will have to make our own decisions. We are in different circumstances still, especially those whose bodies can’t make antibodies, those with young children, etc. 

But let’s at least personally commit to this: that we will actively and deliberately make decisions, not succumb to inertia. Energy begets energy … when we venture out, we discover more enthusiasm for rejoining life. And dinner parties. 

We cannot be perfectly safe. We never could be. The safest place for a ship is in the harbor, but that is not what ships are made for.