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The Psychology Behind Why Every Day In Lockdown Feels Like ‘Groundhog Day’

They say variety is the spice of life, and for those trying to thrive in lockdown, the age-old adage couldn’t be more important. No matter how mentally strong and resilient you usually are, it’s tough to shake a sinking feeling when you’re facing health-mandated restrictions on what you can do, who you can see, and how you usually shape your weekly schedule. It’s tempting to build a routine and churn through it while waiting “it” out, but a recent study suggests you’ll need to do more to fight the lockdown Groundhog Day effect to make sure it doesn’t muddle your focus, impair your memory, and wreak havoc on other cognitive processes.

Working from home might be de rigueur moving forward, even when we’re no longer trapped in a cycle of lockdowns, but if you don’t figure out how to nail the dramatic change in context for the better, you won’t be very effective in, well, anything.

recent study on people in Italy, who were locked down for months last year, suggests that the insidious effects of lockdown are lingering memory problems, which would range from forgetting small things like where you left your smartphone, to trouble with attention when trying to read a book or stream a show. If you find your mind wandering a bit more than usual, it seems you’re far from alone.

Out of 4,000 respondents in the study, 30% had reported some degree of change in their everyday cognition. This is obviously going to be accentuated in people with underlying emotional issues like depression and anxiety, but even for those without any such conditions, these cognitive issues were very common.

The implications for productivity are dire, which is why you should be across the more granular details when it comes to this so-called lockdown memory fog. You can’t fight something effectively if you don’t know how it works.

The Groundhog Day Effect

The above study suggests that the reason our everyday memory is on the fritz is that we are living through a kind of Groundhog Day, and this makes it harder for our brains to properly encode memories, not only make them more difficult to retrieve later on, but messing with our sense of time.

Attempting to explain the results of the study, Professor Brett Hayes from UNSW’s School of Psychology references the recently refined contextual-binding theory of memory. This basically states that memories form by linking experience to context.

“What we know about human memory is that the context is really important”, said Professor Hayes. “You might be doing a job at home, chatting to a friend, or watching a movie…. when we have those experiences, we might be focused on the main part of the experience, but our brain is actually encoding a lot of other things just incidentally, like where that’s happening, the location, where and when it’s taking place”.

Our brain is hyper-sensitive to these contextual cues, and it’s what helps us better lay down memories in a way that’s easily retrieved later on. Lockdown strips away much of the variety in our weekly contexts; we’re no longer having dinner out with friends at different restaurants, trying new outdoor activities, working with spaces that allow for variety, and so on. Sleeping on different sides of the bed each night, or working out in different rooms of the house. doesn’t count.

Most of us have then sunk into a cycle that allows for very little repetition outside of incremental variations on the same ol’ shit. Even Bill Murray had more freedom than this in Groundhog Day, and when we’re limited to very few contexts between days, that’s when time can blur and those memory and attentional issues come to the fore.

Of course, most of this may be obvious to a lot of you. But knowing there’s increasing experimental evidence sitting behind this should at least make you feel a bit more… normal. I know I’ve been making far more spelling mistakes than usual lately, and while having too many tabs (web browser tabs, open) usually overwhelms me, this time it’s straight-up murder to my mind.

Routine, Variety, & Socialising

Having a routine – especially a morning one – is always going to be important. Your personal rituals are crucial for daily structure, and just about every successful person in the world will tell you that. But mixing them up and balancing them with variety should hold equal importance, especially now that your range of contexts is severely limited.

Maintaining a level of social interaction is important, beyond whoever you happen to be locking down with.

Another study on a two-month lockdown in Scotland last year required respondents to test their memory via a number of online tasks across memory, decision making, and selective attention. Results suggest that performance was not only poorer during lockdown, but people who were able to maintain their online interaction during those lockdowns did better at all tasks.

People, particularly blokes, don’t like to admit when they’re feeling lonely, whether it’s due to a fear of being seen as weak and emotionally unstable, or being a burden to others. That should stop, if even for the sake of productivity in other areas of your life.

While keeping up social interactions and changing contexts wherever you can is important, it’s a bit harder to put it into practice. This goes beyond just changing your Zoom background every time your mates host a virtual poker sesh, that need for variety should extend to your exercise as well.

“From a memory point of view, if you are able to exercise outside the house, vary those exercise paths from day to day to just allow a different context for your brain to encode those different days, if you want to be able to remember what you did from day to day a bit better,” suggests Prof. Hayes.

“Variations on exercises and activities in your house or apartment will also help you avoid the memory fog”.

From nutrition to sex, variety just leads to better overall experiences and performance. You don’t need an article to tell you that (I would hope), so bring a little bit of that thinking into more areas of your locked-down life. You might be limited to the same context each day, but it helps if you play around with the space between those boundaries to try and switch things up. Trust the process and you’ll see results.

Although if you’re worried this lockdown Groundhog Day effect might bring about some permanent changes, you shouldn’t get too stressed. The above studies also found that once restrictions were eased, particularly the social isolation, and people started experiencing different events in different places, the memory fog effect dissipated quickly.

Hang in there, you’ve got this.

This article was originally published by Chris Singh on Boss Hunting


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Posted in The world @work

COVID-19 continues to change how we work. Could it be for the better?

Living in Australia and having experienced the Stage 4 lockdowns in Victoria, it is apparent that this pandemic has changed how we work. The question now is, could it be for the better?

Last month our team joined the SEEK Insight & Innovation 2020 digital event, a seminar which was informative and well executed.

Some of the ideas presented really stem from taking the time to be considerate of the massive upheaval experienced by many people across the world, and I am pleased to say Slade Group has been carrying them through: increasing employee engagement; adapting to new ways of working, primarily working from home (especially for those who are in roles that are not usually accustomed to working from home); investing in new technology; innovating our service delivery and diversifying our service offering.   

While at this stage ‘Covid Normal’ is still being defined, according to the statistics presented by SEEK, a massive 41% of people are rethinking their careers. The cycle of travelling to work, working long hours, travelling home, rushing the family meal, ferrying children to sports and other extra curricular activities, spending the whole weekend doing the same things… and then starting it all over again – isn’t appealing anymore.

Covid has given us the capacity to explore what we may be able to achieve without the usual routine we have just accepted as ‘life’, which statistics are saying isn’t desirable anymore.

It used to be cool to be ‘super busy’ because you were ‘successful’ and didn’t have time for anyone or anything. With the benefit of lockdown hindsight, we can recognise a few home truths: You may not be suited to the role you are doing, or you may have had too many roles (paid or unpaid) with too much on your plate. Were you making excuses not to catch up with someone you would really have liked to spend time with or to take time out for yourself?

With just over one month left in 2020, what are the insights for next year? I think most would agree taking care of our health is much higher on the agenda. Working from home in some capacity is here to stay. If your current role doesn’t provide the flexibility to reset the balance or you’ve had a break from the workforce and are looking to get your career back on track, what would be challenging and stimulating?

My team at Slade Group are assisting our client organisations to develop the culture and strategies that will allow them to be successful in a post Covid world @work. At the same time, we are helping candidates to reinvent themselves and find their perfect role, not simply because it’s our job, or to do our part to reduce the unemployment rate (since the pandemic, the highest in over 20 years) and rebuild the economy. We are looking forward to a new normal where personal life and business life happily coexist, so you may need to find another reason to not catch up with that person you have been putting off. 😊

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work

7 down to earth Wellness Building Blocks during isolation

Wait, wait, don’t scroll down, this is not just another COVID-19 blog. This is 7 down to earth Wellness Building Blocks during isolation.

Seriously though, I had the pleasure of hearing Taylor Johnson from Roots Reboot speak yesterday about the 7 Building Blocks to Wellness, and lord knows we need wellness during this COVID-19 crisis. Taylor used the analogy of a house, describing how all 7 elements below are critical for a strong foundation, in our case, wellness.

Rate yourself along with me on Wellness vs COVID-19 isolation, here we go:

  1. Sleep – essential for rest and recovery, mood and attention span, and for our body to reset. Get those sleep habits right, no screens.

    My COVID score: 5/10

    Not good, watching a bit too much Netflix (Michael Jordan story and The Capture on ABC iView), staying up way too late, a little interrupted sleep and sleeping in way too much. Streaming TV – how good! How am I ever going to get up for work again?

    Your score _____?

  2. Nutrition – watch what we eat, don’t binge, hydration, watch the alcohol intake (I am watching the alcohol, but mmm it’s nice) diet smart, more veggies and watch the snacking during the day. I know, I know, but I’m bored, and the fridge is so handy and the chocolate so good with the TV and the red wine.

    My COVID score: 4/10

    I’ve slipped, let myself down. Extra cakes, extra biscuits and a bit of extra red.

    Your score _____?

  3. Exercise – get up early, stretch, walk, roll, run, swim, gym… you know the drill. It lowers stress (you know the benefits on the heart), builds strength, muscles and releases endorphins.

    My COVID score: 5/10.

    I’m sleeping in, whereas I used to be up at 5:45am for gym. I’ve gotten lazy. But I did a big 75 minute walk this morning. I’m back – nearly.

    Your score _____?

  4. Mindset – remaining positive and optimistic, mood, open to new ideas and new learnings, a growth mindset.

    My COVID score: 7/10

    Not bad. OK, whilst in lockdown I’m working, Zooming, taking the glass full approach that one day this will end, won’t it? I’m trying to keep the family up and about.

    Your score _____?

  5. Social – out with people, meeting people, engaging and connecting, talking, relationships, rapport, support network, shaking hands. No, none of that during isolation.

    My COVID score: 1/10

    Distancing and isolation are the enemy of social – I’m just at home with my wife and kids… and they’re over my singing and dancing already! But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is slowly opening social up, stay optimistic.

    Your score _____?

  6. Self-care – looking after yourself from the neck up: kindness, compassion, empathy, mindfulness, meditation, understanding, self-awareness, laughter, hobbies, enjoying something for you, self-love, and self-talk.

    My COVID score: 7/10

    I’m trying hard here to talk to myself and keep an up mood. Not good every day though, I must admit. I have my good and bad days.

    Your score _____?

  7. External environment – cluttered work desk, cluttered house or surroundings, relaxed working environment, making healthy choices.

    My COVID score: 8/10

    I’m lucky I’ve got everything at home I need, but I’m not home schooling the kids! I’m next to a park for a walk when I feel I need it for instance.

    Your score _____?

Well, how did you rate?

My report card: 37/70 (just a pass)

“Laurie is just ok during COVID 19; he needs to get out much more and mix with his friends and socialise!”

Love to hear how you’re coping right now, today – seriously.

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Posted in Consumer, Sport & Entertainment