Plan Your Life Again, but Keep It Simple

“It shined a light on that death wasn’t necessarily going to happen when you’re 88 years old,” said Hal Hershfield, an associate professor of marketing and behavioral decision making at the U.C.L.A. Anderson School of Management who studies long-term decision making. “It could happen sooner.”

But even if we have newfound priorities about what’s important and what’s not, it’s hard to plan. Being shut in with his girlfriend a few months after they had begun living together made Marcus Garrett, 38, an auditor in Houston, certain he wanted to marry her. “If you can survive a pandemic you can survive anything,” he said. He proposed in March, but the couple are not thinking about having a wedding until the fall of 2022. “It’s hard to imagine tranquillity,” Mr. Garrett said. “It feels like something ominous that will derail it, so what is the point of planning?”

So what do you do if you feel this kind of “future block”?

First, tell yourself it’s OK to go after something big and exciting you want to do for yourself, even while you’re still recovering from the fear and loss of the pandemic. In other words, this may not seem like a good time to get married or have a baby, but it might not be a bad time, either.

“Now, or some version of now, might be as good a time as any,” Mr. Hershfield said. “This is part of the modified world that we’re in. There can be some sadness alongside the positive.”

Next, get out of your head. Thinking about the future isn’t going to lessen your anxiety about it. Instead, Dr. Michaelis advised, take micro steps to a major goal. For example, if you’re mulling moving, go to an open house. Or if you think you want to begin a romantic relationship, spend 10 minutes on a dating app. “Try something and see how it feels and how it works,” he said.The way the mind works, these things that seemed insurmountable are now suddenly very doable.”

As you aim big, try to turn down the voice that might be telling you that time is ticking. Change might not happen as quickly as you think it should; let it take the time it takes, and in that space you may be better able to hone your goals.

“I think we assume that we should have all of the answers, even in the midst of an uncertain, really challenging event like a pandemic,” Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University and host of “The Happiness Lab” podcast, said. “The right response if you’re struggling with a decision is to give yourself a little bit of grace.”


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