Self-isolation or self-improvement? During quarantine, there is a choice

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While social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic can be difficult, it can also be a great opportunity for self-improvement. Students have more free time to use to their advantage with the rest of the semester moved online and regular extracurricular activities canceled because of campus closure. Even if it’s as simple as fixing their sleep schedule or learning how to cook a basic meal, students have a unique opportunity to practice self-improvement and self-enrichment.

Even for those working remotely or holed up in their childhood bedroom watching Zoom lectures, the amount of free time is abundant. Like it or not, social and extracurricular obligations have dissipated, leaving many students lonely, bored and missing on-campus life. While virtually commiserating with students across the country in the Club Penguin pizza parlor or taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon are valid forms of self-care in their own right, students now have the opportunity to refocus on themselves. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book “Outliers” famously explores the habits of successful people. Examining the factors needed to become outstanding performers, businesspeople and inventors, Gladwell breaks down a psychological principle known as the “10,000 hour rule.” This concept suggests that natural talent in an area can only take someone so far — putting in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice creates a level of proficiency rivaling any level of natural aptitude. 

While 10,000 hours of practice is hopefully an overstatement in the case of the coronavirus stay-at-home order, the same principles can be applied toward learning a new skill with this newfound break from everyday life. Whether you want to work on your jump shot, build an app, learn to play the ukulele that’s been gathering dust in the closet or create an aesthetic art piece, those looming empty hours can open up a world of possibility. Taking even a few minutes every day to work on a skill can be extremely beneficial; for example, just a jog around the block every day for a month is a step forward in building endurance. 

A quick 10,000 hour rule disclaimer: Gladwell notes that there are many other external factors that go into achieving fame and being outstanding in one’s field, in addition to putting in the work. He talks about the connections and support the Beatles had in getting more gigs, as well as Bill Gates’ early access to computers in the 1970s. The chances that one will come out of quarantine able to beat Steph Curry in a game of “horse” are slim, but a few minutes of daily diligent and focused practice will culminate in significant improvement in any area or skill.

During a typical semester, it can be easy to push physical and mental well-being aside as students pursue a perfect GPA and enjoy social life. Whether or not one chooses to take advantage of more lenient grading options this semester, this anomalous experience allows students to be more cognizant of their own health; creating a simple schedule, getting a healthy amount of sleep, making sure to interact with friends and family, setting aside leisure time and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities are all good ways of trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy. 

While this quarantine period is an opportunity to reflect on and improve daily habits, remember that taking the time to do something relatively unproductive — whether it’s sledding on Club Penguin, watching Netflix or taking a nap — is just as valid. Take advantage of online resources — there’s no end to the number of online courses, book PDFs, fitness apps, movie streaming sites, Instagram live concerts and other fun and enriching opportunities that are being offered for free right now. To maximize spare time during the remaining weeks of remote instruction, the key is moderation. 

The coronavirus pandemic is life-altering and history-making, and isolation can be frustrating and dull. However, there are countless ways to take advantage of this temporarily slowed pace of life while still adhering to social distancing recommendations.