Jeff Baker

If you Google “can people change?” you’ll be rewarded (or cursed) with 7.7 billion results. I’ll wager you could spend the rest of your life dedicated to nothing other than processing every one of those opinions and arrive at an ultimate conclusion of “sometimes.”

You’ll likely find that people rarely stick to diets, New Year’s resolutions, quitting smoking or whatever other positive lifestyle change they set out to do. But some people do succeed.

Why them and not others?

The coronavirus predictions abound

People are trying their best to predict what our coronavirus-free future will look like, and what aspects of our behavior and culture are going to be changed forever. A quick scan through headlines will give you things like:

“Coronavirus will change how we work forever”

“After the coronavirus, your world will not go back to normal”

“4 ways Coronavirus will forever change the ways that we interact with one another”

I’ve even heard people even make comparisons to the Greatest Generation, when scarce resources forever forged a “waste not” framework on the rest of their lives, and to some degree, their children.

To be certain, frugality wasn’t a fad or genetic trait, it was a matter of survival for these folks. Is that what we’re looking at right now?

In my amateur opinion, there are three key scenarios that can cause lifelong changes in group behavior, and our situation is presenting some aspects of all three.

1. Disruption and discomfort

Immediate and permanent sea change in behavior and culture is only really achievable through an event so disruptive and uncomfortable that change is a requirement, not a choice.

Existential moments, life or death can cause this. You hear of near-death experiences forever changing a person’s outlook on life; a heart attack or stroke, a traffic near-miss or any preview into an existential outcome directly tied to a changeable behavior can permanently impact a person’s choices.

Most have likely heard of or read about people having hallucinogenic trips that are so revelatory, or seemingly near death, that they feel compelled to change everything about their lives.

Will our experience of being locked in our homes for several months and the resulting lifestyle adaptations be disruptive and existential enough for us to forever change?

Is this our sea change disruption?

Probably for some, but not others. Those survivors directly impacted medically or financially will certainly carry lessons and lifestyle changes with them throughout their lives.

Some behavioral shifts by those who felt the sea change:

  • Physical contact: It’s very likely that some people may never shake a stranger’s hand again. And for them, rightly so. You never want to burn your hand on the stove twice.
  • Health: It’s now very clear that fitness and a healthy immune system are chief survival characteristics. Many will take this lesson with them in the form of exercise and clean eating.
  • Frugality: Many have been crushed financially in ways they will never forget, and will likely have in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives.

But a lot of people are just experiencing a significant inconvenience. It feels significant enough to change their current outlook and certainly color their predictions on how they will act in the future, but will likely dissolve into memory as the inconvenience is removed. It’s likely they will be more shaped by the following two momentum-changers.

2. Convenience

Our behavior is largely shaped by following the path of least resistance. Like a river, we forge the easiest path, skirting inconveniences at every opportunity.

We text because it’s easier than calling.

We order food delivery because it’s easier than cooking.

We use Alexa because we can’t be bothered to open our computer and search for a product.

You get the idea. Save for a few traditionalist holdouts, our brains are hardwired for finding and exploiting efficiency in our lives, and sometimes to our own detriment.

This crisis has certainly introduced us to conveniences that we either previously didn’t know about, or didn’t consider. These habits of convenience lend themselves well to our new reality, and some of those conveniences will without a doubt carry into a post-coronavirus world.

Conveniences that will thrive post-coronavirus:

  • Home exercise: Some people love the gym and are itching to get back in the weight room. Others are discovering (and creating) the wonder of workout apps that you can do in your family room, saving money and time.
  • The internet: Not that it’s new or largely different, but people are truly realizing that they can live almost exclusively through internet capabilities like food delivery, socialization, streaming entertainment, video games and even finding love.
  • Working remotely: A no-brainer for those with careers that allow for it, working from home is much easier than commuting 3 hours a day in a suit, not to mention that added social incentive of reducing your carbon footprint.

In short, if it’s convenient now under lockdown and will be convenient when you can go outside again, it will thrive.

3. Money

This one is going to be touchy, and a lot of readers will want to dismiss the notion as pessimistic, but money flows and patterns on a macro and micro level will play a major role in how your life changes in the near future.

Don’t believe me? What if I told you that your CEO spent the last 4 weeks realizing that her employees are equally productive working from home as they are in the office, and she can release $1.5 million in annual overhead by letting the office building lease expire?

That’s gonna happen, more often than you think.

Some things are going to impact the everyday person indirectly in ways that aren’t nearly as clear.

For example, it’s pretty clear money flows into healthcare are going to look different in the future. If we’ve seen anything, we’ve seen that most healthcare systems, especially those in the States, were embarrassingly unprepared for a true public health crisis. In the United States, at least 1.5 million people lost healthcare coverage as a result of the pandemic, with an additional 6 million more to lose it in the future.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the irony of a system that drops your healthcare when it is needed the most. People will step in, perhaps the Elon Musk of healthcare, and change the way money flows into healthcare so that it is less broken the next time the world gets turned upside down and shaken by its boots.

Money flows that will change post-coronavirus:

  • Savings: People might save more, even those who weren’t directly financially impacted but were witness to companies and people going completely bust, and saw how quickly it happened. A lot of people will be more frugal, putting less money into the economy.
  • Working remotely: This one is clear-as-day; it makes financial sense for business leaders to switch to a remote-first model wherever possible.
  • Healthcare: Nobody knows what the healthcare industry is going to look like, but common sense tells us that it won’t look like it does now. Perhaps hospitals are overhauled to handle urgent cases at scale, and regular checkups are switched online whenever possible, like Doctors on Demand.
  • Housing: From personal property ownership, to investment properties, to the rental market and interest rates, all will be affected by money flows due to changes in buyer sentiment, health check protocols for renting property, and any number of unpredictable fallout.
  • Travel: It’s very possible the current generation will carry trace amounts of apprehension towards confined spaces associated with travel like planes and cruise ships for the remainder of their lives. Though fears will become increasingly less prominent as time goes on.

If anyone knew exactly where and when the money is going to stop flowing and start flowing, they would be billionaires and well beyond the concepts of this article. But what’s for certain is that governments, companies and people will be changing the way they spend money long after coronavirus becomes a memory.

So are we forever changed?

Yes, and some more disproportionately than others, as is always the case with disruptive global events. But to one degree or another, everyone will be impacted directly or indirectly once this whole crisis is behind us.

And some things will be different for the better.

With any luck, healthcare will be more accessible and abundant. Some people will be given opportunities to work remotely, giving them more time with their families or other fulfilling endeavors. And some people will go right back to life as usual, occasionally reflecting on the few odd months they spent at home.

So getting back to the original question: Can people change? The answer is definitely yes, but it usually takes the form of a strong external force disrupting their current trajectory.