Quarantine Made You Crave Major Life Changes, But Should You Follow Through?

The pandemic may have led you to reevaluate your life and make some bold decisions about the future — but is now really the best time to head in a different direction?

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Chances are, right now you're imagining how great it would be to move into a bigger house with a nice backyard. Or daydreaming about ditching your job for something more fulfilling. Or thinking that your relationship could use a revamp. Because if there's one thing that makes people want to make a move, any move, it's being held in place. And boy, are most folks stuck.

For the past year and a half, your days likely have become an endless, monotonous loop of working, cooking, cleaning, and caring for your kids or pets. Altering course begins to feel like the only thing that can save your sanity. That makes perfect sense, says Jacqueline K. Gollan, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, who studies decision-making. "Change invites novelty into our lives and can relieve the tediousness," she says.

So many people made some seismic shifts. Almost 9 million people moved in 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. Fifty-two percent of workers are considering a job shift, and 44 percent have plans in place to do it, according to a recent Fast Company–Harris poll. Relationships are starting and ending. Folks are looking for love (Dating.com's user activity rate has increased 88 percent since the pandemic started), making plans to get married (jewelers nationwide report that sales of engagement rings are on the rise), and calling it quits (67 percent of Dating.com users said they went through a breakup last year).

This has truly been a time of reckoning, says Melody Wilding, a professor of human behavior, an executive coach, and the author of the new book Trust Yourself (Buy It, $34, amazon.com), who notes that 80 percent of her clients are making changes in their lives. "The pandemic has made a lot of people ask, 'Am I doing what I really want to be doing and spending my time in a way that's fulfilling?'" she says. "For one thing, we have more time for contemplation when we're home. More than that, the gravity of the situation has highlighted how fragile life is and that our time is limited. That has given us a sense of urgency and made us search for more meaning."

Quarantine Made You Crave Major Life Changes, But Should You Follow Through?
Getty Images

Primed for Action

It's important to note that not all the changes during this time were made by choice. COVID-19 was the ultimate disruption. People lost jobs and loved ones. Financial pressures forced others to move. Millions of women left the workforce to care for their children during lockdown. But for those fortunate enough to voluntarily try something different, the desire to do so was intense.

There's a biological reason for that, experts say: Staying static is not in our nature. "Research shows that people have a bias toward action, even when it's not in their best interest," says Gollan. "We tend to think about what we can do to improve our lives." Making a move becomes preferable to doing nothing at all, she says, even though inaction is sometimes the better choice.

The COVID crisis also acted as a kick start for moves people were already thinking about. "There are stages of change," says Wilding. "The first is pre-contemplation — when you're not really intending to do it. Then comes contemplation, when you're starting to seriously think about the change. I believe the pandemic was the catalyst that shifted people from these early stages to where they were ready and committed to take action." (Related: How Quarantine Can Potentially Impact Your Mental Health — for the Better)

That can be good — and bad. When it's done for the right reasons, change can make you happier and healthier. It puts you in a better place and also "proves what you are capable of," says Wilding. The trick is determining which moves will pay off and which ones to back away from. "We tend to think that a change is going to make things better and solve our problems," says Wilding. "But that is not always the case." Here's how to know when to take the leap.

Measure It Out

To determine if a change is worth it, start by laying out the pros and cons of making the change and then do the same for not making it, says Gollan. "If you're thinking about switching jobs, an easy rule of thumb for deciding if the time is right is when the number of bad days outweighs the number of good ones," says Wilding.

Another sign: If you've tried to improve the situation — maybe you've talked with your manager or volunteered to take on new responsibilities to sharpen your skills — but haven't gotten anywhere. "If you're no longer growing in your role and there's no real opportunity to do so, it's a good time to make a switch," says Wilding.

Play Judge and Jury

This is especially helpful for big decisions. Let's say you're thinking about uprooting yourself and moving to a warm, sunny part of the country. Before doing something so drastic, "take the decision to court," says Gollan. Obtain as much data as you can about the move — the cost of housing in the new area, the job potential there, the kinds of opportunities you'll have to meet people and make new friends — and then review both sides of the equation, as if you're a judge, while you try to make a case for it. This will give you a full picture and help you see the situation from every angle, she says. (You'll want to move through the same process if you decide to join the #VanLife movement.)

Don't Fall for "Arrival Fallacy"

Changing a situation is not going to magically improve your life. "People think once they arrive at something new [what the experts call arrival fallacy], they will automatically be happy as a result. But that's wishful thinking," says Wilding. "You may simply be trying to avoid troubles you'll end up encountering again at some point." Instead, work on developing the skills you need to solve the issue, she says. "Make sure you're running toward an opportunity rather than away from a problem," she says. (Related: How to Change Your Life for the Better — Without Freaking Out About It)

Think About the Long-Term

Sure, that new car sounds great today. But what about six months from now, when the payments and insurance bills are piling up? Or maybe you won't end up driving it as much as you thought you would. Before you make a change, ask yourself: "What is going to happen three steps down the line? Am I prepared for this possibility?" says Gollan. (Related: The 2 Steps You Need to Take If You Want to Make a Major Life Change)

Finally, Consider the Cost of Inaction

Not making a change also carries risk, says Wilding. You might think: I've already put so much time into this job or this relationship, so I can't switch things up now.

"But the price of staying in place might be your happiness and well-being. And that's a cost that's just too high," she says. "Really think through what not making a move will mean for you."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles