The Surroundup


  • by Gillian Stovel Rivers, MA, CFP®, CEA
  • July 27, 2021

You know what?  As a species, we’ve done quite well in the pandemic – compared with past global calamities. Although the history of famine, plague and war in the first world has diminished substantially over the past 100 years at an exceptional rate, Covid was quite a shock to the whole global system, and is not likely the last of its kind. Yet when I look back, I cannot help but feel proud overall at how humans generally cooperated to protect ourselves and our families, the speed with which we learned to invent, distribute and organize testing and vaccination on a massive scale, and how all of this could have been so much worse than it was in most places, if it were not for how far we have come as humans.

These are a few of the things I’ve taken away from the quite incredible books I’ve been reading lately (if you’d like one of them, see the list below and I will send to you). There’s a reason we’re at the top of the food chain: it’s because we have the ingenuity and creativity to conjecture, and the ability of scientific discovery, in order to solve really big problems.

Like we’ve all had to, I’ve been exercising my ingenuity during the lockdowns. You might recall, during the first lockdown in 2020, that I sent out several videos via email, in which I talked about the new, healthy habits we could take from our lockdown lives back into the world when it opened up.  Well, things are finally, actually opening up – and here is where my thinking stands.


We certainly have ingenuity – but fact is, we are still limited by what the slow pace of evolution allows us to achieve. Biologically, we can only go so quickly – and that’s where the power of habits comes in.  Habits such as:

  • How you choose to spend your time
  • Who you choose to spend it with
  • How you choose to spend your money
  • What and who you choose to spend it on

Time and money. Two precious resources, our spending of which changed dramatically when we entered lockdown. Many people, for example, spent less on eating out in restaurants and more on groceries and cooking at home. Think about the potential lifelong benefits of this change to one’s finances (spending less and saving or investing more), physical health (we tend to eat better when we cook for ourselves) and mental health and relationships (more in-person time with our spouse and family). Just like the power of compounding returns in finance, a small change like self-preparing more meals can in truth reverberate through the generations.

All from a change so small it is atomic, as author James Clear would have it. One of the books I’ve recently read is his New York Times-bestselling Atomic Habits – An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones.

What are atomic habits? They are tiny changes that yield remarkable results. For example, I have always found it a challenge to read for extended periods of time, because I will eventually doze off.  So, very recently, I created the atomic habit of listening to audiobooks while going for a walk. Suddenly I am “reading” two books a week by walking for an hour every day. My knowledge is experiencing compound growth, and as someone who works out intensely, I am nevertheless aware that the simple act of walking is probably the world’s healthiest exercise for your brain and body (I have data that I can send you, if you like).

Small change, big impact!

So: what atomic habit(s) did you create during lockdown that you’re going to take forward with you into the new world? Think of it as an investment.  As we say at Surround, there’s more than one way to wealth. What’s your way?


There’s a big gap that I think we need to explore. It is the gap between Covid lockdown life and instant gratification life on this full-speed, 21st-century place called Earth. As the world fully reopens, every idea is going to look like a great one. We could choose to do this, and do that, and go here, and go there… but maybe we shouldn’t try to do everything? How about experiencing what we have like they’re the only things we’re going to have? Because being content with what you already have is a such an incredibly useful skill. Please read that again: being content with what you already have is an incredibly useful skill.

During the pandemic, I noticed just such an evolution toward contentment among the people I know. First there was utter boredom from the loss of our activities. There was a period of mourning:  I can’t shop, I can’t golf, I can’t eat out. But eventually there was acceptance. And there was intentionality: people started to make happen in their day what they knew they could have.

Whereas pre-Covid I think we too often ran through our days without thinking enough about what we were doing, how we were doing it and why we were doing it in the first place, people in the pandemic became intentional about their busy-ness. Mindful about it. Because they had to!

In Covid life, every day looked like very much like the next. So we intentionally adopted new routines. Things like going for a walk at a certain time, Zooming with friends and family on a set schedule, adopting a new workout regime or establishing new family dinner rituals. In many cases, we at first worked all of the time because we could, and then came to learn the importance of balancing screen time with non-screen time. These are all lessons – if we can hold on to them – that our bodies and brains will thank us for in years to come.

Think of a time you described your new routine(s) to someone. It’s one of the joys of living with intention. Of living a day you saw in advance, chose mindfully and then got to enjoy after the fact by reflecting with someone else, or all by yourself, upon its meaning. Doesn’t this sound like something you want to keep doing post-lockdown? Let me assure you: I sure do.

Time. Money. Busy-ness. On all three of these scores, which atomic habits, created in the pandemic, are you going to take with you, into the new world that is opening up right before our eyes? Who will benefit from your healthy choices? More importantly, who will lose out if you choose not to continue making them?

Please call or email me, because I’d love to hear and help with your plans – so your lives can be more meaningful and wealthier than ever. How do you want to wealth? That’s what I want to help you do.

PS: Check out my video on this topic!

PPS: Here are some of the books I’ve recently read, in order from most accessible to most challenging. If you see anything that interests you, send me an email at, or call me at 1 905 815 2704, and I will be thrilled to send you a copy.

Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. By James Clear

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. By Yuval Noah Harari

The Beginning of Infinity. By David Deutsch