Habits for a Covid World

Habits for a Covid World

A Think Piece: By Winston Sutherland – 01 May, 2020

What habits have you started in this brave, new COVID world?

What habits have you stopped?

What habits are you continuing?

Habits huh?

What are habits, why are habits important and why now?

Habits are just one more of those unconscious aspects of our lives. Ways of behaving which no longer involves conscious thought; Nail biting, thumb sucking, nose picking etc. One of those things you do without knowing that you are doing it. Unconscious competence, we call it. I don’t know what I know. In our professional life we exhibit unconscious habits, for example, taking care of one’s self and appearance or making decisions. We just make decisions and only when challenged do we talk out loud how we arrived at the decision. In a previous article I have written about the habits of leaders. In this article I want to talk about creating new habits for a COVID world.

First, why do habits matter? Stephen Covey in his book, The seven habits of highly effective people” names the seven habits he thought were important for effective leaders in pursuing a character ethic. He makes the link between values and behaviours. We have identified habits as behaviours.

So, why do habits matter now? Now, meaning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes that this has caused to our lifestyles. Why do habits matter? Habits matter because they influence how we think, act and feel – which just about covers everything we do. We get into habits of thinking, doing and feeling. Habits are the brain‘s shortcut to behaving and feeling certain ways, it becomes automatic behaviour.

What habits have I stopped?
Since the start of this COVID experience I have stopped:
– Shaking hands;
– Sitting close to other people;
– Hugging / kissing people I meet. One of these things we do for no good reason;
– Touching my face. This one is quite difficult to not do, so it’s work in progress. Not quite a habit as yet.

What habits have I continued?
– My daily exercise routine. I have actually written it out on a sheet of flip chart paper and put it on the wall in my workout area as I no longer exercise outdoors, except for walking to the office. The best part about it is that I get to listen to music as I work out. All this in addition to using a standing desk.
– Washing my hands.
– Eating small portions;
– Drinking water and abstaining from flavoured drinks

What habits have I started and hope to continue after COVID?
– Keep practising social distancing ;
– Bumping elbows instead of a handshake;
– Writing down the names of people that I come into contact with. – I might need to help disease detectives (Public Health officials) do contact tracing if I were to become infected;
– Paying attention to how I am feeling when I awake and throughout the day;
– Researching every new word that I hear. Words like co-morbidity and epidemiologist;
– Wash hands with soap for 25 seconds. This is different from washing hands in the previous paragraph. Why? In my research I found out that the virus lives in a fat bubble and so just like washing greasy dishes, it’s soap that breaks down the fat pod in which the virus lives and eventually attacks the virus and kills it. Before I found that out my hand washing was five seconds, if that.

What causes anyone to start a habit?
First, there is a trigger, a cue: it might be a location, time of day, emotional state, thought, belief, other people, a pattern of behaviour. In the case of COVID the trigger is the fear of getting the virus;
This then triggers a routine, the behaviour itself. Washing hands for 25 seconds;
Then you get the reward. Feeling safe and protected from COVID.
How do I start a new habit?
Identify the behaviour that you want to become a routine subconscious behaviour;
Identify the benefits;

In my own case, in the current situation, I wanted to be able to trace people that I have come into contact with and so I have started to make it my job to pay attention. The time, the place, the person etc. Next, I started writing this information down. I developed a habit of keeping a notebook when I was about 19 years old in my first week at Sandhurst and now that habit is coming in handy;

The next building block is to repeat the behaviour at every opportunity until it becomes an unconscious behaviour. Remember, it will take some time for this to become a routine behaviour. A habit. Do not read any further.

Space filler – I have completed the article but the columns are not symmetrical. I am filling up the space with words. I could increase the font or change the column margins but I decided to do this. You couldn’t help yourself, Could you?

Well there you go! One habit that you might want to think about stopping. ☺