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. ☺

How has Covid changed the way we think?

How has Covid changed the way we think?

A Think piece by Winston Sutherland – 25 April, 2020

“My mom washes the dishes before she puts them into the dishwasher, so what does the dishwasher do?” This has got to be one of the greatest questions ever. That’s a child’s question but it stops you in your tracks. And makes you say hmmm I hadn’t thought of that. To be honest, I used to wonder about that very question until I saw the advert and realized that I was not alone and that it’s ok to ask what is sometimes called a ‘silly’ question. I was relieved.

Now, before you rush off and Google to see the answer, here’s a health warning. Most of the answers I saw, to the dishwasher question, were about telling you that you do not need to do so which completely misses the point of the question. So, what is the point? The simple answer is that during this Covid experience, this collective global experience, we have a great opportunity to be, not experts giving advice, but curious children asking questions which open up great possibilities and answers. In this article I want to help us to reflect on how we lead and how we lead others in times of uncertainty and to challenge us to use this as an opportunity to change and to lead in a different and more impactful way.

We know that it has been said over and over and demonstrated over and over that asking questions is a great way to solve problems. Some go as far as using the term ‘powerful 1 questions’. As coaches we use questions to help our clients to figure out the real problems they are facing and help them work out what to do.

Notwithstanding some clients being frustrated by the discomfort which these questions cause them. We know that medical doctors use questions as a diagnostic tool. We know that when we go to the doctor they ask us questions. They do that for a reason. Every question rules something out or rules something in. So, questions
can be insightful and powerful. But many of us would rather not ask them because our culture expects us to know the answer and so we pretend that we know the answer or worse we do not say anything at all. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” And I could go on making the case but so not to get carried away, let me get to the core of what is supposed to be a short but thought provoking article. I have watched the Governor of New York’s daily press conferences and I have noticed that he has a pattern ofasking questions and then trying to answer them. So, what are some of the questions that we should be askingfrom the point of view of our real world existence? Here are my top ten?

1. What have I learnt about myself and others
during this ‘lockdown’ and what does that mean
for how I lead?
2. What pre – Covid habits have I stopped?
3. What pre – Covid habits will I continue?
4. What habits have I started to develop during
Covid and want to continue after Covid?
5. What is a habit anyway and why is it important
and why now?
6. What concerns do my colleagues have? How
do I know and so what?
7. How do I manage people who are working
remotely and who can continue to work
8. What are the opportunities that arise for our
business area and how do we respond?
9. How do I deliver the business differently to the
same high pre – COVID quality standard?
10. What are the opportunities for working in partnership with others to get work done?

My list of questions is actually quite extensive but I did say I want this to be a short article. The point is, we can develop lists of lists of questions for every sector of the economy but more importantly how do we use these questions to help us transition into a new world?

If I had any advice to give I would say it is to ask very simple questions. Questions which stop people in their tracks and make them think. Questions which start with – what, why, how, when, and who? The well-known principle which says, ask why five times and by the time you get to Y number five you have got to the root of the problem, applies here. If your question starts ‘Have you….. or Did you…… ? etc. you are probably suggesting an answer. I call that a ‘rouge’ question. In other words it’s an answer masquerading as a question. If you genuinely want to ‘up your game’, post Covid, I would say make yourself vulnerable. It’s ok to not know the answer. Let the people around you help you because
when people help you to create a solution they feel valued and that generates unbelievable opportunities for better working relationships and even better outcomes for those whose lives we want to make better.

Note: I haven’t actually answered the question posed in the title of the article because to do so would assume that I know the answer. It’s not a cop- out or oversight, it’s just my writing style.

David Clutterbuck and others write extensively about the concept of ‘powerful questions’ – https://www.davidclutterbuckpartnership.com/what-makes-a-powerful-question/