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Forming habits during COVID-19

A habit is behaviour that we do repeatedly, often unconsciously. Our daily life is filled with them. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we act out hundreds of small habits. Take a moment to think of some of the patterns of behaviour you go through throughout the day.

What’s your typical routine when you first wake up? Do you hit the snooze button and go back to sleep?

And what about at bedtime? Do you put on your pyjamas, brush your teeth and go to bed with a book?

These are all common habits that we engage in, and we often do them without even realising it. They become automatic, just like driving a car, and the more we do them, the more ingrained they become.

During this period of social-distancing, many of us have to develop new ways of living our lives – new routines and new habits. We can’t socialise in the same way, many of us have to work from home or perhaps we’re unable to work or volunteer as we were before. This means we’re unable to engage in many of the daily habits we previously relied on, and we’re being forced to create new habits. Many of us would also like to take this chance to try and introduce healthier habits into our daily life.

Habits can play a huge role in our mental health. When we’re able to create a new, healthy habit in our life, we experience a sense of achievement that can be hugely beneficial to how we see ourselves.

How can we change our habits?

In order to change our habits it can be helpful to understand how they work. They are made up of  four parts:

  • Reminder – the thing that reminds us to do a particular habit. This can be a time of day, a place, another event, an object, a person, a feeling, or a combination of these things.
  • Craving – the desired outcome, the thing that we’re hoping to get out of the habit.
  • Response – this is the actual habit itself, the behaviour.
  • Reward – this is the emotional benefit we receive from engaging in the habit.

Often this is an unconscious process, so it might take some time to recognise these four parts in action when it comes to your own habit. Here are a few examples;

Reminder – our phone alarm is buzzing at 7am
Craving – to make the noise stop
Response – we reach over, pick up our phone and turn our alarm off
Reward – peace and quiet

Reminder – we sit down on the bus, and we’re feeling bored
Craving – for some entertainment
Response – we pull out our phones and start scrolling through social media
Reward – we feel entertained

How can we use this information to change our habits?

Now that we know what drives our habits, we can change certain situations in order to reduce or increase the likelihood of us engaging with them. If we’re looking to incorporate a new habit into our life, here are the general guidelines;

To create a new habit… 
Reminder – make it obvious
Craving – make it desirable
Response – make it easy
Reward – make it satisfying

To break an existing habit…
Reminder – make it hidden
Craving – make it undesirable
Response – make it difficult
Reward – make it unsatisfying

So take some time to have a think about your own habits, and if you’re looking to change something then consider how you can use the above information.

If you don’t quite manage to stick to your plans, try to be gentle with yourself. Often our habits are deeply ingrained, and during times of stress or anxiety, we have a tendency to fall into well-worn habits. So whatever you do, it’s important to have self-compassion and to see any mistakes simply as learning opportunities.

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