Using Social Distancing to Form New Habits

Habits. We all have them. Most we use every day without thinking. Some we wish we could change or stop. Truly, we may never get a better opportunity to do just that.

I have written many articles about how our habits control the majority of our actions throughout the day. We go about our business throughout the day being triggered from one action to the next. Now that many of our daily triggers have been removed while we stay home, the days seem to drag on forever as we are forming new habits. I’m sure some of you have noticed the difference in your actions. But it takes a few weeks for new habits to form. Therefore, now is the time to take deliberate action to remove your undesired habits and replace them with those you’d like to instill.

Steps to create a new habit:

  1. Write down a description of the actions which you’d like to become habitual. The process of writing them down allows your brain to create a more complete picture of this new behavior; increasing its chance of success. Therefore, include the time(s) of day, tools or people needed, or a triggering event.
  2. If the new habit needs to be done at a certain time, then set a calendar reminder (with notifications) to queue your memory.
  3. If the new habit should be performed in conjunction with an existing habit, such as brushing your teeth or cleaning house, then place a written reminder where you’ll be sure to see it. Better yet, place it where it must be moved to continue.

There are times when we just want to get rid of an existing habit. To do this, we have to determine what ‘reward’ the habit brings us. Sometimes, habits are elusive. That afternoon trip to the office cafeteria or vending machine may be more about moving our body, or being social, than it is for caloric uptake. Here are some Steps for Today that may help:

  1. Identify you unwanted habits by writing them down. Use a journal to capture your daily actions for a few days. This will train the brain to be more aware of them.
  2. If you can handle a poignant response, ask others if they’ve noticed your habits.
  3. Determine the habit’s reward. If you’re emptying your pockets on the dining room table every night, it may less about convenience, and more about not having a place to put your stuff where you’ll remember it in the morning.
  4. Find a replacement, more desirable, action to get the reward. For example, a dedicated place where you can empty out your pockets each night, or just a walk without a stop at the vending machine.
  5. If this process doesn’t seem to be working, start over at step 3. You haven’t found the reward yet.

Research indicates that the length of time is takes to establish a new habit, such as remembering to check ones goals, differs depending on the individual. I’ve seen as little as 21 days (sounds a little optimistic to me) and as long as 66 days. After 3 or 4 weeks, I suggest only using calendar reminders once a week. This will “take away your crutch”; allowing your brain to take ‘ownership’ of the action, while providing a reminder so it won’t be forgotten completely if your daily routine should suddenly change.

This is an exercise which gives back for a lifetime. You can choose how much, or how little, effort you give to it. Maybe it feels overwhelming. If so, start small. You’ll probably be happy with results and continue the process.

Also, I encourage you to ask those who are social-distancing with you, to help you with these changes. In most cases, you will not find a group of people more “on your team” than these. And they’re with you all day, every day!

For sure, you are forming new habits. The question is, will they be the ones you want; the ones that will lead you to the lifestyle you want?

As always, thanks for reading.
And remember to take the next step…

Check That

Near the end of last year, I had to the opportunity to talk to employees from several local gyms. Of course I  had to ask them about the impending, predictable, January flood of newly resolved patrons. Sadly, they all stated the same thing; that only a few of the new members would continue their exercise ‘routine’ past January. 

Why is it so hard to make change? Why can’t we simply just reorganize or lives and schedule to include our new endeavors? Could it be that as we age, we increasingly become a creature of habit? These habits subconsciously run our lives; imploring us to get on to the next task, without any conscious thought on our part. Experts agree that habits can be changed. But they don’t always agree on how long it takes to change them. That is why I firmly believe in a daily tool and process that, once established, helps to usher-in any change we’d like to make.

Ask any teacher how to properly prepare students to make a change to their routine. They’ll probably tell you it’s through setting expectations. Here at Steps For Today, we’ll tell you….you haven’t changed much since grade school. Having a daily routine that starts and ends with setting your expectations will help focus your thoughts and organize your activities. A tool to help establish this new routine is our ‘Today’s Expectations’ worksheet.

The Today’s Expectation worksheet is a one-sheet, pdf file, with an identical front and back. Each face of the sheet contains the following areas:

  • A place for 3 good expectations for the day
  • A place for 3 areas to focus on
  • 15 lines with checkboxes for activities to accomplish
  • 3 lines to write down expectations that were met and/or pleasant surprises
  • 3 lines to write down expectations for tomorrow

That’s it! It’s simple to use. To get the best use, we recommend dedicating 10 to 15 minutes of quiet time after waking in the morning, and before going to bed. But if that seems impossible, just print the thing out and fill it in while eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, or putting on your makeup. The point is to write something early in the morning and get the habit established.  I truly believe that once you see how much change this simple tool can make, you’ll want to give it more of your time and energy.

To download a free copy of the Today’s Expectation worksheet visit our store at:

As always, thanks for reading.
And remember to take the next step..

A mind-bending Scientific American article on the power of expectations, written by Gareth Cook can be found at: