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…

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