COVID-19: Adjusting to the new normal? How to cultivate habitual changes that endure

June 22, 2020 2:01 PM

As lockdown restrictions ease in various states, we have to navigate new routines for ourselves as we adjust to the “new normal.”

COVID-19, new normal, habitual changes, post covid 19 world, washing hands, wearing masks, lockdown restrictions, Surya Namaskar, covid 19 health tips, healthy lifestyle in covid 19A major hurdle to forming wholesome habits and shedding detrimental ones is that our brains “prioritize the present moment” over the future.

By Aruna Sankaranarayanan

COVID-19: Washing hands regularly, wearing masks and being mindful of our health are some habits ushered in by Covid-19. As lockdown restrictions ease in various states, we have to navigate new routines for ourselves as we adjust to the “new normal.” In my previous article, I had shared tips for making effective habitual changes based on the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Today, I provide more strategies outlined by Clear for cultivating positive habits and eliminating unfavourable ones.

When you want to instil a salubrious habit, focus on regularity as opposed to perfection. Suppose you want to restart learning the guitar, ensure that you devote at least half an hour to it every day. Suppose you practice diligently for an entire week, and then on Day 8, you are bombarded with Zoom meetings and presentations and your son needs help with his homework. If you cannot put in thirty minutes on an exceptional day, shoot for at least ten or fifteen minutes. Just showing up matters. Clear insists that frequency is more crucial than duration when you are trying to ingrain a habit.

You are also more likely to follow through on a habit if you make it convenient. If you intend to do yoga every morning, keep your tracks and yoga mat ready the night before. On waking, if you spot a neatly laid out yoga mat with tracks beside it, you will be more inclined to start your Surya Namaskar. Likewise, make unsatisfactory habits inconvenient. If you want to cut back on your social media time, disable some Apps from your phone.

As fallible humans, we tend to be overzealous in our goals. Instead of aiming to mediate for fifteen minutes at a stretch as a novice, aspire to a more modest five-minutes. If you want to clean a cupboard that is cluttered with knick-knacks and long-unused bric-a-brac, begin by tackling only one item per day. Do you want your kids’ old stroller? If you decide to keep it, push it to the left side of the cupboard. If not, get rid of it. If you continue with this routine daily, in a few weeks your disorganized cupboard will look more orderly.

Clear also advocates using a “commitment device” which is “a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future.” Suppose you tend to overeat in restaurants and would like to curtail this behaviour. Next time, ask the waiter to serve you only half the portion and pack the rest before he serves you the meal. This way, you cannot fall prey to temptation.

A major hurdle to forming wholesome habits and shedding detrimental ones is that our brains “prioritize the present moment” over the future. Going to bed on time feels like a punishment when we are engrossed by the latest flick on Netflix. But when you are groggy-eyed the next morning, you regret not having had your full quota of sleep. Similarly, eating out seems very tempting right now, but, in a few months’ time, your ballooning waistline doesn’t feel comforting in the least.

As the pay-offs of going to bed early or avoiding oily food are not immediate, Clear recommends that you reinforce these habits till they stick. If you are ready for bed early, play mellow music or use an aromatic oil that soothes your nerves. Similarly, every time you dissuade yourself from eating out, add ?500 to a jar labelled “Family Vacation.” Incentives can be a great way to kickstart a habit.

Another powerful reinforcer is to track your progress with a chart or calendar. Clear cites a study that found that dieters who maintained a food log lost “twice as much weight” as those who didn’t track their food consumption. Every time you go for a run, note down the kilometres you covered. As the miles pile up, your progress itself will goad you to persist.

No matter how disciplined you are, interruptions are inevitable. But as far as possible, try to not skip two consecutive sessions. And don’t be harsh on yourself for occasional lapses. Accept that frustrations and disappointments are inevitable when you are trying to induce any form of change. For example, you resolve to learn swimming and make good progress in a fortnight. However, your performance seems to plateau thereafter and you feel your motivation dip. That’s perfectly fine provided you continue to show up for your swimming sessions. Clear admits that successful people are also overcome with ennui every now and then. But that doesn’t stop them from persevering.

Finally, ever so often, review your habits to see if you need to make any tweaks or changes. Don’t get stuck in a mindless rut even after certain habits are ingrained or erased.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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