Building good habits in a time of crisis
5 minutes to read
Lockdown lessons: how enforced isolation could help with building good habits
The psychology of building good habits
There are several psychological influences at play when it comes to understanding the reasons why we adopt new behaviours. Here are some of the main drivers behind building good habits, and why isolation could actually help us keep to them long term:
Emotions and social connection
It’s natural that in a time of crisis, our emotions are likely to be less settled than usual. But we’ve noticed something on social media and during our calls with family and friends. People are talking more about their emotions and sharing ways to deal with them. We are seeking to identify with the emotions of others to make us feel more connected. When we do this, we can learn what others are doing to manage their emotions and create positive habits. This helps us to work towards doing the same.
Humans LOVE rewards and recognition. If something gives us a win or a sense of accomplishment, we are likely to stick to doing it regularly. This is especially true if it comes with acknowledgement from someone we respect or admire.
The status quo bias
Humans do not like change. We like certainty, familiarity and routine. In the psychology world this is known as the status quo bias. This is not, as it turns out, a strong preference for a certain UK rock band.
When our sense of normal is disturbed, we tend to panic. But some of us are able to use a technique called cognitive reframing to take an alternative look at a situation. This can help us turn a seemingly negative situation into a more positive one.
For example, instead of feeling sad that we cannot meet up with friends and family, we can use it as an opportunity to learn about and use the huge range of technology that is available to us for communication. I have heard of grandparents buying their first smartphones so they can read a bedtime story to their grandchildren. This is a positive way to both keep a relationship strong and learn a new skill.
Building good habits in a crisis – examples
Now we know some of the reasons why we are wired to create lasting behaviours. So what examples are there of people building good new habits? I spoke to some of the Ailuna team to see how they’ve been creating positive new routines since lockdown began.
Building positive exercise habits
Ailuna founders Lars and Helene think it would be quite easy to slip into a routine of sitting on the couch, binge-watching TV, as we’re all being told to stay at home. Instead (when they’re not working on changing the world with Ailuna of course), they have used it as an opportunity to get back in shape. They’ve been running or cycling together every other morning for over two weeks and are feeling great for it. Helene has also got back into baking, especially bread. Which makes us all want to move in with her!
Social Media and Community Manager Justina has made quite a few positive changes since social restrictions began. These include playing more with her cats and experimenting with new recipes. Justina’s most positive change is that she has been able to take more time doing things for herself, like reading or having a relaxing bath.
Driving less, sleeping more
Gemma, Ailuna’s Sustainability Programme Designer, is driving a lot less since government travel restrictions came in, which is a huge tick in the environmental box. Because she doesn’t need to commute, Gemma is also finding she is getting more sleep. This is a great habit, which I’m keen to get on board with too!
Less Food Waste
The fact that food is not so readily available has made me conscious about using food in the most economical way possible. We had crunchy roasted potato peelings with our dinner the other night (way tastier than they sound) and Helene has also made burgers from banana skins! Any leftovers are used up or repurposed the next day, which makes our food go a lot further than it usually does. I’ve even started regrowing some of our food scraps. So hopefully I’ll have my very own tomato plants and baby bok choi in a few weeks!
Because everyone is home all the time, sitting down as a family for meals is one of the easiest changes we can make. It’s also one of the most positive habits to stick to. Sitting down around a table to eat as a family helps communication and offers parents the opportunity to act as positive role models for healthy eating (and table manners!). Family meals also help build family ties and give a sense of belonging, which makes us all feel better about ourselves.
Positive mental health habits
Ailuna’s behavioural expert, Emmie says that the most helpful habit that she has built into her day is the “buzzy bee breath”. She spends a few minutes a day with her children taking a deep breath in, then humming as they breathe out. This has the effect of making us more aware of our breathing and making our breaths deeper and more controlled. This is a simple tool to help with stress, anxiety and general wellbeing.
Building good habits – what next?
From new working conditions to different exercise routines, we will all come away from this unsettling time with some new habits. Next time, we will explain how to take the good ones and make them stick when life goes back to normal.