Has Covid-19 brought you new, bad habits?

So, you’ve weathered lock-down, you’ve learnt some new virtual skills and built some new habits –some useful habits perhaps about separating work and home. And mostly likely, a few bad habits have snuck in as well, which is to be expected.

Our dopamine hungry brain wants rewards and it gets them in the form of treats – sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, shopping, gambling and using social media.

All of those give us dopamine rewards which means they build into habits quickly.

Unfortunately, the feeling of reward is short-lived and often creates a craving for more.

Now, as we start looking at building a new normal, you’re probably asking yourself, how do you get rid of those bad habits while you keep the good ones? How will you stop your snacking or limit your sugar habit? How do you stop yourself walking that now well-worn path to the fridge?

The simple (but not necessarily easy) answer is self-discipline. Ah yes, I can hear the groans already. But let’s see if we can make friends with discipline.  Here’s a guide to making it doable!

Think of discipline as a way to build a new track record with yourself. A track record of doing what you say you want;  trusting yourself to follow through. It’s really about regaining self-trust. 

First, don’t shame yourself for where you are. Instead, appreciate yourself for finding some coping mechanisms for this very difficult phase – it has been a big ask to stay at home, shift all of your relationships and your ways of working and probably shift the content of your work as well. There was also the stress of either dealing with being alone a lot, or facing those same people you share your home with every day.

Give yourself a break, this has been hard and you needed some coping mechanisms and rewards to get yourself through that phase. Your brain needed these in order to stay positive.

But now it is time to consciously create the new normal for yourself. This likely means breaking some of those new habits before they become too deeply embedded.

Here are some tips for how to stop old habits or build a new one

  1. One at a time. ONE. Pick one thing to change. master that, embed it; make it a true habit where you don’t have to waste brain power thinking about it. Then you can think about the next one later.
  2. Start small. Use small steps and don’t let yourself go backwards. Pick something that you know you can follow through on. Tell yourself you will do this and do it. Build the track record one step at a time.
  3. Appreciate small successes. Find your own victory yell: YES! Another day, no sugar!
  4. Make it real and specific. What will you do or not do?
  5. Be consistent: Set a time everyday. At 8am, I meditate, at 6pm I exercise or at 2pm I eat fruit instead of sweets.
  6. Get support – use the magic of the social brain. Tell your friends and family. Report in to them. Get them to join you – and celebrate together.
  7. Set yourself up for success: if you want to stop eating sugar, then get it out of your house.
  8. Love grit. Build the discipline of living without it, rather than replacing your habit with a different habit. Go cold-turkey on some of those rewards. Get curious about your cravings rather than letting them own you. Understand it’s just your misguided brain wanting an empty reward. This is the work. Find the bit of grit it takes to move through your cravings for this one thing. Learn to say no. Appreciate your strength.

You can do this.