Behavioral Economics, Routines

Managing Your Habits in a Post-COVID World

Picture this: It’s January 2020. You’re on the train on the way to work, listening to The Daily. Later, you grab sushi with a few coworkers. You knock out a cycling class at the gym before heading home to make dinner and catch up with your roommate or significant other. No masks, no hand sanitizer every 30 seconds, and definitely no space between you and that guy on the subway next to you, because no one is worried about contracting a global virus.

Life is good.

Photo by Kampus Production on

Not to get too nostalgic about “normal life” here, but all that’s to say: chances are whether you may realize it or not, you have likely developed new and different habits in the process of adjusting to a COVID lifestyle. You likely also ditched some old habits, either as a result of the pandemic upending your everyday life, or because it was no longer safe to keep up your habit (i.e., going to an indoor gym).

Spoiler alert: One day, life will return to “normal”, and the cycle will continue – you will ditch some old habits and acquire new ones in the wake of returning to a COVID-free society.

Want to stay on track with your goals and habits, post-COVID? Consider this:

Your environment and external cues can shape your habits.

Wendy Wood, a psychologist who runs the Habits Lab at the University of Southern California, talks all about this concept in her recent book, Good Habits, Bad Habits. Think about it this way: maybe when you worked in the office, you walked past the gym on the way home, and consistently attended a cycling class every day after work. The external cue here is passing the gym – when you walk right past it, it makes it almost hard NOT to stay on track with your goal and go to that class.

Once you are back in the office, in classes, or insert-other-daily-activity-you-have-here, be mindful of what kind of external cues could help you stay on track with your goals this year. Maybe you sign up for a gym membership at that boutique gym conveniently located on your commute home. Or maybe you start contributing $5 to your savings account every morning that you normally would have spent on an overpriced Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks.

Though these are habits we can develop or maintain now, here are some tips on how you might want to start a new habit, or maintain a current one, as you transition back to normal, post-COVID.

Tip 1: Plan ahead.

Ask yourself: What about my environment, post-COVID, will change? What will remain the same? Take some time to think about what your life might look like once we return to normal and consider how you can uphold your current habits and keep working towards your 2021 goals. Consider how you can use this transition period as an opportunity to build new habits. What external cues could you take advantage of to help remove any potential barriers to staying on track?

While there is still much uncertainty about the future, getting a head start by envisioning it now can potentially help spark some ideas for when we inevitably return to normal life.

Tip 2: Keep habits “frictionless”.

Wendy Wood also discusses the concept of “friction” in her book. She refers to friction as anything that may be making it hard for you to form a habit. Wood cites research that shows people who were located 3.5 miles away from a gym averaged about 5 gym visits a month, while those who were 5 miles away only averaged one visit per month. Farther distance = more friction, and vice versa.

Maybe right now it’s easy for you to eat healthy lunches because you work from home and can cook lunch, rather than grabbing a quick Chipotle on the go, simply because it is quick and easy and right next to your office. But maybe once you’re no longer working from home, you begin meal-prepping to ensure that you have a quick and easy healthy meal ready to go for lunch during the work week.

Tip 3: Have FUN and make it social!

Maybe this isn’t any kind of crazy, novel idea here, but it is nonetheless an important one: don’t forget to have some fun when building new habits and working towards your goals! This concept is emphasized by not only Wendy Wood, but also BJ Fogg is in his book, Tiny Habits, and probably several others. One way to reduce friction in habit building is to make it fun.

One easy way to make a habit fun is to make it social – include your friends or family! Go to the gym together, cook together, schedule happy hours to discuss the business that you both want to build. Want to read more books? Form a book club, and plan a wine and cheese night once a month to discuss the books you’ve read. In a post-COVID world where ideally, we won’t need to worry about spreading a virus, it won’t be difficult to take advantage of time spent with others, face to face, in person. Consider making up for lost time with friends and family by building healthier and more positive habits, together.

4 thoughts on “Managing Your Habits in a Post-COVID World”

  1. Great tips! Making habits frictionless sounds like such an obvious thing to do but one that we often don’t take into consideration. I’m currently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear in the hopes of improving my habits – so these tips just added to the information I’ve gotten from there.

    Liked by 1 person

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