Trigger, Routine, Reward Habits Lost and Gained, for Better or Worse in a Global Pandemic

I have heard it takes about 21 days to establish a habit. Have you heard this? I can say that having been inside my home now consistently for nearly a month has definitely disrupted some of my habits and also created the potential for some others. This has caused me to pause and consider the 21-day theory. I am sure there is something to the 21 days theory. I also am now a stronger believer in the Cue/Routine/Reward science. Charles Duhigg discusses this in “The Power of Habit” and his description of Ad executive Claude Hopkins who mastered the cue/routine/reward theory in ad campaigns. And while yes, we have had many of our habits literally crushed as Warren Cornwall describes here,, I also wonder, what habits are falling into place behind them and will we have created them in 21 days of quarantine or did our home stay cues create them?

Face touching. AGGGHHHHH! I literally have been touching my face my entire life. My. Entire. Life. And I hate it, btw. I read somewhere that it was a sign of weakness – especially in women. Whatever. And ever since then, I have watched to see how many people are listening intently to others speak and while so doing have their own hands on their chin, over their mouths (my usual resting place), or somewhere on their face. The answer? Never. Just me! State leaders, news media, and a lot of reading have all told me over the last couple months, “Don’t touch your face,” and I still have to sit on my hands. I do not think this habit that seems to have emerged from the womb along with me is going away anytime soon. I would like to add here – I am trying!

Since high school, to show my professional capacity, I have been reaching out immediately upon meeting someone to firmly shake their hand. Yeah – that’s over. Along with any desire to do so. And it didn’t take close to 2 days for that habit to die, let alone 21.

I have been dropping my kids at school and driving to Peets Coffee or some coffee shop to wait out traffic and enjoy my iced tea for about 16 years. I loved this habit. I also disliked this habit. It had started long ago to feel a bit like handcuffs to me. With quarantine times, obviously, I can no longer go there after dropping off my kids (which was the cue), but I sure do want my ice tea – which I’m popping by to get after mobile ordering maybe once or twice a week. Do I miss sitting in Peets? Yes….. Do I miss the black iced tea? I do miss their tea, but thank heavens for Tejava! Happily, I am enjoying working at home! Which really makes me think on the cue – it’s the cue way more than it is the number of days.

When faced with the reality of, “Look, end these behaviors or you may get sick and consequently a whole lot of other people may get sick, including your family – so knock it off,” out went the cue, the routine and the reward all in one fell swoop. I have replaced these and many habits with working at home, bottled tea or make my own, and well, I’m working on touching my face.

Whether we go for the 21 day theory, or cue/routine/reward theory, I am wondering what we are all itching to do when we emerge eyes blinking to a new day. Go right back to sitting in Peets or continue to work at home? Now that I am a bigger believer in the science behind cue/routine/reward to make something a habit, I believe I will continue to work from my home office if I can avoid the trigger that snared me into Peets in the first place. I just won’t take my kids to school? Eeeek because I love taking them to school! Good news – that won’t be happening anytime soon! So maybe, because it was that drop off that seemed to trigger me and my car towards the coffee shop, and that trigger has definitely been removed until at least August, I may have a chance.

What new habits are emerging? Exercise routines have been rocked for sure and new routines have emerged. Sleeping patterns have changed – better or worse. Family dinners have been re-introduced to our house and I understand many others. Rotational cooking duties has also been introduced to our house – which is AWESOME for this Momma! Drinking from our “best” wine…. more often, shall we say. Calling and reaching out to friends, families and colleagues that I haven’t talked to in a long time to just check in and make sure they are ok. Long walks with my husband and daughter. Our little dog will probably never expect less than an 8 mile day. We have seen so many families out – entire families walking and playing in streets. I am driving slower, less hurried.

You know what else I notice? I have felt more love, kindness, empathy and compassion in the world than I have felt in a really long time. People want to help people. There is true concern for neighbors and communities. There is a can-do attitude amongst people and kids to just figure it out – whether it be online, or at a distance, or over the phone. Or maybe it doesn’t need to be done right now.

Yes, there are habits of ours that have been crushed. I know there are BIG things that are missing right now and we are not sure where they will land – going to concerts, sporting events, movies, travel. And there are discussions about who is following quarantine protocol and who isn’t, who is physical distancing and who isn’t and even that whether someone chooses to physical distance is a political statement. Honestly, I am bored by this level of discussion. We are going to choose to further divide over a global pandemic? No thanks. The divisive nature that has crept into our country is a habit I am happy to leave behind – can we please break that one in 21 days??

What habits have you “picked up” since shelter in place? Which have you shed? I would love to hear from you either about your habits or what you are seeing in your communities.


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