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Building Habits to Overcome Disruption

Dear Scott,

COVID-19 work from home conditions have thrown my routines into chaos. I feel like I am constantly trying to keep up and the more I try, the more overwhelmed I feel. How can I get myself back on track?

Sincerely,
Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed,

Frustrating. Confusing. Challenging. Unprecedented. Restricting. Troublesome. Sad. These are just some of the words used to describe our current challenges as a society due to COVID-19. Public closures such as schools, restaurants, facilities, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have changed where and how we work as well as how we engage and interact with others. For many, who just forty-five days ago were sailing along in a successful routine, these changes have felt chaotic. The word I’d use to describe the experience is disruptive.

Disruption is “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.” Our global community has experienced a disruption to our most common daily routines or habits and as our environment changes, so do our habits. In a very short amount of time, we are developing habits which are not delivering the desired results we seek.

This may be especially evident in our health habits. For many, continuous access to the refrigerator and pantry is slowly changing mine and other’s eating habits. The virus is called COVID-19, but for some, it is quickly becoming the COVID-25 due to the amount of weight people are experiencing as a result of the disruption to normal eating habits. Social media posts are popping up every day with messages like, “It is now being recommended that we wear masks while in our homes—not to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but to keep us from eating.” I saw a post in my social media feed with a sign in a refrigerator that reads, “You are not hungry, you are bored. Close the door.”

Additionally, our current COVID-19 challenges have disrupted our personal and professional productivity habits. It becomes challenging to get in the flow of work as we deal with limited home office space, shared internet, children at home either doing schoolwork, crying boredom, and/or growling in frustration from lack of X-box Fortnite gaming victories (I have seen this happen first-hand with my son).

Given these unique challenges, how can we stop the formation of the disruptive habits we find ourselves battling in the new normal? How can we replace disruptive habits with new ones that create improved outcomes? Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit introduces us to the science of habit formation and how to change habits that are negatively impacting us, into habits that render positive outcomes. He teaches: “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.”

Here are THREE KEYS to help you leverage the Habit Loop in the new normal.

Be Mindful
Take the time to identify where you are not getting the results you want and where you need to make changes. In The Power of Habit Training workshop, we call it “Identify the Lag.” Living in the lag describes the time between when we SHOULD change a habit and when that habit IS changed. The longer we are in the lag, the more we believe change is impossible. The more mindful we are of the type of outcome we are trying to achieve, the sooner we can spot our lags, pivot to change actions, and move through them successfully.

Be Intentional
Many of us have tried to change our habits without the results we wanted; in doing so, we have been focused on the wrong steps. We have merely tried to change our routines or behaviors at a surface level when we should be focusing on the cues and rewards of the habit itself. Charles says, “If you can figure out the cues and the rewards that cause the routines to occur, then you can start fiddling with the gears of the habits in your own life and you can change almost anything.” Be intentional in your approach to change disruptive habits by identifying what triggers can invite your desired behavior and what rewards make the routine worth repeating.

Be Accountable
Accountability is a key ingredient to success and one we often struggle with. Accepting accountability allows us to make the necessary changes to achieve our desired outcomes. One of the best ways we can hold ourselves accountable to new routines is to let others know about our goal. Ask for support. Others can help us when we fall short as well as recognize our small wins and lend a broader lens to our progress.

We don’t have to let our current situation disrupt our routines. We can choose how we allow this unique, global challenge to impact us. We don’t have to be the consumers of our lives. As we leverage the Habit Loop, and are mindful, intentional, and accountable, we can become the designers of our lives. What does your design look like?

Best wishes,
Scott

Scott Robley

“I’ll make you laugh. I’ll make you think. I’ll make it real. But not necessarily in that order.” Scott Robley is a speaker, coach, and master trainer at VitalSmarts. With more than twenty years of experience in education, training, and public speaking, Scott brings to the table energy, fun, and professionalism. He is a master storyteller and committed to changing the world by changing behavior.

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