As Melburnians dust off the lockdown cobwebs, now is the time to replace bad habits with good ones, say Monash University behaviour experts.
Just as lockdown disrupted our routines and behaviour, the easing of Stage 4 restrictions brings a fresh opportunity to change our habits.
That might mean shedding the bad ones – like snacking and that 5pm wine habit – and retaining the good ones, like newfound hobbies and exercise routines.
“The change in circumstances may be a disruption to our routines that we can leverage to either change our current behaviours or embed the ones we want to continue,” says Dr Breanna Wright, a Research Fellow at BehaviourWorks Australia, part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI).
Research shows it takes about 66 days to establish a habit. And while bad habits are easier to adopt than good ones – because they favour short-term enjoyment over long-term outcomes – both have equal staying power once established.
“It may seem hard to believe, but good habits are as strong as those pesky bad ones,” Dr Wright says. If you want to keep good habits after lockdown, it’s easier if the time and place remain constant. If that’s not possible, motivation and planning are key, Dr Wright says.
“Schedule a new time to do the behaviour or pair the behaviour with something you already do automatically. This will help (re)embed it as part of your day. For example, if you want to develop a habit of stretching, then you’re better off stretching immediately after you get out of bed. Over time, stretching will become associated with the behaviour of getting out of bed and become automatic.”
When it comes to bad habits, removing the opportunity to engage in the behaviour is a good strategy. If iso-snacking is your vice, identify when this usually occurs and try to be out of the house doing another activity during this time, Co-Researcher Dr Fraser Tull says.
“Bad habits are likely to be more prevalent during lockdown than good habits. The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, especially in Melbourne where people weren’t sure how long restrictions would last. This long-term uncertainty may have nudged people to focus more on short-term enjoyment,” Dr Tull says.
Melburnian Sophie Shearer has taken up the ukulele during lockdown after listening to a podcast and being “swept away to a tropical island” by the instrument’s joyful tune.
She uses Youtube videos and an app to help her learn and hopes to continue devoting time to practice when lockdown lifts.
“My end game is to be that annoying person who rocks up to the campfire with the ukulele and starts playing,” Ms Shearer says.