New habits for a new normal

Dog lay on cream rug staring at laptop
Image from Virgin Media
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
7 July 2020

According to research from Virgin Red, the British public has been picking up some new habits during the coronavirus lockdown – and many expect to continue them as the country begins to open up.

Virgin Red asked its online community of 4,500 people across the UK what they had been doing more frequently since lockdown began. They found that:

  • 46% of people have been going for walks more frequently – and nearly two thirds of those expect to keep this up as the world gets back to ‘normal’

  • 51% of people have been video calling friends and family – and 40% of them will carry on doing this after lockdown

According to a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 66 days to create a habit. As the UK has been in lockdown for much longer than that, it’s safe to assume that these new behaviours have become habits. But how can people make sure they stick as life starts to go back to normal?

1. Understand how habits work

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the habit loop. This suggests that habits are triggered by a cue, and then rewarded. Repetition of this behaviour leads to it becoming engrained.

So if you’ve taken up running, you can make sure you keep it up by going at the same time every day. And you’ll be rewarded with the enhanced mood and productivity that come with regular exercise.

2 men and 2 women running on a pavement to their left is a graffiti wall spelling individuality and to their right is a road.
Image by Ashley Lewis

2. Start small

Dr BJ Fogg recommends picking something small when trying to develop new habits. In his book, Tiny Habits, he says: “With the Tiny Habits method, you focus on small actions that you can do in less than thirty seconds. You will quickly wire in new habits, and then they will grow naturally. Starting tiny means you can begin creating a big change without worrying about the time involved. With Tiny Habits, I advise people to start with three very small behaviors or even just one. The more stressed you are and the less time you have, the more appropriate this method is for you. No matter how much you want to cultivate a healthy habit, you won’t be able to do it reliably if you start big. When you go big, the new habit probably won’t stick. In many people’s lives, tiny isn’t just the best option, it might be the only option.”

3. Forget about goals

It’s tempting to give yourself goals when trying to change your behaviour. But psychologist Maria Reynolds says that goals don’t work because we get distracted by everyday life. She says: “Humans are creatures of habit. Nearly half of what you do each day is repeated behavior.

“No matter how invested you are in your goals, taking consistent action to change your habits is difficult. There is safety going back to old thinking and behaviors. You must take deliberate, consistent actions repeatedly over time to defy your brain if you want to achieve the results you desire.”

Virgin Red is the app that rewards you for living a life more Virgin – if you want to join the fun, simply download the app. They recently teamed up with Virgin Sport to encourage people to get active during lockdown and this month they’re focusing on spending quality time with loved ones. Visit Virgin Red to find out more.