green neon sign reading habits to be made
beautiful image of a reservoir with spring flowers and blue sky

It takes on average 21 days to form a new habit. JayZ says so. Therefore it must be true. Or is it actually a myth…? Oh, it’s made up. By some guy in the sixties. Ok, it’s more like 66 days according to the latest research. But the point is that we’re likely to be close to that figure, or indeed exceeding it by the time we are out of lockdown in the UK. So in a highly unintentional national experiment, we have all been testing this hypothesis.

Can new behaviours that we have adopted stick? How easy will it be to shake off the bad ones?

I for one am cool with the fact that I don’t get out of my pyjamas until around 11am. I’m, sadly, not lazing around on the sofa in them watching Tiger King. Oh no, I’m being surprisingly productive in those PJs. Cleaning up breakfast, making splattery juices, prepping lunch, doing a spot of – so hard for a tidy person – “messy play” with my four-year-old. It’s starting to seem rather efficient to let my nightwear take the hit of this stained section of the day and keep my day clothes for post shower. I do realise that clients, potential clients and even the Amazon delivery man may not concur but hey, these are unprecedented times. No one is being normal, are they?

We asked friends and family of Welfy what new “lockdown habits” are worth holding onto as the world slowly readjusts. This is what they had to say…

  • Walking, running or cycling every day. I’m loving being outside and feeling very grateful to live so near the woods, fields, the sea. I have a new love and appreciation of where I live Matt
  • PE with Joe Wicks, especially the belly laughs when we all try to do “silly billies”. I’ve also done Pilates every evening which has made me very happySarah
  • Maximising hours outdoors when I would have thought nothing of staying inside all day had I of been working Harry
  • We have had a good long walk every day. We take turns to be the “walk leader” so we can surprise the other one with where we’re going! Jean
  • Online food shopping. I’ve never done it before and I can really see how it’s a time saver – Anne
  • Who knew eating home cooked food was so much better for your body and your wallet?! I will definitely try not to go back to the Pret-a-Manger diet if I ever do go back to office workingLauren
  • Eating healthier – I’m two weeks into a 30 day challenge and haven’t had any caffeine, dairy, gluten or alcohol and I’ve lost seven pounds so far, I’ll probably reintroduce some bits but want to be much more aware of what I‘m putting in my body. Early on in lockdown I was drinking every night and felt like crap. I don’t want to go back to thatJenny
  • Coffee “dates” with my husband in the garden – we pretend we’re at a café and sneak out there with our Nespresso whilst the kids are busy with somethingMichelle
  • Not taking the beach for granted. We’ve been going really early before it’s busy and it’s beautiful. The kids want to go every Saturday morning even when they’re back at schoolGemma
  • Imposing a bit of a routine when I would otherwise dilly-dally my free time away. I now commit to breakfast at a certain time, dressed by a certain time, exercise at a certain time, bed at a certain time – the structure makes me feel good and like I’m being more productiveJustine

I am amazed at how adaptable and resilient we all are. Yes, we all have fairly questionable hair. Yes, it’s been utterly anxiety inducing at times (a LOT of the time). But this lockdown has protected our NHS and saved lives. It may even have helped us all evolve a little bit. Slightly thriftier, somewhat slower in pace, a little more focused on what really matters. There had to be a silver lining somewhere.

Here at Welfy, we’re fascinated by the science of habit change and helping people to apply that to every corner of their lives (work and home) to transform their wellbeing and productivity. Tara Brach writes in Radical CompassionThanks to current understandings of neuroplasticity, we now know that our brains can change throughout our lives. This means that even the most deeply rooted and harmful habits can be deconditioned. Our habits are sustained by repeating patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that have created and reinforced neural networks in our brain. By changing our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, we can change these neural networks. So by the same token, we can choose to pick up a new habit and, by adopting a simple framework, literally change and create new neural pathways. Magic.

Here are some Welfy suggestions on how to lockdown the new habits you’re secretly smug about.

1.     Habit stack

Did you know that we are far more likely to embed a new habit by coupling it with an existing one that acts as the trigger? James Clear, author of Atomic Habits calls it “Habit Stacking” e.g. after I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute. Apply that to a lockdown habit you want to keep so that it’s more likely to stick as “normality” returns e.g. whether I’m in the workplace or at home, after I take my last bite at lunch, I will get outside and walk for 20 minutes. Come rain or shine – or perhaps a bit of both with this crazy British summer.

2.     Tiny is mighty

“It is better to do something than to do nothing while waiting to do everything.” Yes Winston Churchill. We couldn’t agree more. Here at Welfy, we believe that big, lofty goals can cause stress and at worst, total paralysis. Far better to start small and build.

In his book, Tiny Habits, B.J. Fogg, shows how you can have a happier, healthier life: by starting small. Start with two push-ups a day, not a two-hour workout; or five deep breaths each morning rather than an hour of meditation. Fogg’s formula is to, “Make it easy, make it fit your life and make it rewarding.” So a lockdown habit to build upon might be to go from eating fewer take-aways, to also eating one more fruit or veg a day. And smiling to yourself when you do it. That last bit sounds a bit bonkers? Maybe. But worth a shot when the advice comes from the world’s leading expert on habit formation. Or at least that’s what you can tell your other half when they catch you smiling at a carrot.

3.     Shift to identity-based habits

Did you know that you’re far more likely to stick with a new habit when it is linked to your identity? Consider, “I’m trying to run three times a week,” vs, “I’m a runner.” Much more convincing to the world, and to yourself. Words have such tremendous power. “I’m trying to go to bed earlier,” vs “I’m an early to bed, early to rise person.” Clear has a simple framework that we believe could help you to shift your lockdown habits into identity-based habits that stick:

Step 1: Name the performance or appearance goal you want to achieve e.g. lose two stone

Step 2: In one sentence describe the type of person who would achieve your goal – this is the new identity you want to take on e.g. become the type of person who moves everyday

Step 3: List 5 incredibly small steps you can take to become this person e.g. 1. get a pedometer 2. walk the dog round the park twice rather than once, and so on.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle