Like many people, I’ve been working from home full-time for the last 18 months. And while I haven’t gotten a puppy or learned to bake the perfect loaf of sourdough, many of my habits and routines have completely changed.
Turns out, I’m not alone. When I asked people on social media whether they’d developed any new habits during the pandemic, here’s what they said:
I exercise more
I look at TikTok way too much
I make the bed
I go outside less
I work in my pajamas
I shower less
I meditate/pray before the day starts
I drink more. Like a lot more.
Like the changes I’ve seen in my own life, these examples range from healthy to not-so-healthy. Most people also told me that they hadn’t consciously set out to develop these habits; they just sort of happened.
Most people also told me that they hadn’t consciously set out to develop these habits; they just sort of happened.
That’s the problem with habits. We’re always forming them, most of the time unconsciously. Our brains like predictability and respond to the “cue-behavior-reward” loop that makes up a habit:
- Cue: powering down your laptop at the end of the day.
- Behavior: walking from your couch/home office to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine.
- Reward: the feeling you get from drinking that glass of wine.
Studies show that people perform habitual behaviors—brushing their teeth or putting on their shoes—the same way every time if they’re in the same environment. But if something changes, it’s likely that behavior will change.
Right now, for many of us, something big is about to change. We’re (slowly) going back to the office. And while I have mixed feelings about this, I can’t deny that being in a new environment is a great time to take a look at my own habits to figure out which I want to keep and which I can do without.
The Habits I’m Keeping
Doing daily yoga
Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day (and even if I spend most of it in child’s pose), the act of moving my body consciously while focusing on my breath is such a departure from the rest of my frenetic day that it resets me completely. Right now, I have my yoga mat set up on the floor of my home office as a constant “cue.” When I go back to the office, I plan to move it next to my bed so that it’s the first thing I think of when I get up in the morning or the last thing before I go to bed.
Spending time outside
Unlike some friends I’ve talked to, I feel like working from home has allowed me more access to outside time. Whether it’s working from my backyard for an hour or making time for a quick walk at lunchtime, a daily dose of vitamin D does wonders for my mood. This will be harder when I’m working from an office where I need to take an elevator in order to step outside, but I’m hoping setting a daily reminder on my phone will act as the trigger for me to take a quick trot around the block.
Connecting with people who matter to me
Counterintuitive, maybe, but the pandemic has made me feel more connected to the people I care about rather than less. I’m more intentional about FaceTime catch-ups with people who are far away. I no longer take for granted being able to see those who live close by. I prioritize these connections and set aside all other distractions when we’re together. This has made a big difference in the quality of my relationships, which is something I plan to keep nurturing going forward.
Confession: I am no better a cook now than I was at the beginning of the pandemic. But, like my relationships, I’m more intentional about it, which makes it more enjoyable. Back when we were all panicked about only going to the grocery store once a week, I became a meal planning devotee (For those of you who were doing that all along, go ahead and roll your eyes). Planning ahead has (mostly) de-stressed the mad dash to get dinner on the table every night and has made me much more fun to be around at 6 p.m. (Just ask my kids).
The Habits I’m Ditching
Being at home has made it easy to notice the piles of laundry, the closet I’ve been meaning to Marie Kondo, and the room I’ve been meaning to paint. More than once, I’ve been caught flat-footed during a conference call because I’m re-organizing my pantry or scrolling through design blogs in search of a new couch. I’m hoping being in an office environment will help me tamp down the amount of time I spend thinking about my home improvements to-do list.
Lack of separation between work and life
While not having a commute has been a time saver, it has also removed the buffer I had between “work me” and “mom me.” My kids go to daycare in the neighborhood, which means there are only a few minutes from the time I’m walking my team through a PowerPoint presentation to when I’m doling out snacks and herding small people toward the bathtub. I’ve learned I need more time to transition so I can be fully present with my kids and leave my thoughts about work behind.
Change is never easy. Old habits can be hard to break and new ones can be difficult to form. Understanding your “habit loops” can help. Removing or changing the cue that comes before your habitual behavior is a great start, like starting to associate closing your laptop at the end of the day with heading out for a quick walk instead of pouring a glass of wine. You can do this, and your future self will thank you.