Creatures of Habit?
What happens when something like COVID-19 forces us to change our habits?
By André van Heerden, Communications Director
Have you ever noticed that once a person begins parking their car in a particular spot—whether for work, or church, or even groceries—they tend to park in that same spot over and over again?
People are indeed creatures of habit. But what happens when some of our most ingrained habits have to change?
Through the COVID-19 pandemic our workplaces have changed, how we greet and talk to each other has changed, how we shop has changed, and even how we go outside our homes has changed. And all of these changes have happened extremely quickly.
I remember back at the beginning of the crisis a radio DJ asked listeners, “If someone offered their hand to shake, would you take it?” At the time, about half of the listeners calling in said that they would. And yet I’m sure that just a week later no one would even think of shaking someone’s hand. I’ve always liked a good handshake, but I quickly found myself approaching people with my hands in my pockets so that I wouldn’t offer my hand, and also signaling to others that they shouldn’t either.
In words that could’ve been written about our present upheavals, author and professor Kenichi Ohmae wrote in 1990 that
It is hard to let old beliefs go. They are familiar. We are comfortable with them and have spent years building systems and developing habits that depend on them. Like a man who has worn eyeglasses so long that he forgets he has them on, we forget that the world looks to us the way it does because we have become used to seeing it that way through a particular set of lenses. Today, however, we need new lenses. And we need to throw the old ones away.
What this current crisis has taught me is that breaking old habits and beginning new ones isn’t as hard as we might think—especially when you don’t have much choice. Working from home with four children has also taught me how important it is to establish the right habits.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky noted, “No matter who you are, we're creatures of habit. The better your habits are, the better they will be in pressure situations.” Similarly self-help author Travis Bradberry wrote, “Humans are creatures of habit. If you quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the other hand, if you force yourself to push through it, the grit begins to grow in you.”
So, for those who have found a better parking spot because of empty parking lots, don’t get used to it. We will need to be open to more changes and forming new habits—and that’s a good habit to have.