Is lockdown changing our lifestyle habits forever?

A new approach to the minutiae of everyday life has become routine in my household.

Cat Botibol
Agency Development Director, Collective

I plan meals a week in advance instead of thinking about it on the way home. I bake cakes instead of buying them. I think about what groceries and household items we need two weeks in advance. My boyfriend and I eat lunch at 11:30am and dinner at 5pm. We’ve decided we want to sell our car and buy a campervan for socially distant holidaying one day. He never jogged but ran his first 5k yesterday. I’ve fixed my bike after 4 years dust gathering (ok, he fixed it). We’ve budgeted for the rest of the financial year. We’ve started drinking more sensibly, every day. I’ve stopped wearing makeup. I wash my hair every three days instead of everyday. I cut my boyfriend’s hair over Easter. He looks great. I look ok.

A quick poll amongst team Collective revealed that although our behaviours differ depending on living circumstances, everyone has a similar story. Whatever their circumstance, at some level, our day-to-day habits have changed.

We’ve been on lockdown for over 21 days. Is that how long it takes to permanently change habits?

Well, it turns out this is an unsubstantiated myth that pop-psychologists have pushed for years. Originating from reconstructive plastic surgeon, Dr Maxwell Maltz’s, blockbuster book Psycho-Cybernetics in the 1950’s. He observed that post-procedure, his patients took a minimum of 21 days to find their new nose familiar or to stop sensing a phantom limb. There wasn’t really any science behind it at all. Since then, Phillipa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London has completed a more rigorous study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. She cites an average of 66 days (2 months) to form a new automated behaviour

Life on lockdown in the UK has been official for over 21 days. We’ve learned to find our lockdown life familiar. We’ve stopped sensing the phantom limb that was our old face-touching, friend-hugging, pub-going life. Although individual circumstance will mean our day to days are wildly different, key workers vs furloughed workers for example, the likelihood is that many of us are already well on our way to developing new habits that are influencing our day to day lifestyle choices. Thus, having a direct effect on our relationships with brands, products and services.

“In all product categories, bar one, the probability of trying new brands increased by at least 75% after a life event.”

Will these habit changes remain or are they unique to our socially distanced selves?

Behavioural science can offer some interesting perspective on this. Status quo bias means we automatically prefer things to stay as they are. We unconsciously consider the things that are comfortable and familiar. This systematic error in thinking, often results in us making what seem to be irrational decisions when it comes to services and subscriptions for example. The usual behaviour is inaction, to do nothing. It’s easier to just keep paying it than work out how to cancel or switch suppliers. The blip in this cognitive hardwiring is in the aftermath of major life moments that force behavioural shifts upon us. A 2015 study of 1,100 consumers by ZenithOptimedia showed that people are more open to try new things in the aftermath of a major life event such as changing jobs, getting married, having a baby, moving home. Richard Shotton, Head of Insight at ZenithOptimedia, “In all product categories, bar one, the probability of trying new brands increased by at least 75% after a life event.” Hands up who has already cancelled or switched at least one subscription since lockdown started? More of our decisions are made consciously in these periods of behavioural disruption.

So, will the effects of Covid-19 change the way we live forever?

‘Forever’ is vast, and a hard concept to grasp. To be able to answer this question, we have to make it more accessible. We’re not talking about new ways of living that have never been imagined. The longer-term changes will be the ones that are starting small. Such as more home-working and less reliance for businesses on an office. Tiny, everyday changes are known to be more effective in helping people to pro-actively stop negative habits and start positive ones. If you want to make flossing your teeth a habit, start by flossing just one tooth a day suggests B J Fogg, author of  Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. The effects of Covid-19, have forced us to quickly change lots of tiny behaviours in our daily routines, and consciously make decisions about things that we previously did on auto-pilot. It’s these that will stick and subtly change the way we live forever. If we start learning about these changes now, viewed collectively they will have a huge impact for the businesses and brands that are empathetic to them once these times have passed.

Waymarker: Big life events (such as Covid19) may well change our habits permanently. Understanding which of the new habits forced on us in lockdown will remain is crucial to understanding our post-covid world.

Cat heads up business development at Collective and has been making brands more culturally relevant since 2004. Prior to that she led creative strategy for 14 years at experience-age creative agency, PD3.