14th May 2020

Lockdown habits to last a lifetime

Since lockdown began, we’ve all found ourselves on an unexpected crash course in building a new normal. We’ve faced new challenges, but many businesses are really stepping up. We’ve had lots of positive conversations with clients about helping them adapt, because as businesses that’s what we do – we take a deep breath and find a way through.

But what about as people? We’ve all joked about Zoom fatigue and missing the pub, but we need to remember that none of this is normal. It’s ok to feel the pressure, to miss family and friends. It’s ok to just take a moment.

And in taking that moment, we might surprise ourselves. Lockdown is a unique opportunity to build a new routine, to form new habits, that will not only help us get through these tough times, but give us a new edge for the future.

Routine – so good you’ll want to do it again and again

I’ve written about the importance of routine before – it’s about getting your day off on the right foot from the moment you wake up, and it’s more important than ever. In the absence of the routine we’re used to, we need to build our own.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but a daily routine actually helps you to cope better when things change. Structuring your day puts you in control, so instead of trying to handle everything on the fly, you can see the road ahead. It puts you in a better position to react to hazards and obstacles.

Habit is a huge part of this. It’s like learning a new language – if you don’t practice, it’ll take you 20 minutes to tell the barista you’d like your cappuccino extra frothy. But practice little and often, and you’ll answer automatically. In ‘Atomic Habits’ James Clear suggests habits are there to “solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible”. I couldn’t agree more.

Make the knowns easy, so you can handle the unknowns

A few days ago I listened to a webinar with Dr Nicola Bunting in which she introduced the idea of creating “10 delicious daily habits”. The idea is to cultivate the habits you enjoy, making them easy (even fun) to do – so in that spirit, here are mine

1. Meditate

There isn’t enough space to list all the benefits of meditation, so I’ll just give you a few to be going on with. First, it can help you to deal with distraction, even when you’re no longer meditating. Research shows that meditation helps you to regulate a brain wave called the ‘alpha rhythm’, which shuts out overstimulation. It can also reduce anxiety, raise cognition, and improve body image, so what’s not to like?

I make it easy by switching on my meditation app as soon as I wake up. For me it’s Insightly, particularly the meditations by Sarah Blunden. We’re not talking hours spent in a darkened room, just 10-15 minutes each day.

2. Keep a journal

‘Dear diary, today I stayed indoors again’. Not quite. My journal is a helpful way to look inward. I’ll begin by freestyling – just whatever’s going on in my head – then move on to what I’m grateful for and my intentions and goals for the day.

It serves two purposes. First, it’s useful for self-reflection and clearing the mind. But it’s also a means of reinforcing ideas. How many times have you been told to write something down to remember it? Studies show that writing ideas down forces you to shape them into something tangible, improving recall.

3. Eat and drink healthily

Lockdown has some contrary effects – we’re all worried about eating too much, but at the same time getting creative in the kitchen has never been more popular. For me, starting out with a healthy breakfast makes me feel better about the whole day. I’m a NutriBullet fan so every morning I have a delicious smoothie. My current favourite is bananas, dates, almond milk, spinach and blueberries.

I’m also doing my best to drink three litres of water, it’s something we’re meant to do, but it’s not always easy. I find it helps to drink a large glass first thing, then ensure I have water next to me all day.

4. Read

Surely it’s on everyone’s list, but deserving of its place. As with all of these habits, little and often is the key. Reading expands the mind, but recall is really important – to reach the end of the book having enjoyed the experience (and having learned something).

You’ll recall it a lot better if you take your time and make it a pleasure, not a chore. I’ll mention ‘Atomic Habits’ for the second time because that’s what I’m reading, that and ‘Good Vibes, Good Life’ by Vex King.

5. Move

This one might seem a little perverse, what with the lockdown rules, but there’s plenty you can do at home, even in a small space. The trick, as with any exercise, is to find what you enjoy.

For me it’s yoga with Adrienne (you’ll find her videos on YouTube) and I’m also a fan of the Joe Wicks workouts for a high-intensity blast. I still enjoy a good old-fashioned run though (respecting the rules around social distancing of course).

6. Plan your day

As a professional there’s no way on earth that planning is new to you. Without planning, everything would be a surprise, all the time, and that just isn’t sustainable. But planning itself takes planning – I use half-hour slots in my day to divide up my time, plan my workload and enjoy the satisfaction of reviewing what I’ve already achieved.

It’s my version of the Pomodoro Technique (named after inventor Francesco Cirillo’s tomato-shaped kitchen timer). The idea is to use your time in your favour – rather than against you.

7. Stay in touch

As a marketing company we’re always working on our presence – it’s important to stay visible, for ourselves and for our clients. I’m really grateful we’ve been so busy in this period, but while we’re focussing on clients it’s easy to forget about our own marketing.

That’s not a great look in our profession, so I’m making sure we post at least once a day in our favourite social media channels. I’ve made it easier by theming each day, for example, on Mondays it’s #mondaymotivation. Sadly no days of the week begin with G, so gin is out.

8. Remember to be thankful

As things we take for granted are put on hold, it’s a chance to be thankful for what we have. I use a technique called ‘gratitude listing’, which helps with anxiety and ends the day on a high. Make a list of three to five things you’re really grateful for each day, and importantly, think about WHY you’re grateful for them.

They don’t have to be big… in fact it’s better if they’re small. The point is to remind ourselves that things we may overlook really do matter. It could be anything from a nice chat with a friend to spending a bit of time in the sun or discovering a new author. Small is beautiful.

9. Be kind to someone

During the pandemic we’ve seen the whole spectrum of human behaviour – humbling acts of bravery along with baffling errors of judgement. We’ve seen both compassion and selfishness, but the one thing we could all do with is a little more kindness.

Each day I’m surprising someone with a note, gift or sign of appreciation, from sending thank you notes to people who refer us, to congratulating clients on their successes and little surprises for friends and family. Try it, it won’t change their lives, but it might make their day.

10. Be kind to yourself

As a final thought, remember that cultivating daily habits will help you become more effective, but it’s also about enjoyment. We all need to work hard at the moment, but we need to give ourselves a break too.

There’s a belligerent strain of LinkedIn posts intent on shaming you if you don’t emerge from lockdown with an incredible new skill. If you do pick up conversational Mandarin or learn to fumble your way through Rachmaninoff, then well done you, but you don’t have to.

Make just one change

You don’t even have to do everything on this list. If just one of my tips is useful, or you find something completely unrelated that works for you, that’s a win. Lockdown is that rare thing these days – a shared cultural event. We may not want it, we certainly didn’t ask for it, but we’re all going through it, like it or not.

I’m 10 days into my refreshed routine, but already I’m noticing an uplift in my mood and a better approach to day-to-day stresses. If we can each use this period to build a habit or two that will help us to emerge as stronger, better people, then lockdown won’t be time lost, it’ll be time well spent.

For a helping hand in remaining on track give this app a go – it’s really great for keeping you on track https://www.stridesapp.com/.