• Dr. Relax

Creating Atomic Habits During the COVID19 Pandemic




It’s stressful living under quarantine rules, as a sizeable portion of the population of the USA (California, New York, and as of March 20, 2020, Illinois) are learning. They are adding their names to the many who are already living under such conditions in various nations (such as China, Korea, UK, ) in the effort to combat COVID19.


On one hand, you are under shelter-in-place orders, cannot see friends, cannot go places, cannot attend school or do so much of what you are accustomed to doing. But on the other hand, if you are in an environment with running water, electricity, and internet access, well, life could be pretty easy. Staying at home might be....almost...too easy. Now, all you have to do is figure out how to not get stuck on social media all day long!


It’s great if you are a self-starter who already knows how to “self-learn“ when school has been cancelled - because you can just learn at home on your own and everything is good. But what if you are not? Then, you can take this opportunity to create NEW habits. You might wonder, how does that actually work??? Let’s look at some familiar and conventional thinking.


Wishful Thinking

Many parents / adults engage in wishful thinking when attempting to influence their children, or even themselves, to take on better habits. Leading with ideas of how we WISH things to be - better, tidier, faster, etc. - may or may not help us figure out how to make lasting change.



Common Techniques

Adults often resort to various ways to influence each other, and of course, their children:

“Grit” / willpower

giving a pep talk about how one must “grit” one’s teeth and “just do it”carrot/ stick approaches

bribery for the “good” behaviors (carrot)punishment for the “bad” behaviors (stick)trouble-shooting / reasoning / persuading

various problem-solving modes, logical approaches or trying to “think” it through

The Habit Loop James Clear breaks down habits into four parts:

  1. “Cue” - Trigger - such as seeing your coffee cup

  2. “Craving” - after seeing the coffee cup, anticipating coffee

  3. “Response” - how you REACT - drinking the coffee

  4. “Reward” - the taste of coffee / the caffeine / etc.


To help us figure out how to create our own good habits, Clear identified the Four Laws of Behavior Change:

  1. Cue: Make it obvious.

  2. Craving: Make it attractive.

  3. Response: Make it easy.

  4. Reward: Make it satisfying.


REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE#1: KAWAII ECO-BAG

Once you understand this framework, you can see it everywhere! I recently started to improve my “habit” of bringing bags to the grocery story (instead of buying extra bags at the store) by using a cute eco-bag I bought as a souvenir when traveling! So here’s one example of seeing the habit “framework” with the four laws in action

  1. Cue: Make it obvious. I started putting a very cute eco-bag into a specific pocket in my backpack

  2. Craving: Make it attractive. at the store, I know I can reach for it in the backpack and see that kawaii-ness!

  3. Response: Make it easy. Remove bag from backpack, it’s a snap!

  4. Reward: Make it satisfying. It’s much cuter than generic bag that I can buy at any normal store and saved $ by not buying yet another bag!



REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE #2: Biking as Meditation

And I’ve seen how high school students have made creative use of difficult situations, to form unique habits. One of my students had very little privacy: he did homework in living room along with family TV / etc.) commuted to/from school on bicycle.

  1. Cue: commute time = thinking time

  2. Craving: personal questions or even math problems on his mind - he would sav “save” these for his commute to ponder

  3. Response: Thinking through it on the bike

  4. Reward: Stress Relief, Meditation

Result: this habit of his actually became the topic of his personal statement for his college apps! If you are in a shelter-in-place area, you might need to find -and appreciate - the small freedoms that you would otherwise take for granted.


Can you find those nooks and crannies in your now totally different routines to take advantage of your time in different ways? I know of one family who is leveraging the extra time their children have to address many of the household tasks: laundry, cooking, taking care of the backyard plants while the parents work remotely from home!

Because our routines have changed so much, this can be actually a bizarre opportunity to reset one’s defaults. All kidding aside, if you are so fortunate as to have all your basic needs met, and you can put energy into school, you might actually learn something you would have otherwise missed.


Before your parents become afraid that your home will become one gigantic pile of potato chip bags, you can figure out what resources - and HABITS - work best for you to stay focused and engaged.

Not only is this an opportunity for you to keep up your academic work (and for your parents to learn how to homeschool you!), you have quite a bit of extra time to dedicate to other skills that you want to learn. If you want to learn about the physics of surfing, go for it!


As school districts roll out their plans for handling teaching remotely, as your teachers and school administrators are also working from home, take a good look at your habits - the ones you have, and the ones you want to start!






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