Coronavirus – Your Habits Will Determine Your Health

 March 11, 2020

By  Brian

How does the CoronaVirus Spread?

If you’re like me, you probably immediately thought of something to do with coughing, breathing, washing hands, germs, public transport and....droplets. Yes, there was definitely something about droplets. almost certainly other people. If you don’t have it now,  someone else is going to give it to you, right? All the medical advice tells you to wash your hands, cover your mouth and don't touch your face. That's not wrong, but it's not fully right either. Read on, and I'll explain why,


Bad Habits and CoronaVirus

As someone who is interested in human behaviour and habits, I immediately think of a different answer to the question ‘How Does CoronaVirus Spread’.  It’s a very simple answer that is very important, and is definitely being overlooked. The CoronaVirus almost certainly spreads (or at the very least spreads more quickly) as a result of people’s habits. Specifically, it’s spread as a result of people’s bad habits. What kind of common 'bad' habits might result in the virus spreading more quickly? Well here’s some examples:

  • Not covering your mouth when you cough
  • Covering your mouth with your hand when you cough rather than the crook of your elbow
  • Not washing your hands properly (for 20 seconds, very very regularly)
  • Taking Public Transport in the middle of a Pandemic
  • Biting your nails
  • Picking your nose
  • Touching your face (putting on makeup, putting on glasses, stroking your beard)
  • Eating without having washed your hands (e.g. you get public transport home from work, when you get off you stop in a shop on the way home from the station, buy a chocolate bar and eat it...germfest)
  • Using Cash
  • Not Using Tap and Pay
  • Shopping
  • Reusing a tissue
  • Sharing utensils
  • Not properly washing utensils
  • Not making sure your kids are not doing any of the above
  • Using Water Fountains
  • Sharing food, like a packet of crisps or something like that
  • Sharing cigarettes
  • Using communal showers in work or at the gym

f you can think of other “Habits” that may be helping spread the virus, let me know in the comments section below.

And, of course, you can invert most of those behaviours and habits to make them into positive good habits that you can use to try and minimise your risk of catching the virus and/or spreading it. If you can think of good habits that might help protect you from Corona Virus, also let me know in the comments below.

Medical Advice to Stop the Spread of CoronaVirus

There’s plenty of good and well-intentioned advice out there telling people about these behaviours. Like this, again from the NHS:

NHS Corona Virus Advice

The Advice from the National Health Service in the UK

The CoronaVirus Behaviour Problem

The medical advice from the NHS (and just about everybody else) is correct. But there’s a very important catch, and nobody seems to be trying to deal with. Telling people about a good behaviour and asking them do to it, isn’t enough. It’s not going to help them form a habit of doing the good behaviour.

Depending on who’s book/philosophy/model you follow, there are repeatable and defined steps in behaviour design that are crucial and critical to helping people develop good behaviours and habits. And the advice we’re getting isn’t giving us those steps. This is like telling people that to avoid cancer they should eat healthily and they should not smoke. If “knowing” what to do or what was good for us worked, then you would never meet a doctor/nurse who smoked. We usually know what’s good for us and what’s bad for us, but we regularly struggle to do the good behaviour or resist doing the bad behaviour. My Nana is 100, she knows she shouldn't be going to mass tomorrow, and the Catholic Bishops of Ireland have come out and told her she shouldn't go to mass. She's going anyway. Are you starting to see the problem?

So What Should You Do?

Forget trying to will your way to better hand hygiene using motivation, focus and willpower. They will not work consistently.  Start focusing on creating better habits, like the habit of better hand hygiene.

Over the coming days I'm going to be sending a daily email with tips, tricks and advice for how to create (and break) CoronaVirus habits. 

Join The List

Yes, I know, asking for an email address, THE HORROR! Don't worry, I don't spam and it's easy to unsubscribe!

An Introduction To Habit Formation And Behaviour Design

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus the systems developed by James Clear in his book ‘Atomic Habits’ and BJ Fogg in his book 'Tiny Habits'. In truth, any detailed study on ‘behaviour design’ and any system or process that results from that study will work fine. This post isn’t going to go into the detail of habit design and behaviour design and environment design. I’ll do that again in one of the emails you'll get if you sign up, but for present purposes, a top level understanding of how habits form and are broken may really help. 

What’s important here is that you start small. That’s at the core of both Atomic Habits and Tiny Habits.

If you try to do ALL the good behaviours that the health advocates are advising, you will, in my view, almost certainly fail with one, some or all of them. If those aren’t
habits you already have, then you’re trying to start too many new habits at once without starting small and following steps to build up the habit.

Let me take one example to illustrate the point from my personal life and experience. Stop for a second and count to 20, going 1 (one thousand) 2 (one thousand) and so on to keep you in time. Go on, I’ll wait.

How many of you wash your hands for that long? Every Time? And not just after you go to the toilet. But also After you sneeze? Before you eat? After you have been in public or on public transport? If you do, then don't sign up for the mailing list, you don't need any help. Well done you.

What about people with small kids?  They typically wash their hands with cold water, because they are small and we adults don’t want them burning themselves. I know my kids do. 

How To Wash Your Hands for CoronaVirus

Telling yourself "I’m going to wash my hands properly from now on" won’t work. Trust me. It won’t. It’s not a habit. You’ll be in a rush, or the water won’t be hot, or the soap will be out, or something else will get in the way. You will probably do it at the start, sure. You will do it sometimes. But you'll fall back into old habits, and you'll start washing your hands the way you always do. It's a habit. You don't even think about washing your hands. So we need to go back to absolute basics. Yes, even to get ourselves to wash our hands properly. Because it’s a new behaviour for most of us.

And then you are trying to develop that habit while also developing the other habits you’re supposed to have/use/develop to protect yourself from CoronaVirus. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Work.

James Clear’s model says that for a behaviour to occur there are four stages: (1) Cue (2) Craving (3) Response (4) Reward

BJ Fogg’s Model is based on his formula B = MAP, for
Behaviour = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

Under James Clear’s Model, for a good habit to form and stick you have to make it (1) Obvious (2) Attractive (3) Easy (4) Satisfying. To stop a Bad Habit, according to Clear you make the behaviour (1) Invisible (2) Unattractive (3) Difficult (4) Unrewarding.

This instinctively makes sense. When you go into a hospital, you have to walk AROUND a hand sanitiser station to get anywhere once you come in the front door. It's literally like an obstacle in front of you. And you use it. If it was 10 feet to the left, and the lift was right in front of you, would you walk out of the way to sanitise your hands? The science and research says no.

Both authors use a similar formula for trying to tie your new habit/behaviour to a specific time/place or a specific existing habit or behaviour.

The formula, at its most basic goes:

After I (insert cue/prompt), I will (insert new behaviour).


Or you might try and anchor the new behaviour to a specific
time/place – I will [insert behaviour] at [insert time] in [location]

My advice to you, for now, is just trust me. Or trust the research (there’s lots of it) and trust these authors and experts. This stuff works. Why not try it and see if it
helps, and then you can find out why it helps later? 

Tomorrow, I'll send the first Email and we'll go through how to brainstorm behaviuors that you can implement to lead to better hand hygiene habits. I hope you'll join (not least because if you don't, you could be the one who passes on the virus to me!)

About Brian

I'm a 39 year-old dad of three, trying to make doing the good stuff easier and doing the bad stuff harder. I'm a hypnotherapist, NLP Life Coach and habit aficionado. I'm also a radio presenter, blogger, podcast host and lawyer. 


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