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Reinventing Yourself after Covid-19

Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste” when he argued that the United Nations would never have existed without World War II.

We tend to think about crisis and hardships as something we need to overcome or in a more positive sense, as something that helps us to build resilience. But from a neurobiological perspective, this moment of transition from pandemic life to post-pandemic life can be an excellent opportunity to reinvent ourselves.

This past year has shaken up our culturally accepted beliefs, routines and systems, thereby creating a temporary, more flexible “in-between” space in which change is easier. We are shaped by these experiences, in terms of how we feel, how we behave and how we respond to future events, so this is the time to make a conscious decision about how we like our lives to be influenced. During the lockdown, many of us re-evaluated our lives and experienced a shift in priorities. How has that been for you?

When we have a conversation about making significant changes in our lives the relationship between goals, habits and our sense of identity becomes important. As a PhD researcher on Transformational Change, and in my personal experience as an entrepreneur, I am aware of the gap that tends to exist between what we say we want and what we actually do as humans. In the words of the economist J.K. Galbraith,

“Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

Given the human preference for the known, the comfortable and the predictable, how can we make changes that stick?

Usually, we start the process of change by focusing on the result, the goal we want to achieve. However, that leads only to temporarily behavioural change. A more profound change would involve changing the process, as in building the necessary habits and systems. Developing a meditation practice to perform better would be an example of that.

But the deepest change is concerned with a change in how we see ourselves, our identity. Behind every action towards a goal lies a system of beliefs, a conscious or unconscious set of ideas about what is true, and what is possible for us.

By saying things as “I am not good with technology”, “I am not an entrepreneur”, we do not only limit ourselves, we do not even start taking action towards building the necessary skills. These beliefs, self-image and assumptions make up an important part of our identity. So true behaviour change needs to start with identity change. Goals are necessary, but not sufficient.

That´s easier said than done, you might say. How do I go about changing how I see myself? Well, that is where habits come in.

Every action you take is like a vote for the type of person you want to become. And so, the more that you show up and these actions convert into habits, the more you cast votes for being a certain type of person. The goal is not to keep your diet, the goal is to become an athletic person. What does an athletic person do? What choices do they make? What skills do they have? The key is to build sustainable habits around these behaviours and choices.

How to build habits successfully

Consciously create a feeling of progress Why bad habits form so readily and forming good habits often takes time, has to do with a gap in time and reward. Having a strategy to feel good/successful, as soon as you finish the behaviour is essential in building habits. Use a visual cue for example. Need to approach ten potential sponsors for your social project? Have a whiteboard with ten magnets and move one to the Done section of the whiteboard after each call. It can be as simple as that.

Scale it down A habit has to be established before it can be improved. If you want to go to the gym more – go to the gym but stay for only 5 minutes. Find a way to get 1% better every day. We tend to overestimate what can be done in a day, but underestimate what can be done in 6 months

Make the desired behaviour as frictionless as possible.

Many of our behaviours are just about convenience. What would this look like if it was easy? Structure your environment to make the cues for your good habits obvious, and the cues for your bad habits invisible. Put your running shoes next to your bed, so you can put them on immediately after waking up. Turn your phone off and place it at the other side of the house, when building your habit of writing an hour a day.

Fear, as many of our other behaviours, can be transmitted socially as we have seen during the pandemic. Habits and their signals are not only ingrained in our brains but they’re also embedded in our surrounding environment, in our language, the space we use, in our rules and work systems. So join a group where your desired behaviour is the default behaviour of the group.

The brain hardwires everything that we repeatedly do – this is how habits are formed. So, the stories we tell ourselves over and over about who we are, and what we are capable of doing become default paths that the brain naturally activates.

Use this unique time to consciously create the habits, systems and ways of thinking that create the outcomes that really matter to you – unless you would prefer to let life and situations ‘manage’ you.

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