My earliest, clear memory of the then-imminent pandemic was almost exactly a year ago, during an early-morning visit to a hotel gym.
I was attending a business conference in Austin, Texas. As I peddled away on a stationary bike on February 27, I read the news on my phone.
In the days before, I had heard suggestions about hand washing. As with most people, I had almost never washed my hands for the 20 seconds we were reminded is the recommended duration for proper hygiene.
That morning, on the bike, I was reading about the importance of avoiding touching your face, which I had first read about the day before. I wrote this note to my wife and kids: I did very well yesterday on day one of my planned cold turkey abandonment of touching any part of my face — mouth, nose, eyes. I have already become a good hand-washer. I already stopped biting my nails cold turkey 7 or more years ago. But I still occasionally bite my cuticles, rub my eyes, touch my nose, and pick out food that gets lodged in my back two teeth. I gave that all up cold turkey yesterday and did very well.
Moments after I wrote that note, I followed it with this one: Just realized: also, eating with my fingers — I don’t lick my fingers but if I do eat finger food that means I’m touching food with my fingers. Committed to stopping that unless I have just washed my hands and also if I do eat finger food I’m stopping before I eat the part I was touching. Not foolproof but also thinking of a carrot or apple which I tend to eat while wrapped in a napkin. Also a bar like an Rx Bar I eat out of the packaging. I already do that. Amazing how many opportunities there are to clean up my hands-to-mouth habits.
A little later that morning, I wrote this: I think this will be my last note for today. I just finished working out in the hotel gym. Something I have already been doing for a while is liberally using the wet wipes they keep in hotel gyms. They are there because you are supposed to use them to wipe down the equipment after you use it. I now wipe down the equipment BOTH before I use it and after I use it. I also brought wet wipes with me on the plane, something I learned from mom. I wiped off the seatbelt buckles, the armrests, the top and bottom and inside of the tray table, and that little netting where you can stick things.
Little did I know that would be my last plane trip of 2020.
I am sharing these thoughts for two reasons.
The first is a reflection about the way so many of us almost instantly adopted new habits early last year. It seems to be the case that when we perceive a threat to our lives, we are able to make changes that stick very quickly. I guess it’s the famous fight or flight instinct.
The second reason I am writing about this experience is to point to the way awareness is a key element of habit change. In addition to what I wrote about above regarding an increasing awareness of the ways I touched my face, I soon became aware of door handles, the handles on the carts at supermarkets, and even the buttons on the ATM machine.
This post isn’t about eating habits, but I have an eating habits example about awareness. I remember when diets promoting a reduction (or even elimination) of carbs were all the rage – Atkins, South Beach, and the like. When I first heard about those diets, I didn’t think I was eating much bread or bread-like foods. But I soon realized I was eating lots of them. Cereal for breakfast, bread at restaurants, cookies at business conferences, sandwiches, pizza, and pretzels which (because they aren’t deep-fried) I had long thought healthy.
As you work on new habits during 2021, notice the way you become more aware. That’s a good thing. It’s part of the way you will make those habits stick.
All my best,