I always wash my hands at the kitchen sink before eating. For as long as I can remember, I would grab a paper towel (or two) and dry my hands. About a year ago, my wife and I had the long-overdue realization that we were using far too many paper towels. We hung a dish towel on one of the kitchen cabinet doorknobs to dry our hands and have stuck with that habit ever since.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we made two more changes to reduce our use of paper towels and napkins:

  • We are using cloth napkins while we eat our meals. To help make the habit stick, we took the cloth napkins out of the drawer we keep them in, and are keeping them in a basket on the kitchen counter.
  • We are using cloth napkins to cover our plates of food in the microwave.

Our laundry piles up a bit more quickly, but we are conserving our limited supply of paper towels, which will also have a positive effect on the environment – and we plan to keep this habit, coronavirus crisis or not.

I’ve been wondering which new habits will stick for all of us after this crisis passes. Here are some of my new habits – several of which I expect will stick.

Will people who can work from home do so more often?

Will people who have been taking daily walks continue to do so?

Will people who went to the supermarket twice a week continue to go only once a week?

Will we wash our hands as much as we have been doing? Will we wash our hands for the recommended 20 seconds?

Will people continue donating more than they have in the past to organizations that help people with fewer resources and privileges?

Will virtual get-togethers (dinners, cocktails, etc.) continue?

Most important – will we be appreciate the freedoms we used to take for granted? Will we become more empathetic towards others who, coronavirus crisis or not, have less freedoms than we do? Will we be grateful for the heroes of this crisis (doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, delivery people, etc.)?

I am not confident that last group of habits will stick. The reason I say that is based upon what I have seen after past crises.

After 9/11, there was an amazing feeling of togetherness in the New York area (and maybe elsewhere, but I can only speak for the area where I live and work.) It took a while, but a lot of that faded over time.

After superstorm Sandy, the same thing happened.

Bouncing back to “normal” after a crisis is a good thing. Our mental and physical health, and our happiness, depends on it. But, it’s also good if the aftermath of a crisis helps to make the world a kinder, gentler one.

Readers of my book, my blog, or my newsletter, and people who have been at my speeches, know about my message for making changes stick – break down your goals into small pieces and work on them one at a time for the 21 days it takes to form a habit.

This time it’s a bit different. We have been forced into new habits by this crisis. On Thursday, March 5, I had a business breakfast with two associates. We shook hands when we arrived, talked for a while about the fast-changing news of the crisis, and elbow bumped when we parted after our meeting. On Monday, March 9, just two business days later, I attended a meeting in which no one shook hands.

That new habit took far less than 21 days to adopt. As did the habit of washing our hands more often. And many of us have adopted multiple new habits at the same time, something only likely to happen in a time of crisis as our “fight or flight” instincts kick in.

I hope this time many people will use some of the newfound downtime during the weeks (or longer) that remain of this crisis to work hard to make many of these new habits stick for the long-term – especially the ones that will help make the world a better place.

Be well!