How to Improve Your Habits Post-Pandemic

Person drawing on a tablet with digital pen
Many of us are starting to return—more or less, in some fashion—to work, after staying away for a long time. This is a valuable opportunity for habit change, so be sure to use it! And you have to use it immediately. Because our old daily habits around the work day have been disrupted, we have a clean slate. That fresh start means that we’ll have an easier time creating better habits around work routines. In Better Than Before, my book about how we make and break our habits, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to master our habits. The “Strategy of the Clean Slate” is a strategy where we take advantage of the fact that when we go through a big transition, old habits get wiped away, and new habits form more easily.
  • The slate may be wiped clean by a change in personal relationships: marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new puppy, a break-up, a new friend, a death.
  • Or the slate may be wiped clean by a change in surroundings: a new apartment, a new city.
  • Or some major aspect of life may change: a new job, a new school, a new doctor.
  • Even minor changes can amount to a clean slate—a change as seemingly insignificant as taking a different route to work, or watching TV in a different room.
  • A milestone in time can also act as a clean slate: a significant birthday, the new year, an important anniversary—or September.
The Clean Slate is so powerful that we don’t want to miss the chance to exploit it. For example, in one study of people trying to make a change—such as change in career or education, relationships, addictive behaviors, health behaviors such as dieting, or change in perspective—36% of successful changes were associated with a move to a new location. The pandemic period forced dramatic disruptions to our habits. We can exploit that disruption to our benefit. So reflect on the habits you want going forward, and make specific plans for them. Research shows that making concrete plans helps people meet their goals. As you return to the office, be sure to start the way you want to continue. Think ahead, plan what you won’t or will do—to put those new, better habits in place right away. New habits will start to form immediately; make sure you’re forming the habits you want. As you consider the possibilities of your clean slate:
  • You might decide what you won’t do, going forward. You haven’t visited that vending machine in a year; decide that you’ll never use it again.
  • You might decide what you will do, going forward. You’ve been enjoying a mid-day walk with your spouse, so you text a co-worker to suggest to start taking a lunchtime walk together when everyone’s back in the office.
  • You might look for ways to adapt positive habits that you’ve adopted over the past year. If you’ve had more time to read, because you didn’t have a commute, try listening to audio-books in the car.
This massive disruption has led to enormous hardship, but it also gives us some opportunities. We can take advantage of this clean slate, to start off on the right foot as we move forward. Can you imagine some ways that you’ll create healthier habits around a clean slate?



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

From renowned happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, the “Five Things Making Me Happy” newsletter is one of today’s most popular newsletters. You’ll get a weekly round-up of what’s making Gretchen happy, as well as practical tips, research, and resources about how we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.