Healthy Habits in Quarantine

My name is Battur Ulziinyam and I am from Mongolia. Now I study in the New Mexico Highlands University in New Mexico State. Here everything is very different from what I was expecting when I received an email that I was chosen for Global UGRAD from the U.S. Embassy. The campus is shut down and I am in my dorm room. For the first few weeks, it was really boring, and I could not deal with the lockdown situation caused by the global pandemic. But I started to challenge myself instead of just sitting and doing my classes in my room all day. So, I decided to read a book. I am not a good reader who reads a lot of English books very fast. Therefore, I decided to read only three pages every day before I slept because I was too lazy to read many pages every day. At that moment, I swore to myself that whatever happened, I must read three pages every day. The book I read is called The Power of Habit, which is about how our habits work and how we can change these habits for the better.

Now, let me try to briefly talk about the summary of this book. First of all, what is the habit…? The habit is something that we do without conscious attention. The habits give us a chance to think about other things when we wash our hands and brush our teeth, and we can walk to our university without thinking how to get there and which way we walk. It means that habits are what we automatically do without paying attention. Our brain spends energy for everything we do. According to this book, our brain spends less energy on habits and automatic routines. Every habit, no matter good or bad, they all consist of three things: cue, routine, reward. Those are called the habit loop.

What is the cue? The cue can be everything that makes you move or think automatically about a habit when you see it. Next, what is the routine? This is the movement of your habit. The last thing is the reward, which is what you take or feel after you follow habits; this is why you follow habits. The reward gives us personal pleasant moods or feelings.

Now, let’s look at an example. What kind of bad or good habits do you have? For me, one of my bad habits is that I grab my phone and watch videos when I do my homework and assignments. Which makes me distracted and takes so much time. That is what I do automatically every time I do my homework.

The cue of this habit is my phone. If I see my phone when I do homework, the command to follow this habit comes to my mind automatically. Then, I grab my phone and start watching videos automatically, which is the routine of this habit.

The reward:  the feeling of taking a break from my study for a while. Rewards are the reason that we follow a habit. If so, can we delete some of these bad habits from our mind? Unfortunately, we cannot delete habits, but we can change them.

As I said, we do routines and follow habits to feel pleasant feelings and take rewards. In order to change our habits, we do not need to change the cue and reward, but we have to change the routine of habits. For example; the bad habit that I told you, grabbing my phone and watching videos. In order to change this habit, I do not need to change the cue (my phone) which makes me think about the feeling of taking a break for a while automatically. Also, I don’t need to change the reward, the feeling of taking a break for a while from my study after I watch videos. But I have to exchange the routine of grabbing my phone and watching videos for new routines which can be good for me, such as doing exercise or getting out and walking for a while. The only bad thing in my habit is the routine that once I start watching videos, I don’t realize how time goes fast, which is bad for my time. The important thing is whatever routines I do, like watching videos or doing exercises, I only do to feel a break from my study. So, if these routines give me the same reward, why can’t I choose a good routine for this habit, turning a bad routine into a good routine to feel the same reward?

In order to change our routine of habits, we need to recognize what are the cues, routines, as well as the rewards of out habits. With these specific understandings and tips from The Power of Habit, I am creating new habits such as reading a book and doing exercise. These are the ways I am spending my quarantine during the global pandemic. More things to do, less time to get bored.

Written by Battur Ulziinyam (Mongolia) who studied at New Mexico Highlands University in Spring 2020

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