Honestly, it’s not something I would really ever say. Well, since I was 4, anyway.

Look at this cute little dude after he cut his hair for the first time!

But these are, indeed, “unprecedented times”, and they’ve led me to some unprecedented behavior.

Which, in turn, has turned into totally new habits.

What is a habit?

According to Amy Bucher in her recent book Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change, habits are behaviors that we repeat regularly based on some kind of cue without really making a conscious decision to do so.”

“Habits are behaviors that we repeat regularly based on some kind of cue without really making a conscious decision to do so.”

When they Covid-19 stay-at-home order hit Minnesota in mid-March, I had just had a fresh haircut. And, while there were more important things to consider in that moment, I recall one of my thoughts and aspirations being “I hope this thing calms down before I need another haircut.” But it wasn’t to be.

You are your habits; your habits are you.

You see, to know my aspirational thought in that moment is to know me. Ever since I was a little kiddo, I’ve had a strong relationship with my hair. My desire to keep it high and tight is likely rooted in my mom giving me a period-appropriate “long bowl cut” back in the 80’s. Over time, it’s become an important part of my identity. I “am” my most recent haircut.

And it turns out that identity plays an important role in habit formation. Essentially, you are what you frequently do and what you do is influenced heavily by who you are. It’s a never-ending cycle of identity influencing behavior and behavior reinforcing identity.

Essentially, you are what you frequently do and what you do is influenced heavily by who you are.

Prior to Covid-19, my behavioral pattern was to habitually get a haircut at my local salon every four weeks. Like clockwork. I didn’t have to think about it because it was pre-scheduled for me, the location was set, and my stylist was always the same. It was a comfortable and efficient pattern that led to my desired outcome – a fresh cut.

Fast forward to our collective “unprecedented times”. With the salon closed and time ticking away, what was a hair-traumatized kid to do? My identity-driven desire to get a fresh cut wasn’t going away anytime soon, and as the days and weeks passed, I started thinking about alternatives.

Behavior change is difficult, but there’s a formula.

According to behavioral change expert B.J. Fogg (check out his new book, Tiny Habits), there’s a magical formula for it. Fogg states that B=MAP where B is the Behavior itself, M is your Motivational level, A is your Ability to execute the behavior, and P is the Prompt (or cue/trigger) that gets you to pay attention.

For me, the Prompt was noticing that my typical faux-hawk was turning into some sweet hockey flow. My Motivation is built in (remember, my mom helped instill a fear of long hair in me and it’s been an intrinsic piece of my identity ever since). What was in question was my Ability; I’d never cut my own hair before (with apologies to my 4-year-old self).

According to Fogg, if you want to change a behavior, you address elements of the formula in this order:

  1. Prompt. Make sure the cue to act is strong and obvious.
  2. Ability. Make sure the new behavior is easy(ier) to do.
  3. Motivation. Make the behavior attractive.

The short story is that if you want to make a behavior change stick, you need to increase your ABILITY more than you need more motivation.

Make it easy and your chances of behavior change skyrocket.

And, as it turns out, this is what helped me along as well. Once I watched a few YouTube videos of guys like me cutting their own hair, I gained enough courage to try it for the first time. After a 70-minute endeavor with clippers, scissors, mirrors, and a vacuum, I had completed my new behavior for the first time.

And I was stoked. My confidence level rose quick, thus increasing my motivation. And the payoff at the end was psychologically positive – it reinforced my identity as “someone who appreciates good hair hygiene” (lol) and helped me add to my identity the element of “DIY hair stylist”. And the last identity addition adds nice psychological and emotional notes of autonomy and competence (which, by the way are two of the “big 3” psychological needs we all have as humans…the remaining being “relatedness”).

So much has changed, yet so much remains the same.

As a researcher and experience designer, I’ve done quite a bit of reflection during Covid quarantine and watched so many “well grooved” behavioral patterns become disrupted. It’s equally intriguing to see new behavioral patterns emerge as a result. Our post-Covid world will certainly be dramatically different in our behavioral expression, but here’s my piece of advice to bring you some inspiration. Human desires and the fundamental formula for behavior change remain the same. We’re all seeking autonomy, competence, and relatedness. We change behaviors in line with our identity and through a mixture of prompts, ability, and motivation. Once you realize that, you can work with behavioral change ingredients to change your own (or your customer’s) behavior.

How have your behaviors changed as a result of Covid? What do you think is going to stick and what will go back to “the old ways” eventually? Let me know and be well out there.