"Making a habit isn’t something that finishes after 21 days, or even at the end of a national lockdown"Izzy Thomas

My Mum always told me that it takes 21 days to create a habit. If you do something at the same time each day for three weeks straight, it will become part of your routine. This is how she taught me to stop biting my nails. I even forced myself out of bed at 5am every day for three weeks to try and achieve more before school, but surprisingly enough, that one hasn’t featured since. When the first national lockdown was announced in the UK, I was surprised at how quickly new habits began to develop. Within a week, I was carrying at least two masks on me at all times, and the two-metre rule became ingrained in me to the point where I avoided my own family. Perhaps it was this idea of distancing that allowed some other, less healthy, habits to develop. Without face-to-face contact, I soon lost the motivation to talk to my friends without the promise of a drink and an entertaining Zoom call. The daily catch-ups had disappeared, something which had been instrumental in maintaining my mental health. With Easter Term online, I became obsessed with screens. If I wasn’t in classes or studying on my laptop, I was scrolling through endless social media on my phone. I disguised my addiction with the pretence that I just really loved making Tiktoks, but what I really craved was the distraction from an absence of routine.

“I spent hours and hours studiously doing nothing”

All of my daily habits were gone. With no Sidgewick Site to roam around, or friends to visit in College, my world was confined to the four walls of my bedroom, and to the bright allure of technology screens. Going for a walk with my dogs had lost its joy because of how many times the term, ‘daily exercise’ had been mentioned by the Government and in the media; my room was safer, easier, and more entertaining. I spent hours and hours studiously doing nothing, in a cycle between pretending to work, wondering if it was too late for a coffee, and persuading myself it was too early for a drink. While veiled in the hazy fantasy of summer, my habits in the first lockdown are scary when I consider them now.

Much of my life now is similar to March 2020. I still carry my mask, social distance, and I’m still working from home. But, I’ve begun to make healthier habits. The snow over the past few weeks has brought out the child in me, the one who loves spending time outdoors rather than hiding in her bedroom. I use my phone largely to structure my time, and I’ve even done a bit of work this term! But most importantly, I feel like I have a more distinct purpose. The world has been telling me to put my health first for almost a year, and only now I am realising that giving in to my procrastinating desires has been hurting me far more than forcing myself into some kind of routine.


Mountain View

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

Through habit-making, I’ve also learnt a lot about myself. I know now that my Mum suggested 21 days for me to push through the first week. Apparently, I have a habit (get it?) of using the first time I do something as a marker for expectations thereafter. Most recently, after picking up my violin for the first time in two years, I have convinced myself that achieving Grade 8 this summer is feasible (spoiler alert: it’s not). But in overcoming my exaggerated ambitions, I have been able to find creative outlets I never imagined I could enjoy, like embroidering over the questionable design of my Fresher’s T-shirt. Surprisingly enough, through having patience with myself, I can spend time relaxing without sinking into the depths of technology in a cocoon of insomnia and dirty bed sheets.

“The realisation that I don’t have to maintain every habit I attempt has given me a sense of euphoric spontaneity”

Most importantly, I know that a habit is made up of more than just time. If I’m forcing myself to do something every day that I don’t enjoy, maybe it doesn’t need to be part of my daily routine. I used to love running, but in winter I have no motivation to face the outside world in leggings and a sports bra. The realisation that I don’t have to maintain every habit I attempt has given me a sense of euphoric spontaneity: Today I could try yoga, go viral on Tiktok, or just get out of bed. Who knows, and who cares? Approaching each day with the aim to fulfil just one goal has released the pressure that previously confined me to the safety of bed and my phone screen.

Clearly, I’m no expert on habits. I’ve struggled to make them, keep them and even break them. At the start of this new lockdown I made lots of ambitious plans, many of which I’m sure I won’t see through. But it turns out that for me, the best thing is just to wake up each day, see how I feel, then decide what to do. Making a habit isn’t something that finishes after 21 days, or even at the end of a national lockdown. But understanding and breaking the habits that have disheartened me in the past is something that I do have control over.