Breaking unwanted habits is hard. Creating a new habit can be even harder. But the global pandemic might offer an opportunity to create feel-good habits that stick around.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, behavioural finance expert Lisa Kramer hardly ate breakfast. Every morning she’d grab a granola bar before jogging out the door of her Toronto home, hoping it would be enough to carry her through her day as a finance professor at the University of Toronto. It was a bad habit, and she knew it.

Then in March, when the pandemic reached Canada, she was told to work from home, which meant she no longer had to rush out the door. All of a sudden, she was drinking coffee and eating peanut butter on toast and berries with her husband. “Every morning we connect over food and coffee,” says Kramer, who blends psychology and economics in her work at the university’s Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman (BEAR) research centre, of which TD Wealth is a founding partner. “It’s something I cherish that we never had the time to do before, and now it’s become a priority.”

While eating breakfast at home may seem like a minor change in one’s daily routine, for Kramer, it’s made a big difference in how she feels about her day. She’s less rushed and she’s enjoying the time she gets to spend with her husband. It’s also an example of how a major event like the COVID-19 pandemic can influence our personal and economic priorities.

Normally, it’s hard to form new habits — people tend to stick closely to their routines whether they’re good for them or not. But with daily schedules upended, people have the time to change their behaviors. Indeed, some people are spending less money, enjoying more time with their families, exercising more regularly, and taking life a little more slowly. “The lack of structure that has emerged for many of us has given us the freedom to form new habits or undertake projects or hobbies,” Kramer says.

But what happens after the pandemic ends? Hopefully, says Kramer, people will permanently adopt some of these positive habits.

Like eating a hearty breakfast, here are a few behaviours you may have adopted that could be worth keeping.

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Buying local

Many businesses were dealt a major blow by the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps none were hit harder than local entrepreneurs. According to a recent study by the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, small businesses are expected to take on a total of $117 billion in debt as a result of the pandemic.1 In response, some consumers are choosing to spend more with their neighbourhood grocers and restaurants. “There’s been a sudden awareness that many local businesses that we’ve perhaps taken for granted are in danger,” notes Kramer.

While shopping local can be more expensive, early research indicates many Canadians intend to do it anyway. A recent Dalhousie University poll found that 64% of Canadians said they planned to eat at an independent restaurant for their first meal out of the house.2

Making work from home work

Like many Canadians, Kramer had to work remotely when pandemic-related restrictions began. She wasn’t sure how the shift would impact her workflow at first, but she quickly settled into a new home-office routine. “I’m finding I’m more efficient now,” she says. “I miss interacting with colleagues, but I think working from home has sharpened my productivity in ways I didn’t expect.”

As pandemic restrictions lift, some people may choose to stay home more permanently, especially those who enjoy the extra minutes with their family or dislike their commute. To make remote work possible for the long term, Kramer suggests setting boundaries and developing techniques, such as setting and sticking to work hours, or even making certain rooms off limits during your workday.

Showing and sharing our appreciation

As the pandemic has unfolded, many consumers and companies have heralded the labour of front-line workers: the delivery drivers, grocery clerks and healthcare aides who keep us fed and safe. “We came to appreciate that we hadn’t been fully appreciating them,” Kramer notes, adding that she’s found herself giving larger tips to workers.

Being more appreciative in general is a habit everyone may wish to maintain. If you can support workers financially, through tips or other means, keep doing that, says Kramer, but acknowledging workers with a simple thank you is a great cost-free way to put a smile on their faces too.

1 “Debt knell: Small-business COVID-19 debt totals $117 billion,” Canadian Federation of Independent Business, July 15, 2020, accessed August 7, 2020
2 “New survey on COVID-19 suggests 52% of Canadians intend to avoid restaurants for the foreseeable future,” Dalhousie Agri-Food Analytics Lab, accessed August 7, 2020