Covid-19 and Habit Forming


There’s a number of viewpoints about what the world will look like after our focus on Coronavirus recedes. “Things will return to normal,” or “things will never be the same.” These are the two endpoints of the spectrum. I’m going to propose that it’ll be much closer to the latter than the former. Why? Because of the structure of human habits.

The core of my argument is it takes a person typically between one and three months to either effectively stop, modify or start a habit. Most of us have been in lock down for at least a month with some closer to two. This means that some of us certainly had the time to get used to doing things differently. 

While I don’t expect a completely different world than what was going on in 2019, I think there’ll be a summation of small changes that will end up having a great impact on the world going forward. I also don’t expect everyone to continue behavior that they’ve gotten used to in lock-down. 

There certainly will be a large amount of snap-back to pre-2020 behavior for many, but it doesn’t take a population-wide change to make an impact on how our world will look and operate. Take, for instance, the possibility of just 10% of the US population deciding to cook at home for one more night of the week instead of going out to restaurants, what does that look like?

It looks like nearly 21 million adults staying in one more night a week. Let’s say we average the cost of that person’s dinner at about $50. With a population of about 660,000 restaurants in the USA (2018), the reduction in revenue for each restaurant would be something like a little more than $6,000 a month and a yearly dip of about $75,000. That number is easily one worker’s wages – and in the restaurant industry, I’d guess it might be at or more than two, actually. That would mean there would be 1.2 million people permanently unemployed – all because some of us modified just one habit we’ve had pre-Covid-19. And that’s only one potential habit that could be changed or modified by a relatively small amount of the US population.

There are doubtless many more small changes that will have just as far reaching effects going forward. The above is just one example. With a large proportion of the US population having to change virtually every aspect of how they’ve done things – and for a time period similar to what many believe takes to form habits – even the small changes can stack up to change the economic complexion of the country going forward. Enough of these small changes could lead to the world being noticeably different than what we knew before. 

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