Role & Strength of Habits in a Post Pandemic World

The world is ever-changing. Often, certain economic, social or political reasons lead to a re-evaluation of lifestyle and behavior, indirectly affecting the habits an individual possess. Through this study, Thinking Hats explores how Covid-19 triggered habits would fare post restrictive measures of lockdown.

Why was the research conducted?

To understand which new consumer habits would sustain the test of time and which would diminish and understand the basics of habit formation and what makes them stick?

How was the research conducted?

Thinking Hats carried out extensive Secondary research to understand the change in habits due to the impact of COVID-19 and consecutive lockdown.

What are the key findings of the research?

Habits are actions that have a trigger to them due to the cues offered by social learning or contextual learning. For example, automatically washing hands (action) after using the toilet (contextual cue). Thus, the consistent presence of the cue hints at the repetition of the action, which eventually leads to the formation of a routine or habit.
The more the habit is reinforced, the larger the probability of the action to be transferred to the external cue. Once initiation of the action is ‘transferred’ to external cues, the action becomes automatic and becomes a habit.
Fitting this into the context of Covid-19, we can see-
The habit once formulated would require practice and diligence to become permanent and fixed. The stimulation that leads to arousal of action is the reinforcement. Reinforcements help one learn. According to Thorndike’s law of effect, the Strength of a Habit increases with activities that are associated with reinforcements.
While positive reinforcers strengthen habits, negative reinforcers tend to weaken and eventually break already formulated habits.

The point to remember is that reinforcers are feedback machines, and these offer us an insight into consumer habits and needs. Due to the constant bombardment and reinforcement of Coronavirus, the consumers are more alert about each action they take. The need to feel safe and secure is stronger than ever, as well as the need to feel connected and entertained.
Fear has become a reinforcer and is motivating the consumer to explore and move out of the comfort zones; the restriction to move around and limited availability of items, compelled with the risk of contagion from physical cash and vulnerability of the geriatric population to the COVID spread has pushed the elder generation to get on the e-shopping bandwagon.
Quarantine has urged the entire ecosystem to move on a virtual platform leading to an increase in the use of video-calling platforms. The brands are using these platforms to entertain the consumers by having the cast of famous sitcoms (Parks and Recreation) reunite and air new ‘quarantine-episodes’ or have online singing and rapping competition (MTV Hustle and Roadies) on video-calls leaning into emotional reinforcers like happiness and connection to build new, enduring social habits.

Keeping the above pointers in mind, what brands need to evaluate is whether the new habit formulated during this period would stick or frizzle out. There is a common misconception that all habits are formed in 21 days. To understand this, a certain checklist need to be reviewed-

Old habits die hard, and within the Indian context, the strength with which the habit is ingrained will often be tough to refute. The old habits when not in use stay dormant until a contextual cue pertaining to the habit has offered. Thus, what one needs to evaluate is whether this habit was formulated solely for the purpose of the quarantine or was it a dormant old habit that was reinstated.
Once the lockdown lifts, pre-quarantine behaviors may push through and urge adherence. However, with the risk of pandemic still at large, these ‘quarantine’ habits may have an extension. For example, having a snack or coffee with friends post-work would now give way to making a snack at home, which would reinforce the pride gained in the skills displayed.

If the habit before the quarantine was frequent and rigid the more is the likelihood of the consumer to relapse into it.
Thus, if visiting the parlor or salon were a weekly rigid routine, would it be more likely retained as compared to its replacement like at-home grooming.

On the other hand, when the replacement habit has proved to be rigid due to comfort, appeal or other such factors,the more chance there would be of maintaining the replacement. For example, purchasing organic and locally available brands as compared to the previously outsourced brands.

Certain new habits that have been cultivated during the pandemic such as home cooking, exploring a hobby and taking up new courses. However, the strength of these habits would be put to test by the availability of time and resources at your disposal.
Consider you like cooking and experimenting with food, but if the travel time and your job profile do not provide a space for this habit; however strong habit it may be, one may find it difficult to stick to this habit or may compromise by extension of the habit over to weekends and holidays.

It is also interesting to see the value that certain habits hold in a consumer’s mind. Even though that particular behavior may be ‘risky’, people can take that chance as not engaging in it can reduce a strong and important part of your ‘perceived quality of life’. These habits directly elevate the happiness quotient of the individual.
For example, travelling or visiting malls may be considered high contagion, but not indulging in them may cause negative reactions and this, people weigh out what is important to them and decide accordingly.
There is a notable shift in consumer behavior with the idea of ‘new normal’, which is setting in the minds of the consumers. The acceptance of the situation is leading to the formation of new habits, nevertheless understanding the strength of habits formed during the outbreak, as well as a market insight sweep relating to the trigger and reinforces around the habit; a brand can strategize into the future consumer needs.

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