When the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S., we had to live by a new set of rules seemingly overnight. Staying inside, avoiding crowds and not seeing friends and family outside of your household were difficult but important choices to make, public health authorities stressed.
Several months later, the guidelines now emphasize mask use, and we've seen over and over the devastation the epidemic has caused. Still, for many of us, it can be easy to let our guards down and think, "I don't have to social distance this time..."
While this mindset may seem reasonable, it can also be deadly. Try these strategies to keep yourself honest about how well you're following COVID-19 guidelines, from hand washing to masking wearing.
1. Ask yourself hard questions.
This is perhaps the most obvious but challenging step to discern why you're struggling.
"If you want to do better, figure out what’s blocking you from doing it — honestly and forthrightly," author Lisa Orbe-Austin, who holds a doctorate in psychology, told TMRW. "Try not to fall into these myths ... of denial that nothing is going to happen to me. ... Really engage with why you don’t want to do these things."
If anxiety about the pandemic or another negative emotion is playing a role, try journaling about your feelings, Orbe-Austin advised. If that's too overwhelming, consider professional help.
"It’s large and scary to think our world is changing," she added. "All of that stuff is really deep and hard to deal with, but it should be faced."
2. Know the difference between a lapse and relapse.
Even if you forget to wear a mask one day, you can still wear it the next and the next and the next. These days, it's important to show compassion toward ourselves and others when we make mistakes, but don't use it as "an excuse for slipping," Orbe-Austin said.
3. Tell people about your routine.
Keeping those around you informed about how you've been spending your time not only empowers them to decide if they're comfortable with your behavior before seeing you; it can also help you more accurately assess how risky that behavior is.
As Orbe-Austin put it, "If you can’t share what you’re honestly doing with others, then that’s a problem."
She also recommended listening earnestly to people's feedback about your behavior and not to become defensive. "You need to accept the consequences based on your decisions," she said.
4. Get an accountability partner.
Find someone outside your household whom you can talk with about your approach to COVID-19 guidelines, suggested Peter Kozodoy, author of "Honest to Greatness." The effect can be even more beneficial if you and your partner have different beliefs. This way, you can challenge each other and have honest conversations that can help you better understand your own behaviors.
5. Take steps to form the habit.
If you're struggling to wear a mask and social distance but want to do better, make an active effort to form these habits. Orbe-Austin said visual and physical reminders, like hanging your mask on your front door and packing a bag with hand sanitizer that you take with you, are good first steps.
Another strategy? Have a "mental rehearsal" before you complete a task, she said. "Go through your routine before ... and sketch out when you have to engage in these habit-forming behaviors."
6. Establish rules about how you're going to behave.
Setting up rules for yourself and those in your household and clearly communicating them can make them easier to follow. Being thoughtful ahead of time can prevent you from asking yourself in the moment, "Is this really OK?"
"Without a thoughtfulness, you’ll let your emotions take over," Kozodoy explained.