So how do you get people to behave?
There are number of ways to promote social distancing and staying home that blocks shame and directs short-term guilt to actions that are really productive.
A clear call to action.
Any behavior change campaign needs to start with a clear call to action. What are you asking people to do? Cities, counties, states and the federal government are all making different recommendations in regards to COVID-19. In light of competing calls to action, you need to be super clear about the behaviors people need to adopt (stay home!). Not “Stay home, except for walks with your dog or if you wash your hands or if it is a group of under 100 or 50 or 5 people.” Right now, the goal post is shifting as our governments adapt to new information. So, we have to focus: What do people need to do now, in this moment? We also need to be honest about how that can change.
When people do not adopt the new behavior, we need to keep them accountable to themselves and to each other. Accountability doesn’t always have to be negative. Tools like signs to wash your hands before entering a new space can also serve to reinforce accountability. Marks on the floor of a grocery store reminding us where to stand in order to be six feet apart. Both serve as visual reminders to ourselves and each other about what we need to do right now.
What can interrupt guilt before it escalates into shame is inclusion and an invitation to do something better. Promoting good alternate behaviors helps reinforce the new norm, and gives us options to abandon an old behavior and adopt the new. We often fixate on “don’t do______” when we are working to change behavior. “Don’t go to a restaurant” or “don’t go to the beach.” Focusing on the solution, “Stay home” keeps the good behavior front and center.
We also need to bring our systems together to make behavior change easier. From making working from home easier, to virtual social meet ups, to delivery services. All work together to support staying home and address some of the barriers that can keep us from doing so. Showing inclusion and connection makes space for positive change. It may be an uncomfortable road, but accountability coupled with positive promotion can support us all to be better.
In short, be direct. Be kind. Be safe.