Opinion

You must wear a Covid mask, but T&Cs apply

Socially acceptable mask-wearing habits tend to vary depending on where — or who — you are

18 October 2020 - 00:02 By
The virus has ensured that even the Donald —whose resistance to mask-wearing has been stellar — has finally succumbed.
The virus has ensured that even the Donald —whose resistance to mask-wearing has been stellar — has finally succumbed.
Image: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The idea that it takes only 21 days to form a new habit was first introduced into the popular psyche in 1960. The self-help book penned by cosmetic surgeon Dr Maxwell Maltz, Psycho- Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life, sounds like a sales pitch for a really advanced AI program to be ingested with your breakfast, but is actually the tome responsible for this pervasive notion.

Subsequent research has, however, shown that Maltz's 21 days are a radical underestimation of the time it takes for new habits to form. A better bet is to count on anywhere between 66 and 256 days of consistent practice.

I'm sure they only researched virtuous habits. Things like 5am gratefulness meditations accompanied by titivating birdsong, followed by invigorating daily 10km runs and infusions of liquidised kale.

I'm almost certain negative habits like picking your nose and a soft spot for crack cocaine probably form in the blink of an eye. One minute you're popping a headache tablet, the next you're mainlining OxyContin in a supermarket parking lot as you extract liquefied kale from your nasal passages.

Where, I wonder, does mask-wearing fall in the space-time continuum of habit acquisition? I know I fell into step pretty quickly.

I got shouted at by a fellow runner for not wearing my mask on my first foray into the greater neighbourhood post lockdown. Public shaming works. Now I live in habit-forming fear of being called out. I won't leave the house without it — feeling practically naked without a mask gamely strung about my neck.

To be entirely transparent I actually sport the mask on my chin, thus signalling virtue and acquiescence. See, I'm wearing the mask, just not at this precise moment as I gasp for all the oxygen I can get trundling up hills and crossing the vales. That habit took all of two days to form.

And the generally accepted convention for outdoor mask usage on the trot — ie the wearing your mask around the chin thing — settled into common practice also around day two of the new regulations. So much more practical than the over the eye variation demonstrated by our president.

Presidential mask wearing — now there's a subject. The Donald, for one, hangs his from his left ear. His strong resistance to habit-forming is probably admirable. I mean, obviously he could use some help with his well-established junk-food and TV-watching habits. But his approach to the insidious Covid mask-wearing habit has been stellar. He's resisted with every fibre of his soul. Not for him the slow slide into acquiescence. He's stood firm against the mask and the Covid has mostly played along.

The Donald's approach to the insidious Covid mask-wearing habit has been stellar

Until most recently, the Covid shunned him like the plague. But nature must, it seems, fill a vacuum and the Covid did as the Covid must. And now the Donald and his Covid infection have both come in for some mass-scale Schadenfreude. Never was so much owed by so many to so few Covid germs. Multiple wits riffed on how their thoughts were with the Covid during this difficult time. And how they wished him a very long recovery.

Now that Agent Orange is back in the White House puffed up on steroids and fear — both very habit-forming substances — his mask, I note, is also back — hanging from his ear. And the Covid may or may not be in retreat.

Closer to home, I'm pleased to note that the Covid is forming genial habits of its own. It clearly agglomerates in density and frequency on the pavement outside restaurants. Everyone knows this. Which is why masks are worn assiduously as you exit your vehicle and wade through the danger zone. Temperatures are taken at doorways, hands are sanitised with alacrity, details are recorded and then you're thankfully through the worst of it.

Once you make it to your table you can finally relax. This is the Covid-free zone. It's a mutual detente, like Christmas on the Western Front. The warring armies can take some time off to kick a ball around, quaff the spirits and drink from the cup of life. It's a unilateral truce respected by everyone. It's masks off and happy days.

Until of course you have to walk to the loo. That's like making your way through a minefield with snipers on every parapet. And obviously the Covid lies in wait behind every toilet cistern. It's Covid's new spin on psycho-cybernetics and new ways to get more living out of life. Habits — hard to keep, even harder to break.


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