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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Tackle lockdown fatigue: make a virtuous cycle out of the vicious one: Means, Motive & Opportunity

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

I discussed my thoughts with Ella Alexander, Harper's Bazaar on why people are breaking lockdown rules in this article. In this blog I reflect on how we can turn the vicious cycle into a virtuous one.

The reasons why we do (or indeed don't do) something can often be explained by the following triad:

Having the means (or the knowledge) to do/not do something

Having the motive (motivation or desire) to do/not do it

The Opportunity to (or ease at which we can) do/not do it.

When it comes to how we're following Covid rules (or not) now we are in Lockdown 3, the same principles apply.

The Means/Knowledge available to us

Some of us simply do not know the rules! While you may scoff, the "rules" have changed a number of times over the last year - whether this is a product of people "claiming" they were confused (it's far easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission) or the changes in the progression of the virus in the local and global arena - we have got bubbles, tiers, shielding, distancing, isolating, quarantining, indoor/outdoor distinctions and so on. Right now, I would still double check for the latest guidelines before I did anything (and probably print it out as proof of my decision making).

The lack of clarity has also resulted in a lack of role modelling - sometimes from ministers themselves - leading us to argue, well if THE rule makers don't know the rule... And, while there is sound basis for rules having flexibility it should also be noted that the cases of breaching will also be more complex than the face value often reported.

The motivation to follow the rules


During lockdown 1, the whole idea was novel. There was community spirit, there were incentives and all were with a view that this would be a temporary situation. We were duly "rewarded" by a summer of "Eat out to Help Out" (although it is debatable if that relaxation resulted in an increase in cases in the autumn).

Lockdown 2 was a different matter. This gave us nothing - and in some cases worse than nothing. Christmas was ruined for most, and on top of that came the mutated variant resulting in a rise in infections. All that struggle with further "punishment" as a result.

We like to see results - they are the products of our efforts. Imagine if you followed a restricted diet, did everything you were supposed to - and then gained weight - wouldn't you ask yourself "Why deprive myself further?" Perhaps with Lockdown 3, we have the optimism of the vaccine to spur us on.


Related to this is that it is only now that we are seeing the effects of the virus with the government's new advert, and journalists being able to access wards. Due to the nature of the virus, much of it previously went on behind closed doors. Without having personal experience (if this didn't affect friends or family), it is much harder to empathise. A sense of reality gives us in turn a sense of perspective, empathy and compassion. We begin to realise the reality of the people for whom we are making our sacrifices - and recognise the ones who are making many more for us.


Unfortunately, what was easily accessible were the many examples of rule flouting. Research has shown many examples of animals who, on perceiving unfairness, respond with aggressive behaviour or apathy to doing what was asked. It is not difficult to develop a mind-set of "Well, if they are doing it - why shouldn't I?"

The Opportunity to follow or break the rules

We were, at first, incentivised to follow lockdown - we still are, but we must remember that it is now one year into dealing with the pandemic, not one month. If your mental health is suffering, if you are on the poverty line because you have lost your job, if you have no family - or perhaps a big family struggling with working and schooling from home (perhaps on one single computer), or you have no means of exercise or even a garden to clear your mind and change your view - wouldn't you be asking yourself IS covid worse? Is it now a case of - pick your poison!?

And then it's worth considering the ease at which rules can be broken. I know the government is looking to make changes now, but contrast arriving in the UK and giving a quarantine address which isn't followed up, against other Countries' "track and trace" apps which ensure your GPS is within the vicinity of your quarantine location; or simply keeping you within a designated "quarantine hotel".

SO if this is why rules are broken - what solution can be offered to turn the vicious cycle to a virtuous one?

The World Health Organisation themselves outlined how governments could avoid lockdown fatigue, following three key principles:

ENGAGING the public

BALANCING risk and quality of life



Here the WHO suggested involving community leaders to engage their communities. The UK is now publishing rules and guidelines in different languages, but perhaps they could be involving schools, universities and other community groups in the public health message. Perhaps, for example, schools could add "making a health campaign" to their curriculum, perhaps universities can have input into how they implement the rules for their campus.

Something I have said in a previous article in terms of engagement is - if decisions are made "following the science" then let us follow it too. Rather than asking for dates, I would ask for data: What are the targets we are trying to meet eg:

- Is it the fall of the R number?

- Is there a % of beds that need to be available in hospital?

- Do we need to fall below a specific infection rate/death rate/case rate?

...if we know what the "data" is, and how the measures we are taking are affecting it we not only have transparency in that we know how decisions are being made (and we could perhaps make them ourselves based on the same data) and there is consistency within that decision making. This in turn will lead to greater trust in the decisions, and even ownership over the actions we are taking.

A further approach to engagement would be to inspire and educate as well as inform - and this is where enlisting artists, musicians, theatres could enable new forms of expression of experience, or bring together communities of coping.

Balancing risk and quality of life

Incentivisation is not necessarily enough - but some pro-active forward planning can help. Events such as the "zorb concert", the drive in pantomimes, the virtual marathon can give us something to look forward to - and perhaps even admire in terms of technology and how that can even enhance future events. (My husband who ran the Virtual London Marathon last year still wants to run the route, but said if he didn't have a place he'd certainly like the broader opportunity to take part that was offered in 2020). Similarly, being aware of the religious festivals (in advance) and implementing or facilitating ways to support communities and celebrate in a safe way can also switch our focus from "Missing out" to "maybe this is something that brings even more benefit"?

Acknowledge hardship

Here is where we need leadership that walks the talk - when we see leaders following the rules we know they know that it's tough. Perhaps we can also celebrate the wins within communities, and the good practice - not as a single success story, but as a blueprint for finding our own ways of coping.

People break rules when they know what to do, they desire to do it, and they find it easy - we will follow them for the same reasons - make it easy for us to keep going that little bit longer; motivate us beyond financial incentives but through forward planning, new opportunities, collaborations which could persist beyond the pandemic; and engage our brains positively so we know why what we're doing is right...not just for us, but for those around us too.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.

For coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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