Habits: By Default or Design?
It is “Captain Obvious” to state that COVID-19 has changed our lives. Our life rhythms, our reality, and thus our habits, have unequivocally shifted. The question is, are you creating your new habits by default or design?
I am certainly not trying to minimize the financial, social, and emotional repercussions of this pandemic. What I am saying is that your habits are shifting whether you are conscious of it or not. When the scaffolding of your life changes, your habits automatically shift to reflect new interactions, environment, and behaviours.
We are always creating and breaking habits. The question is are you consciously creating habits that will serve you, or are you unconsciously reacting to the situation and thus unknowingly forming the new habits that will determine your destiny? To paraphrase the famous F.M. Alexander, we don’t determine our future. We determine our habits. Our habits form our destiny.
If you have thus far been reacting, don’t worry—that makes you human. Most of us have been. The world had to pivot extremely quickly. Navigating isolation was and is a massive transition. I know I started this whole process in intense reactivity; many of my decisions didn’t serve “future me.” For example, when I first started seeing clients on ZOOM, I set up my workstation as quickly as possible. This was good. It got me working. But it meant my computer was so low that I was having to hunch over all day, which caused my entire body to ache. My initial ZOOM workspace was a by-default lifestyle setup. Once I was able to breathe (slightly)—to begin to respond vs react—I bought an external webcam and re-thought my computer height and setup. I consciously created a workstation that would serve my clients, my body, and my brain. There is so much about this pandemic I can’t control, which makes me even more determined to control what I can!
Think: how are you controlling what you can control? How intentional are you being about the things within your sphere of control? How are you consciously establishing habits, environments, rituals, etc. that will serve you?
How are you setting up your workstation? Does it serve you? Can you raise your laptop? Create a space that feels office-like? Get a headset so you don’t scrunch your neck to hold your phone?
What about your work hours? I know from experience that when working from home it is easy to let home and work bleed into each other. I am absolutely not perfect at setting boundaries. I know that “diminishing the bleed” is something all of us (including me) might want to tackle. Maybe establish a ritual, in lieu of transportation time from office to home, to signify to your brain that you are “going home.” Listen to a particular song, state a mantra, or go for a walk around the block and enter your house, calling out with excitement “Family, I am home from work!”
What about your workouts? Have you set up a home gym? Have you blocked off time for exercise in your schedule? Think, “moving is a non-negotiable—how am I going to make this happen?”
It’s easy to think, “I can’t get to the gym so I can’t workout.” Wrong. You don’t need expensive equipment to work out at home. Your gym can be your own body weight, a find-solutions attitude, and the great outdoors.
Training during this entire mess is critical. Moving is good for the body, brain, mood, emotional regulation, mental focus, and your immune health. Plus, training gives us something to feel control over, which is key since we can’t control very much during these times.
Schedule in your workouts; will you train in the morning, lunch, after work? If it’s not in the schedule it won’t happen. Talk to your significant other and figure out the accommodations needed for you each to get some movement time. Your workout can be 5 minutes of dancing a few times a day, a midday gardening excursion, some type of family challenge, and/or partner yoga.
You do you! Create a plan that works for you … just make sure you schedule it in!
I am not trying to advocate a perfectionist mindset, negative self-talk, metaphorical self-flagellation and/or body shame. This is a pandemic; give yourself some grace. What I am saying is that now, more than ever, what is needed is intentionality; emotional resilience; awareness of emotions, behaviours, mindset etc.; and an emphasis on progress.
Basically, it’s about growth, mindset, and your habits!
Habits by design: 5 tips
- Drop any pre-pandemic habits, beliefs, mindsets, expectations, etc. that are no longer helpful.
The systems, habits, tricks, etc. you previously lived by might not serve you at this moment. Not only is that okay, it is to be expected. Going to the gym for an hour might have been a great escape for pre-pandemic you, but currently, you might need three short walks throughout the day to stay sane or mini dance parties to shake off the frustration of being stuck inside. (This site is great for short dance workouts: https://www.bodygroove.com/.)Understand that this situation will pass—every dark night eventually ends—but also embrace that to survive our new temporary reality we need to analyze our new needs and find the self-talk, tricks, and systems that fit.
- Control your nutrition environment. Only bring food into the house that you want your future self—or your future family—to consume!
Unhealthy food in your cupboards will eventually be consumed by you or someone you love. Equally, healthy food will eventually be consumed by you or someone you love. Control your nutritional environment; be vigilant about what comes into your house!Since we are in isolation, we are taking fewer trips to the grocery store and/or ordering groceries online. Take this opportunity to curate what comes into your home. Make your grocery list or order your groceries when you are feeling satiated and relatively calm—that is, when your rational brain is in charge. Then, don’t allow your emotional self to change that list.This is actually a great time to try to manage what goes into your mouth. Yes, you might have more opportunities to go to your fridge, but you also have fewer social obligations, work events, family dinners, trips to the convenience store, etc. Remember, if you don’t bring it into your house you can’t eat it!
- Some motion is always better than nothing!
“Perfect” is the enemy of getting sh*t done! Don’t let your goal of “workout perfection” keep you from moving. “Perfect” is always an unrealistic goal, but it is particularly unrealistic and unhelpful during isolation.Why?Sporadic, short bouts of movement will keep you from constantly sitting—as many of us are doing, since we are working from home—and it will help manage anxiety, depression, low moods, etc.Prolonged sitting negatively affects the cardiovascular, lymphatic, and digestive systems, not to mention your metabolism. It’s associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes, and affects how our bodies metabolize glucose. Thus, we need to move wherever and whenever possible.Set an alarm to remind yourself to move every hour. Purposely run up and down your household stairs, do a few stretches, or pump out a few squats.
- Embrace the 10-minute rule.
I love this rule because, typically, the hardest part of working out is starting. Moving for 10 minutes often snowballs into moving for longer. The 10-minute rule gives you the ignition boost to just start!When you don’t want to train, make yourself do something—anything—for 10 minutes. Go for a walk or jog, do some yoga (clients love Yoga By Adrianne: https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene), try a Fitness Marshall dance party (https://www.youtube.com/user/TheFitnessMarshall/videos), or grab your resistance bands and start my full-body strength workout (https://www.kathleentrotter.com/2020/04/07/band-exercises/).If you want to stop after 10 minutes, fine. At least you will have done something. Most likely, once you start, you’ll just finish your workout.
- Awareness: journal the habit you know you struggle with the most.
Awareness brings choice. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Most of us underestimate our less-than-ideal health choices—food, exercise, negative self-talk, time wasting, etc.—and overestimate our healthier choices. We think that we talk to ourselves more productively, use our time well, exercise regularly, only indulge once in a while, etc. than we actually do.Ask yourself, “Self, what ways do I self-sabotage? Where might I need some awareness? Where will my future self appreciate some help? Do I have the most room for improvement with time management, food, or exercise?Journal on the area you most need help. Decide to be intentional about those choices. Make a plan regarding how you will manage that habit—what foods you need to buy in order to eat a certain way, how you will fit exercise in, how you will keep yourself off social media, etc. Then journal the results. Journal the way you spend your time, your food or your exercise habits. (Here is more information on journaling your way to better health: https://www.kathleentrotter.com/2019/12/10/start-journaling-to-create-your-fittest-future-self/.)
The main takeaway is to have grace with yourself while simultaneously knowing that with any change in lifestyle comes an opportunity to consciously decide new habits.
This is not a time for crazy juice fasts, unrealistic goals, or belittling self-talk; this is a time for awareness and reflection. Ingrained habits are hard to break, in large part because they are rooted in how we spend our days: the work lunches with the pastries we always eat, the networking events with the wine we always sip, that Saturday night wing night we always go to. These “old norms” are no longer possible. So, make new norms that your future self will be proud of!
You will make new habits—you have to. The question is will you consciously make new habits that serve you,