“Habit maketh man.”
Do you find the statement hackneyed, phallocentric, antiquated, Calvinistic? Let’s update it to sound more proactive, inclusive and cool (whatever that might be):
“Habits help reinvent yourself.”
Little adjustments in our perspectives can also grant us new ways of approaching things so that they don’t feel regimented or burdensome. The sense of permanence accorded to habits renders them inflexible, steely manacles one can’t wear or shake off. If we cast them in a framework of a workout routine that we can gradually level up till they are entrenched in our day, habits become pathways rather than a mere last stop.
In his book Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness, S.J. Scott delineates the importance of identifying small tasks you can easily incorporate in your day rather than being intimidated by too many big changes simultaneously. Use triggers till these become habits. For instance, instead of straight away trying to get into a habit of exercising an hour every day, break it down into 20 minutes of jogging, 15 minutes of stretching, etc.
Call it FOMO or the grind of a 9-to-5. Most of us are in the habit of plugging in our devices to check what we might have missed overnight before we even get out of bed. Reaching for the phone is instinctual. Furthermore, 2020 acting on Murphy’s law has had us checking the news far too frequently than is healthy. We scroll through feeds till we drive ourselves to anxiety. Log off at least an hour before bed. And procaffeinate when you wake up. Remember, it’s “rise and shine” and not “rise and whine.”
Journaling is a great way to sort through a torrent of thoughts. Writing things down helps put them in perspective. It’s also effective in tracking your progress- be it with tangible goals or with managing erratic moods. We can vent at, confide in and discharge what we’re feeling intensely on paper. A journal can help you reflect and express yourself freely and may even be a fountain of inspiration to keep coming back to either for ideas of creative endeavours or when you need to be reminded of the blessings of life.
3. Reaching out
2020 has trained us in keeping to ourselves. It is upon us to not let that boxed existence become a new normal, in more ways than one. It’s possible to be so engrossed in our own lives that we overlook how that one friend who’d text every other day hasn’t texted in a month. Or that one classmate who’d often launch a discussion has virtually fizzled out of the lectures. Reaching out and letting people know that we’re there also helps us not drown in our own sorrows. The hand we extend towards another can also be the leaf that signals that the shore’s almost in sight.
4. Mindful eating
This isn’t just a component of your New Year Resolution to get that hot bod. Mindful eating stems from a position of gratitude and awareness- of having food at your table, of the time that you take out for a meal, of the effort that’s gone into it, etc. It engages your senses as well as your brain to be in the moment and savor every bite, chew properly and control your drives. Mindfulness involves allowing yourself the vulnerability to feel every sensation, corporeal or otherwise, to proceed towards self-actualization.
5. Letting go
It’s common knowledge that to begin again, one must learn to let go. Equally important is the corollary- be okay with being let go. The hardness of being unforgiving is a burden too heavy to carry for long. But one must also recognize the need of others to make these hard decisions of letting go, even if we’re the ones left untethered at the other end of the string. If letting us go is part of someone’s healing, we must make peace with it. It’s not about us, not everything has to be; let’s not make it so. Reorient. Recapitulate. There are many more people you’ll meet and many who won’t fit in your grand design of life.
6. Stop clogging
Sometimes, good things fall apart to make space for better things in life. Make sure your horizon is uncluttered to be able to see the opportunities that might come knocking. Take a minimalistic approach to put things in order- your mind, your wardrobe, your purse. Clutter is distraction. You can’t hear the song your heart is playing over white noise. Eliminate visual clutter from your productive space. Similarly, try to relax your brain too. Take one thing at a time. Write it out if you need to.
7. Count to ten!
Or backwards to one! Whichever works, to buy time when it’s tempting to give in to impulse and react first and think later. This brief mental timeout is imperative in an age driven by the urgency of reaction and having an opinion on everything- largely dictated by the anxiety of social media. The vicious circle of social media ostracism (#cancelled) one is inevitably led to through both not having said enough and having said something that leaves room for (mis)interpretation doesn’t give us time to process. The digital ‘now’ is prioritized over the actual.
Giving yourself a breather isn’t reigning yourself in or watering down or bottling emotions- it simply means that some things are too grave to sink in immediately and too complex to be comprehended in 280 characters, and it’s okay to take your time for it.
8. Self-affirmation exercises
If not you, then who? We’re too emotionally dependent at times, seeking encouragement and validation from others, without which the effort we put in disintegrates into nothing. The markers of our identity and self-worth become wholly external, based on people’s perception of ourselves and not our authentic selves (if there is such a thing). And while it’s only natural to expect appreciation for hard work, let it come from within first.
Steele’s self-affirmation theory echoes how we solidify our identity through affirmations, building it through what we personally value. Spending some time talking to yourself or listing down what you like about yourself can get you out of a psychological bind. An important trick is to secure your confidence about a very specific thing, even if it’s not entirely related to the task at hand. For instance, when I’m unable to keep up with fast choreographies, I remind myself that if pace isn’t my strength, graceful body lines are. It helps channel my focus and reinvigorates me to take up the challenge.
9. Find a rou(lette)ine
We’re often needlessly constricted by daily routines. While working on a 24-hour clock keeps us in tune with the world, it also adds unnecessary pressure at a personal level to try to fit in everything in that schedule. Replace rigid routines with a list of tasks you need to complete in an order of priority and opt for a window of time in which you basically play roulette with the list and accomplish what you need to when you’re in the optimum condition for it, both physically and mentally.
For instance, instead of a daily writing goal, I keep weekly ones; rather than committing myself to dance a fixed amount, I set a goal of learning a particular choreography in 10 days. Some days, I might be brimming with enough energy to practice an entire song or may be stirring with enough creativity to churn out a couple thousand words in a single afternoon. A rou(lette)ine takes human caprices and essentially the very fact of us being human and thus, not possibly at our 100% all the time. And we realize that it’s okay, that we can still get things done just fine.
10. Dance (or stretch)
With a little caution that you must stretch a bit even before dancing, the point here is to move. You wonder what can go wrong sitting on a chair gawking at a computer but as has been proven, a lot can go haywire on a desk job. The future is remote, we’re told. And when clicks can get almost anything done, why move? Activities like dancing are liberating. They involve movement outside that we’re confined to by daily life. Thus, dancing helps us be in touch with ourselves and extend our bodily potential.
11. Tell, don’t just show
What’s good advice for writing a novel might not necessarily work the same charm in real life. Actions speak louder than words, maybe. But a lot of times, not clearer. Better communication habits are needed for stronger and healthier relationships in life. Feeling grateful for something? Say thanks. Think that acquaintance-almost-friend looks especially beautiful today? Let them know. Uncomfortable with a ‘friendly joke? Talk it out.
12. Grand gestures
Life’s too long to be poisoned by monotony, by taking things for granted and without surprises. Believe in the power of grand gestures, of walking that extra mile or occasionally going out of your way to do something that stands out in the sameness of every day. In 2020, a lot of us saw an almost nightmarish blurring of hours, weeks and even months with nothing to tether us. An effort to make someone (or yourself) feel special, a grand gesture that is enduring in its transience isn’t merely a thing of fictional romances.
13. Cherish your company
Kelly Clarkson singing “Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone” are lyrics I’m determined to carry with myself decade to decade. As much as I’ve enjoyed gatherings as both life of the party and the designated wallflower, nothing quite beats the euphoria of enjoying things solo. Whether you go backpacking on an excursion or just a picnic reading a book in a neighborhood park, solitude helps be in the moment without getting sidetracked.
14. Build something
Nurturing, caring and building are qualities that remind us of our proactive humanity. Being productive and shaping something between your own two hands is a feeling like no other. Pottery, knitting, crocheting, woodwork, origami- there are many such habits you can inculcate to positively channel your energy and hone your skills.
15. The joy of little things
A lot of us are waiting for Godot, that one big thing that’ll suddenly change everything, a reversal of fortunes beyond the explanation of ordinary forces. Don’t let anyone make you feel that getting happy or satisfied with little is a bad thing. Some have epiphanies meditating, I’ve had one when the pancake I flipped landed perfectly. What about it?
Habits aren’t punishment
Try changing your outlook about habits. Instead of working on a black and white binary division between good and bad habits, understand your needs and the fact that they’re different from those of others. Building habits constructively to refine yourself and your standards of living isn’t an annual trend- the ‘why’ is important.