Habit Ain’t a Dirty Word

Forming habits to give yourself more freedom and happiness

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Habit. Is that a dirty word to anyone else? I always associated two things with the word habit: doing something bad and lack of freedom. I saw nothing positive in habits.

That’s the former me, though. I like habits now, but the idea of habits (good or bad) sounded terrible until this past year. Words even associated with habit felt icky: practice, routine. Bleh, boring, right? I guess that’s the way you look at them until you see the benefit of them.

The funny thing is that the good ones are easier to form than breaking the bad ones. At least that’s the case for me. I’m thinking about habits because I’m considering trying the break the big one.

I bite my nails. I have bitten my nails my entire life. It’s a bad habit. A disgusting one, too, but there have been few times in my life that I haven’t bitten them. I’m not sure that I’m there yet, to be honest. But I’m considering trying to break it.

When I thought about my nail-biting habit and wanting to stop it, I started thinking about habits in general. My nail biting has always been a bad habit. I have always struggled to stop that. I think because it’s how my brain deals with anxiety and stress. Lord knows there is a lot of anxiety and stress in this world.

What other bad habits do I have? Social media. Which is funny. Before 2016, I didn’t have that habit. Five years ago, I refused to look at my phone on the weekends or at night. Gradually that faded. Starting around 2016, it became a habit. Maybe even an addiction. I’m trying to break that habit a little more too.

I don’t want to be fully disconnected but I don’t have to be that connected. I thought I was going to miss out on the news. Turns out somehow you pick that up by osmosis almost. There is so much information floating around, I don’t have to seek it out it. It finds me and sinks into my brain regardless. It’s weird. I’ve noticed that since I started weaning myself off of social media.

I’m still on there. I still look. But, at least for now, I don’t do it for the first hour of my day. That’s something. We gotta start somewhere.

Breaking bad ones is a hard job for me. It’s easier, I find, when we replace them with something good. But for many years — most of my life actually — I had no good ones. None. I’d try to eat healthy from time to time, but I wasn’t consistent. I’d try to do something creative or just something new, but I wasn’t consistent. So, it’s no surprise, most of those things didn’t stick.

Like I said, I always looked at habit, even the good ones, in a negative light. To me, a good habit — exercising, eating right, general self-care things — was too restrictive. It took time away from other things. It limited my freedom. I wanted to live instead of working out.

Lately, though, I’ve asked myself what are you doing with that freedom? Am I traveling more? Am I happier because of it? Am I enjoying things that I love?

No, I just had more time to sit on my ass. And that’s what I did. Sat on my ass. Plus, I felt worse about myself because I wasn’t eating right and I gained weight.

I started some time back incorporating yoga and exercise into my life daily. I also planned out my meals more and chose healthier foods to eat. I worked at these things until they became second nature. I don’t even really think about them … unless I’m creating a schedule. When I do that, those are the first things that I slot into the day. Those things must happen now. Trust me, that was never the case before.

I was recently thinking about the “best time of my life.” The time I was happiest and felt the best about myself. It was in my late 20s. Not because I was in my 20s, but how I lived my life. It was second nature to me then to have habits. To schedule. To plan things out.

I hate the idea of planning. It destroys all spontaneity. That’s the way I’ve always viewed it — even in my 20s. What I have gradually been learning though is that habits and planning help me. I’m happier. More productive. And believe it or not, freer and more focused on the things I love.

During my happiest days, I was a magazine writer/editor. Constant deadlines, how could that possibly be good? Those deadlines focused my efforts. I also felt like I was overall working for myself. Other than the pay, benefits and a little direction here and there, I was working for myself. I was assigned stories at the beginning of an issue and then I was let loose to get the work done. I had to be disciplined.

I didn’t think it was disciplined then. I was just doing my job the only way I knew how. I remember to this day. I would have four weeks. Each day was planned out. The first week was for interviews and research. I booked the interviews conducted interviews, did online research, and so on. The second week was transcribing tapes and beginning the stories. The third week was finishing up the stories (a draft anyway) and doing any follow up research I needed to do. I finished the stories and sent them to be reviewed. Made the last edits and sent them to design. Then it was production week. I had one or two down days during production week, but I often was getting started on the next issue.

But I had habits in place. A plan. A schedule. A pattern. A routine. All of those dirty words. I was happy. Not only was I happy, but during that time I would spend my lunch breaks writing a novel. A novel I never finished, but I worked on something that meant something to me. And I was able to go home and enjoy my evenings without any stress or worry.

My happiest time was my most habitual time. I just didn’t realize it was habits that caused the happiness. I’m starting to realize that again.

I’m doing more in the first three hours of my day — all for myself, too — than I have been doing in entire weeks in previous years. I’m trying to get in the habit of writing every day. Thus this blog. I’m exercising, eating right, meditating. I’m learning piano and reading every day. I’m looking for jobs every day. I’m studying to get my pilates certificate (or starting that process anyway). And I still have most of my evenings free.

I had to change my mind about habits. They don’t take away your freedom, they actually help you focus on it. That’s why successful writers have a schedule every day. That’s why they live the life we all want … or some of us anyway.

We have to stop looking at habits as a dirty word. I’m the worst at it, so I get it. But habits, planning, scheduling help you make time for what matters most to you. More importantly, it puts the focus back on you and how you spend your time.

Now, you may ask, how does this help make the world a better place? That is the purpose of this blog. Well, if you think about it, everything can be a habit. Just like everything is a choice. We choose to be happy or not. We choose to change or not. We choose to get pissed off while driving in traffic, or we don’t.

Once we choose, though, then habit is what sets it in stone. Without habit, it’s another item on the checklist. Habit makes it a life choice, not a to-do item. And that slight change in perspective can change everything.

We don’t add getting up and going to work to our daily checklist. We just do it. So why not make the things we need or want — like exercise, or eating right, or learning piano — a habit, too.

If we make it a habit to focus on ourselves. To take care of ourselves and be the best person that we can be. It’s less of a struggle. It becomes second nature. You don’t even think about it anymore. It’s just there. It’s like breathing.

If we all develop the habit of being good to ourselves, then we start to look outside ourselves and focus on spreading that love to others. That becomes a habit. A habit of bringing joy to the world. If the whole world then starts to develop the same habits, well, there you go. You just made the world a better place simply by forming good habits for yourself. Ponder on that for a little while.

Peace, y’all.

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