Some people will say that I shouldn’t call my habits “bad.” They just…”are.”
But if you were inside my body and brain at the end of 2021, you would have FELT how bad my habits were for me. Truly bad. As in, if my habits were my friends, you’d be telling me to kick them to the curb, they were so bad for me.
And I own these bad habits. I started them, and I let the good ones go.
Decent eating habits became “Oh crap, I forgot to eat again. No wonder I’m in such a bad mood.”
Healthy sleeping patterns became “Okay, this is the LAST night I stay up past midnight.”
Happy communication habits became “Can I just hide and NOT talk to anyone for an undefined period of time?” This one is really weird, because I’m an extrovert who loves chatting away on Messenger, Zoom, and email. (I have a fear of the telephone. I blame working in retail years ago for that.)
Exercise habits…well, actually, I maintained good exercise habits throughout 2021, and there’s a reason I stayed the course with those. I’ll get to that in a sec.
So what if I let my healthy habits slip? For some people, none of this would matter. Going with the flow is their jam, and being stuck to routines just plain sucks. It’s harder to establish habits than it is to go with what the day gives them. That’s cool for anyone who can thrive the waves of irregularity.
I, however, thrive on routine (I’m a Capricorn), and reasonable self-care habits, like eating nourishing food throughout the day, and getting enough sleep on a regular schedule.
By the fall of 2021, it was becoming abundantly clear to me that I had let some unhealthy habits slip in, one by one. I had been pushing things too hard, for too long, and the ball was going to drop soon. And this ball that was going to drop? This was a heavy medicine ball that was about to drop hard, and with the ugliest thud I’ve ever heard.
I was frustrated with myself, because after getting shingles in 2016 at the age of 40 years, plus a series of other maladies in the span of that same month I developed shingles, I swore to myself that I would never push my energy to the brink again.
Well, COVID happened, I could drop my mic right there.
While I’m so thankful that I maintained business contracts, the industries I was working in – arts administration and accounting – were both hit hard, and for different reasons. Artists and arts organizations went into survival mode, while it was all hands on deck in the accounting industry as bookkeepers and accountants navigated the ever-changing subsidy programs on behalf of our clients. I managed all of this very well, but this also meant that I was in a constant reactive state and doing what had to be done NOW, instead of a homeostatic state that I prefer, in which I can create a workplan and stick with it.
I know I’m not the only one who struggled like I did. In fact, this was, and still is, the norm. If you weren’t going stir-crazy thanks to lockdowns, feeling worried or grieving for your loved ones who fell ill, or feeling ultra-stressed about your financial situation, you may have felt a constant low-lying anxiety because of all things COVID, and the darkness that finally came to light on so many other matters.
A year and a half into the pandemic, It was as if everything I had set up to establish strong boundaries went to hell, and I didn’t see a point in putting a lot of energy into gathering it all back together because who knew what was coming around the corner?
I crossed my own time boundaries so many times that I started to feel like I may as well NOT have wasted my energy setting those boundaries in the first place. I was letting healthy habits go and replacing them with spur-of-the-moment decisions that developed into unhealthy habits, such as:
- Little to no attention given to when my next meal would be, and what that meal would even BE. This meant that I spent a lot of 2021 hangry. I wasted a lot of energy on worrying and feeling angry when I could have nourished myself in a way that allowed my emotions to remain more even-keeled.
- Going to bed late. I’m a night owl by nature. When left to my own devices and schedule, I often stay up until 12:30 am and wake up between 8:00 or 9:00 am. I really like this pattern, but I’m a mom who needs to get my kids to school in the morning. And I like to get my work day started at the same time of my colleagues and clients. In 2021, I let one or two late nights turn into a week of late nights, and then I was done for. This meant tired, cranky mornings, which were often exacerbated by migraines induced by sleep deprivation and the anxiety that was born from less sleep and hangry-ness. Please don’t ask me how many mornings I dropped my youngest daughter off upset because I had yet another grumpy morning. (It wasn’t a lot of mornings, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t like who I was.)
- I wanted to get into fights on Facebook. Seriously. While I was pretty good about writing angry posts, but never clicking on “post,” I spent many an evening generating stress hormones with my frustration and anger about what other people were saying about, well, everything. (2021 was a YEAR, right?). I also started to follow TikTok-ers’ beefs with each other. (I mean, Modern Warrior. He’s got stuff to say. Am I right?) Obviously, this was all a distraction from what was really happening in my life, which was that I was anxious and feeling overwhelmed mostly about client work.
- I worked late, and worked early. Working late just plain sucks, especially because I’m a part-time solo mom who needs wants to be available to my kids and spend quality time with them and keep up with household responsibilities, AND have some free time, for goodness sake. And working early, well, this is a funny one. For a good many months I was waking up, pouring myself a caffeinated bevvie, and then opening my laptop on my computer, still wearing my PJ’s, teeth sometimes unbrushed (I admit it), and working this way until 11:00 or 12:00 am. Just…yuck. I was skipping breakfast, scrambling to make up for clients’ frequent late submissions by “squeezing in” their files between other work. (Everybody was struggling to get stuff done last year.) By noon, I would feel gross, I would be hangry (there’s that word again), and my anxiety would be skipping circles around me, making me feel like no matter what I did, I would never catch up.
By November of 2021, I had burned out.
As my husband says, stick a fork in me because I was DONE.
I was tired.
I was seeing the world through tunnel vision (that’s a sign I’ve learned to recognize and acknowledge).
I was sleeping A LOT. I am not a napper, for the record, and yet I was spending weekends napping and sleeping in, and I didn’t care that I was wasting so much of my day away. Again, weird.
The good news is that by this point I knew that I couldn’t sustain everything that I was trying to do, so with some loving encouragement from my husband who saw how miserable I was, I decided it was time to change how I ran my business and what work I was doing in that business. Coaching became my main focus, and I started to let my accounting clients go. It was hard, and it was necessary.
In the same month, I started to pay attention to my habits, and my radar was keeping an eye on where my personal and work boundaries needed tightening up. I committed to building new habits in 2022, and started practicing in November and December in the lead up to the new year. Make no mistake: These are not resolutions; rather, I am intentionally paying attention to what I AM doing, and also to what I’m NOT doing.
This is what my new habits are looking like:
Saying “no” way more than I say “yes.” This one’s hard, it can make me feel guilty, AND with continued practice it won’t be the big deal it used to be. This, of course, is the sister habit to “speaking up for myself,” and “asking for what I need,” which have become easier habits once I became adept at identifying when someone might be trying to invalidate my feelings, gaslighting me, or guilt-tripping me. That’s a whole other conversation and I digress. Saying “no” is fast becoming my favourite habit because, paradoxically, declining one thing opens up so much more opportunity.
- Bedtime: Like I wrote above, early to bed. No electronics after 9:00. I’m working on this. It’s hard. And I will continue to be kind with myself when I have a late night.
- Morning routine: This one has been interesting, and why I had to choose dark winter morning to start this, I don’t. However, I’m creating habits that give me a bit more breadth so that I can go with the flow while still meeting my intention of gently waking up my brain with some stimulating activity. This means I choose to meditate, read or journal, or a combination of these, depending on what I need. I’ve also scheduled my breakfast and shower at 7:30 am every morning. I am blown away by how effective having this in my calendar is! I love my mornings now. They’re quiet, they’re nourishing, and my family gets the best of me in the morning. The best part is that I’m ready to bring my best self to my work and clients by 9:15, and I can end my work day by 3:30.
- Exercise: I’m a natural non-exerciser. I’ll admit it. This is why I have accountability partners in my corner. In one of those corners is my virtual trainer Susan Dawson. Over the past 4 years, Susan’s put me through the paces on a weekly basis. As much as I don’t love the sessions, I LOVE Sue, and I’m so thankful for the knowledge she imparts to me so that I can work with chronic pain issues and gain strength. In the other corner is my friend Breanne Dyck, whom I’ve walked with several times a week for the past year and half, barring forest fire smoke, total lockdowns, vacations, ice (I hate walking on ice), and illness. Because I don’t want to let these two women down, I exercise at least 4 to 5 times a week, and I am so thankful for their motivation. I know it makes a difference in how my body, brain and spirit feels.
- Eating: In short, at the end of 2021 I hired a dietician to help me create a new menu that would just make life easier for me, thank you very much, and help me create more energy for myself. I now have a wickedly wonderful meal plan that makes knowing which ingredients to have on hand so flippin’ easy. Game-changer. My body is VERY happy with me. I feel fortunate as well that I don’t feel a pull to drink alcohol. In fact, being migraine-prone, I usually avoid it, so drinking is one habit I don’t have to amend. (If you’re wondering, I do enjoy the odd G&T made with artisanal gin and premium tonic. Yum!)
- Mindfulness: I’m a coach, so of course I would mention mindfulness, right? But truly, this is a skill I continue to develop. I’ll never get it perfect, but I can get to “regular” and “effective.” It helps that I continue professional development in this area and have new tools to explore on a constant basis when it comes to being as mindful as possible and creating safe spaces for myself, my family members, my clients, and my friends.
What do I hope the results will be from my dedication to my new and revived habits?
What the heck am I gonna get outta this?
- A general feeling of calm which will result in even better focus and healthy relationships. (Even at my most anxious, I still manage to get stuff done. It’s weird, but it’s not sustainable.)
- Continued results for my coaching clients thanks to my own emotional regulation supporting theirs. (Co-regulation. It’s a cool thing.)
- A sustainable level of good energy that helps me navigate my day without the ups and downs that come with little sleep and poor nourishment.
- Learning more, including more proficiency on my piano keyboard so I can confidently rock out with my band.
- Having fun, plain and simple. We’re not put on this earth to work ourselves to the bone. I want to enjoy my time here, and have such gratitude for everything I have and know.
I’m wrapping myself up in good habits.
I see these healthy habits as friends who only want the best for me, who are cheering me on. My habits are like friends I’ve hand-selected because I know and trust that they are the best things for me, and by extension, for my family, friends and clients. And when I don’t follow a habit, or struggle with keeping the good habits on board, they’re okay with that because they know I’m trying my hardest.