Remember When You Said You Didn’t Have Time to Create a New Habit? Now You Do!

As we enter our who-knows-what-number week, I’ve noticed the world falling into clear groups.

There are the highly motivated people who started brand new businesses with nothing more than an Instagram account and a tube of lipstick—and will shortly list on the NY stock exchange. 

There are the former couch potatoes who have had their “come to exercise” moment. They’ve lost weight, whittled their waists, and now have arms worthy of a strapless dress on the Oscars red carpet. Their set-of-ten ‘Be Like Me’ motivational speeches are available for a mere $1 000—signed, of course.

There are the busy-bees who sew 1 000 CDC-approved masks before lunch and then bake enough banana bread for every nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital. #hearthands

There are the home-schooling mothers who have found their calling and will have their 11 year old triplets ready for their freshman year at Harvard—by this September. 

And then there are the rest of us. We range from those coping day-by-day to those standing in mismatched PJs at 3 in the afternoon, eating Nutella straight from the jar with a fork while naming the chipmunks on their lawn.  

We all react and respond differently, and no one can tell you that you are ‘doing it wrong.’ However, we all accept there are healthier and better options than adopting Nutella as a food group. No matter how we try to justify it, Carrot Cake is not a balanced meal, and just because your leggings feel super loose, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost weight—you just need to wash them.

What if we used this time to work on one or two very small behaviors?

Now I am not talking about anything drastic—who has the energy for that?—but, I think we will all feel better if we select one or two things that could stand to be improved and work on them.

Some suggestions:

Make your bed. The moment you get out of bed, turn right around, and make it. Most of us have the duvet/comforter arrangement, so it’s not like you need to take a tutorial on hospital corners. Fluff and straighten, that’s it. Within the first few minutes of the day, you’ve already achieved one thing.

Get out of your sleepwear. Don’t leave your bedroom until you’ve changed into day clothes. The first thing I put on after taking off my PJ’s is my workout gear. Set it out the night before, and then you have no excuse. Who knows, you may even work out. If you don’t own any workout clothes, this may be the time to rethink some of your life choices.

Eat more foods that haven’t been messed-around-with. Now, I am not going to lecture anyone about how to eat during a pandemic—heaven knows, somedays that bag of Fritos is the only thing stopping you from curling into a ball and howling—but aim for food that looks the same way it did when it started out. Does Coke grow on a tree? I think not. It can be tough to get fresh stuff when every grocery run feels like you are a Gladiator about to enter the lion-filled Colosseum, but try to put aside the packet of Oreos and microwave a sweet potato.

Practice breathing. I am not joking. As I’ve said before, I used to be an “air sipper.” It took quite a bit of practice—truly, I’m not joking!—but now I consciously take deep breaths. I found it easier to get into this habit when I was watching TV. Let’s accept, it’s pretty mindless so why not use the time to work on deep, calming breaths. If this doesn’t work for you, set your timer for every hour, then stop everything and take three deep breaths. Come on, we can all do that. It is immediately calming and reduces tension. Also, if you do it while video-conferencing, it makes you look wise. 

Get outside every single day. Yes, some people are in full-lockdown (shout out to all in South Africa) and live in apartments, but for most of us, there is somewhere to go that isn’t inside our own home. If you can dredge up the energy to run, jog, walk or stroll, do it. If that’s a bridge too far, then just ten minutes (without screens) sprawled on your front steps will work. 

Sleep in a cold, dark cave. Okay, this is a tough one so I saved it for last. 

Firstly, kick all screens out of the bedroom. (I can hear the gasps of horror.) Yes, that means TVs and laptops. And, to add insult to injury, don’t touch your cell phone for thirty minutes to one hour before you go to sleep. (And don’t pretend you are “just setting your alarm” we all know you checking your social media feeds.) But what am I going to do, you cry? One word: read. Yes, books printed on paper still exist, but a front-lit Kindle works too. 

Secondly, cover or block everything that emits light: those ultra-bright, cornea blasting, blue LED lights that tell you your humidifier, air-con, is on—because the low drone like the engine of a 747 isn’t clue enough. If you have light streaming through your curtains, train yourself to sleep with a sleep mask. (You don’t even have the excuse of it squishing your false eyelashes; those babies dropped off weeks ago.) 

Thirdly, regardless of where you live (southern or northern hemisphere) and regardless of the season, try to sleep in a room that registers 64’F or 18’C. Turn down the heat in your room, or open a window. Turn on the A/C, or even a fan, but keep it cool. If you need “white noise” (ice cubes clinking in a Margarita, baby whales giggling) have it set low. It took me years to work on all these areas, but the improvement in my quality of sleep was immeasurable. 

Let’s all accept, we are going to be living in this new normal for some time to come. Why not pick one small, do-able area you would like to improve and use this time to work on it. 

Be kind to yourself; there has never been a better time to practice some self-care. 

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