Of habits, routines and systems
February 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
Apparently it takes a month to learn a bad habit but three months to instill a good one. The last few years have been a time of habit breaking and making but I have been too focussed on the practicalities and effects of changing habits to worry about counting days, weeks or months. One thing I have learnt is that fun new routines make it a lot easier to break bad habits. The other is that distilling hopeful wishes down to true motivation makes all the difference to whether a new habit sticks or not.
For example, the smell of garlic sizzling in the pan has an uncanny way of waking up my taste buds and tempting me with the suggestion of a dry sherry or drop of wine. On a bad day it takes resolve to ignore them. That was until I moved my runs and workouts to early evening. Not only does my body crave water and food after a sweat-inducing sprint, spinning class or mile on the rowing machine, it physically cannot stomach the acidity of alcohol after a cardio session.
Similarly, whilst I am still very much a night owl, my bedtime has steadily shifted from well past midnight to crawling into bed by 11.30pm. Part of me still loves the idea of squeezing in an extra hour of reading or writing but I definitely feel healthier after an early night and these days, feeling healthy is the main priority!
Routines and systems are also important for galvanising habits into a busy schedule. Writing out a weekly menu and shopping list on Saturday morning directly influences how nutritious our diet is and how little waste we produce. Similarly, whilst I shall never be the tidiest soul on earth, simple, workable systems like a shoe rack and hooks on the back of doors means the house does not look like a permanent bomb site.
In the last couple of weeks I have been particularly conscious of the importance of habits, routines and systems. After a thoroughly enjoyable two-year interlude I have returned to work. My commute is certainly not the worst in the world and the hours are nothing like those I worked in law, but the days are still long and my energy levels are taking a hit.
New routines will inevitably develop to accommodate working life again. I suspect I will have to move mid-week runs to the morning and my blogging to lunchtime if I want to continue to enjoy these non-work activities. And as I am commuting nearly two hours a day, the laundry sequencing and holding patterns will need to be managed even more carefully to ensure a ready supply of clean, dry working clothes that still meet my strict environmental laundry credentials.
Although there is a reschuffle of routines on the horizon, I am definitely falling back on habits and systems to stay true to my priorities and values.
Now I am in the habit of putting (most) things back in their place, I am able to shave minutes off my morning routine, meaning precious extra time with Mr M and Dante before the working day. Thanks to the weekly menu, shopping list and my Sunday bake fest I can make a little efficient cooking serve multiple meals and provide us with plenty of wholesome lunches. As a result we can continue to avoid mayonnaise loaded sandwiches and over-packaged salads with meat or fish of dubious origins. And our system of bins, buckets and miscellaneous receptacles is proving to be a most efficient waste/resource management system, allowing us to limit our black bag waste with minimal effort.
Although adapting to my new reality will doubtless involve a triage of activities and a reassessment of priorities, the lost art of housekeeping will remain a fixture in my life! This does not mean the house will be spotless or that I am ripping up my views on the emancipation of women. Rather, housekeeping is the hub around which my health, ethical and environmental principles revolve (in the same way that home economics is the starting point for my wider musings on a sustainable economy). In this context, habits, routines and systems are hardly the dull processes for living life on autopilot but the pistons and valves of the engine that makes sense of and integrates many of my values.