When old habits and compulsions edge into newly-won territory, this is what I'm doing about it
For so many of us coming out of quarantine, or at least for now, we might have noticed that we've developed some habits which don't serve. Whether that's less movement or poor eating habits, it makes no difference. Right about spring time we in the Northern Hemisphere start taking stock. Sometimes all we have to do is look south, and if our toes aren't visible, that's message enough. That's another article, so stay tuned.
This is different.
This is about when you and I make real progress in an area where we realize we need to make changes, whether it's diet or exercise, or carving out quiet time. Then, sheer force of old habit causes us to default to what we've always done. Sometimes we don't even notice it, it's so insidious.
Other times, like reaching for that Snickers bar as we are in the checkout lane even as we think "I really shouldn't be doing this." We just succumb, because it's easy.
Here's what happened to me last week, and what I did about it, for what it's worth.
This past New Year's Weekend I initiated a commitment to Oregon's gorgeous scenery. I spent three days in Lincoln City, watching the King Tides roll in and smash the rocks. It was my first actual stay since 1990 or so, when my then-husband and I drove the entire coastline.
The purpose was to establish a brand new habit. My social media expert and I had discussed taking Hump Days every week, just to get myself out of the office. I have a terrible habit of working eighty-hour weeks, always have, and those have cost me the delight of exploring wherever I've lived. I said NO MORE.
So since then, I have taken Wednesdays to explore the coastline. I have found nooks, crannies, and new friends. Restaurants with great crab cakes and small shops with gorgeous sourdough bread, and an owner whose big Black Lab runs to meet me when he hears my voice., I have slowly but surely explored parts of the shore to find my favorites, and have fallen in love with my state, as I had hoped.
When I went for a Hump Day hike recently with a new friend, I also started planning to add hikes to those days. While that's a lovely way to spend the day, what I didn't notice was that almost overnight, Hump Days became Training Days.
That isn't what they are for. They are for exploration, joy and discovery, not for work alone.
So last Sunday, I hiked a very hard eight-miler, and it kicked my butt. Tuesday night I could barely sleep for some reason, but I loaded up my backpack and gear for my training hike and drove to the coast anyway. To do another hard hike.
That's mission creep.
About two miles out of Veneta, a small town about twelve miles west of Eugene, I pulled over. The morning's light rain was coursing down the windshield, and my eyes were burning from lack of sleep. I almost turned around.
If I had, I'd have spent the day working. Not the point.
At that moment I realized what I'd done. I was turning my precious Hump Days into work days, which is precisely the opposite of what they're designed for.
I continued to the coast. Had breakfast at my favorite cafe in Florence. Then I lodged myself at three different beaches over the course of the day. I was so tired that I had to take periodic naps in my car, but the rest of the time I simply sought people out.
I'd make a joke about their dog or their kids, and half an hour later we'd still be talking. I met a woman from Montana with a red Australian Heeler. A couple from Boise on a road trip, hoping to find a place to live nearby. A gay couple from Eugene with a rescue dog bounding in the sand.
The only muscle I really exercised was my conversational skill and my interest in other people.
I didn't work out. I just spent the gorgeous sunny day meeting people, petting their puppers, taking in the sunshine and the sounds and smells of the sea. Sat on rocks and watched the waves break.
That's as good a muscle as any.
The other muscle was to stop mission creep. I am not going to turn my beloved Hump Days into just another hard core workout day. It's fine to take a hike, but I don't want my mid-week exploratory day to take a hike in the process.
Progress made is progress that deserves to be protected. I am fighting a lifetime of compulsions, and the feeling that if I'm not working hard, I'm not valuable. Taking Hump Days just for me was, and continues to be, part of valuing my own time, my joy in being alive, loving this new state and meeting new people. While I do indeed meet folks on my hikes, it's far more a statement of doing the hike for joy, not just for the Kilimanjaro climb in the near distance.
So I have a question for you: those of you who have made real progress in changing habits, what do you do when you notice yourself sliding backwards? How do you put an alarm into place which allows you to put the brakes on and redirect?
What advice do you have for the rest of us who are always and forever trying to improve, and invariably hitting a wall or a detour, like that Snickers bar?
Please kindly comment, and I'll put those into another article. Meanwhile, I am planning to take my beloved friend Sonja to Lincoln City next weekend, my first houseguest, so that she can also fall in love with what I already treasure.