Habit – an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntarily
My word for 2020: HABIT
As 2020 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the year that was. A difficult year for all of us no matter where you find yourself in the world. For many it has been a year of loss and misery. A chapter that we all wish to close and start anew.
In 2019 I decided to choose a word that would guide me for the year – I opted for LIGHT which spontaneously sprung onto me. This was something I set out to do every year. On 1 January 2020 I selected HABIT as my word for the year. Little did I know how 2020 was going to pan out.
We all have habits – good and bad ones. Generally the negative behaviour patterns steals the spotlight. Be that as it may; actions and behaviours formulate good and bad habits.
A habit develops over time. It shapes us, turns into mannerisms that forms part of our character. Without us even knowing; these default behaviours becomes customely engraved in our daily routine and every facet of our life. That is how powerful a habit(s) can be.
Therefore 2020 was going to be the year to adopt good habits and get rid of a few bad ones. On the other hand; adopting new habits had to be beneficial, easy to incorporate and bring about positive change in my life. At the same time; my newly adopted habits had to set the foundation for the goals I wanted to reach.
But 2020 put a spanner in the works and things didn’t go according to how I planned it would be. In March, South Africa followed suit of so many others and a mandatory lockdown was declared. This was the start of me falling even deeper into my bad habits as boredom and procrastination set in. Bad news of COVID-19 formed a cloud of uncertainty and left me uninspired. I had no motivation and three months into the year I had barely given any thought to my word for the year.
This all changed in April when I opened up my journal to do my weekly entry. Strangely the journal opened up to where I wrote my word of the year – HABIT. It reminded me of the intention of this word. The guiding force behind it and the responsibility I had towards myself to follow through and become a better version of myself.
But building new habits is not that easy and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit put things into perspective for me. Habits consist of a three step loop – the cue, the routine and the reward. Our environment influences the cue or trigger. The routine is the action that will be taken to form the habit which provides you with some sort of satisfaction which is the reward. Understanding the habit loop helped me alter my behaviour. It also made me realise why I have cultivated these habits over the years. In some instances reshaping established habits was easier than completely replacing it with new ones. Controlling bad habits required a different approach. New routines and behaviour patterns took some practice and assisted me to shift things around.
Let me share with you how my word guided and inspired me to succeed.
In a previous post, I detailed how I started my weight-loss journey. But first let me start by saying that my bad eating habits started way before 2020 and escalated during lockdown. It was triggered by boredom and lounging on the couch. Knowing I had easy access to stockpiled snacks automatically made me crave for something to eat. The reward was finding pleasure in snacking which resulted in always wanting more.
My turning point came when I decided to follow the Keto diet. My cue changed to tracking my daily carb intake, followed by routinely prepping my meals and finally the reward of losing the weight. A decrease in carbs causes an imbalance in fluid and electrolytes and therefore my water drinking habits improved too.
Changing my eating habits automatically improved my sleeping habits. Previously my late night caffeine intake and snacking interfered with my sleeping patterns resulting in restlessness. Having a set cut off time for meal and fluid consumption as well as setting a relaxing bed time routine helped a lot. Instead of being on my phone or tablet, I read a book. Apart from the health benefits, an improved sleeping pattern makes me feel refreshed, puts me in a better mood and makes me more productive.
Cultivating an exercise habit is made up of effort and motivation. I am the first to admit that this is something that takes commitment and remains a challenge for me. Cultivating a habit to exercise was and is still is motivated by my husband. He really motivates me to get up and start my exercise routine whether it is a workout or walking. Although it is still something I constantly work at and damn difficult to maintain; I can assure you that the rewards are far better than the pain.
As social beings, social distancing had an impact on all of us. The cue for social habits is definitely connections and maintaining a strong connection with family and friends from a distance had its challenges. We had to unlearn the habit of hugging, shaking hands, showing affection and getting too close. However it made me appreciate my relationships with the people I care about even more. Thank goodness for technology that enabled social interaction with family and friends. Amidst all the bad, the silver lining was that this year definitely strengthened my relationship with my immediate family. Lockdown gave us the opportunity to spend quality time together. It allowed me to be present, pay attention, listen, learn and converse in meaningful conversations with my husband and children.
Greeting strangers when we go for walks is a practice that my family and I have been doing quite often and has now become a habit. Passersby will acknowledge with a response, others will ignore and that’s ok. The importance is showing courtesy and kindness to fellow citizens which I feel is lacking in our society.
My last day in the office was on 6 March 2020 and I only really started working again in May 2020. Working from home for almost 7 months was no walk in the park. It required discipline especially when I had to juggle two jobs and home life at the same time. Each demanded commitment and time management. I desperately needed structure. Setting a work schedule, organising and prioritizing work made a huge difference. Taking breaks and setting boundaries was imperative.
Zoom meetings became a daily occurrence – honestly I am still not a fan these type of meetings. Apart from this, working remotely helped strengthen work relationships by building trust and working as a team. Remote teaching had its challenges but I had a commitment towards my students to maintain a level of quality teaching under difficult circumstances. With hard work, determination and the necessary support, they managed to successfully complete the academic year.
COVID-19 has completely transformed my shopping habits. I have grown accustomed to shopping less. When I do go shopping, I don’t spend much time at the shops – just get what I need and leave. This also made me mindful of my purchase decisions. No more browsing which means no temptation to spend extra money.
2020 has really indulged my creativity. Journaling has become a habit. The cue is to prep and do my weekly layout on a Sunday afternoon. Followed by a routine daily entry. The reward is that it clears my mind, allows me to reflect, instills positivity, gratitude and makes me mindful of what is happening in and around my life. Another passion of mine is baking and this year I have combined my love for baking with photography. A skill that that I am mastering on a daily basis. Photography requires a lot of practice and I am by no means a pro but with continuous effort and commitment there has been a definite improvement in skill and technique.
During the second quarter of 2020 I craved for me-time. All of a sudden our home became an office and a school and I needed a sanctuary to escape to just breath. Cultivating a habit of just taking time for myself was so important. I had to make self-care a priority to keep my sanity. Even if that meant just sitting outside in the sun for 30 minutes on my own, taking a long bath, paint my nails or having a quiet space to read a book without being interrupted.
Compliance Driven Habits
Basic health and safety habits has been indoctrinated in our daily lives to protect ourselves and others. A year ago I would never have imagined that covering my face with a mask will be a normality. At first wearing a mask was uncomfortable but wearing it on a regular basis made it bearable. In addition, hand washing and sanitizing has become the order of the day to help curb the spread.
In conclusion, 2020 was a shitty year but it taught us so many important lessons about life and ourselves. If you didn’t learn anything; then sadly you didn’t take action. In all honesty, we learn when we change our behaviour.
So as we await 2021; let us build on the lessons and strive to do better.