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The way we build and break habits endlessly fascinates me.
When I read The Power of Habit last year, something shifted. I stopped worrying that a fleeting (and sometimes not so fleeting) desire for a drink would turn into an actual drink. This book helped me to pay more attention to what my brain was doing, and appreciate what it could do, while I continued to “re-wire” it with new habits. It helped me be more patient with myself, and my progress.
Unfortunately, I mostly forgot about the power of creating new habits this year. Mostly, but not completely.
I started this blog to talk about recovery, but I won’t always write specifically about alcohol, or about how to quit drinking or stay sober in this or that situation. There is so much more going on in recovery (for me).
Enter: Project GYST (Get Your Shit Together)
I’ve been conducting various experiments for the past few weeks as part of what I call Project GYST (Get Your Shit Together). Although a quick Google search tells me I’m not the first one to put that acronym together, it’s how I think about these little steps that I’m thinking.
At the beginning of this year, I was pretty overweight. I was heavier than I was at 9 months pregnant with each of my children, and it freaked me out. The number on the scale may not be the only indicator of health, but it’s a decent gauge for me.
There’s more, though. It wasn’t just my weight, it was everything. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was addicted to social media and refreshing those little apps. My eating habits were atrocious. Binge eating just about every day on autopilot, tons of processed sugars and fast foods. Every meal was junk, and I mean that. For months.
I’ve been anxious, depressed, worn out, stressed out, and overwhelmed. I have stayed sober (barely, at times), but there’s more to life and recovery than just not drinking. I got tired of barely hanging in there and using God as a last-ditch lifeline without consistently working on improving my habits.
Thankfully I’m a total self-improvement nerd, and always have been. Starting around age 15, I began regularly reading books like The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (both for adults and teens) and others in that genre. That was in addition to my regular fiction reading, Bible reading, shampoo-bottle reading, whatever I could get my hands on, of course.
Daily and consistent improvement is a very important principle to me. I guess I’d call it a core value.
This year, I’ve binged on books like Atomic Habits, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Deep Work, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain, and more like these. My Audible account is getting a serious workout.
As a result of nerding out on this stuff, I’ve been obsessing over habits again. When you regularly read self-improvement books and listen to all of the podcasts and such, you start to see the patterns. Everybody has different ways of explaining these principles, but at the foundation, it’s all the same: better habits. They seemed like the easiest thing to change on a daily basis, so I focused my attention there.
One habit, or a few small and simple steps taken one day at a time, make a huge difference.
These are 3 that have helped lay the foundation for even better habits:
Habit #1 – Putting my phone in the other room at night.
I use my phone as my alarm, so I have to get out of bed to turn it off. I started this to force me out of bed in the mornings (5-5:30am, usually), but the side benefit is also that I don’t spend any time scrolling mindlessly in bed. Even when I first get out of bed and go turn the phone off, I don’t check social media, email, or anything else for a while. Sometimes up to an hour or longer, depending on my workout and schedule for the morning.
As a side note, I also removed the Facebook app from my phone. I haven’t sworn off Facebook, but I made it harder to check (via Safari if I really want to), and that keeps me from mindlessly checking it throughout the day. It’s made a big difference in my focus and anxiety levels, I think.
When I first started doing this, I used the early morning as a time to just get myself up and ready for the day in peace and quiet. No rushing around, no stress. Now I work out, shower, have breakfast, and get the kids to school with little to no rushing. It helps that my kids are old enough to get themselves 99-100% ready in the mornings, too.
I also have an old-school digital clock that I use by my bed just to see the time, and I set that alarm in addition to the one on my phone.
Habit #2 – Paper journaling (almost) every night.
I’ve written in my paper journal almost every night for a couple of months. Sometimes it’s just a paragraph, sometimes it’s 3-4 pages of intensity, but I try to write something just about every day. My eventual goal is for this to be a daily habit. This is usually what I reach for after I’ve put my phone away, but I need to unwind my brain before I can fall asleep. I write a few sentences about what went on during the day, a goal I’m working on, something interesting my kids said, whatever. No real format, and I admit they’re probably super boring, but I’m good with that. It helps ground me and make me sleepy.
The Sober Journal is also a habit tracker, so that could also be a really useful tool.
Habit #3 – Making my bed every morning.
I get up, turn off the alarm, go to the bathroom, get dressed for the gym (before I started going to the gym, I’d get straight in the shower), and before I leave my room in the morning, I make the bed. It helps that my husband wakes up with me, of course. There’s a whole lot of stuff out there about the benefits of making your bed, and I can agree with it. It keeps me from crawling back into the covers, and it makes me feel more like I have my crap together. Winning.
Really, this is simple stuff.
Even just putting my phone in the other room has completed changed my bedtime routine, quality of sleep, quality of my mornings, anxiety levels, it’s just crazy.
There are really great habit tracking products out there, but I just use a wall calendar. Right now, I’m using it for tracking my exercise habits, but you can use trackers for just about anything. I like to keep things simple.
Hopefully this posts helps you do the same as far as creating new habits are concerned. It feels a little weird to toot my own horn about better habits, but I’m pretty passionate about it so I guess I’ll get over that. It’s ok to get all excited about improving your life, after all. Nobody else is going to do it for us, right?
I’m currently working on a daily exercise habit, and a self-education habit (at the moment, I’m working on learning photography with a “real” camera, finally). There are small steps and larger steps in these, but I’ll write about that in my next post.
I’d love to hear about your own journey with self-improvement, so feel free to drop a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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