HABITS TO CULTIVATE
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to fit more good things into my daily life, and I think the most obvious way to do it is to make those things into habits. However, one problem I’ve been running into is lack of time: most of the things that I want to fit in require about 30 minutes each, the way I’ve envisioned them. So it seems like my options are either to settle for less time on each… or fewer habits to cultivate… or not to aim for daily habits, but rather a few times a week. I find the latter option pretty appealing, because there are some days where I just don’t feel like doing one thing or another. I suppose this might be a sign that I just need to force myself to do it anyway (maybe that’s how you actually make a habit? Force yourself to do it even when you don’t want to?) but I kind of want to try it anyway. (I’m a sucker for trying things that everyone says won’t work. And then they usually don’t and I keep trying them again anyway. Not sure what that says about me, but nothing particularly flattering, I guess.) Okay, so here are some of the things I’d like to fit in more often:
- In the “social” domain: spend an intentional 30 minutes answering messages from friends/family, rather than just answering things when they come up (if not urgent, obviously!) and/or procrastinating messages that seem like they’ll be long/effortful to write. I feel like I experience an inordinate amount of inertia with answering certain messages: I might love the friend/family member dearly, but for some reason if the message is long or if I’m not immediately sure how to word it, I find it kind of stressful and tend to procrastinate it. Conversely, if it’s a quick one, I’m likely to interrupt what I’m doing to run off and answer it and then potentially engage in a whole conversation, even if that isn’t what I intended to do with that time. Now, I don’t want to fully exterminate all spontaneity from my social life, but I feel like if I set aside a full 30 minutes at some point and intentionally told myself “okay, self, now we are going to sit in this comfy chair and connect with these lovely family members and friends for half an hour”, I’d find it more fulfilling and less distracting. I probably don’t need to do this every day (is that weird? Aside from a few people, like my mom and one or two best friends that I talk to almost daily, I find that most of my other friends and I have an almost more letter-like correspondence of super long messages that we leave days… or weeks… in between). Anyway. There it is.
- Self-improvement: I’d like to incorporate some non-fiction reading, or even some reading of great classics. I steamrolled through most of Dickens at ages 12 through 14. I could definitely do with a re-read there, because who knows what I actually got out of it at that age! (Also, why was I much more motivated as a tween than I am as an adult? (Hypothesis: probably because I had very little else going on at the time.)) Anyway. Additional motivating factor: my dad specifically recommended several non-fiction books to me recently, and I would love to go ahead and read them and then be able to talk them over with him. I have much more difficulty finding topics of conversation with him than with my mom, so this would be beneficial in a number of ways. This is one that I definitely don’t feel the need to fit in every day — even once or twice a week would be great.
- Self-improvement: writing. I’d like to bring writing back into my life on a near-daily basis, whether it be here in this blog, in a journal (I got a lovely new journal for the new year, after I finished out my old one recounting memories of 2020 to myself!), or working on other, more formal writing projects. I figure I can give myself grace on this one: even just a little journal entry would be a great start, to get those writing muscles going again. If I did that often enough, I bet it would organically progress into an increased level of comfort with tackling other projects. They key would just be to give it some space in my life…
- Exercise: So, at the height of the first lockdown last year, when here in Italy you couldn’t go more than 100 meters away from your place of residence without a signed form explaining what you were doing, I got into this habit of doing laps around my building complex for an hour (or more) in the afternoon, often in addition to a 30-minute workout video in the morning. Now, I’m under no illusion that 1.5 hours dedicated to exercise is going to fit into my life on a daily basis, unless I drastically re-imagine my life and probably eliminate or drastically reduce some of these other activities. However! Surely I could come up with a system where I either do the walk or the video in the morning, right? The trick is that this is partially weather-dependent and partially schedule-dependent (and, I can only imagine, will likely drastically change one day if/when I go back to working outside the home on a regular basis) but… I’m a moderately intelligent person; surely I can figure it out, right? Worth a try, anyway!
- Family life: teaching the Italian partner English. Yeah, so, everyone says it doesn’t work great when you try to teach your own partner English (or, I imagine, any other language). However… we’re probably not going to pay for him to have outside lessons right now (upcoming house purchase; pandemic) and we are spending quite a bit of time in each other’s company (pandemic), so… worth another shot? I vote yes. The key would very likely be to get on a solid schedule here, but since he works shifts and my workload is not especially regular either, that has proven challenging so far. However! We both do tend to more or less know our schedules about a week in advance. So maybe we could have a planning moment over the weekend sometime and plan 2-3 lesson times one week at a time? I think that might be the way to go. Will report back.
- Self-improvement: try a couple of new recipes each month, and repeat new recipes that we enjoy at reasonable intervals so that they become things I feel that I can reliably make without having to read the instructions in detail. I mean, I’m not saying I want to memorize all the recipes (unnecessary, I feel), but… like, know them well enough so that glancing over the ingredients/steps would more or less trigger a memory of how to do most of the things… unlike my current situation which is more like “oh, yeah, that one was good! Wait, so… how do you caramelize onions again?” Caramelizing onions is actually a great example: it was way simpler than I thought it would be, but it also was definitely a learning curve the first time, and I would definitely need to review the instructions before trying it again. I don’t need to memorize the whole recipe – I think the one it originally came up in was mujadara – but I’d like to at least remember how to reliably caramelize the onions. (Also, I should probably just always caramelize onions and put them on everything: they were freaking delicious.)
Corollary: when I feel I’ve reached the above level of comfort with a recipe, I can copy it into my recipe book! Also, I really need to make a table of contents for that recipe book. It’s in a very cute notebook, but it’s a freaking mess.
- Volunteering/activism: so, I already do spend a solid amount of time volunteering with the local ambulance service (I guess I’m the rough equivalent of a volunteer EMT? Not sure… I can’t administer any kind of drugs or do anything invasive, but I can immobilize the heck out of someone’s spine and ambu/ventilate like a champ). I’m really pleased with the level of commitment I’m able to maintain there (aiming for a lofty goal of 500 hours this year – I’ve hit it in 4 of my 7 years as a volunteer but only got to 425 hours last year despite the pandemic). That said, the past four years has shown me (and perhaps us all) that we need to take an active part in our democracy if we want to safeguard it from extremism and a variety of other things that I very much don’t believe in. So, in sum, I’d like to find a way to dedicate at least moderate-sized chunks of time to this somehow. Not sure exactly how, so far – write letters to senators? Is that too fourth grade? I really don’t know, but I’m hoping to figure something out!
- Bonus round! I’d like to be more intentional about reading instead of scrolling. Like, when I sit down to give myself a mental break, actively note the time, and be like, okay self, now you have 15 minutes to read. Enjoy it. Instead of floundering around scrolling through random stuff. Or alternatively, give myself those 15 mintues to scroll mindlessly, but know that I’ve consciously chosen to do that because that’s the level of non-brain-use that I want to engage in in that moment. Basically, I want to wean myself off of “okay, I’m going to read now, but first let me scroll through social media for a bit to settle down”. Because that honestly makes no sense. (Since when do I need to ‘settle down’ into reading?! I love reading! It’s practically my favorite thing to do! Yeesh.)
Okay! So there it is. 22 for 2021. Ha. We shall see how it goes.
Photo: My planner has arrived! Happy holidays to me! I indulged myself with some delightful pens and nifty highlighters, too and all of these things are already making me smile every time I look at them. Yay!