In light of my recent post about how I’m finding the more reflective, pensive posts the most enjoyable to write, I thought I’d experiment with sharing my monthly reflections and intentions.
I’ve been doing monthly retrospectives in my bullet journal on and off for years, and I find them incredibly helpful for taking a more intentional approach to life. Some months I take a very analytical approach, calculating percentages and hours spent to evaluate success, while other months I take a more reflective approach, thinking about my general impressions of the past month and what went well or didn’t go well. For April, the key lies in my habits.
At the beginning of April, I decided I wanted to focus my habit tracking on just two core areas of my life. Over the course of the month a couple of unrelated mini habits snuck in, and what I’ve found is that those habits are the ones that are the easiest to maintain.
For instance, one of my daily habits is to do one push up. It took me, literally, 21 months of regular weight lifting to do a single push up with perfect form. Now that I can do them, I don’t want to lose the skill, so every morning when I get up I do a push up.
It is incredibly easy to do this every day because it takes all of two seconds to do a push up (as long as my cat doesn’t sit underneath me, of course!). It’s become habit as part of my morning routine, and I haven’t missed a day, not even when I was sick with a cold earlier this month.
Other habits have not been so effective. In particular, I’ve been struggling with the nutrition-based ones, and I think this is because they require me to think about them throughout the day.
I had three food-based habits for April: eating a full serving of veg at both lunch and dinner, eating a full serving of protein at lunch or dinner, and eating only when hungry rather than out of boredom or other emotions. I didn’t expect any of these to be things I did 100% of the time, but I was hoping for the majority of the time.
I think there are a couple issues here. For the veg and protein consumption, much of it comes down to a lack of a cooking habit. I tend to view cooking as a chore, which makes it particularly easy for me to take a screw-it approach after a long day at work and instead forage in the fridge. I have a solid meal planning routine, but my ability to follow the plan leaves much to be desired.
So for the month of May, following through on cooking and preparing food is what I’ll focus on instead. I’ll retain an awareness of my nutritional goals while I plan, but I’ll also leave room for the things I’m excited to eat that don’t fit into those goals, because that makes it the easiest to follow through with my cooking.
In terms of eating only when hungry, I often found myself looking at my tracker in the evening and asking, ‘Did I do this today? I can’t remember.’ In other cases, the entire day was a wash because I had a creme egg after dinner. Appetite and emotional hunger are a spectrum, and while I want to curb my tendency to eat as a proxy for handling my emotions, I want to leave room for indulgences as well.
Ultimately, I think that a habit tracker is the wrong place for this for me. There’s far too much to unpack to simply tick a box or leave it blank. Instead, my goal for May is to tune into my cravings and appetite a little bit more. When I feel the urge to eat when I’m not hungry, I’m going to try to journal about it first. I may still choose to eat the food, but I want to be clear on my thoughts and feelings surrounding it. Of course, there are situations where journalling wouldn’t be appropriate, but my hope is that by journalling when I have the opportunity it will be easier for me to invoke a similar thought process without physically writing.
The other area I wanted to focus on in April was my fiction writing. I’ve long found that writing in the morning before work is the best way to slowly chip away at the beast that is a novel, so in April, after something of a dry spell, I recommitted to writing every morning.
Reader, it was a struggle to get back into this book. I felt like I didn’t know my characters or their world, and every morning it was like pulling teeth. I set myself an easy goal – just 15 minutes – but every morning I would procrastinate until I only had 15 minutes left before I had to get ready for work. I’d bash out a couple hundred words and then rush off to work.
Weekends were even more ludicrous. Last Friday I spent the better part of a day ‘writing’. In reality, I spent 44 minutes drafting a blog post and goodness knows how many hours faffing about. By the evening I was exhausted from the low-grade stress of my brain constantly telling me to get off Twitter and get to writing.
That was the last straw. By Monday I had decided that I was going to write first thing in the morning, no excuses. So far I’ve kept to that, and my word counts have gone up while my stress levels have gone down.
I should point out that I don’t literally write first thing in the morning. I wash my face, make a cup of tea, and do my daily push up first, but as soon as I turn my computer on I dive straight in. I’m not allowed to do anything else until I’ve completed my 15 minutes of writing.
The problem here is not restricted to my morning writing sessions, of course. I have a long-established habit of turning on my computer to do one thing, and then going ‘Oh, I’ll check Instagram/Twitter/the news while I’m at it’. An hour later and I’ve either forgotten what I was meant to be doing, or I’ve spent an hour with a knot in my stomach ‘relaxing’ on social media while reminding myself I really ought to do XYZ.
So for May I’m taking this a step further. Not only am I going to continue writing first thing in the morning – even on weekends – but I’m going to break the habit of ‘checking in’ on my favourite sites every time I pick up my computer. If I’m on my computer to write, I write. If I’m on my computer to edit photos, I edit photos. Etc.
At the other end of the workflow, there’s compulsively checking these same sites after I’ve finished whatever it is I picked my computer up to do, as a ‘reward’ for having gotten my task done. The better reward, of course, is doing something actually enjoyable rather than mindlessly opening Instagram in the hopes of a new post. I have no intention of cutting out these sites entirely, but I do want to avoid the reward mentality. If I want to check Instagram on a Saturday morning, after working on my novel, and I haven’t done so since Friday, then I can. If I want to check it again after paying off my credit card, and again after doing my meal plan, then that’s a problem.
I think that I’ll notice the difference in this the most at the weekend. Many a day has been spent on my computer ‘writing’, but in fact just creating more and more stress as I watch the hours slip away while constantly reminding myself that I ought to be writing. By the end of the day, there’s never any willpower left for housework or other tasks.
On the whole, May is shaping up to be a month of questioning my intentions. Instead of white-knuckling my way through, I want to spend more time reflecting on my bad habits so that I can understand why I’m choosing things that add stress rather than enjoyment to my life – or, more accurately, understand when these choices add stress rather than enjoyment, because nothing is so black-and-white.
Here’s to a month of reflection and introspection.