Making and breaking habits – what I’ve learnt from a year of challenges

beergarden
During no make up month!

Last September I took a month off the booze and then went straight from that in to a month of blogging every day.  It took me far longer than 30 days to write 30 blog posts  but a fire had been lit under me and I was hooked to the idea of a challenge every month.  I was setting up a new business and I knew I had to challenge my thinking, change the way I viewed myself and my place in the world and challenge myself every day if I was going to make this new life work.  So setting random challenges every month felt like a great way to get me out of my comfort zone and exploring the possible.

I had enjoyed the contrast of denial one month and then trying something new the next.  It added variety and made the challenges feel less of a year of hardship and martyrdom.  It took me a while to think of 6 things I could deny myself and 6 things to aim to do every day.  This is the list I ended up with:

In:

Blogging – tick already done, Meditation, Painting and drawing, Exercise, Morning pages, Cleaning (I didn’t decide on this one until it was upon me! And yes, for some of you, the fact that this was a challenge will seem unfathomable and icky)

Out:

Booze (done}, Meat, Sugar, Caffeine, Make up, TV

Once I had my list I just had to get cracking on it.  I started easy and cut out meat in November.  We don’t eat a great deal of meat in our house and I didn’t expect it to be difficult.  It wasn’t.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed with myself.  I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough and it didn’t feel like a challenge.  Lesson: make it hard.  Easy challenges are no fun and don’t achieve anything.

I knew December was going to be a tricky month for adding in.  It’s the most extra month of the year as it is.  I decided that it would have to be something that could really benefit me during silly season.  That’s how I decided on mediation.  In the crazy month of consumerism and excess, daily meditation could only help.  I didn’t meditate on Christmas day and I did miss a few days over the month but I pretty much stuck to it and it was a life changing experience.  Meditation is bloody amazing.  I do just 7 minutes a day.  I say do because I still do do it.  Not every single day and there are times when I will go long stretches without meditating.  Mistake.  It calms me, gives me perspective, energises me, makes me feel ready for the day and gives me more resilience during tricky times.  I use an app called Stop, Breathe, Think. It is free and super simple to use.  My go to meditation is Relax, Ground and Clear.  There is no better way to start the day.  This was more like it. This was the kind of life changing habit I was hoping these challenges would give me. 

So I didn’t go easy on myself in January. I gave up sugar.  Oh. My. Life.  I never used to be a sugar addict.  I developed a sweet tooth after having kids.  Sleep deprivation will do that to a person.  I can honestly say (with no pride whatsoever) that not a day goes by when I don’t eat sugar. Not a single day.  So this was a biggie.  I was terrified.  A whole month without sugar.  I actually didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it.  I read loads of articles about it before I started to give me an idea of what I was letting myself in for and to work out what I could and couldn’t eat.  Sugar is in bloody everything. I didn’t go totally purist.  I still ate fruit – don’t tell me that’s not good for me.  I cut down on refined white flour products but didn’t completely cut them out.  And the obvious stuff was banned.  Oh boy. That first week was SO tough.  I was irritable.  I had a headache most of the time.  I grudgingly ate nuts as a mid-morning snack and my morning coffee was just too bloomin’ wet.  But then something rather unexpected happened.  I found I was LESS hungry.  And I had MORE energy. I stopped wanting sweet stuff.  It took a week but my body totally shifted.  And on top of that my complexion was clear and, well, healthy looking! I had my healthy snacks in to get me through the day but I didn’t need them.   I had no idea how addictive sugar is and how much it was impacting me. I resolved to change the way I ate, bringing my sugar intake right down.  And  I would love to tell you I turned a new leaf and no longer eat sugar.  Pah.  It’s totally got me in its clutches again.  It’s only writing this now that I realise how much I’ve slipped back into dependency through the year.  I am back to having sugary food every day.  It’s sidled back in and got me back in its grip.  Time to stop again?…

The next two adding ins were tough to stick to: painting and drawing and exercise.  I love painting and drawing but never make time for it.  And I still didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I did more than I have done in years. And maybe that’s enough. It was great to reconnect with that part of my brain and just paint for fun.  It showed me that I can make time for things I want to do but feel I can’t squeeze in.  But not every day! And exercise was just too much for me.  Three times a week is my limit. I tried yoga apps and 15 min dance classes on YouTube but I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise every single day.  Hats off to those who can.  It ain’t me.

But the next two cutting outs were much more successful.  Caffeine and make up.  I was dreading caffeine.  Dreading it.  I LOVE coffee.  I have one cup a day and it is my morning hug to myself. I have a whole ritual around it. And I think tea actually runs in my veins.  It’s not so much a drink as a friend.  A place of comfort.  So why cut it out? That’s a question lots of people asked me.  And I did struggle to answer it. But the reasons were the same as anything else.  To see if I can and to see what difference it makes.  I managed it.  I honestly didn’t think I would.  But I did it.  And I learnt that decaf is actually pretty good.  I regularly trade it in now and don’t drink caffeinated tea in the evening any more.  But it certainly didn’t change the fact that I love tea and coffee.  Always have.  Always will.

Make up. This was one of the toughest.  I love make up. I hate my skin.  I had terrible adolescent acne and it stripped me of my confidence.  I’m still working on that! So to go out of the house every day without make up on just felt impossible.  Undoable.  The thought of going to see a client without make up on felt akin to walking in there in my knickers.  I do appreciate how ridiculous that sounds but it is the truth.  I don’t wear anywhere near as much make up as I did pre-kids.  I mean the school run and the supermarket do not require me to put my face on.  But pretty much any other situation would.  I love make up.  I love buying it.  I love trying new brands, new colours.  It makes me feel confident, done, ready.  And I knew from the huge resistance I was having to going bare that I had to do it. 

And guess what.  No one bloody notices.  No one notices. 

When I was walking in to rooms feeling naked with my bare face I started looking around me for the first time and wondering who was wearing make-up.  And I realised that not only did it make not a jot of difference to me or anyone else in the room, but that it had never crossed my mind before.  No one notices.  I never noticed (unless someone was sporting a particularly fetching shade of lippy).  So why did it matter so much to me?  I was hiding.  And I realised I just didn’t need to.  There was nothing to hide.  And that was a truly startling revelation. 

I still wear make-up.  I still love getting ready to go out and that involves putting on some cracking lippy.  But not every day.  And now I regularly see clients without make up on.  They don’t give a shit!  Of course they don’t.  Why did I ever think they did? 

I’m going to save the last two add ins for another post because they have become part of my new life routine.  Morning pages and cleaning (I know, exciting stuff!).  And I utterly failed the no TV challenge. Literally not a single day!

But what I have learnt, along with all of the above, is that it is much easier to take things out than to add them in.  That it takes a bit longer than 30 days to create or break a habit but only a bit.  That challenging yourself to look at those things that you do unthinkingly can have a surprising and valuable impact.  

I will keep challenging myself.  Maybe not every month.  But when I recognise the signs that I need to disrupt a habit and get myself thinking differently about something I will tackle it with a challenge.  This month that something is money.  No unnecessary spending.  I’m doing OK so far.  It’s the 1st Nov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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