In discussion with a small group yesterday about goal-setting and how to set direction without distraction, we circled, at one stage, around the subject of habits.
I noticed that, as each of us used examples from our own lives about things that we were doing, they fell into two big categories:
1. HABITS THAT EVOLVE FROM WHAT WE ALREADY DO
This is like my own experience of intermittent fasting. Over the years, especially when I started to work from home and could set my own schedule, I’ve tended to start eating later in the day. It felt more natural to have two meals a day; it wasn’t a prescription, it wasn’t intentional, it just evolved.that way.
At some point I came across a name for it — intermittent fasting. I started to read around, gain some knowledge, and download an app (actually the downloading of the app was accidently but that’s another story!)
I noticed, though, that the app helped me be less inclined to snack later in the evening and that felt like a good thing… again there was no ‘decision’ here, no need to call up my will-power, just an evolution and a noticing. I could say more but the point isn’t about my eating habits, it’s to point to the natural flow of something, and how we can, if we want to, add a little structure to something that is already there. And, of course, we don’t need to if we don’t want to — I won’t stop knowing how to eat if I don’t use an app!
I am noticing a pattern which has evolved from what feels natural, and which will continue to evolve…
There were other examples in the group yesterday, someone who had been waking earlier and noticed this was a good time to get a little quiet work done — so he made it more intentional, and it became what we would call a ‘habit’ — exactly as I had done, and that you no doubt do as well.
We find ourselves doing more of what seems to work — completely naturally.
And then, circumstances change and the ‘habit’ doesn’t fit any more — this happens too. When I travelled last year, a completely different eating pattern emerged for me, and my early riser friend’s circumstances also changed and, no doubt, his day will arrange itself to find a new pattern.
I want to emphasise the part about change because we sometimes set out on a path imagining that the habit is the goal, and it would be sacrilege to let it go, whereas I think it’s more like a continuing evolution in the direction of what life has in store for us.
Why would we become a slave to the habit when the joy, surely, is in living life?
2. HABITS THAT ARE PURE EXPERIMENTS
The second big bucket of examples I noticed we brought up fall into what I like to call ‘experiments’ (I love an experiment!).
The call itself is a perfect example of this. I had an idea to do a few live calls, I don’t really have a plan other than a feeling it would be nice to get into conversation with you, and so I wrote down some topics, set up some event pages and we’ll see how it goes.
I don’t know what’s next but I know that I’ll know when I need to. For now, I’m setting up ‘a few’ (an undefined number but I could just as easily say to myself that I’ll do it for three months, or six, or whatever feels like enough time to see if something has some life of its own. Or not.)
And we all do this, even if we don’t call it an ‘experiment’ — we have a good idea, or we hear something that resonates, that we haven’t been doing, and we go play and see whether we like it. We might have a more or less fixed timescale and we’re aware, at least subtly, that we’re kinda testing.
Another participant on the call yesterday had done something similar with a sleep experiment. She had an idea, and she thought she’d try out going to bed earlier and sleeping until she woke up naturally.
She wasn’t setting this up as,
I’m going to do this for the rest of my life because I heard it was a good idea!
It wasn’t a long term target for her — a ‘resolution’ as we call them at the turn of a year — it was pure playfulness, pure experimentation, pure ‘zero-expectations-turn-a-new-page-and-see-what-happens’.
I don’t think we do enough of this… the playfulness, the experimentation, the adaptation to what feels fun, easy, and helpful for us.
Do What Works
I’m not saying we need habits or that we should have them — I’m a huge advocate for doing whatever occurs to you and not constraining yourself with too many rules. We are designed for life, no need to ‘manage’ the process, or consciously create a single habit. Ever!
Unless the structure of choosing to do things a certain way without attachment or expectation, or to use a certain device to support you, is helpful.
If it occurs to you as a good idea to try out, or you notice that a certain pattern seems to suit you and you want to add a bit more structure for as long as it continues to fit, then go ahead and play.
Life is creativity in action and, sometimes, creativity wants to design a game with a set of fixed rules.
Rules that we made up of course ;-).
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Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on January 13, 2021.