A 40-Day Quest To Knock Out Daily Habit

Three-hundred-and-twenty-six days ago, I awoke to the first of forty days away from social media and dating apps. In that next chunk of time, my interactions with others shifted profoundly. I crossed an ocean and explored a new city alone, but present. I breathed in new experiences. I journaled and reflected.

By day forty, I had broken a habit. I had changed a routine.

I kept going, committing to and continuing on a Year of exploration.

And now I begin my final forty-day Challenge.

The point of this Year, I remind myself, is to challenge other habits and routines I have fallen into unawares. To reassess the systems — this is the way you shop, you eat, you click, you sleep — that might not be serving me well. To see if doing so brings me to a healthier, happier, more financially stable place.

hab·it

  1. a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
    “this can develop into a bad habit.”

rou·tine

  1. a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.
    “I settled down into a routine of work and sleep.”

In pondering what might best honor this final Challenge, I keep coming back to something Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky points out in the documentary Happy: happiness is 50% genetically predetermined, and 10% is affected by life circumstances like health and wealth. This leaves 40% of our happiness up for the taking.

She also points out that complacencies and ruts are the enemies of happiness. Simply changing up a running route can stimulate the brain, contributing to happiness. A few months after seeing the doc, I happened upon further neurological explanation.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that the basal ganglia are the region of the brain responsible for habit building. As we’re fed stimuli and learn systems of coordination and direction, many parts of the brain fire up with action: Our senses are on sharp alert. Our fight-or-flight hormones rage. Our brains are making active choices as we learn. With repeated stimuli, the basal ganglia get more and more of a workout, storing the patterns and routines, while the other regions progressively chill out.

The basal ganglia are why we can drive a car and space out to the point that we don’t know how we’ve driven for miles and not remembered every stretch of pavement. They’re why patients with amnesia forget entire relationships with their closest loved ones but still know how to put toothpaste on a brush and clean their teeth — as long as their basal ganglia remain unscathed. Fascinating stuff, huh?

Reflecting on prior Challenges, my habit loops, and how I spend my waking hours in routines and patterns, I’ve come to this:

What if I try to live my last forty days totally outside of habit loops?

How would that look and feel?

What would it take to make sure that I change a habit every single day?

That’s what I’ll find out.

From now until June 21st — the three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day marker from when I started this trippy, silly, hair-pulling, joyful journey — I’ll change up a habit. I’ll mark what I see and how it makes me feel here every single day.

Duhigg reports that anticipating and preparing for variables has a high affect on success or failure, so while I’m open to change, I’ve got a potential list started:

  1. Don’t apologize for a day.
  2. Look everyone I see on the street or have a conversation with in the eye.
  3. In social settings, walk up to people and introduce myself — no introverting on the sidelines (this happened last night when so sick and tired and just wanting to be in my own head while around others).
  4. Clean up after myself immediately — every dish, article of clothing, bedsheet etc.
  5. Be. on. time. to. everything. (Do this on a busy day.)
  6. Don’t bring a purse with me out on a day. (What would that feel like, ladies?! How do men do it? I need a water bottle, pills, lip gloss, $, keys. I want a book, too. Ponder my pocket situation.)
  7. Don’t talk for an entire day. Not even to Mitra (which will be the ultimate test because I talk to my dog all. damned. day).
  8. Don’t look in mirrors for a day (like, cover them up at home).
  9. No makeup for a day (go out in public, too).
  10. No electricity! (Being kind to myself, I’ll make it a weekend day, as how do we work nowadays without computers?!)
  11. Wake up and immediately do: yoga, meditation, etc.
  12. Take myself to a work lunch at a new restaurant in my hood.
  13. Can’t concentrate at home? Go to my local library. I’ve never been and it’s, like, five blocks away.
  14. Make myself a motivation audio track (like Frankie in Grace and Frankie, who I totally wanna be when I grow up), and set it as my alarm in the morning. Wake to me talking to myself, like the true nutjob I aspire to become.
  15. Sleep naked. Cause I can.
  16. Wear and outfit that’s totally not me. Out in public.
  17. Celebrate myself with something extravagant (so much of this Year has been not celebrating with stuff. And not mourning with stuff. But maybe I’ve forgotten the joy of celebrating and being easy on myself?)
  18. Say “Yes” to something I really wanna say “No” to, a la Shonda Rimes.
  19. Drink my first coffee of the day in my coffee shop around humans.
  20. When I feel scared or alone, call a Crisis hot line.

That’s a big list. And it’s only half of what I need for the next forty days. Some look really, really fun to tackle. Some scare the shit outta me. Some will technically Challenge the hell outta my day.

Which I guess is the point.

Here I go.

My final forty days.

Let’s shatter them.

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