While everyone is scrambling to develop a "new normal" during this quarantine, you should be placing your focus on the "return to normal(ish)". Like a wild bull ride, habit breaking takes planning, willpower, and an acceptance that you aren't always in control.
Here we are, day 5845 of the COVID-19 Quarantine. Thankfully, it seems as though our social distancing measures and increased awareness of hygienic and disinfecting practices has begun to (slowly) pay off. We aren't out of the weeds yet, and still thousands are fighting to get through this novel strain of the flu.
But the strength, guidance and intuitive practices of our medical professionals have helped us navigate this storm, worldwide, while providing a glimpse of hope. A genuine tip of the cap and raucous applause to you all.
For the rest of us, we find ourselves working through our calendars, openly acknowledging that each day...is just "day". It's as if Groundhog Day was modernized and we suddenly find ourselves stuck in an endless loop of waking to Netflix, Zoom calls, White Claw, and exercise against our bathroom door.
Many blogs and articles have been published that emphasize productivity and time-management during quarantine. They challenge us to limit distractions, treat our work days as just that, and avoid our temptations by not purchasing them at the store.
All of these sentiments and lessons are useful, beneficial, and necessary for the time we are in, but they don't satisfy the real need. These articles are like snacking on sunflower seeds when you really want a whole dinner...
The real need is establishing better habits and routines when you "return to play". The opportunity for excellence lies not in what you do during quarantine itself, but what you do once the world returns to some sense of normalcy.
See, normally you have to break habits; a conscious rejection of subconscious desires. An exercise in willpower, context, and to some extent...withdraw.
We must consciously reject impulse and the (potential) yearning for our desires to be met.
We must understand the whole picture (of our lives) and not just the here-and-now, in-the-moment bliss we crave.
We must accept that removing behaviors that gave us hits of Dopamine, Oxytocin, or Epinephrine is going to lead some depressive episodes and feelings of chemical withdraw.
I often teach my clients that breaking habits is EXACTLY like being a bull-rider.
The bull represents our impulses and subconscious desires, all with a mind of their own and a narrow focus on ridding of the rider.
The rider represents us in our conscious, willful, and contextually aware state.
Most bull rides last less than 8 seconds once the the pin is released and the bull explodes into the dirt arena, throttling the rider repeatedly until they are forcefully removed from the mount.
Even when a ride lasts beyond 8 seconds, a 100 pointer for those indoctrinated, the rider is beat up, sore, and hurrying towards the safety of the sidelines and the protection of the rodeo assistants.
Breaking a habit is like breaking a bull in that we expect that we'll be able to exert real-time control over a wild-animal (again, our desires) without a plan. We think we'll get into the arena and have the strength to overcome temptation, the wisdom to understand context, and immune to any sense of withdraw.
Which is why most bull-riders don't last 8 seconds and most attempts at breaking or forming new habits barely last 8 days...
The best bull-riders study the bull in-and-out to try and prepare themselves for the possible "moves" it will use to throw the rider off. They invest time studying so that there are less surprises once they are mounted up.
Building a Plan
Successful habits are made, and broken, by having a plan based on research, self-scouting, and preparation. You must understand the full picture have pre-determined answers to questions that are destined to arise.
WHY you formed the habit in the first place.
The REAL WHY - as in being willing to face your own bullshit and own some level of emotional or psychological need
WHAT you are doing specifically and WHAT you could do differently...
The ability to complete understand the ACTION in place and the ACTION to replace
HOW you intend on implementing change...
What are the steps that need to be put into place to achieve success?
HOW you will overcome temptation...
As Mike Tyson states, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face". What will you do when the bull starts to get wild?
WHO can you enlist to help you in the change?
Habit changing, adding or subtracting, is significantly harder when no one is watching your back, preventing you from slipping up, or motivating you to keep going.
Developing the answers to these questions and thoughts is necessary for taming your own bull and successfully implementing, or breaking, a new habit. Once you've done the pre-work you will be ready to embark on your adventure into the rodeo.
Change that Sticks
So here you are now, with time on your hands and an opportunity to invest in yourself by doing all of the pre-work necessary to conquer the bulls that haunt you when this quarantine ends.
Here is a chance to conquer those habits that you know aren't good for you but feel good and had become all too normal prior to this "pause button". The fact of the matter is that this virus, and our necessary response, did most of the habit-breaking for you.
Think about your life pre-quarantine:
Maybe its that sugar-filled coffee from your favorite shop down the road that is definitely the reason you can't lose weight
Maybe its sleeping in until the last possible second on work-days and racing out of the house without eating breakfast and being the first to offer up a trip to the nearest fast-food place at lunch
Maybe its skipping workouts because you are tired at night but continuing to stay up too late watching whatever streaming show is addicting in the moment.
Maybe its avoiding intimate conversations with your family and friends out of fear of expressing yourself and exposing the real you underneath the protective layers you've built.
Maybe its staring out a full bookshelf of information every day but choosing to "read another time" every time.
Maybe you have a glass, or three, of wine nightly to "relax and fall asleep" while knowing that you have a mountain of unresolved anxiety within you...
Whatever your personal statement might be - this is your chance to get out in front of it and create a different course once this subsides.
Its Your Choice...
Ultimately, when this quarantine ends you'll be faced with a choice:
1. Fall back into the exact habits you had prior to this event in your life
2. Course-correct certain aspects of your life and move forward with better intention and self-awareness
So, instead of spending your time worrying about whether or not you are making the most of your abundance of time only to feel anxious that you are spending time thinking about time...
Invest it in doing the necessary pre-work to be ready to rock-and-roll once quarantine ends and you return to whatever normal ends up looking like. Pick those one or two habits that throttle you like an angry bull and study them, and yourself, so that you are prepared to hold-on for the ride once the pins are pulled.
I'm always here to support your efforts, so don't hesitate to reach out with questions or personalized concerns. I have a feeling that so many of you are going to take this, do the necessary pre-work, and come out to the rodeo ready to win.
Here is your to-do list:
Isolate the (2) habits that you want to change that were an issue prior to the quarantine.
Explore and answer all of the questions above (WHY, WHAT, HOWx2, WHO).
Develop a plan that helps you understand what you'll do when life resumes
Do any final preparation work as the time to change nears
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If you are interested in some other articles I've written as of recently, then here are a few that I figured I'd share right here:
And if you are a fitness professional looking to upgrade your reading, check out the PTDC's list of the TOP FITNESS BOOKS for Personal Trainers.