March 11, 2020
Changing your norm is hard, whether of your own choosing or forced upon you by an accident, personal situation, communal ordeal or global pandemic. But it's doable — and in the name of health, even challenging or costly disruptions to social and professional life as we know it are definitely worth the concentrated effort, deliberate follow through and apparent sacrifice. Following my accident six months ago, everything changed in an instant, and I had to come to terms with my new reality. I was physically and psychologically unable to do numerous things, advised to make additional adjustments by medical professionals, and amended routines entirely to cope, heal, stay sane and not put myself or others at risk. I broke habits and built new ones — some minor and therefore relatively easy to commit to and implement, others terribly difficult to face or enact, let alone maintain, yet necessary all the same. Bottom line: there are moments and contexts when things must shift.
Our daily lives are largely comprised of habitual actions and routines, of which we are not necessarily even mindful. We operate on autopilot, and employ conscious thought when necessary. All is interconnected, and while much of our life is indeed subject to free will, not all functioning is as intentional or deliberate as we may think. Therefore, when things are required to pivot in the face of a health crisis, we must work to adjust our default settings. Automating is critical for success, but we have to practice even greater self-control to establish, streamline and maintain new habits.
I’ve tried to make it simple for myself wherever possible, to create the optimal physical surroundings and mental frameworks that set me up to succeed, aligning my actions with goals, enabling consistency, reducing friction, removing barriers, avoiding negative influence, as to habitualize and incentivize the adoption and continuation of what is desired or beneficial — for me as an individual and for us as a collective, even if it feels foreign, uncomfortable or strange. Persistence matters. Repetition matters. Design matters. You are not obligated to choose everyday or rehash rationale; once decided upon, you just have to execute the behavior again and again to build a repeated pattern. Old desires don’t vanish and processing speed is far from instantaneous, so eliminating the need for considered decision-making (and all of the time, resolve, computing, conflict, doubt, procedures, hesitation, and mental capacity that entails) helps make it easier, effortless, even inevitable. Simplify!
Sometimes this is quite literal: put the medicine in the slippers next to your bed, so you don’t forget to take it first thing. Cover up part of your face, so you cannot actually touch it. Stack books by your bed, so you default to reading. Plug in your phone in the other room, so you are not on it before falling asleep. Store scar cream next to your toothbrush, so you apply it at least twice a day (even if that means brushing with it once or twice!). Keep a notepad with you, so you can remember things without employing screens. Set alarms to remind you of certain times, so you don’t lose track of the hours mindlessly. Make public affirmations, so others help hold you to account. Cook and prepare foods, so you opt for nutrient-rich ones (before vegan ice cream!) when hungry. Or say, putting bottles of soap and hand sanitizer everywhere, so you so keep germs at bay. Some of these tactics have worked well for me in a specific context during recovery.
Overall, I’ve crafted new routines for morning, noon and night, reshaped meal times, leisure times and me time, and redefined what, who and why I include or prioritize — automating internal and external action, coming to respond instinctively to cues, and thus freeing my conscious mind to tackle larger, more complex, nuanced, pressing problems. I had to find a way to make it through the necessities with relative ease and low exertion. I social distanced to both save and restore energy supplies, as well as ensure optimal health when my fragile systems were severely compromised. Because I desperately needed the full capacity of my body and brain focused on healing. In time, I fundamentally transformed the elements and order and approach to my everyday.
We can alter habits, routines, norms — and sometimes we must. When things need to change, because of our own limitations, health or that of the community or world at large, even if we don’t know quite what all will look like, we need to just do it. And repeat. And recommit. Starting and maintaining alike can be daunting, especially without knowing where anything may lead, what the results may be or how long said course of action may be necessary, which makes dedicating attention to and consciously setting oneself up for success absolutely critical, utilizing whatever techniques or tactics work for you and the given situation. Our minds are malleable. Our habits manipulable. Our societies modifiable. We can learn. We can change. Things can, will and must shift.