Good Habits and Routines

Serenity now!

Frank Costanza

On Wednesday, we explored how learning to making wise decisions sometimes means eliminating the need to make a decision at all. This process, of figuring out what can be “automated” through habits and routines is what I look at on the Friday of the second week of my Ideal Life rotation.

The question What is working? can be answered with a look at how I am doing on the habits I have already created. Have any been useful lately? Have any borne fruit in other ways?

This fruit bearing can be, for example, the fact that when I fold laundry, instead of waiting to finish it all and have one giant pile to put away, I go put away each individual piece once it is folded. The surprise benefit of this is that I get in a few more steps and the pile of folded laundry doesn’t just sit there looking me in the face all day, the way it does when I fold it and leave it (for hours. days. weeks…) It’s a small, slightly counter-intuitive thing, but man, it makes a difference. (A special thanks to Dana K. White of A Slob Comes Clean for giving me the idea for this habit!)

What isn’t working? Can be answered by looking at the habits I might have fallen out of, for example, during lockdown or vacation time, which usually puts a mega-stumbling block in my otherwise (somewhat) orderly days.

For example, I usually do one load of laundry per school day. I start it around breakfast and by the time I get home from taking the boys to school, it is done. The first thing I do when I get home from dropping the boys off is to hang the laundry to dry.

If the boys aren’t in school due to vacation or lockdown or illness or whatever, I naturally forget to hang up the laundry, because that act of walking back in the door, which is my cue to go directly to the washing machine, isn’t there. And once I realize I forgot the laundry, everything is a wrinkled mangled mess. It only takes two days of this for me to get overwhelmed with laundry. And with two little boys, one of whom has a passion for playing in mud and dirt, overwhelm is a small word for what happens.

In my Ideal Life

Habits and routines, for someone like me, who is not a natural homemaker, make the mundane aspects of housekeeping from causing me to go crazy. I’m not saying that anyone loves to do laundry, do the dishes or change sheets. But I suspect that there are people who go about it with a less resentful attitude than I would, were I to let myself think about it very hard.

Anything that keeps me from being creative is something I view with suspicion, irritation and a recklessly bad attitude. I have been working on this character flaw for as long as I can remember, but I’ve gotta say, I’m forty-three years old and the needle has yet to move even a micron.

Here is how I want to live my life:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer

This is the essence of my hope for building habits and routines into my day: that the things I cannot change become things I receive with serenity, specifically, taking the trash out, washing the floors and the insatiable need my children express to be fed three times a day.

Gut Check

When I think about this theme, it always starts with the thought, “What has been an irritation to me lately?” Keep in mind, I am peri-menopausal. Everything irritates me.

Little boys who can’t find their backpacks. Kitchen utensils that aren’t where they are supposed to be. My pin cushion that fell off the ledge while I was sewing. People who try to call me on my cell phone and then complain that I never answer my phone (I do not have a smartphone and I use my phone the way someone would use a phone booth. I make calls from it. The ringer is always off. This will not change. I have never liked being “available” and I reject any technology that tries to force me to be “available”. Sorry about that rant.)

As I go through the litany of little things that have been an irritation to me, I start to think: is there anything I could do about those things? I could designate a place for backpacks. Even if they don’t put them there, I can do it when I find them lying around, and this would save me the irritation and panic when it comes time to leave in the morning. I could get a little wrist pin cushion so that I won’t lose my pins (and my marbles) all the time.

The utensil thing is unavoidable. We don’t have any drawers in our kitchen (our kitchen is a cobbled together mix of Goodwill furniture and one built-in cabinet which currently houses Playmobil toys.) Nor can I think of anything to do about the phone issue. This is just going to be my curse. I need serenity about these things.

As I think about possible solutions, I add them to my “things to consider” bullet point of my Ideal Life Exercise. If it is something worth doing, I will think about it again during the day and give it a try. I can easily designate a place for backpacks and put them there. It requires no input from anyone else but me. A wrist pin cushion would mean going to the sewing shop, but I could, eventually, although not immediately, do that. (That might even be fun!)

These are tiny, itty bitty little things that I can do to get away from my Serenity Now! mindset into a courage to change the things I can mindset.

An up-to-the-minute example

So here is what is on my mind today. I mentioned that I set a new rule for myself: no more snacking between meals. I set this because I was watching helplessly as many of my clothes were starting to feel snug, even as I have promised to buy no clothes this year. I knew why, of course. My uncontrolled snacking habit was to blame.

In order to make this rule possible, I would need to create fewer opportunities to sneak in little snacks here and there. One of the reasons I hate cooking is that I find that I binge on what I am cooking while I am cooking, and then am not hungry for dinner, which I eat anyway because I don’t want anyone to know that I binged while I was cooking (perfectly logical, wouldn’t you agree?)

Why do I binge while I am cooking? Because I am hungry. Duh. So what if I did the tempting part of the cooking when I wasn’t hungry? (Uhm, remind me again of when that is? I am always hungry.) Like right after a meal?

I have started to develop a new habit for myself of, as soon as possible after eating a meal, doing things I can do to prepare the next one. I will cook chicken just after breakfast so that I don’t have to do it before lunch when I will be hangry. I will cut the little sausages my youngest likes in advance so I won’t be tempted to sneak one later. I will chop the salad or the carrots or the potatoes. (Less of a temptation, but still…) I will make the cheese cubes. Anything that I can do in advance to prepare the next meal, I do it immediately after eating the previous meal so I won’t be tempted to snack later.

Yes, this is annoying because it means I must know what is planned for the next meal. Yes, it feels a little time-consuming (although this may simply be because it is a new habit.) Yes it means getting into a new groove. But has it cut down on my snacking? Absolutely. And what’s more, I actually enjoy eating dinner because my belly isn’t already full, and I don’t feel like I am trying to dissimulate my bingeing. Win/Win/Win.

The habit isn’t built yet, by far. But I am working on it. By working on it, I am already taking steps towards my Ideal Life: In my Ideal Life, I am a person who only eats when she is hungry. and In my Ideal Life, I am a person with good habits.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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