My Worst Habit
I’ve always had habits- both good and bad. So have you. For example, whenever I write and I come to the end of a sentence or paragraph and feel stuck, I’ll rapidly press the “J” and “delete” buttons over and over until I’m unstuck. It’s like I’m clicking a pen or tapping my pencil on my desk. Sometimes this goes on for MINUTES before I even realize it’s happening. Which makes total sense when you think about habits. Habits are stored in a part of our brain that is essentially our autopilot button. So once you engage in an activity that your brain registers as a habit, your brain almost shuts down and frees up space for really anything else. This is why habits can be really great, like the habitual actions of washing the dishes or doing the laundry. They require minimal brain activity, which is why it’s so easy to plan your next step or talk on the phone during them.
One of my worst habits has to be starting something and then sitting on social media or online shopping for 30 minutes to an hour afterward. I seriously JUST did this. I wrote “one of my worst habits has to be…” and then I spent too much time and too much money on clothes (that I do need! Kind of!). I get terribly distracted by my phone. Anytime it lights up is a guaranteed 5-minute commitment- minimum. And I know I’m not alone in this. And I also know that I’m not alone in recognizing these habits that consume us. Some would even go as far as to call these habits addictions. Which, in some ways, is not totally inaccurate. I have lost countless hours of productivity to my phone, to Netflix, and to general distractions. It is so easy to blur the lines between using time to relax and using time to avoid doing something productive.
I always find that if I waste time I set aside for work to sit on my phone, watch TV, etc, then when I decide I want to intentionally do these things to relax, I’m stressed out. This happens because I now associate these things with the feeling of “I know I should be working, but instead I’m going to ignore all responsibilities and do anything BUT work!” I have rewired my brain so that when I sit down to watch a movie, it still feels like I’m putting off work. I’m no longer experiencing relaxing activities as a reward for working hard, but rather as an extension of my procrastination.
It’s not even that I always have to be productive in relation to my career. Sometimes I literally cannot make myself grade papers (RIGHT NOW), but I can be productive in other ways, like writing this newsletter. Or cleaning my car, my room, or my desktop. Seriously—more than 5 files on my computer’s desktop and I’m spazzing out (ALSO happening right now).
I find that the more I can break from time-wasting habits and use that time to be productive, the more I actually enjoy those time-wasting outlets when I’m intentionally using them. I can enjoy social media when I don’t feel the crushing reminder that I’m only on it to escape work. I can enjoy a binge session when I know I already put in legitimate hours toward being productive.
I’ll never forget when I lived in Juneau, Alaska during the summer of 2013. This trip was amazing for many reasons (one: ALASKA), but one thing that stands out was a conversation I had with one of my trip directors. I had been sharing that ever since being in Juneau I had felt some positive changes in my lifestyle and habits (I keep spelling habit with two b’s so maybe that’s a habit?). My director, being honest and being awesome, told me that I was experiencing this because I was out of normal environment. I wasn’t at home; I was in a place where I had never been, and therefore my habits didn’t come as easily. That was a pretty common message to me throughout college: habits can be easy to break when you’re in a new setting, but eventually all settings become familiar and habits come back. “Old habits die hard” is not just a cliché.
We are already a month and a half into 2017 (!!!) and although I don’t believe in setting resolutions, a goal of mine is to be more intentional with my time. Mid-February is one of the most brutal times as a teacher, and for a lot of people. It’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s what feels like a million days away from spring. It’s a time when I find myself putting off important things and instead take my thumbs on mini-marathons, scrolling for miles past posts about food and pets and politics.
I recently heard that your effort in your day job directly affects every other element of your life. So, if you are giving 60% effort at work in the hopes of using the rest of that energy elsewhere, your brain has difficulty locating the other 40% later on when you want it. You end up putting 60% into everything, and eventually it becomes a habit. You may come to work with good intentions, but your brain quickly goes into 60% auto pilot. If you work toward giving 100%, even though it can be grueling both physically and mentally, you will find it easier to put 100% into everything else in your life. Putting off work may be temporarily rewarding, but it can be pervasively damaging in all areas of your life. My students deserve me at 100%, and giving them that will not only benefit them, but train my brain to put that much effort into everything else I do.