A long-time reader sent me this question and I thought it was a good one: “Lately…I find myself with the blues much more often than before. That sense of ‘what’s the use?’ creeps in far too frequently. Then I have a much harder time with my bad habits as they jump on in there to be my comforts.”
First, I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on tv. If you’re struggling with something that feels like more than ‘the blues’, seek out a professional for support.
Second, there were a few things in that question, but I’m going to focus on the habits part of it. It doesn’t mean the other parts aren’t relevant, it just means I’m not speaking to those at this time.
Is It Really Your Habits?
As I’ve gone on my own journey of setting, breaking, and maintaining habits, I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s not the habit practice (or lack thereof) that is the issue. Rather, the issue may lie in a disconnect between myself and the environment I find myself in.
Here’s a story to illustrate this:
I spent seven years working as a lifeguard on this amazing lake the next town over. We frequently took the rowboat out on the lake, whether to transport gear out to an off-shore raft, or as a fitness challenge to row ourselves a mile across the lake only to dock the boat and swim back (talk about a shoulder workout).
With rowboats, if you put effort into turning the oars to dip and pull through the water, the boat’s going to start moving.
But on days when the wind kicked up waves on the lake, rowing into the wind meant having the boat hit each wave as it crested and smacking into it, spraying my back with water and making for a bumpy and more effortful row.
I had to either just accept I would smack into the waves head-on or try and angle through them in a way to avoid the worst of them.
On those days, I had to work harder to make any headway with the rowboat.
Those were my least favorite days to row.
Other days, the wind would be coming sideways across the lake. This was far better than rowing into a headwind, but it still posed challenges.
One arm was always working harder than the other to try and keep the boat going in the direction I was aiming at. I’d have to think more about correcting course with each pull of the oars through the water.
These were tough days to row in with more to juggle both mentally and physically.
Then there were days when the wind was with me, a nice tailwind, pushing the boat in the direction I was headed.
The rowing was easy on those days. Minimal effort needed, minimal thinking required.
And every so often, there’d be absolutely zero wind. A calm lake with a glassy top.
No-wind days were great because I wasn’t wishing that they were tailwind days. I enjoyed just feeling the effort in/outcome out nature of each pull of the oars. I’d have missed that enjoyment completely if I’d been sitting in the boat wishing for some wind going the same way as me.
In every situation on that lake, the rowing was a constant, but how I adapted my rowing to fit the environment I was in varied.
Sometimes, it’s windy. Nothing you can do about it except adjust your rowing strategy or leave the boat in the dock for the day.
Not to be too on the nose with this, but if you’re rowing your habit boat in hopes of setting or breaking a particular habit… And you’re expecting the wind you’re rowing in to be the same today as it was yesterday, you’re going to run into a day (or many) where it feels like you just aren’t good at doing your healthy habits.
You need to adjust how you approach your habit practice differently depending on the wind you’re dealing with. If today’s ‘wind’ includes getting amazing sleep the night before, zero stress in your day, and sunshine that lifted your spirits and made you feel invincible, that’s a nice little tailwind that is likely to make your habits easier to practice.
If the ‘wind’ you’re dealing with is more like a dark storm with sideways wind and hail and lightning strikes every other second, today may be a good day to dock the habit boat and get off the lake. You will be able to practice your habits again once the storm passes.
Adjust accordingly for whatever ‘wind’ you’re trying to operate in and you’ll find that you tick the box of successful habit practice more often than not. Sometimes you really are better served to just dock the boat for the day and try again tomorrow. But sometimes, perhaps even a lot of the times, it’s just wind and you can make it through that.
Enjoy the tailwinds, accept the headwinds, and remember that while you can’t change the wind, you can change yourself.