Habits I’m Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

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The Habit of Learning Hope

One of Bea’s rituals is to run through the front yard, waving to Frank as he drives off to work. Barefoot and in her nightgown, she’ll yell before the neighborhood is awake, I love you! You can count on me!!

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Cultivating the habit of thankfulness

The other morning, Frank got up early to try to get in before any of us woke up. I was still in bed when I heard little feet race down the stairs and the front door open. Bea had raced out to the car as Frank was pulling out. Even though he had just taken over a week off of work, she clung to him saying, I miss you so much when you’re gone!

I would have thought that an entire week in Philadelphia plus a long weekend at home after that would have filled her daddy-time tank. It’s amazing how quickly we remember and revert to old habits.

During our last week of the Whole30 reintroduction, we meticulously meal planned to the final day. And then, our cupboards were bare and we ate horribly. It was as though we had learned nothing from a month and a half of healthy eating and meal planning.

Monday was the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it’s been nice not to have to write every day or to check in with social media. I’ve enjoyed this small break, and was mentally preparing to take at least a week off.

Here’s the thing with habits. They’re formed with good intention and easily broken so quickly. I realized that, while I simply can’t commit to posting every day, if I took too long of a break, I would easily be in a similar slump to what I felt at the beginning of the challenge.

I think that’s the hardest part of forming habits. For a month, it’s not bad and even fun to keep an intentional practice. But to make it a daily, long lasting change? That’s hard! I want to eat all the Halloween candy and enjoy wine with dinner. I want to write when the spirit moves, without sitting down and being disciplined. I want to watch TV that takes us past our 9:00 bedtime.

And sometimes, I totally break these habits. We’ll choose to watch a show or I’ll choose to sneak a pack of M&Ms out of Bea’s pumpkin. But I also have to choose to return to a healthier way of living. I know that I’m more energized and a better mom when I go to bed early. I know I feel better when I eat healthfully.

I guess that’s the biggest downside to making life-changing choices: It means changing my lifestyle to continue them.

Then I see the girls and how our modeling intentional habits reflects into their lives. Elle loves climbing in my lap with a pen to do her own “writing.” The other day, Bea said she didn’t think candy was “Whole30 Compliant.” Maybe they don’t see us going to bed early, but they see the effects of having brighter and happier parents in the morning.

For now, the high of a great achievement is wearing off and I’m faced with the mundane reminder that keeping habits is work. Not bad work, but work.

I’m reminded of what Brené Brown says in Gifts of Imperfection:

Hope is learned! … Children most often learn hope from their parents…. [They] need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support. I think it’s so empowering to know that I have the ability to teach my children how to hope (66).

In this climate of hopelessness, this paragraph hit home for me. The habits and boundaries that I set for my own life and well-being are modeled to my children. If I can’t set boundaries for myself, how can I set them for the girls? And without these parameters and the safety that comes with them, hope cannot be learned.

I can’t change the political climate or the injustices of this world as easily as I can instill hope in our own home.

So, here’s to a season of boundaries, of keeping habits, and of the underlying lessons of hope that come because of that.

How do you practice hopefulness? Any tips for keeping good habits going?

Five Things I Learned On Whole30

Today is our last day of the Whole30 cleanse. On Day 2, I accidentally licked peanut butter off my finger while making Bea’s lunch and midway through, I had a bite of corn before realizing my breakfast side was “noncompliant.” But otherwise? We stuck to it and didn’t veer off course.

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Image source: Whole30.com

I feel pretty proud of us. There were challenging parts – especially with extra meal prep falling right when the neighborhood kids came outside to bike. But, I learned how to anticipate and prep ahead. We weren’t the most unhealthy eaters before this month, but sticking to the routine and following the guidelines definitely made us more cognizant of what we were buying and why we were choosing to eat certain things.

Tomorrow we enter the reintroduction phase, slowly adding in “sensitive” foods to see how we feel. But for now, I thought I’d share 5 Things We Learned while doing this Whole30 plan.

1) Meal Planning is Worth It
We were loose meal planners before – targeting Monday-Thursday. This meant Fridays were often hasty, pizza driven meals. The first two weeks of Whole30, we planned every single meal, every single day. As the days went by, we slowed down to dinners (breakfasts were an egg dish and lunches were either leftovers or my uniform meal of salad.) Last week, we planned Monday-Friday but left the weekend open for leftovers or simple grilling. I see that as a sustainable plan: Weekday planning; Weekend spontaneity.

I also kept track of every single meal I ate during the month. I certainly won’t keep that up, but as I highlighted the snacks I added, looking through my days made me more aware of patterns and choices I was making. This was especially helpful as I distinguished between hunger-snacking and boredom-snacking.

2) So Much Meat
We weren’t vegetarians before this month but we didn’t eat meat every day. I am so, so tired of animal products. Eggs for breakfast. Shredded chicken in my salad at lunch. Some sort of meat (and I count chicken and fish as meat) for dinner. So much.

It probably didn’t help that I’ve been reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer during this month. Or maybe it was perfect timing. In any case, going along with meal planning, we’ve decided to be more thoughtful about what we plan. Our schedule after this will be: 1 day Vegan, 3 days Vegetarian, 3 days Meat. Hopefully this makes us think more about our eating choices.

3) Emotional Eating Isn’t Always Bad
There’s never a good time to start a diet or cleanse – Frank has been working late hours on the tax extension deadlines; I went on a retreat in the midst of this – so we knew there would be some tough moments when we wished for a glass of wine or a nibble of a lemon poppyseed cookie. For the most part, it was fine not snacking or drinking. Would a glass of wine been nice on my weekend away? Yes. Did it change the restfulness of the weekend itself? No.

We were chatting with friends about how, at the end of a long week, a beer sounds awfully good. And that’s not a bad thing. We are holistic beings – of course food is linked to emotions and memories. I guess the balance is recognizing why we choose to eat or drink certain things before doing it mindlessly.

4) Dinner Parties are Still Fun
Our supper group met twice while we were on Whole30 and we still had a wonderful time. We found food to eat and were able to converse and laugh with our friends without any adult beverages or tasty desserts. At our last meeting, two couples were doing Whole30 and one couple was doing Weight Watchers and it sparked a great conversation about food restrictions and hospitality. Eating in community. The fact that many people have restrictions that aren’t voluntary but a real allergy. It gave me a bit of empathy for people who must eat outside the mainstream.

5) Thirty Days Isn’t That Long
A couple days seemed to last an eternity, but I’m amazed that we’re already finished. All in all, this month passed quickly. It took that time to take our habits from a quick reset to (hopefully) sustainable changes. I don’t miss sugar or bread like I thought I would. I dream about plain Greek yogurt, not the creamy sugary ones we had been in the habit of getting. (Because they were local so we were being conscientious!)

We’ve already talked about other Thirty Day habits we’d like to form. Next month, I’ll be writing every day for 31 days. We want to spend the next month going to bed by 9:00 since Elle has decided to form the habit of getting up at 5:30 each morning. I like the idea of taking time to be intentional, to add good habits to our life, and to remember that if it doesn’t work out, 30 days isn’t really that long.

I’m glad we did this particular challenge. I know there are better ones for weight loss or blood pressure or environmental health, but Whole30 was what we needed in this moment. It helped us recalibrate and really look at our food choices in ways we just weren’t before. It kept us accountable and gave us an end date, which is nice.

Even though it extends the challenge by 15 days, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of reintroduction. I’m hoping I don’t have any sensitivities but am interested to see what comes up and how we’ll readjust our eating habits in response.

Mostly, I’m glad we took the time to be intentional. It was a lifestyle reminder that it’s so easy to just go day-to-day without thinking too much about the whys behind our choices. As we move forward, whatever we keep or readjust or lose altogether from this past month, I hope the intentionality is the most sustaining part.

Have you ever done Whole30? What was your experience? What’s your favorite food recalibration? How do you best form habits?