I am unapologetically a creature of habit.
Every night I watch Frasier until I fall asleep. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, even before the days of Netflix when I would schedule my bedtime to catch the re-runs on Lifetime. The same goes for The Golden Girls in the morning. No matter what I’m doing, my morning routine of coffee, watering plants and fixing breakfast just doesn’t seem complete without the familiar chatter of the 4 Girls playing in the background.
These little rituals have made me take note of other habits in my life and question why they are so important. I will sometimes eat the same meal for breakfast every day for a month before I switch it up. On the Peloton I only ride with 2 instructors even though there are dozens to choose from. I’ve had the same color on my nails for 3 years, I call my parents on my morning walk with the dogs daily and I’ve worn the same 3 perfumes for the better part of a decade.
A lifestyle with this much structure might drive a more free spirit absolutely bonkers, but the fact is, we all have our little creature comforts. There are certain things that are the mental equivalent of wrapping up in a warm blanket, that bring us inner peace and solace no matter what else is going on, and their absence brings discomfort. For some it might be stopping for a certain coffee at a certain shop on the morning commute, or ordering the same sandwich from Jersey Mike’s that you’ve gotten since college. It could be innocent little things like taking off your work clothes as soon as you get home, a cup of tea before bed or a weekly phone call with your high school best friend.
In some cases however, the habits that bring us so much contentment can become very destructive. It can quickly become the breeding ground of addiction. What starts as a single cigarette on the drive home can tailspin into one every time you’re behind the wheel and then to a pack a day. That glass of wine after the kids are tucked into bed could easily turn into a bottle, then 2, then sneaking a glass in during afternoon naps. I’ve found myself teetering into unhealthy territory many times, particularly during these months of lockdown. For a person like myself who thrives in routine, the first inclination after losing a job is to fill your time with other things. Ordinarily I would have went out and gotten another job, started cleaning houses again, started volunteering or increased my gym time. But with literally everything shut down, I instead started subconsciously creating bad patterns like celebrating walking 10,000 steps every night with a bottle and a half of wine on the couch. That never ends well.
Almost more dangerous than a slipping into a substance addiction, is when your creature comfort is another creature- one of the human variety. One of the most common tragedies I see is the people who waste their lives in bad relationships because they’re “comfortable.” People who have become so acclimated to their discomfort, if they’re not spending their days unhappy it seems like something is wrong. Or they keep going back to the same person who they know isn’t right but it’s just easier than starting over. There are even those who spend so much time consumed with trying to “fix” someone else, they’ve convinced themselves the other person couldn’t make it without them.
So how does one know where the line lies between soothing ritual and unhealthy obsession when it’s so easily blurred? From personal experience, I say that line is drawn when something starts to dominate your thoughts. A glass of wine at night is no big deal, but when you start craving that glass at 4p and it’s all you can think about, then you’ve got a problem. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying something sweet after dinner, but when you start thinking about that big slice of chocolate cake at 10a, it might be an issue.
The problem isn’t that it’s on your mind. It’s that the more you stew on something, the more likely you are to indulge that thought. So when something is just running on a loop all day, you’re subconsciously going to do whatever it takes to make it stop. Eat the cake, smoke the cigarette, call the ex-these are all things that should be done in extreme moderation. Even my Golden Girls and Frasier habit could be toxic if I mentally snapped and the only thing that I wanted to do was lay in bed and watch it all day. The best advice I can impart is when something starts to dominate your thoughts, immediately pull back. I don’t mean every little fleeting thing that pops in, like in the middle of the day thinking about how ready you are for happy hour with your friends. But if that frosty glass is constantly lingering at the edge of your mind throughout the day, it’s time to re-evaluate. And what are you really drawing comfort from in these rituals? Is it the actual drink itself that you’re enjoying or is it the time spent relaxing with friends? Maybe switch up your cocktail for a club soda with lime and see if it’s just as much fun. Before you spend another day in an unfulfilling relationship, consider what you’re actually getting out of it. Do you really have undying love for this person or is it just that you’re too scared to start over alone? In that case, I can promise you, there is absolutely no lonelier feeling in this world than tying yourself to an unfulfilling relationship.
This week I’m focused on clearing out some bad habits I’ve picked up and trying to make some new ones to better my headspace and get me back on track. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the biggest changes comes from the smallest daily actions, so they better be positive ones.