Habits I’m working on in 2021

Are you curious about the habits I find difficult? Inspired by the start of the new year, I set up goals for a number of habits. These are the same old important habits, but right now I’m actually tracking my compliance with them. Some of these started falling away towards the end of 2020 (such as getting enough sleep), so I am now making an effort to do the important things. Here are my habits and goals.

1. Walking

I may be overwhelmed, tired, stressed, or upset. The best thing I can do in that moment is to go for a walk. It works every single time.

Going for a walk is often the best thing I can do for my mood, especially during this time of year when there isn’t much sunlight and I’m spending a lot of time indoors. Yet it’s easy to convince myself that there are more important things to do than go for a walk: work, do household chores, take care of William, etc. It often feels like a luxury I can’t fit into my day.

Therefore, I’ve set the goal to go walking 5 times a week! I have to say that so far I’ve been sticking to it, and it feels fantastic. Interestingly, I haven’t gotten bored of walking yet. I really look forward to my daily walk.

What have I done to stick to this habit? First of all, I’ve scheduled my walks: I go on most days around 15:30. I make sure to go on Saturdays and Sundays, and I also usually go on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I often schedule a walk + talk with a friend, either in person or by phone, to make my commitment even stronger. It also helps me to think that William (my son) needs to go outside, so when I put him in the stroller and go for a walk with him, I feel like I’m doing something good for him too.

2. Exercise/Movement

This one’s been in flux a bit. I’ve been exercising consistently for years, but I wanted to try out something new. I used to train for 1-1.5 hours 3x a week, but I started dreading the exhausting workouts, and I really missed the movement on the other days. So I decided to incorporate some movement into my day 5x per week for about 30 minutes. I find it feels amazing when I move my body every day for a short amount of time.

What I’m trying to do now is to strength train at home 3x a week and do relaxing yoga or dance 2x a week. Strength training helps me stay healthy and avoid getting back pain, while the yoga and dancing are just super fun!

I’ve been sticking to the strength sessions, but I’ve been having trouble with the fun movement sessions. I find it difficult to make the time instead of working/cooking/doing household chores. But it’s been helpful to have it as an explicit goal, and by doing fun movement more often I also remember how nice it is and want to do it again.

This is how I track my habits in the app HabitHub.
This week, I’m doing well in terms of movement, walking, and drinking water but not so good with meditating.

3. Meditate differently

Ah, that’s not working out well. I used to meditate regularly in the past, but since having a little one, I haven’t been managing as much. In the beginning, there was so much time just sitting while he was breastfeeding or sleeping in my arms that I couldn’t handle any extra time sitting still on purpose. And now during lockdown I find it difficult to justify to myself sitting down and staying still instead of doing stuff.

The point is that I’m not making ‘strict’ meditation a priority now. Instead, I’m doing something new.

I’m adding 5 minutes after my movement sessions where I lie down or sit and listen to a relaxation or meditation exercise. It feels extremely luxurious and suuuuuper pleasant! It doesn’t always work because when William sees me sitting, he climbs onto my lap. Even better, if I’m lying on the floor, he comes over and climbs on my head (he literally lies on my head and bites my cheeks!), which doesn’t make it too easy to relax.

Still, I try to do a mindfulness exercise for 5 minutes a day 5x a week, usually after my movement session. It doesn’t always happen, but I’m doing my best with it.

4. Drink 2 full water bottles (water + electrolytes)

The permanent struggle to drink enough water + electrolytes! I like drinking water, but I enjoy tea more, so if I don’t pay attention to it, I end up drinking lots of tea and not enough water.

Since I’ve made it a goal I track, it’s been going better, and I think I am really making it most days. On days when I’m working, I have my bottle in front of me, and I drink one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so that’s easy. But the trick is to still drink enough water on days when I’m not working. If I’m running around the house and going out, I just forget to drink my water, and then I feel it (I get low blood pressure, and I feel low-energy).

Note: I have low blood pressure in general, so I put electrolytes in my water. That’s much more helpful to me than only water.

5. Do 4 Pomodoros a day

Pomodoros are 25-minute work periods free from distraction. They’re usually separated by a 5-minute (or longer) break. Read more about the Pomodoro method here (at the bottom, item 7).

I’ve set this goal in order to help myself do more distraction-free work. It’s super easy to constantly check email, Mattermost, messages, which prevents deep work. I’d like to do more deep work, so I try to eliminate distractions for 4 x 25 minutes a day (for a day on which I work).

To be honest, I’m pretty bad at this. As I’m writing this, Jacob (my husband) is texting me, and I’m responding. If there’s any type of activity that demands attention and concentration, it’s writing. Clearly, I need to work on this habit a bit more.

This week, I’m also doing well with practicing Dutch, doing Pomodoro’s on workdays, and playing with William, but not doing well with going to bed.

6. Dutch practice

I’ve committed to this one! I have an app (Babbel) that helps me practice and learn more Dutch. My goal is to use it 4x a week, and I almost always manage that.

I got inspired by my dad who’s been using DuoLingo to learn Spanish for more than a year, and he can actually speak and understand a bit now! In August last year, it hit me that I really wanted to step up my Dutch game. After all, William will grow up with Dutch as his main language, and I’d like to be able to understand it when he speaks, and I’d also like to have comfortable conversations with his teachers, friends, and friends’ parents.

So I’ve decided to overcome the embarrassment of making mistakes and having a funny accent and just speak. Using the app really helps to teach me more grammar and vocabulary and to give me the feeling that I’m on a journey of improving my Dutch. And, honestly, it’s fun! So I’m happy to report that this habit is going well.

7. Play with William for 10 minutes twice a day

This sounds a bit pathetic… but it can be really easy to rush around the whole day, switching between household chores, work tasks, and taking care of William. At the end of the day, I may realize that while I’ve done a bunch for William (fed him, changed his diaper, put him to sleep, etc.), I have actually done anything fun with him.

So I made it a goal to really play with him twice a day at least. We build towers, chase each other around the house, or read a book. It’s really fun, and it’s really pleasant for me too because I truly see him in those moments.

8. Call family and friends

Since we’re limited as to how many people we can see in person and how much we can travel, I try to reach out to family and friends more often than usual. This is more of a mental note though instead of a strict goal because if I’m too strict with it, I really don’t want to do it and end up not calling people. Instead, I let it be more flexible, and that seems to work alright.

9. Go to bed 22:00

Ah, this is my biggest struggle… It makes a huge difference for me if I get enough sleep, but the evenings are me-time, which can make it really difficult to go to bed because it feels like I’m missing out on fun time.

I’ve set an alarm on my phone to tell me that it’s bedtime at 21:30. The idea is that I get up from reading my book or whatever I’m doing, get things ready for the next day, brush my teeth, and get into bed.

Well, I can tell you that it doesn’t usually go that way. The alarm goes off at 21:30, and I turn it off, thinking “F*ck you, you’re not the boss of me, you won’t tell me when to go to bed!” At the same time, I know I used my best judgment to set up that alarm, so I can get enough sleep and be rested the next day. In the end, I’m in bed by 22:30 or 22:15 if I’m lucky, which is also not too shabby. But it irritates me that I can get myself to do all kinds of things, and yet for some reason I can’t get myself to go to bed by a certain time.

Anyway, I’m trying my best without being too rigid and allowing myself some unwind time in the evenings. I’ll keep working on it.

What habits are you working on? I’m very curious to hear from you!

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Hoge Veluwe National Park for one of our walks.
As you can see, Jacob and I are enjoying ourselves, but William is not amused.

The sweet luxury of going to bed early

I’ve been going to bed at 9pm, and it’s been a game changer.

It feels strange to call it a day so early when the sky is not even dark yet here in the Netherlands. But I feel so much better! The next day, everything is easier and more pleasant because I’m rested.

I tried to stay up ‘late’

As you may know, I have a 5-month-old baby. He likes to wake up 2-3 times a night, so I’m not getting the best sleep of my life right now. Over the last few weeks, I decided I could take it, so I was going to bed around 10pm or 11pm, only to be woken up by him several times during the night and then again at 6:30am. That was not fun.

Then my husband started taking our baby in the morning. That meant I could sleep until 9am if I wanted to (which is super late for me!). Surprisingly, that didn’t work well: I found it difficult to fall asleep at 6:30am, and once I finally managed to sleep, it was shallow sleep. Once I woke up around 8:30am, I felt groggy instead of rested. Apparently, trying to sleep in “late” isn’t my thing.

Resisting going to bed

Now, the obvious solution would be to go to bed earlier, but I resisted it. I felt like I finally had time to myself! We put our baby to bed at 7:30pm, and after that my husband and I would have time together, or I could read a book or watch something fun. This time felt special, and I didn’t want to give it up by going to bed early.

But then I thought about it: was I really doing something special with my time? In fact, what ended up happening was that by 8pm I was so tired that all I did was to check email or social media. I didn’t really have the energy to do something more demanding like read a good book, and I didn’t want to watch a movie because that gets me excited, so I can’t sleep. What’s more, Jacob (my husband) uses this time to work, so it wasn’t actually quality time together.

Going to bed early

Finally, I gave in and decided to try going to bed by 9pm. In fact, it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought, but it felt very, very good. I got uninterrupted sleep during those first few hours of the night, which made me feel much more rested. And when my baby woke up at 6:30am, I was ready to get up with him. Okay, to be fair, I would have liked to sleep for another hour, but it wasn’t too bad.

I noticed very pleasant changes: I was more rested (duh!), so my energy was higher throughout the day, making it easier to do all my things. I was also generally more upbeat, less easily frustrated, and just experienced life as nicer. By going to bed a little bit earlier, I made my whole next day better!

And how about the special evening time? Perhaps because it doesn’t feel like free-for-all time anymore and because I’m not that exhausted, I’m able to make better choices for my evening time.

First of all, I make time to do stuff during the day: write a blog post, read a paper, do online shopping, cook, tidy up the apartment, etc. In that way, after we put William to bed, I have nothing else I really need to do. So I have about an hour (7:30pm – 8:30pm) of quality time to myself. I use it to journal, talk to Jacob, or do something else I find meaningful. Also, let’s be real, I respond to messages. It may also be nice to play piano at that time, but let’s see if that will actually happen–it usually feels like too much effort at that time of day when I just want to relax.

And then, at 8:30pm, I do my bedtime routine where I do my evening reflection, prepare my water bottle for the night, brush my teeth, put on my pajamas, etc. The goal is to be in bed by 9pm. To be completely honest, it doesn’t always happen, but even 9:30pm is good. Since the sky isn’t completely dark at 9pm, I put on my eye cover, and then it’s nighty-night!

How about you? Do you stick to a bedtime, or do you go to bed whenever you feel like it?

Habits that can help you get through these exceptional times

At 10:47 am, you wake up. Your first thought is, “I’m late for work!” and then you realize you’re not going to work. You’re working from home, which is a very flexible idea. A wave of relief washes over your body. You enjoy your bed, lazily scrolling through social media. Some time later, you get up, eat something, check the news, and get scared because of the spread of COVID-19. It feels like things got even worse overnight; that’s the feeling you get every morning.

To distract yourself from the unpleasant feeling of anxiety, you look at some funny quarantine-themed memes and maybe even some cat videos (honestly, I love both of these!). By that time, it’s already noon, so you do some work. You feel like you’re falling behind with your work, but at the same time, there isn’t any real urgency, so you slowly chug along.

At the end of the day (or maybe even throughout the day), you check the news and feel anxious again. You finish the day with a vague feeling of anxiety that stems from the state of the world and the lack of real progress in your work.

And, I’d also argue, that anxiety is compounded by the fact that you haven’t felt anchored during your day: there is no structure to give you a feeling of stability and calm in the midst of the storm. In such exceptional times when our usual habits are disrupted, some stability in our lives is even more important to calm our minds. Here are the basic habits that can help.

Get regular sleep

Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. If you go to bed by 11 pm every night, your body will get used to that bedtime, and you will also naturally wake up around the same time the next day. Soon you will feel rested, which will do wonders for your health, mood, and energy.

Eat good food

If you have access to good food in your local supermarket, make use of it. Eating food that works well with your body makes you feel better, gives your energy, and improves your health. If you’re into cooking, you can use the extra time at home to make delicious meals. I’m challenging myself to cook one new recipe per week! Let’s see how it goes.

You don’t have to be into cooking to eat well, though. You can buy ready-made meals from the supermarket or order from local restaurants that are open for take-away and delivery. Do whatever works for you to eat food that makes you feel good and enjoy it.

Stay hydrated

You need to drink enough water, period. You know it’s true. I’d add that in order to stay hydrated, you need to get enough electrolytes as well. Check your sodium, potassium, and magnesium intake and adjust if necessary.

Tip: If you notice that when you drink a lot of water, you pee it all out, you probably need to add electrolytes. Start by adding half a teaspoon of sea salt or Himalayan salt to a glass of water and see if that helps.

Move your body

Go for a walk. Go for a run or a bike ride. Do some stretches. Work out at home. Dance in your living room. Do some gardening. Even though gyms are closed, we can still move our bodies.

A picture of us out for a walk on a sunny afternoon.

Be social

In these times of isolation, finding ways to feel socially connected is more important than ever. There are several things I’m doing to stay connected to people at this time:

  • Family meals. We have at least one meal together as a family a day. This is easier now that we’re all at home, but, since we have a young baby, we can still end up eating at random times and not sitting together, so we have to intentionally avoid that.
  • Call someone. I make a point of calling someone every day. It may be a call to a family member (especially to my grandmas since they are staying alone in their apartments all day long) or a video call with a friend. Since we’re all at home now, it’s easy to catch up with friends even if they’re in different time zones from us.
  • Go for a walk with a friend. I’ve recently had the idea of going for walks with friends who live nearby. We walk together, keeping our 1.5-meter distance, and chat while we get our bodies moving and, in my case, my 4-month-old son naps in the stroller I’m pushing. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Join your colleagues in a virtual coffee room. I have to admit that I have yet to do this because I feel overwhelmed by the idea of socializing with multiple colleagues while also taking care of my baby. But for people with more regular circumstances, it sounds like a great idea to have some (non-)work-related banter virtually.

Have some me-time

As things get crazy and unusual, especially if you have kids at home, try to have some me-time during the day. Some people find this in the early morning before everyone else wakes up. Others find it in the middle of the day if they go for a walk, read a book, or watch a video.

My me-time is currently in the evenings after we’ve had dinner and we’ve put little William to sleep. I’m not usually an evening person, but I now thoroughly enjoy the golden hours from 7:30 to 9:30 pm when I can read, write, watch stuff, or just relax with my husband.

If I don’t have me-time for several days in a row, I start to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest things. But if I’ve had some time to myself, I am better able to face whatever comes my way (such as a hungry baby at 3 am or an overly full diaper).

Find gratitude

I know, I know, gratitude is all the rage these days. But it’s true: grateful people are happy people. I personally like to write down five things I’m grateful for every night before bed, and they need to be specific things from that day. This means that throughout the day I’m looking for these little nuggets of joy to be grateful for. This changes the lens of my perception, so I can notice the positive things instead of focusing on the negatives. (This doesn’t mean that we don’t notice negative things–of course we do! We don’t avoid the bad; rather, we actively search for the good.)

How about you? What habits are helping you to stay afloat? Share by commenting below.

When self-care becomes non-negotiable

Perhaps surprisingly, self-care is not super easy for me. Most of the time, I manage to follow the priorities I set for myself, so my life feels like it’s in accordance with what I want. This may be relatively easy for me because I’m an Upholder according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework, which means that I meet my own expectations as easily as I meet other people’s expectations. But that doesn’t apply with equal strength to everything.

One major point of difficulty is self-care. Self-care is a popular topic right now, being discussed by life coaches, health professionals, and writers. You might think that, as an Upholder, I wouldn’t struggle with this, but that’s not the case. I admit that I find it easier to do things for myself (such as find time to exercise or set aside me-time) than some other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely easy.

Lie down!

A week ago, I had a funky experience. I was doing my thing around the house, getting ready for work, when I got a sudden, sharp pain in my belly. Not a great thing when you’re pregnant. A few seconds later it went away, so I continued going about my business, but then it came back again. I thought it might be something, so I lay down and called my obstetrician. She told me to lie down for 20-30 minutes or until it goes away. She said it’s not super worrisome, but I should try to prevent it from happening.

After speaking to her, the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Lie down for 30 minutes?! But I have a plan for today, I have work to do!” My mind was in go-go-go mode, and I didn’t want to lie down, but apparently my body needed me to pause. When self-care became non-negotiable, I obliged, but it would have never happened otherwise.

Take breaks (again…)

Along the same line, I’ve known for a long time that I should take frequent breaks from sitting for the health of my back. Did I do this regularly in the past? Not really. I’d set a timer for 25 minutes and mean to get up and walk around when it went off, but it was so much easier to keep working–it’s just unpleasant to be interrupted. So I’d end up ignoring the timer and only getting up when I got stiff.

As I described in a post last week, pregnancy has forced me to change this behavior. Since my back is getting much more tired now, I really do get up when that timer goes off (okay, most of the time I do…) and walk around. But I’m only doing this because of the real possibility that I may get a trapped nerve in my back if I continue sitting all day without breaks. Again, the circumstances have made it unavoidable that I have to take care of my back.

Get more sleep (finally)

Big surprise: I’ve been needing more sleep since I got pregnant. I sleep 8.5-9 hours a night, and if I sleep any less, I wake up tired and groggy. This is crazy! 7.5-8 hours of sleep used to be fine, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

At first, I tried to make it through the day with my usual amount of sleep and maybe catch a little snooze for 15 minutes after lunch. Nope, that didn’t work; I was just irritable and tired.

So now I’m making sure I get more sleep. I start my bedtime routine at 21:00, get in bed at 22:00 (or 22:30 at the latest), put on my sleep mask and earplugs, and sleep until 7:00! I feel like a boring person for going to bed so early, but it makes such a big difference to wake up rested. I decided to enjoy good sleep for now while I still have the opportunity.

Is self-care selfish?

I keep wondering why it is so difficult to take care of ourselves even when we know we should. We all know we should make time for our own needs and health, but it feels harder to do that than to work, clean the house, or help a friend, for example.

I think it’s because we feel that we are the only ones benefiting from our self-care, and we’ve been taught not to be selfish. Technically, we’re not the only ones benefiting because we’re much better able to do our work or take care of others when we’ve taken care of ourselves, but this is often difficult to see because the benefits for other people are not immediately obvious.

Pregnancy has been a good reminder for me that taking care of myself means simultaneously taking care of someone else. Having this reason has made it easier for me to rest more, although I still feel guilty and like I should be doing more.

I recently came across a post from Molly Galbraith where she says that every woman has the right to take care of herself not because that makes her a better caretaker but just because she is worth it. This struck me. It applies to any human being: we shouldn’t need a reason to take care of ourselves; we should just do so because we inherently deserve it.

How to ensure we take care of ourselves

I think many of us are not quite there yet, although it would be great if we were. For all of us who struggle with self-care, it may be best to:

  • Find a good reason (a strong ‘why’) which leads us to engage in self-care (as pregnancy is for me right now);
  • Find an effective accountability system: join a group that will keep you accountable, find a buddy for a certain activity, or get a coach (in my case, it works when my husband says, “You’ve been standing for a long time, you need to sit down (or lie down) for five minutes” or “You’re tired, you need to go to bed”);
  • Find a system that works for you (such as my timer that tells me to get up and walk around).

While it would be great if we could take care of ourselves simply because we’re worth it, I believe that anyway we can get ourselves to engage in self-care is achieving the goal.

How do you take care of yourself? What do you struggle with? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Min An on Pexels