Last week I came down with the flu. It was a doozy–fever, chills, stuff leaking out of everywhere. The kleenex box couldn’t keep up. Neither could my patience, which, frankly, is phyllo-thin at best. Every few hours, I’d get up and sit myself in front of a computer or book. But very quickly I’d concede defeat and sink back into the couch.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s been many days, now, since I’ve been well, but I just can’t seem to get back into the game. The momentum I had built for a couple of weeks prior, writing, walking, learning, tracking, is now flat. I can’t seem to get back on that horse.
This is an old pattern.
I’m great at starting things–energetic, passionate, disciplined! But the minute I hit a road block, I come to a screeching halt. And this stasis lasts a loooong time. Often a couple of weeks. I just can’t seem to pick myself up, dust myself off, and re-commence.
How do people do it?
I think of those tiny gymnasts, powering through vault after vault, racking up the points, only to suddenly flub a landing, twist an ankle, yet they calmly make their way back to the starting line, chalk up, maybe even toss a perky head-nod to the judges, and wind up for the next one.
How do they do it?
Here are some tips for getting back into a routine that I found through my webtravels:
Start back up as soon as possible.
Now I don’t know about you, but on the days when a donut accidentally finds its way into my hand (and then my mouth) at breakfast-time, I usually think to myself, oh well, I’ve blown my six-day healthy streak now, I’ll start again tomorrow. I’ll start fresh. Yes, that’s what I tell myself–fresh. It makes me feel good. I will be making a fresh start. Tomorrow. What could be wrong about that? Well, everything, apparently.
For one, the promise of a “fresh tomorrow” gives me license to make today as “dirty” as possible. Might as well get my money’s worth since the night will miraculously cleanse me of all manner of sin, and tomorrow I can start brand new. (Oh, and could you please pass the donuts?)
This is not a good strategy. Apparently. I’m not sure why yet, but I’ll do a bit more research on the interwebs, just as soon as I lick all these sticky bits off my fingers.
Another problem with delaying the restart is that there can be some attrition in skill the greater the time lapse between fall and rise (think summer vacation and the long-division-amnesia that follows you into September). The quicker you get back in the saddle, the shorter the relearning period. You don’t have to start from scratch.
And finally, starting as quickly as possible may short circuit the trauma associated with the fall. You don’t give yourself time to lose confidence or even entertain the possibility that (maybe) you cannot perform. You just use muscle memory and habit to carry you across the finish line.
Routines are your friends.
There’s something about the regularity of a routine, the rhythm, that’s comforting–brush your teeth, wipe the sleep out of your eyes, wait for the kettle to boil, fire up the computer, read the headlines, . . . no, scratch that, this is not a week for headlines, scan your “ideas” folder (or during NaNoWriMo, check out your outline and decide what section you want to tackle), select a topic, and go.
It’s the wind up that makes the vault–get it right, and you’ll be soaring through the air.
Okay, so the metaphor doesn’t work when it’s 5:00 a.m. and you’re (literally) watching water boil, but get a little caffeined up, and this will make a helluva lot of sense. The routine bypasses the necessity for thought and decision-making. You just take that first step (towards the bathroom sink) and the sequence of actions unfolds itself. You don’t have to select, consider, sort, rank, or decide anything. The routine pushes you along. B. J. Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and creator of the Tiny Habits program, writes about how having a solid starting point, an “anchor” (walking back to the line, chalking up), sets up the routine in such a way that the actions become automatic, a “habit.”
Routines are also great when you’re in a funk. You didn’t sleep well, or you have a big project due and you haven’t even started yet, or you had a blow out with your husband or kids, or . . . you get the idea. Some days, you are just in a mood. Not a good one. This is when routines come in handy. Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (one of my favorite books!), says it best, routines foster “a well-worn groove for ones mental energies and help stave off the tyranny of moods.”
They also help you get back in the saddle. When you have lost your way, however momentarily, the routine will take your hand and point you north. That way.
Shake it off.
Regret, recrimination, what-if thinking, . . . these are all the enemy of moving forward. They keep you in the past, in a state of stultification and immobility. They also make you second guess every decision you make in the future. You can’t live like that. Horses move through their jumps in a state of flow, all parts of their being in synchrony–eyes, limbs, head, heart, go! To interrupt that flow is to get thrown again.
Take the lessons, and leave the rest.
No, scratch that. Leave, just leave it all behind. The lessons can keep you stuck–in fear, in self-doubt, in the moment of impact. You will keep running the scenarios over and over in your head, searching for clues, for answers to why, when really some things are unknowable. The lesson is for the memoir. Life is for the novel.
So shake it off. Fakers gonna fake . . . no, wait. Where was I?
Ah, yes, step out of that moment, and step into this one. Now.
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