April 26, 2020
I don’t know about you folks, but I am really feeling the quarantine blues. I know Social Distancing is something to take seriously, which I am, but DAMN my routine and my willpower is way out of wack. I feel out of sorts and really lacking the motivation to do the things that are important to me. So I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on that and perhaps even offer some encouragement to you as well (if you find yourself in a similar state). After all, we are all in this together. I mean truly, whether we like it or not, this is happening to all of us and it is affecting all of us.
Before we were in this situation, I found myself getting up at five minutes to five in the morning. This gave me time to have some coffee, maybe even meditate, read a book, stretch and then head off to the gym before going to work. I found this routine got me pumped up and ready to go. I attribute much of this to not only going to bed at a reasonable time before but to getting some exercise before starting my day. Right there we got two major things that fuel a healthy mindset: sleep and exercise. Since quarantine, gyms have closed and I find myself working from home.
I am very thankful to be working. Unfortunately, many of us may not be as fortunate. While some of us are receiving financial support- there are others who are living under extremely stressful financial situations. My heart goes out to these individuals and their families. This is but one more major difficulty during a tumultuous time. I do wish to acknowledge these individuals. My thoughts are with you and your families at this time. I can not speak for you but my only hope is that this article may provide something useful to you.
Working from home is more difficult than I had anticipated. Not that the work itself is more difficult but rather the ability to remain focused is. At work, I find myself coming to a place where I am given a specific task: to do my job. When you are working from home, there is much more you have to do- especially if you have children. At the time of writing this, my daughter is seven months old. It is wonderful to be able to experience being around her during the day. Seeing her trying to figure out the world more than I was ever able to when I worked. However, it can make focusing on work and staying on task for extended periods of time very difficult. I can only imagine what this is like for parents of older children who are much more mobile and active.
That said, If I am being honest with myself: I am hiding my lack of productivity behind my daughter. Behind my spouse. Behind my dog. Behind my chores. All of which is rather unfair. The real reason my level of effort has decreased is because of me. I have fallen into a slump and I have chosen to use our current situation as an excuse. Yes, the gym is closed. Yes, I am not able to switch up my scenery and put myself in a “productive” environment. Yes, I can’t see friends. But these are all reasons to hide behind my lack of productivity. I can still get up early in the morning. I can still go to bed at a reasonable time. But I find myself not doing these things. Why? Because I am looking for a good reason not to. For me, blaming it on something out of my control is a great excuse. The problem: it is still an excuse and the only person who is really stopping me from accessing my potential is myself.
Sometimes it helps to pull back the layers and look at things from a distance. Detaching yourself from the immediate experience. So if I am to do that and stop and assess things, I will see that there is a habit loop starting to cultivate itself. I tell myself: “Okay, I am going to get up early tomorrow and start my day like I used to.” But I find myself staying up way passed my intended bedtime binge watching shows about a gun trotting madman with a penchant for killer cats. The result: I go to bed later and can’t get myself up in the morning. Almost always, we do things because there is a reward.
Think about your worst vice: typically you do it because you get something out of it. If you didn’t you probably wouldn’t do it. Take for example alcohol. If you have a couple drinks, you start to feel good. It relaxes you. Have to many, you feel like you were hit by a truck the next day. But often times we forgot about how bad our hangovers are and only remember the good feelings, so we find ourselves doing the same thing only a few days later. My point is that our memory and our minds are programmed to these feedback loops especially if what we get out of it is a good feeling which over time become habits. This is explained originally (and far more clearly) in Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book The Power of Habit.
Picture 1: The Habit Loop as explained in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg picture retrieved from: https://medium.com/@laxmena/the-habit-loop-book-review-the-power-of-habit-303dc690825d on April 26, 2020.
So for me, staying up late with mindless entertainment was becoming a habit. Watching tv or playing video games felt good but then I would have a hard time getting up. This did not feel good. It made me feel unaccomplished and that in turn was failing my goals. This would derail my day and my mood because I felt unsuccessful which would manifest itself in, you guessed, staying up late to ward off those bad feelings. Before all this, I would get up in the morning and go to the gym. The reward was that I felt great after and in turn mentally set me up for a successful day. The problem is that the system of delivering that reward: the gym, is no longer available. So what do I need to do to get back on track and reclaim my routine? Like most things, the answer is deceivingly simple: I need to change right now. I need to stop hiding behind people and events believing they are “obstacles”. I am my only obstacle. I am the one responsible for where I am and the choices I make. So, I need to start making better ones.
The best way to get out of a slump is to acknowledge that you are in one. For me, my slump is not being productive and in not setting up some rigidity in my day. We all need this in our lives, we function best in the presence of a schedule not the absence of one. Therefore, I need to develop and stick to a routine. So starting today I will give myself a weekly schedule. If I slip up, rather than beat myself up, I will do everything to get back on that schedule. For example: if I don’t get up at 4:55, I will get up at the closest interval to that on my schedule. Most importantly, I will set an alarm at the end of the day to go to bed. This will help remind me that I have got to get up early tomorrow. Remembering that the biggest thing in aiding a positive and strong mindset is sleep! If you get a good night sleep, you will simply be more ready for whatever comes your way in the morning.
Picture 2: A rough copy of my proposed routine.
I have included a scanned copy of my schedule above. You will notice the emphasis is on the morning having a strict routine and there being a set time for bed. This leaves plenty of room for figuring out the rest of the day. To me having a regulated morning is necessary for having a productive and positive day. Maybe it is similar to yours? Or perhaps you too could benefit from having a schedule. Feel free to share your thoughts and let me know what you think. I will be posting next weekend with results in how I did with my schedule and areas for improvement. This will help keep me accountable and honest. Human beings are creatures of habit and having a routine can help promote our maximum potential. My goal is to get back to achieving just that! I would be honored if you joined me (or perhaps for me to join you)!
Thank you for reading,
 Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Canada: Random House, 2013.
 Walker, Matthew, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, New York: Scribner, 2018.