I have always been a busy girl. Priorities out of alignment. Letting work or study or clutter take up all my time. Everything else would get an excuse, sit lower down the priority chain. If I could just get X out of the way then I’ll have time for Y, I’d think. But it never happened. When I was last working, life genuinely was busy in my job, always having kids to chase, parents to answer to, my own impossible expectations to meet. I started this idea of making tea, taking that moment while the kettle boiled, to breathe, to do nothing, to think nothing, to be mindful. To notice the sound of the kettle, the smell of my herbal tea bag, the feeling of my feet on the ground, my back pressed against the counter. I didn’t drink hot drinks, especially in the Middle East, so even if I forgot to make or drink the tea, which I frequently did, in boiling the kettle, I started buying into this notion of taking a mindful moment for myself.
Cut to now. I’ve spent over a year out of permanent work, traveling the slow way, taking in the moments, from the birds singing in the early morning campsites to the different trees rolling past my African truck window. Noticing the animals, the bugs, on my walk across Europe. Like how, after the rain, the snails cross the path to the other side. All of them. Like how cows don’t moo when they’re outside, how they are happy and free with their friends, but boy are they sad inside. I watched sunsets in Morocco and in Los Angeles, so pink they light up the whole sky. Swam under the stars in Zanzibar, just floating in crystal clear waters, watching the night sky sparkle. In short, I’ve gotten good at appreciating moments. But how do I transfer that into everyday life, at home?
I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and started with the idea of creating a cue, a routine and a reward. A cue could be a time, noticing something, hearing something. A routine is the action you take. The reward could be physical or emotional, like a cookie or praise, or self-satisfaction. Think about this example. You’re going through your day, and someone in your office opens a chocolate bar (cue). You didn’t need one, it wasn’t on your mind, but now it is. Now you want one. You can put it off all afternoon but as soon as you leave your office you pass by the convenience store and grab your favourite chocolate (routine/action). The relief hits as you eat your bar, you’ve satisfied your craving (reward). McDonald’s, the smell, the ads, the name, can trigger the same craving, not because as an adult you enjoy the food, the taste. Just they put a lot of effort and money into creating cues to entice you back. Now, I wasn’t interested in creating cravings as these examples show, but I was interested in setting up the cue, routine and reward effect to see what I could establish. As I built my décor bit by bit, and I thought about my routines or lack thereof in this pandemic time, I decided to start small. I followed it up with sticky notes placed in the relevant area, stating the action I’ll take in present tense. And slowly, I built these habits, and these moments, into my life.
Cue – Get up.
Routine – Boil (slow, small travel) kettle. Put away dishes. Make tea. Sit at my table. Drink my tea.
Reward – Already one task completed to make my day a fresh start. I’ve started to hydrate myself for the day with warm water.
Mindfulness moment: I sit at the table in quiet. I look out my window. I hear the freeway traffic below. I notice the sea view, is it calm, is it rough, are there clouds or rain rolling in, are there many ships arriving today? I taste my tea. I breathe in its aromas. I feel the warmth spread through my body. I ponder my day. I reflect. I take my moment.
It feels like a good start. What I have added to that, is the intent to always have a clean sink when I go to bed. Either I wash the dishes, or I load the dishwasher, but I always go to bed with a clean, neat kitchen. The reward from that routine is knowing I’ll have dishes to put away each morning. Ahhh. Similarly, after I’m done with my tea, I fill my water bottle so it’s ready to drink throughout the day. If it’s 5pm and still full, I usually notice I’m actually quite thirsty. If it’s low, I know I’m doing well with keeping hydrated. I like this mindfulness at my table so much, that I soon added another one. On my table there is a sticky note, that says, I will not use the phone when I eat. So, like my tea, when I have prepared my meal, I sit down, I eat, and I have the same mindfulness moment, 2-3 more times a day. Looking out the window. Enjoying my food and the view.
Another habit I have developed is to make my bed every morning, after my tea. I’ve decorated my room so it’s a feminine, cosy room. I like to enjoy it that way. As I said in my Visions post, I purposely created a bedroom with only clothes and a bed. There’s no mess to tidy. I keep a cube in my bedside cabinet where I throw my pyjamas in the morning, and an empty drawer where I throw worn clothes at night that I might wear a second time. So, there is no chair overloaded with clothes on their way to the hamper. If clothes are dirty, there’s a hamper in my ensuite bathroom I put them in without delay. There is then no place in my room for clutter or need to tidy up, other than the bed.
Cue – tea finished. Chilly (winterish), move to room to get dressed.
Routine – Make bed. (Get dressed, then pull up blind to see the sea)
Reward – All day long my room shines with the blues of the sea outside and the pinks and greens inside. It’s cosy, light. It makes me happy. I’ll often take a moment through the day, just to take it all in. It’s also ready for another night time.
Now I won’t try to pretend I’m perfect here and the rest of the days fall into place with similar execution. Not at all. We are in unprecedented times. I am living in my own place paying my own bills for the first time in my life. Dealing with a lifetime of accumulated paper and things and simultaneously trying to choose how to move forward in life. To make goals and action what I can in the short term. But when I wake each morning, there are those few moments of a fresh start and appreciation for what I have. And I take them again when I have meals later in the day, I take that pause. And when I look in my room, I feel gratitude and appreciation.
What habits can you build into your day, in this time of overwhelm and unknown? What moments can you take, just for yourself?