Making and Breaking Habits

I’ve often come across the idea that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit, but in my experience, it takes way longer than that, fifty days at least, which is why I resolved to blog every day for the last fifty days of 2017. And here I am, sixteen days into 2018, and still posting a blog every day. I’m to the point where, if I don’t feel like writing something, I would have to make a special mental leap not to do it.

Of course, daily blogging takes its own mental leap to continue the habit because often there simply is nothing to say. But here I sit anyway.

(Wait a minute! Back up a bit. What was that? Only sixteen days into the new year? Really? It feels like months.)

I’ve also read that it’s supposed to take twenty-one days to break a habit, though from the struggles people have with trying to give up smoking, it seems as if it could take anywhere from twenty-one days to infinity to stop. But when it comes to breaking a good habit, such as daily blogging (assuming that blogging is a good habit), it would take a single day. If I made that leap to not blog today, then it would be easy to make the same leap tomorrow, eroding the impetus, and so the habit would disappear.

Oddly, when it comes to my not eating wheat and sugar, I am already at the “mental leap” stage where I have to stop and think if I feel like a treat, though it has been but twenty days. Not that the habit is engrained enough to truly be a habit. It will take at least thirty more days for that, and even so, it will take a single day for the habit to disappear. And it will disappear when I take my Pacific coast trip — I already know that. After all, the initial idea for the trip was to make chocolate turtles in honor of my mother. And after the habit is broken, who knows how long before I will be able to cultivate the no-sugar habit again.

But that’s a problem for another day.

Oftentimes it’s impossible for me to cultivate a habit because something interferes before the habit is established. For example, I’d planned to try to lift light weights every day to strengthen my upper body and especially my wonky arm for when I go on that brief backpacking trip this May, but the thing that interferes is . . . me. I simply don’t feel like pushing myself, especially on the days I have hand pain. But we’ll see. Maybe after the fifty days of no sugar and wheat are up and they’ve become an engrained habit, I’ll look to establish the lifting-weights habit.

Or not. Sometimes I think being disciplined is highly overrated.

But for now, I’m sort of enjoying the game.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Taking a Leap Into the Impossible

leapOnce you make the mental leap from where you are today to where you want to be, then suddenly, the impossible seems possible.

Several times when things in my life became untenable, I considered getting rid of everything and just living day by day, but there have always been obstacles, some quite out of my control, such as taking care of someone who is ill or dying, and some only in my mind and personality. I’m basically a creature of habit, and when I move somewhere I tend to stay where I end up even if I hate the place. (Staying is not always about habit; sometimes staying is about not being able to find a better place or not being able to face the upheaval, expense, and aggravation of a move if you do find a place.)

Ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I’ve been afraid habit will trap me in a life of loneliness and stagnation, and I simply cannot bear for that to be true.

In various blog posts, I’ve tried to figure out what to do next, and I’ve often talked about settling somewhere and then taking trips. But the other day it occurred to me that I don’t have to settle anywhere. I can simply store my stuff and live on the road. (Figuratively speaking, that is. I wouldn’t actually live on the road. That’s a sure way of ending up as road kill.) The beauty of such a plan is that I could stay as long as I want in one place and then move on with relative ease.

At first this idea was just another cerebral meandering, but now it has taken hold. I’ve made the mental leap into such a lifestyle, and suddenly it seems possible.

I’ve been considering the logistics of what I’d need to bring for six months to a year of travel, including emergency supplies and of course boxes of my published books, and I’ve come to see that such a trip is doable. (Financing it might be a problem, but that’s the “wits” part of being a “wanderer, living by wits and whim”.) These past three years of taking care of my father, when most of my stuff has been in storage anyway, has shown me what I use and what I don’t. And I don’t use many things at all.

Moving from place to place could be a mental adjustment, leaving me feeling as if I were dangling in space, unconnected to the world (not an unfamiliar sensation since my mate’s death gave me that same feeling), but this would be one time where habit would be a good thing. I could continue my morning routine of floor exercises and weights, (luckily I’ve just been using dumbbells because carting around my barbells and weight bench would be a bit much), a long walk, and a protein drink for breakfast. This routine would help me feel “normal.” I could also bring a few small items that had no value other than that they would connect me from place to place, such as a photo of my deceased life mate or a silly figurine or my dictionary and thesauruses — something to make the place feel familiar. And then, of course, I’d have my computer. I’ve looked at this same screen for seven years now, and many friends lie beyond the images I see. To a certain extent, my life on the road would be the same as it is now, but there would still be plenty differences to savor.

I don’t know if I would ever be able to make the leap if I were mired somewhere, but in the not too distant future, my life will be turned upside down once more, and I will be forced to make a choice. And I will take the leap.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+