Determined to get back in the habit of working out, I headed to the hotel gym this week. As I was doing a bicep curl on the Universal machine, I noticed I was holding my left hand a little funny. I was puzzled for a moment and then I realized– I was protecting the gold of a ring I haven’t worn for over a year. A habit formed unconsciously over 28 years was still hanging on.
Habits can either be intentional or accidental, but both are powerful. And if we don’t replace an unwanted habit with something else, they are difficult to extinguish. Although there is a common belief that it takes 21days to develop a new habit, more recent studies state it takes between 18 and 254 days, with the average being 66 days.
That’s why, after 30 years of being part of a couple, I knew I had to make a real break to avoid falling into a new relationship simply because I was so used to having someone always there, of sharing my bed and my meals, always, with someone else. I was so used to being comfortable.
And, to my surprise, there were people out there who were looking for a new partner, and were interested. But the way these divorced or widowed men wanted to go straight to the comfortable stage of a relationship made me realize they were not so much captivated with me as wanting to fill a void in their lives. With almost no preliminaries, they wanted to go straight to watching Netflix in their jammies. It strengthened my resolve to make true change.
And so I put the house for sale, started clearing out decades’ worth of possessions, rented a storage locker, and began planning my year of travel.
Of course, it wasn’t all about going from being part of a couple to being on my own. My children had grown, my mother had died, and I had retired. So I threw my whole life up in the wind. I took the opportunity to examine my values and everything I did, asking, is this truly me? Or is it just a habit I have fallen into? During six months of travel I continued the process of contemplating who I really was. Being among strangers took away the habit of my interactions with friends and family and allowed me to try out new ways of being.
I’ve discovered that I have picked up the habit of travel. I’m not sure what 2020 will look like, but I know it will involve some trips.
Home now, I’m spending two weeks at a cabin on the beach (thank you, Cindy and Gregg!) working on new habits. I’m following a clean eating program that is not only healthy but easy, and shopping and cooking for one makes me realize that perhaps I do still enjoy cooking, even if it’s not for a family. I’m going to the gym and walking for hours on the beach. I am practicing both reading (on paper, not on-line) and writing. I substituted the glass of wine that was becoming too regular with a wine glass of kombucha, instead, and discovered that it was the ritual of relaxing with something special that held the appeal, not the alcohol.
The unconscious habits are difficult as they can be strong. I’ll still instinctively check out a loaded logging truck or a man who looks like my ex in a pickup. I’m immediately appalled, but I haven’t yet broken that instant response. it’s hard to replace those actions with new habits. Awareness is a step, I suppose.
There’s nothing wrong with comfort. I still enjoy a lazy morning in a cosy bed, a good book and a comfortable chair, time spent with those I know so well and love so deeply. But when all you live in is your comfortable habits, you can suddenly find that it has been 5 or 10 years since you have gone anywhere new or made a new friend.
You can’t be too comfortable and still have brave travels.