Creating New Habits to Ease Your Overloaded Mind
Decision fatigue: That’s one of the main reasons I was so exhausted! Some days, even the smallest decisions seemed impossible. Just like the meme going around on social media: I had 375 tabs open in my brain and was trying to juggle, multi-task, be everything to everyone. What should I have for breakfast? Lunch? Who was cooking dinner? What shall I wear? Shall I do the washing now or tonight? Who has to be where, when? And that was just a snippet from my home life – then there was work! I was overwhelmed and sinking.
A poster in my office says, “For things to change, first I must change.” The reality is I cannot change the people around me. (Even though I try!) My best bet was to work on myself and work on what I could change. My resolution was to simplify my life in small, incremental steps. To take away the layers of complexity of the small, daily, seemingly inconsequential decisions that were causing me angst. Having been on this journey for a while now, and steadily getting better at it, I’m sharing some of my tips.
Before I launch into these tips, please know this was a slow process and as Robin Sharma states, “Change is hard at the start, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” He suggests it takes 66 days to install long term change into your life. The first 22 days are hard, where you have to let go of the old habits and practices and beliefs. Most people give up during this stage and the key is to keep going, reset, try again and accept small failures as learning opportunities. The next 22 days are messy as you create new neuro pathways. As you are now installing the new habit, confusion and exhaustion may set in. You may hear conflicting information and others may challenge your decision to change your routines and behaviour. I love the idea that obstacles are nothing more that tests designed to measure how seriously you want the rewards! It then takes a further 22 days to create ‘automaticity.’ In this last phase you move from hard to easy and you know when it is becoming a habit when it is easier to do it, than not to do it.
Start with one idea, install it until it is a habit and then add another change. It’s called habit stacking. I started with breakfast! Sometimes that simple decision first thing in the morning was too much, and I now simply have the same breakfast every day! It is wholesome, balanced and sustaining, and is now simply a part of my daily stress free morning.
Here are some of the other changes I slowly made that you might find useful…
• Get your clothes ready the night before.
• Create a morning routine just for you (even if you have to get
up 15 minutes earlier to do it!) This might include stretching, exercise, saying affirmations, mediation, a mindfulness practice, etc.
• Get out of bed within 5 seconds of the alarm going off – Mel Robbins calls this the 5 second rule: The alarm goes off and you count 5-4-3-2-1 and get up!
• If you want to exercise in the mornings, leave your exercise gear out by your bed so you put it on as soon as you get up. (I have mine on the heated towel rail in the winter!)
• Make a to do list at the end of your work day for the next day. Ensure you include your personal to do’s as well.
• Cook in bulk. If you are making a casserole or soup, make a double or triple batch and before you serve it, freeze the extra portions ready for nights when you don’t have the energy to cook.
Other decision fatigue hacks I have developed include:
• Meal Prep: I usually create all my weekly lunches on a Sunday afternoon. I cook all the elements and prepack in glass jars which keeps the food fresh in the fridge all week.
• Sunday night dinner sees my family sharing a meal and planning the week ahead. Who is cooking dinner, who needs a ride where and when and who is home each night? It takes 5 minutes and makes a huge difference to the flow of the week.
• Online supermarket shopping. This has to be the best stress buster ever. I created a word doc with most of the items we buy each week, print it out and leave it on the bench each week. If someone finishes or uses that last of something, they simply tick it on the list. Our Friday night routine is I simply scan the and tick the list of items we need, add any extras and complete the online shopping for collection (or delivery) the next day. More recently, our daughter does all of this and I simply do the final check.
Delegating jobs has been a great stress reliever. Our teenagers have been doing much of the housework for a few years. They vacuum once a week, clean the bathroom, help with kitchen duties, bring in the firewood, etc. One of the things I have had to let go of is perfectionism. In my busy world each week, I have learned to not sweat the small stuff. My coffee table has dust on it and there are likely to be spider webs in the corners. I do, however, endeavour to invite friends for dinner at least once a month so the house does get a big tidy up!
I am a work in progress and refer to myself as an imperfect human. Having many of these routines installed into my life has created space for me to manage my focus and make less decisions each day.
One of my next installation goals is to create even more external order in my office. From what I have learned, this helps with increasing your discipline. The phrase that caught my attention from Robin Sharma is, “Mess lowers your self control and steals your cognitive bandwidth.” I’m going to give this a whirl for 66 days, keeping the office clutter free and focused on the bigger goals we have.
What one idea, habit or behaviour might you start with to lower your stress levels and decrease your decision fatigue?
For more ideas please join Megan Gallagher and me on our Happy Healthy Teachers Matter Facebook group.