By Anastasiya Gorodnicha
New Years’ Resolutions. We all talk about them, and now more than ever, we are so eager to implement these new routines and habits into our lives, to make 2021 better. It is so satisfying to get out our journals at the beginning of January and start planning. Planning for a better year, and perhaps a better future, in general. I am definitely one of the people that is hoping for a better 2021. However, I did realize a few things in hindsight at the end of last year, and I want to share them with you.
Looking at the negatives of 2020 is the easier route.
Complaining may not be part of human nature (I don’t know if it is), but it sure is the easy way to react to an unpleasant situation. It’s so easy to be sad about what we don’t have, what we can’t do. But what CAN we do, with all of this free time on our hands?
I’ve been doing a deep dive into personal growth, and finding multiple ways to improve myself as a person, as well as my mental and physical health. All of this was done from my room, and I didn’t need to worry about going anywhere.
First off, I have been reading one book every two weeks. I started this habit when winter break started in late-December. It was easy to do when school wasn’t happening, and it also became a quarantine habit. Then, when school restarted in January, I couldn’t fall asleep without reading a chapter of my favourite book. If you’re not into reading (which I highly recommend—I used to hate it too, but it’s worth a real shot!), there are so many other things you can do. Take a bath before bed, do a longer skincare routine (or just start one), video call a friend or chat with a family member about a random topic. There are so many ways to improve our ways of living that are sitting right in front of us, but we refuse to take it. We refuse to accept the good that is being allowed in our lives in spite of all the bad that has happened.
I don’t like complaining anymore, but I think I had the biggest heartbreak when the pandemic hit. It’s obviously subjective, and you may think it’s pretentious, but I was supposed to live my dream life this year. I was in Vienna, on an exchange that I’ve anticipated for years, when I had to go home after a mere six weeks. This trip was supposed to allow me to truly discover myself, make lifelong friends, and get out of my comfort zone. After coming back with absolutely no hope, I ended up finding ways to do all those things in Ottawa but it was still such a devastating change in my life. However, I am choosing to take this opportunity of living at home and not paying rent, having access and time to call my friends internationally, and ultimately, more time for myself, as a positive experience.
Living in the present is the most valuable gift you can give yourself.
I know people are constantly saying: “live in the moment,” “don’t dwell on past failures,” “don’t stress about what’s coming, just focus on where you are now,” and it is definitely easier said than done. But, how many of us are actually trying to take that advice? Even when meditating, our mind wanders to an interaction we had yesterday, or what we should make for dinner. This is the human instinct, and it is a hard habit to get by. However, all we truly have IS the present moment. There is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow. Of course, speaking in work or school terms, it’s very important to plan ahead to succeed. But I’m talking about your daily routine. I’m talking about the moments that you are living for “yourself,” and not for anyone else. If you are constantly anticipating something, you truly miss out on living life at all. As Alain de Botton (Art of Travel) has observed: “Our capacity to draw happiness from aesthetic objects or material goods in fact seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a more important range of emotional or psychological needs, among them the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect.”
What de Botton is trying to say here, is we cannot expect that “when I buy that house” or “when I retire,” that we will magically become happy. Happiness cannot come from a landmark or a physical attainment. It must come from within yourself, and that can only happen if you are truly being present in the activities that you do. I know it’s not easy, but everything that we do in life is a habit, and habits can be made or broken. If you need advice on how to live in the moment, please email me and I would be happy to discuss my journey from being Type A and planning absolutely everything in my life (and obviously worrying about every little thing), to going on daily walks and being much more relaxed about life.
How to create or break a habit (based on James’ Clear book: Atomic Habits, that I ABSOLUTELY recommend to everyone)
I must emphasize that even though I am a graduating psychology student (hence the domain of interest I have written this blogpost about), I am in no way an expert of scientifically changing your mindset or your patterns. I simply have found out these great techniques, for both mindfulness and habit-making, that I must show everyone else. For a complete and full understanding, please read the book (it’s very useful).
First of all, the best way to create a habit is not to say “I am quitting smoking,” but rather: “I am not a smoker.” The shift between an action and an identity is a big one, and it works. I suggest you make a list (as I have), of who you are as a person, and specifically who you want to be. Write down things like “I am a reader,” “I am optimistic and empathetic” (these are examples from my own life). As soon as you start writing these into manifestation, you will start acting like this person you’ve created.
The next tip I will give you is Implementation Intentions. Set a specific and detailed way that you will either break or create a new habit. An example of mine: “I will not be on my phone past 10 p.m. when I am in bed.” It’s important to set a location and time for this, to be able to follow it as close as possible. Another good one is Habit Stacking, where you write down the things you want to do in order, including both habits that you already have (like setting your alarm), and new habits you want to create (listening to a podcast before bed). The more habits you have that you already have, the easier it will be to implement new ones (so, start off with less, and build up).
One important thing to do, especially to break a bad habit, is to reframe the associations of the habit to good feelings. For example, I pick up my phone to (a) take a break for my brain (from studying or work), or (b) boredom. I suggest you write down alternative reactions to both of these feelings. Brain break: drawing, taking a walk, shower, yoga. Boredom: reading, podcast, planning, studying, youtube, singing etc. Again, it will be weird at first when you start doing these new activities, because they won’t feel as good as checking your Instagram. However, like I mentioned before, everything we do is a habit, so once you start doing yoga when you need a break, you will be less and less tempted to go on your phone. The author gives many useful examples of habits, but I personally wanted to break my phone habit, so that’s why I am using it as an example. P.S., it takes 21-30 days to make or break a habit, but what matters more is consistency and occurrence, not time passing by.
There are many other tips I can give you about habit creation, but I would suggest either emailing me or getting the book, as this is getting quite long. I do hope I inspired some people, or at least gave an entertaining read. Remember, just saying and planning ways to change your life won’t actually do anything. Get up and go!
Last tips or motivating quotes
Please listen to Mindset Mentor on Spotify. Rob Dial has been the main source of my living in the present and getting out of my comfort zone. I also have a few quotes that have been helping me stay on top of my goals:
“ Live your year as if you will die on Dec. 31” (Because you truly could die then! No one knows!) – Rob Dial
“Wanting a positive experience ie negative, but accepting a negative experience is positive” – Mark Manson
Ask yourself: “Am I okay RIGHT NOW? Marinate on that” – Rob Dial
Ask yourself: “What is beautiful about this moment?” (When you’re having negative thoughts) – Laurie Santos
“If it could have happened any other way, it would have” – Paula Jones
“He suffers more than necessarily, who suffers before it is necessary” – Seneca
And for anyone interested, I’ve recently started a youtube channel where I will be posting weekly videos regarding ways to keep your habits on track and improving your overall quality of life! Follow me at Anastasiya Gorodnicha.