Unpacking the transformative force of habit. Here’s how it changed me
I’ve been doing things this way for as long as I can remember—this way meaning relentlessly hustling, staying up late nights to finish work, flaking on friends and missing out on our pre-planned dinners more often than I show up. Fresh out of college and straight into the workforce, this way of life has kept me going for the past five years or so. Truthfully speaking, it’s done me good: I’ve gotten promoted, gotten a raise, went from one widely recognized company to another.
I’m happy, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any regrets.
We live in the age of the bright-eyed and ambitious. Perhaps it’s something that the millennial generation is guilty of––whether or not we know where we’re headed for certain, we speed towards our respective destinations (while picking up a side hustle or a passion project along the way, even). I admit that I’ve lost a large part of myself to this way of life. No matter how much work I clock in, how fast I will myself to move, I find myself feeling, well, stuck.
I’m chasing the career I’ve long dreamt of, but there remain a thousand what-ifs that hang over my head: What if I pursued something totally different? What if I’ve lost sight of other important things because of my heavy focus on my job? What if there’s a better way to do the things I’m doing?
Not one to leave questions unanswered, I started to explore the lifestyle I’ve carved out for myself. I admit, the habits I’ve built up over the years haven’t been the best. An inevitable result of my high school and college all-nighters, staying up until 2 or 3 AM has unfortunately become ingrained into my person. I clock in around three to four hours of sleep if I’m lucky, drag myself out of bed after several futile attempts to get my systems in motion and rush through a shower, skincare and tricycle ride to make it to my morning carpool. I go through the motions every day; I know that I’m not performing at the top of my game when I’m patting my makeup on five minutes before a meeting and running on half the recommended amount of sleep an adult should get.
It’s all I had come to know, but I grew tired of floating through the days.
On a mission to see if the grass truly is greener on the other side, I took a deep dive into the habits of a few successful, highly revered individuals. If there’s anyone who could teach me about getting my life in order, it would be them, right?
Day 1: Marie Kondo
The habit: Every morning, the goddess of year-round cleaning wakes up bright and early at 6:30. She then pens the windows and helps herself to a cup of hot tea. While this bears a certain resemblance to my typical morning, Marie Kondo makes waking up sound like a peaceful start of a prolific new day—while in my case, it’s just a whole lot of snoozing and sleepy grunting.
Deciding to follow in her footsteps, I tucked myself in at midnight and did my best to wake up to a 6AM alarm. While it took a few snoozes, I got up eventually, and like clockwork, headed towards the sliding door to the terrace to let the breeze and the first licks of sunlight in. Skipping my usual morning coffee for green tea, I took sips from my supersized mug in between my bathroom routine and getting dressed.
The takeaway: Greeting the sun as it made its ascent was a relaxing experience. Being the kind of person who rushes through everything, taking the morning slow instead of throwing my clothes on and rushing out the door was a welcome change. Stopping to breathe, even if it’s just for a fraction of the day over a mug of tea, goes a long way in conditioning the mind.
Day 2: Franz Kafka
The habit: When the day to try out Franz Kafka’s routine rolled around, I was thankful I decided to follow these habits on different days of the week. Kafka’s is an exception to the early bird way of life that most of the world’s successful and renowned seem to have adopted. Instead, he would make time to write at around 11PM, work deep into the night and into the morning hours.
The takeaway: Shaped by habit and pressing deadlines, I’ve become a night owl by default. Following in Kafka’s footsteps felt like going about my usual routine of staying up to write. I recognize that despite the inconvenient hour, my brain seems to churn out the best content right around midnight. It isn’t the healthiest habit, no––but it definitely pays to know how your peaks and troughs.
Day 3: Oprah Winfrey
The habit: You’d think a woman so successful would be hell-bent on work, work, work, but instead, the iconic host prefers to take things slow. Mindfulness governs all she does. Every morning, before working out for an hour, she sits in silence and practices spiritual exercises on her own.
Taking a page from Oprah’s playbook, I skipped a day after trying Kafka’s habit (to ensure I got enough rest, of course!). I managed to get up bright and early, rolled out my yoga mat and sat in silence for a while. I thought about everything and nothing, dwelling on the tidbits of the dreams I had dreamt the night before, doing a little work pre-game by thinking (and not stressing, would you believe?) about my to-do list for the day. Thereafter, I got up, body still a little slow and groggy, and made myself follow along to my favorite YouTube workouts.
The takeaway: Sometime last year, I discovered that in order to keep in touch with my “best self” (no mood swings, a more chipper mood), it was crucial for me to work out and take the time to burn sage and reflect every week. This little routine of mine wasn’t prescribed by anyone in particular, but I noticed that it improved my overall outlook, so I always carved out the time to do both. These days, I recognize I’m not quite as attentive to these needs, which is probably why Oprah’s habits appealed to me so much. Finding the time for morning meditation and a 30-minute workout felt like a splash of cold water—and I mean that in the best way possible. I felt more connected to my mind and body, and after my post-workout shower, I was ready to face the day head on.
After feeling like I’ve been stuck in a rut—creatively, spiritually and even interpersonally—playing by a different set of rules for three days was a much-needed breath of fresh air. Boosted productivity and a better mood were a couple of good results I saw this week, but the biggest change was easily the near-immediate shift in mindset I experienced. I felt eager to check things off my to-do list. I looked forward to going home and actually resting. I found the excitement and spark I had lost—and all it took was a little fixing up here and there.
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