HABITS: Giving Yourself a Break During Times of Change

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The BIG THOUGHT in this LITTLE POST: During times of change, cut yourself some slack on your usual to-do list because you're in the process of building new habits.

Habits reduce cognitive load and free-up mental capacity so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.

Now, if that's true, it stands to reason that the opposite is also true:

Lack of habits increases cognitive load and torches your mental capacity so that you cannot allocate your attention to other tasks.
- Me

Have you ever found yourself feeling guilty for not keeping up with your habits in times of transition?

Making yourself feel as though - amidst huge amounts of upheaval - you should still, somehow, be able to keep up with all the things?

(Come on...I know I'm not the only one.)

I've struggled with this lately; I've been giving myself a very hard time for not keeping up with my writing schedule. At the beginning of the year my goal had been to publish consistently twice a week, and I was succeeding. But in the last two months, that schedule has all but died. (Schedule? What schedule?)

What I failed to remember is that everything we do has a cost; not necessarily financial, but always in time + mental capacity.

What's been happening in my life during this time...


My fiancé and I moved in together
Purging, packing - boxes, boxes, boxes! - and trying to figure out how the old things fit into the new space and new life.

Moving isn't just about emptying boxes, it's about thinking through the logistics of your new life and deciding where it makes the most sense to place your things based on your daily activities.

That means lots of trial-and-error, the cost of which is time + mental capacity.

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

We're planning our wedding
Although it's now spring and we're not getting married until the late fall, weddings - even very small ones like ours (18 guests) - aren't things that should be left to the last minute, especially when it comes to booking vendors.

We've been busy visiting venues, finding out how to get a marriage license - so convoluted! - interviewing officiants, speaking to photographers - and in the middle of all that, I still somehow managed to buy my wedding dress and shoes (!)

(The process was a made easier by the fact that I'm not wearing a pouffy white dress because - aside from the fact that I don't want to look like a meringue - I absolutely REFUSE to spend money on a dress I'm only going to wear once...anyhow, I digress...)

Bottom line: wedding planning requires the coordination of many details, the cost of which is time + mental capacity.

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We're planning our summer vacation
I had to request leave from work in advance because we have to ensure that everyone on the team isn't leaving at the same time. I also have a limited amount of vacation days per year.

And... I need a vacation

Like a lot. 

Last week I found myself crying in the parking lot at Walmart. 


When you find yourself crying in public - whether in a parking lot or, let's be honest, anywhere - you need a break.

Because of that, my fiancé and I wanted to ensure that we do something worthwhile and genuinely vacation-y (not a word, stay with me) during that time. Where do we want to go, where do we want to stay, what do we want to do?

Real vacations require a delicate balance between being not overly scheduled, but not entirely up-in-the-air either.

Which means planning, researching, and reading reviews, the cost of which is...drum roll please...time + mental capacity for the win!

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash


Ok, so that's a lot of suff right there. And in the middle of all those life changes, there's still the regular life stuff to do like groceries, laundry, workouts, social obligations, etc.

Perhaps you can relate?

Added to all of the above, there was one other thing that was making everything even more challenging to deal with...


During this time, I was also chronically sleep deprived thanks to my busy mind and high-stress levels. I was literally waking up between 2:00-3:00 AM every night, physically exhausted but mentally wired.

Since I was unable to fall back sleep, I would get up and head into the office, sometimes arriving and beginning work between 4:00-4:30 AM. 


Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

“Professor Charles Nunn—a leading evolutionary anthropologist—investigated the rise of insomnia, and found that we struggle to sleep when we experience “stress and hyper-vigilance.”

If you don’t feel safe, then you’ll be unable to wind down, because your body is saying to you: You’re in danger; stay alert. 

So the inability to sleep, he explained, isn’t a malfunction—it’s “an adaptive trait, under circumstances of perceived threat.” 

To really deal with insomnia, Charles concluded, we “need to alleviate the sources of the anxiety and stress to effectively treat insomnia.”

If you're so stressed that you're not sleeping, that lack of sleep will affect your entire day and make the small things feel way beyond your emotional capacity until everything piles up and you eventually lose your sh*t. (See above re: crying at Walmart.)

The week after the move, something broke inside me and I found myself ugly crying to the point of hyperventilation; I was beyond exhausted.

I ended up taking the rest of that week off work.

Photo by Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

I finally decided to acknowledge that I was living in "bare essentials mode" - every day, doing only what was absolutely necessary - because I didn't have the capacity for anything else.

BARE ESSENTIALS MODE: When you're going through times of transition, look at your to-do list, and cross out anything that isn't absolutely crucial for that day. 

That means the only things that stay on the to-do list are those that will have an immediate impact on your life if they aren't completed that day.

No immediate impact = it needs to be moved off the list.

(That's what the "parking lot" list is for; those things that do still need to get done, but not today. So you park 'em, for now.) 


In spite of that acknowledgement, I was still feeling frustrated with the slowness and hiccups of the transition, until I listened to Atomic Habits by James Clear. 

Then the light dawned on me (I literally heard a chorus of angels in my head as the understanding beamed down into my brain) as to why this transition was taking so much out of me.

I don't have new habits set-up in my new environment; EVERYTHING is new.

Before moving in my with fiancé, I'd been living alone for seven years, and I hadn't lived with a partner for over 20-years.

Aside from adjusting to living in a new space and a new part of the city, I was adjusting to living with someone. We're each adjusting as we try to figure out what our days and our schedules will look like in this new situation.

Basically, we're in the process of building new habits, together. And not just one habit, but we're reviewing all of our habits - like when to do laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Those are all things that, for each of us, had been automated. And now they weren't.

Remember: Habits reduce cognitive load and free-up mental capacity so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.

Now, since I think we can all agree that's true, the opposite is also true: Lack of habits increase cognitive load and torch your mental capacity so that you cannot allocate your attention to other tasks.

See the good thing (and sometimes bad thing) about habits is that you don't have to think about them; you do the automatically.

Not thinking = LOADS of mental capacity.

But when you're in a new environment, all the automation is GONE.

Everything has to be thought through all over again; it takes mental bandwidth that you might just not have available for other things - like being creative.

"I can't think about writing right now because I don't know where the coffeepot is. How am I supposed to get anything done when I can't even make a cup of coffee?"

I had been giving myself such a hard time for not being able to maintain my habits, but under the circumstances, I shouldn't have been expecting myself to.

During times of change and emotional upheaval we need to give ourselves a break; cut ourselves some slack.

When you're dealing with a new situation, it's normal not to have the brain power to do anything but the most pressing of priorities, because your mental focus is directed towards building new habits.

And that's not only perfectly ok, it's totally fine.

Photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash

"Did you know butterflies rest when it rains because the raindrops will damage their wings? It's okay to rest during the storms of your life. You'll fly again once the storm passes."*

"There is literally NOTHING in nature that blooms all year long, so don't expect yourself to do so either."*

“Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. In fact, the people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom... 

If you’re always being forced to make decisions about simple tasks—when should I work out, where do I go to write, when do I pay the bills—then you have less time for freedom. It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.

Conversely, when you have your habits dialed in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges and master the next set of problems. Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.”

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

You might be asking yourself "How does this topic relate to recovery from binge-eating?" What I found is that - for me - finding new ways of thinking about life and its challenges helped me to stop stress-eating, and has been a very big part of my ability to stop binge-eating.

For more on changing your mindset and imagining good things click ⭐ here ⭐ to get my guide on Visualizations — yours FREE with subscription to my site.

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