I was telling my therapist a couple of weeks ago how some of my healthy habits are slipping. I’ve been watching too much TV, spending too much time on my phone, eating badly and not exercising enough. It’s worth reminding myself though that I’ve been sleeping really badly which makes everything feel harder and taking prescription sleeping tablets which slow me down.
We had a really interesting conversation about habits, and why they are so important for people who struggle with their mental health.
Three reasons why habits are important to me:
1. SO I DON’T FEEL LIKE A FAILURE BEFORE I’VE EVEN GOT OUT OF BED
First of all, getting up at the same time every morning. I’ve adjusting my work hours which means I get up at 8am and leave for work at 9am. However when I don’t get up at 8am and keep pressing snooze until 8.30am my day starts off on the wrong foot. It’s only 8.30am and I already feel like I have failed. Things I’ve found help with this are putting my alarm clock on the other side of the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off, preparing as much as I can the night before e.g. breakfast and lunch, having a shower before bed and giving myself permission to have a nap later in the day if I’m tired.
2. SO I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS WHEN HABITS SLIP
Having a routine and sticking to it, because if my routine starts to slip I start to worry about that means – am I getting ill again, is this the beginning of a downward spiral? However, I also need to allow myself some flexibility as I have a tendency towards all or nothing thinking, and some days some days things will feel harder than others or I’ll lack motivation. That’s not necessarily a symptom of depression – it’s like that for everyone sometimes.
3. BECAUSE THE MEMORIES OF REALLY DIFFICULT TIMES WILL FADE
The memory of how difficult things were a few months ago will fade over time and won’t be such a strong motivator. Therefore I need to establish healthy habits to fall back on, so things don’t require any decision making or deliberation – they are just part of my day. This quote sums that up perfectly:
There is no more miserable human being but one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every piece of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or the regretting, of matter which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.
William James, Psychology: Briefer Course