Get out of your comfort zone and release some habits.
Coping with a world-wide pandemic, and continual changes in how we go about our ‘regular’ lives has been a challenge for most of us. How we have navigated releasing routines and habits has likely determined how well we have coped with the ongoing, changing demands of 2020.
For families there have been considerable changes in routine. I have been able to support individuals and families to minimise the psychological impact this disruption can create.
You see, our minds like routine, especially children’s minds.
Routines send a clear message that we can have trust in what will happen next. For children, and for adults, this brings about a sense of safety, security and confidence in themselves to cope.
Our minds have developed to take in important survival information, processing what it will look like specifically for us in our own situation, and then predicting what life will be like, so we can manage and cope safely.
With home schooling and working from home, families have been thrown a massive ‘curve ball’. Uncertainty of what each day will look like, having to change and do everything without familial or structural supports. Life as we have known it, has become impossible to predict, and as a result our routinely secure minds feel threatened – activating our ‘stress response also known as the fight/flight/freeze response.
I’m sure every parent has felt each one of those responses at some stage this year.
While breaking routines can encourage psychological flexibility, doing things completely differently, can be challenging, especially when our minds have created habits and expect things to go a certain way. This can sometimes lead to harsh or critical judgment on others or a we can lose confidence in ourselves because we are unsure of how we are going to cope in this strange and different environment.
My challenge to everyone, especially parents, is to keep routines as much as possible and ‘habit release’ where you can.
You may need to be setting up new routines to accommodate CoVid changes to family and social functioning, or re-establishing routines upon returning to school or work.
Rising and morning routines, meal, bath and bedtime routines, reading to your children, and packing up toys routines. These and others send a clear message to your brain, you are back in control, all is good with the world, you can cope and get through this.
But to continue to build flexibility in your brain, you need to be aware of not locking into too many habits, thinking they are routines, which will create rigidity. You can think they are routines, but you are likely trying to control what you can control, as a means to falsely believe you are managing.
Habit releasing however, is about building the psychological flexibility we need to have when life and our routines are interrupted. It can help us teach our own mind that it can cope.
Habit releasing is letting go of the habits, not the routines.
Challenging your mind to focus, to adapt, to step a little outside your comfort zone, builds new flexible pathways, but it isn’t enough to put your mind into a stress response spin.
Perhaps you could:
- Go a different way to school or work
- Park in a different spot
- Get your morning coffee from a different cafe
- Change places at the dinner table or in the lounge where you watch tv
- Put your other shoe on first (for me this was a big change!)
- Use your non-dominant hand for most of the day
The list is endless once you start to notice how your life runs – see what habits you can release. One of my clients even changed the side of the bed they slept on!
While you are still reading to your child at night, may be sit on the other side of the bed from usual. Facing the other way at bathtime. Nothing too grand, but enough to say ‘things are different and that’s ok’.
Notice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit and coping well.
Build some curiosity to how your mind works and how quickly it is to move to the stress response.
You have influence over how you respond, and then in turn how you role model to your children how to be flexible when things don’t go quite to plan. In order to be able to transfer flexibility to more serious situations we need to break down tiny habits first.
Flexibility and adaptability are the hallmarks of a healthy mind, we just need set our own challenges some days so that when life presents twists and turns, as it inevitably does and we have seen in volumes in 2020, we can trust ourselves to cope and continue to thrive.