As you know from my previous blog articles, habits are my productivity foundation. Desired changes and the implementation of passion projects cannot be forced permanently and sustainably through willpower but are ideally integrated gently into life through small habits that then add up to the desired result („Atomic Habits“). This can be done, for example, via a morning routine.
There are many advantages to this way of thinking but also disadvantages: it drives you crazy when you get knocked out of sync, and a "Don't Break the Chain" streak gets interrupted.
In my case, there are three possible reasons for such a series break:
- Business travel
- Illness and hangover
- Vacations / Holidays
And with the Christmas holidays and the New Year approaching, I thought I'd write briefly about how I deal with this.
I used to put myself under unnecessary pressure and ruin my mood.
During the Christmas holidays, I typically travel to my parent’s house for a few days, and each time I resolve to maintain my habits (expectation). However, the reality regularly looks like I get bogged down there and become lazy as if on cue:
- My walks are cancelled, except for a comparatively short one.
- I don't do any sports because the overcoming is so high due to the unfamiliar environment.
- I eat far too much
- I drink alcohol on the couch in the evening, which I don't usually do. This, in turn, affects my sleep quality which then only reinforces my general sluggishness the next day.
- My desk routines are eliminated (journal, note reviews, ...).
The problem lies in expectation (keeping routines even with my parents) and reality (emerging sluggishness and laziness).
So far, this expectation/reality deviation has always put me under so much emotional pressure that I had both the downside of omitting my routines and a terrible mood that ruined the holidays. Or, to put it another way: I could have just enjoyed the days without my habits as a well-deserved break.
The solution is to acknowledge the reality and view and enjoy the holidays as a mental and physical regeneration week.
Use the holidays as a regeneration week.
I think we have to acknowledge the human realities here. No one lives 100% of the routines and resolutions they set out to do. Even the productivity gurus you might have in mind sometimes stray from the path they set out.
The secret lies in how we deal with slips and deviations from our plan: do we let them throw us completely off track, or do we accept the situation and gently bring ourselves back on track?
Here's how I handle the Christmas holidays nowadays: I already assume in advance that I'll omit all my routines and plans (sports, counting calories, goals, tasks) for the one week and look forward to being able to be during the week and treat myself to the things that I otherwise deny myself: entertainment for example via Netflix and co.
Christmas has become a regeneration week for me, and I know that afterwards, I'll re-introduce my habits step by step and be more efficient than ever due to the mental and physical regeneration effects.
Advantage: Expectations and reality match, and I can enjoy the week and use it as regeneration.
The inner framing changes everything!
How to restart your healthy habits after the holidays?
At some point, Christmas and the regeneration week are over, and we must restart our routine again. And from a cold start, this is harder than it sounds at first.
You think, "Well, I'll just keep doing what I was doing before Christmas," but it's not that easy. The cold start takes willpower, so you should not overwhelm yourself with too much ambition.
I do it like this: I build up my Healthy Habits again step by step over a few days, like a pyramid:
Step 1: Conscious eating
Consciously chosen amounts (calories) and non-industrial processed foods. Diet is the basic foundation of the Healthy Habit Pyramid. It provides a virtuous cycle because my sleep improves with good nutrition, and I have more willpower and energy to restart my other Habits the following day.
Step 2: Resume walks
I walk 2.5 hours daily, giving me an essential exercise benefit (back muscles, basic activity calories, time to think, etc.). Before I start my more intense workouts, I like to stick to just walking for a couple of days.
Step 3: Strategic Planning
I review my previous plans on yearly, quarterly, and monthly levels. If I am within a quarter, I only do a light review to remind myself of my "Red Thread“/„Critical Path“. If it is the transition into a new quarter or even a new year, I think from scratch about what I want to achieve in the next year and quarter and create a new plan. I then evaluate the old strategy in a journal entry: what worked well, and where did I fail? What are the fact-based successes? I can then use this as a basis for salary negotiations, for example, regarding the professional components.
Step 4: Review of notes and task management
I Process and empty my inboxes. I do a retrospective on the holidays as a short journal entry and plan the present week based on the strategic plan. Steps 3 and 4 help me finally end my mental blind flight, and now I know again clearly what in the multitude of possibilities are concretely the tasks I want/need to tackle in the next seven days.
Advantage: my head is now free for the things that cost me tremendous willpower.
Step 5: Workout restart
I’ll start running and doing my weight training every day again. My formal goal is one hour per day of intense workouts. The exact type of exercise always depends on my goal: do I want to lose weight (=more endurance) or instead build muscles (=more weight training)? So I then balance the exact composition of a week (e.g. two days of weight training to one day of endurance training).
Step 6: Resume standardised morning and evening routines
I have a checklist of the exact items and timeboxes I want to perform each morning and evening. This checklist symbolises the cadence in my ways and helps me participate in the "don't break the chain" effect.
Step 6 is about rerunning my standardised routine program for the first week and finding my beat.
The machine is now running smoothly again!
Conclusion: Accept downtimes and learn to deal with them
So my core message in this article is this: Having routines and executing them committedly is a good thing and leads you to success and your desired outcomes.
However, it is perfectly normal to get out of sync and to let things slide for a few days, and this should not be a reason to spoil your mood. Take note of the slip and accept it. Or even use it to your advantage by treating it as a regeneration from your otherwise tight program.
You can then restart your routines step by step and be more vital than ever.