Oh baby. Last week was Election Week.
Typically it’s simply Election Day. But not in 2020. No sir. It was Election Week and despite my aspirational note about remaining equanimous, I still let it set fire to my stable of good habits.
Here’s what we were talkin’ Tuesday through Friday:
- News (like TV News!) until 11PM
- Checking new on my phone immediately upon waking up
- (Get ready for this one) Having a tab open on my computer, while working, streaming TV News
- Constantly checking group text messages that were full of panicky Reddit links, anti-Trump memes and horrified conspiracy theories
- Alcohol! Every night, we broke out the wine in some fashion.
- Meditation every morning…lol, jk. Did not happen all week.
- Journaling & Writing? Lol. No.
It was a master course in being stressed out and ineffective!
And all over something I had no control over. What a delight! Kudos to you Christopher, time well-spent.
But here’s where things slowly started to turn around. My journal entry from Saturday, November 8th (I’m going to leave the double brackets as a shout-out to Roam Research):
Today is the first day of me getting back to my good life. I’ve allowed the [[2020 Election]] to completely destroy most of my good habits but most damagingly, my [[equanimity]]. It was a great opportunity to test that muscle and it did not go particularly well. I need to hit the reset button.
I decided that I’d had quite enough of being a panicky little blob of uselessness. Even if an infected Cheeto was trying to steal the Election and undermine American Democracy, I was not going to let that steal my peace of mind.
For goodness sake, if Viktor Frankl could retain equanimity in a German concentration camp, I can do it sipping dark roast coffee pecking away at my laptop in Denver.
The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
So where to begin? How about the newest, unwelcome addition to my life.
1.) Cut the Compulsive News Intake, Switch Back to Slow News
I could still pay attention to what was going on, remain an informed citizen, but in a way that was less damaging to my psyche. Reading or watching news compulsively (which I define as more than once per day) creates this specter of anxiety that just hangs around, making you a more scared, angry and reactive version of yourself.
Especially if you buy into the sensationalist way most news, most of which has nothing to do with you, is presented as being your problem.
Short of Trump calling for an armed rebellion (nervous laugh), there was no reason I needed to know about breaking news the second it happened.
So, to start, I shifted all my news intake back to slow news (first introduced to me by Cal Newport). For me, this takes the form of a once-daily newsletter from Axios (which I enjoy immensely) and a subscription to the Economist (a foreign perspective on US & World affairs).
No more cycling through Bloomberg, NYTimes, Fox News and CNN multiple times per day. This behavior brought, without question, the largest net negative value of all the shitty behaviors of the week.
This is why it had to be the first to go.
2.) Start Rebuilding with a Keystone Habit (Meditation)
Everyone has different keystone habits and they are a great place to start bouncing back after a shitty week.
Charles Duhigg discusses this idea is his book The Power of Habit (please read if you haven’t). They’re simply habits that, when practiced, create a positive cascade of effectiveness and consistency on the rest of your habits.
A keystone habit for me, without question, is meditation. When I meditate, typically, the rest of my life falls into some semblance of order.
My guess as to why this is? I have a very sneaky roommate who co-habitates in my head (idea from Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul) who can be extremely effective in talking me in/out of behaviors I shouldn’t/should be doing.
And when I meditate, I’m much more aware of this roommate. And can kindly tell him to shut the fuck up.
So when he tells me that I don’t really need to exercise that day, that I probably deserve a break, it’s easier to ignore him.
When he tells me that TV is probably the better option over reading tonight, it’s easier to see through his bullshit.
And this week, when he asks how much it could hurt to just run through NYTimes, Fox News, CNN and Bloomberg one more time, it’s easier to see the mental cost that would incur.
So after cutting out the very clear negative (compulsive news intake), I have now added a far-reaching positive in meditation.
Now to get the rest of the band back together.
3.) Be Very Intentional About Bringing the Next Habits Back on Board; Make it Easy and Plan!
I’ve written previously about how relying on willpower alone to implement desired habits is an endeavor doomed to fail. This is especially true when making a comeback from a shitty week.
You can’t make it difficult or intimidating to bring habits like exercise, reading, writing, etc back into your life. It has to be 1.) easy and 2.) planned.
In the past, after a bad week, I’d find myself trying to make up for it with massive habit undertakings which would ironically just lead to another bad week.
I’d set totally unrealistic fitness or diet goals that would leave me feeling exhausted. Or I’d say I needed to read like 4 hours per night. Obviously these were not sustainable behaviors and would just find me, once again, face down in the mental roadside ditch.
In hindsight it really seems like self-flagellation as punishment for the previous week. But regardless, what it was beyond all else was counterproductive.
So I was realistic with my expectations. Fortunately I was only a week removed from decent habits so I didn’t have to start from scratch, but I had to make sure that my intentions were realistic. And also planned.
A second key finding of my adventure in consistency is that, without some kind of framework, my habits don’t complete themselves.
I can’t just say, oh I want to exercise at some point today. It has to be at 2PM or I can assure you it’s not happening at all. Same with writing. Same with reading.
So, in making it 1.) easy and 2.) planned, my first day post-shitty week ended up looking a lot like my last day pre-shitty week. So did the next day. And the one after that. By Friday, I realized that I was actually back to normal.
Were there times during the week when I brought up a news site on my phone? Yes, I’m no hero. But the instances were far less often and I was much more aware of the mental disruption I was flirting with.
In the past, these shitty weeks had a tendency to turn into shitty months, even shitty quarters. But for one of the first times in my life, I stopped the bleeding almost immediately. Instead of the mental wound festering, it was cauterized before it could grow any worse (I’ll stop there with the gross medical analogies).
I suppose we can call that progress.
Although next time, let’s do ourself a favor and try not to get worked up in the first place.