A Week of Quitting All My Bad Habits

I’ve been edgy and easily annoyed recently, and one of my main annoyances is myself. I’ve been engaging in too many things that leave me feeling badly about myself: gossiping, getting sucked into social media and media in general, getting short-tempered with my boundary-pushing toddler, eating poorly… Basically, I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of this blogging, because it’s just more of me. So, I thought this week I’d try something different: cut out the things that have been bringing me down. Since there are a lot of them, I’d be setting myself up to fail to try to quit everything cold turkey. So, instead I’ll try a different strategy: Quit one bad habit each day of the week. Here we go!

Day 1: No Negative Thinking/Complaining

complainThis is a good mission to start with. It will focus my thoughts in a healthy place as a jumping off point for the rest of the week’s challenges.

Proactive Strategies:

  • Avoid Facebook, the news, and really any input that has the potential to pull my mindset down.
  • Keep busy.

Reactive Strategies:

  • Notice when my thoughts get negative or I start to complain.
  • Redirect my thoughts and words.

The proactive strategies worked well. It ‘s Micah’s daycare day, so I went to the beach with just Nico. We had a blissful half hour with a perfect turquoise blue sea all to ourselves. Tackled groceries without drama. Worked out. Read a novel. It wasn’t until evening that I needed to bust out the reactive strategies. I started to complain about a product. Noticed. Stopped. Then David gave me the update on a local murder trial that’s underway. Noticed myself feeling angry. Changed subject.

In the middle of the night while nursing, I scrolled through Facebook. I scrolled faster than usual, racing through names that tend to get political or controversial. I gathered that another infuriating police shooting happened in my home metro area of St. Paul, but I allowed myself to sit this one out, for now. I know it’s a responsibility to be informed. It’s part of the job of participating, of having a voice in our world. But today I didn’t and I felt calmer and perfectly whole.

Day 2: Refined carbohydrates

chocchipSkipping all processed sugar and all refined/white carbs today. Fuck, this is gonna be hard. Especially since there’s a batch of chocolate chip cookies around that we baked yesterday. That was poor planning. Okay, one meal at a time.

Breakfast: Slice of Dave’s Killer Bread toasted with almond butter.
Smoothie: frozen mixed berries, lychees, banana, spinach, almond milk, coconut milk, carrot juice, coconut oil
Coffee, black
(My morning breakfast routine didn’t need alteration, besides holding the processed creamer from my coffee.)

Lunch: chicken salad on one slice Dave’s bread.

Snack: protein shake (workout recovery drink)
I can’t tell if there are processed carbs in this based on the label… It’s mostly whey protein, but has carbs. I’ve managed to stay away from the chocolate chip cookies, so I’m calling it a win.

Dinner: Well shit. The no carb day has to fall on my every-other Thursday night hangout with friends. I’m pretty sure booze has carbs. Thankfully I have great and knowledgeable friends who assure me there are no carbs in liquid. So: whole grain crackers and cheese, lots and lots of blueberries, and two beers. And by two I mean three. Unsweetened Greek yogurt before bed.

Day 3: Judging/Gossiping

complain2The good news is the no judging/gossiping day falls on the day AFTER getting together with a few of my closest friends. The bad news is I made the mistake of checking Facebook first thing in the morning (after eating a chocolate chip cookie). So I’ve made a bunch of subtle judgments, both good and bad, about people’s reactions to the most recent horrifying events on the mainland. Maybe I should avoid Facebook and the news for another day…

Later: No judging/no gossiping went fine. The only grown-up around to talk with (not until evening) was my husband who’s really not fascinated with all the sordid details in the personal lives of others. He’s self-assured enough to not even be on Facebook.

I did, however, make the mistake of going back to Facebook, including a Mommy forum – a quite useful and supportive group – but not without the occasional amusing paranoia, infuriating sanctimony, and hot mess grammar. I don’t think anyone can think without making judgments on some level. Isn’t judging just evaluating information? Everyone views the world through their own unique filter based on their life experiences and lessons. I tried to be generous and charitable in my judgments today, but I know I wasn’t faultless.

Day 4: No Coffee, No Wine

coffeeandwineCoffee and wine have become synonymous with mommy culture. I mean I get it. When you’re jolted awake at 5:12am by a little body jumping on your face and have no snooze button option, you need some help to get going. And then when you’re so tightly wound after hours of whining, tantrums, and incessant cleaning up (often occurring while some other nearby corner is simultaneously being destroyed), you need some help unwinding.

But at what point are your trusty life coaches not that cute? When your three year-old calls all alcohol “wine”, even Daddy’s beer because Daddy doesn’t drink nearly as frequently? Or when he finds a long-lost sippy cup under the bed, sips, and exclaims in disgust that the fermented orange juice is wine? Or should I wait until he brings home one of these adorable drawings from preschool?

mommyjuice

Fortunately, today’s challenge – no coffee or wine (or any alcohol) – shouldn’t be too hard (though it does fall on a Saturday!) I’m not quite a daily drinker or a heavy drinker. But I do wonder to what extent I’m a little overly dependent on my two very familiar pick-me-up and wind-me-down drinks, and I do worry that my habits could grow worse over time.

No coffee. Not too bad. It’s Saturday and David made a huge pot, even when I told him I wouldn’t be having any. I considered tea, but no, gross. Anyway, I’m not missing the coffee. The wine though. Actually, we haven’t had white wine around – my preferred drink – for a couple weeks. I wanted to see what would happen to my near nightly drinking habit if it was replaced with beer. Not as disappointing a replacement as tea, but a close second. Sure enough, my drinking has been cut down a lot. These days I’ll split one beer with David, and often forget that it’s around. I really do miss my refreshing glass of pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, though.

Later:
The day was thrown an extra challenge when a good friend asked if she could drop off her 3 year-old while she got a hair cut and she’d bring over a pizza for dinner afterwards. An extra three year-old and a favorite drinking buddy? On my no-wine day. What was I thinking? David was like, just switch days. Don’t drink tomorrow instead. And both he and my friend made it clear they’d love me either way. But no. I need to be true to this challenge. I can’t change the rules when it gets hard. (Besides the no carbs in beer thing, because, come on, I’m not a saint.) And it’s not about me forever ridding myself of these “bad habits,” but about being mindful of how dependent I am on them, knowing when and how they arise and how hard it is to change the behavior. So, I abstained.

And actually, it wasn’t too bad. Even with an extra kiddo, I didn’t feel myself on edge. Not one little bit. I hate to admit it, but the addition of more playmates often helps things! And once my friend returned and we could have more grown-up time, I enjoyed myself just fine without a drink. In fact, the only moment I missed it was when they were cracking open their first drinks. Yeah, it looked nice, but it only took a moment before I wasn’t really thinking about it.

So, for now, I am comfortable with my current relationship with wine, welcoming it back in on some evenings with moderation.

Day 5: Yelling/Snapping/Nagging/Rushing

yellingI have the least confidence in myself on this day: no yelling, snapping, nagging or rushing. This applies to my kids, but when telling friends, one asked, “And not David too?” I like to think I’ve got this in check much better with him than my three-year old, but okay, I guess I’m not an angel with him either.

At three and a half years old, Micah has been on fire with acting out/tantrums/mischief/disobeying/whining/demanding things, etc. Judge all you want, but I haven’t yet met a three year-old who doesn’t do these things. We are challenged every day at least at some point, and sometimes it feels like the struggles keep coming, one after another much of the day. I really need to devote an entire post to the challenges of three year-olds.

So, proactive strategies:

1. Keep him fed (with HEALTHY foods) and rested.

2. Give him a heads up about the plan. First, we’re going to do this, then this, etc. Don’t change activities without a thorough heads up.

3. Keep him busy/engage with him as much as possible. Get outside.

Reactive strategies:

1. When he starts freaking out, keep calm.

2. Empathize, let him explain his frustrations. (There’s almost always a benign rationale for whatever he’s doing/wanting, and he just needs to feel understood rather than just blindly shut down – AMAZING, they’re just like adults in this regard!) After listening, stay firm in enforcing boundaries, explaining why, ensuring I still love and understand him, etc. Remain calm if he’s still freaking out. And repeat.

3. HUGS.

4. Alcohol. (For me, not him.)

Side note: for everyone reading this thinking, kids don’t respect adults like they used to because parents today are too soft, he needs a good spanking, etc., etc., please stay tuned for a lengthier post on why old school strategies such as spanking and yelling are neither developmentally appropriate nor the most effective in raising well-bahved and well-adjusted adults!

Later:
WOW. That was… I was honestly expecting this would be the day that I would be truly humbled and all my goals would be shot to hell. I guess, I was humbled but in a different way.

Being calm and nice worked. Pretty much all day. It was fortunate I woke up in a good mood. That set the tone. I generally wake up fairly cheerful, but often my good mood is gradually chipped away over the course of the day with each whine/demand/meltdown, until by 5pm, I just can not be fucked anymore. David usually gets the pleasure of returning home from work when I’ve more or less stopped caring for the day.

But on this day playing the part of a never-ruffled Disney princess freaking WORKED. And it’s not that I gave into every demand. If I’m being honest, I probably did acquiesce to desires maybe 10% more than my normal-self would have. But because I was a generally more agreeable mama, it felt like he wasn’t as much of a tyrant as usual. The day was uncharacteristically mostly peaceful from start to end.

It must be noted that the day happened to fall on a Sunday – so with the exception of Dave’s morning basketball, I had an extra pair of hands.

Day’s humbling lesson: cheery, empathetic, sweet mom = more well-behaved children. Also, I didn’t find myself stifling frustration. It was like once I made the choice to always react with love and empathy, it came more easily. Now, I’m not sure how long being superhuman is sustainable, but it does seem simply making the choice acts as a reset button of sorts at least temporarily.

Having David home also acted as a way for me to passively observe how a stricter/more emotional strategy plays out. While I was in the parenting driver’s seat for much of the day, he was too at times. He set up the inflatable pool in the afternoon, and they played great for awhile, but eventually our three year-old started doing things David didn’t want him to do: dump water in the garage, climb over the edge dangerously. I observed how David’s admonishing tone turned immediately exasperated/frustrated. (I get it – that’s me too most days.) But our son’s behavior immediately escalated – continuing to do what he now knows he’s not supposed to, and this was the kicker – mimicking David’s frustrated tone, pointing and yelling in the same way. He’s just reacting the way we react! Whereas, on this day, when I caught him doing something “wrong” I first calmly and warmly got to the bottom of WHY he was doing it (if necessary stopping anything dangerous). Situation is immediately deescalated, and he’s open to changing behavior. Amazing.

For example, just before bedtime he was happily wearing a winter jacket. I told him he wouldn’t be able to wear it to bed and immediately comes the beginning of a freak out. I acknowledged his overwhelming desire to wear the jacket, and then suggested if he really wanted to wear the jacket to sleep, he could sleep outside on the lanai (explaining that the jacket made too much noise when he moved, so he couldn’t wear it inside or he’d wake us all up). He looked at me with surprise that his desire was being validated however absurdly, and allowed himself to be carried to the chair on the lanai (physical contact further deescalating things). After a couple seconds on the cold hard chair in the dark, he decided he’d rather wear his regular pajamas and sleep in the house. Problem resolved on both our terms.

Now, I know there may be readers out there – readers who have never had kids, or have selective memory about their toddlers, or were blessed with a freakishly docile toddler – who are reading this with judgment about how that went down. Just force the damn jacket off and put him in bed, you might be thinking. And what I can assure you is that you will then have a wildly hysterical kid on your hands. He’ll be hurt, confused, frustrated, and so will you. You may be thinking, No, my kid would respect me, because I would never let him call the shots. Hmmm, a three year-old, maybe yes, maybe no. Developmentally, they’re working a lot of things out, and they’re not wired to calmly accept the parent working every single thing out for them. But I suppose it’s very possible for fear to override their natural drive to explore and test. I don’t want our kids to fear us, nor do I believe that fearful kids turn into well-adjusted adults.

It should also be noted that I busted out my drink of choice – white wine – for the first time in a few weeks. Totally hit the spot and in the evening hours, where I tend to be wearing thin, I was feeling great.

Day 6: Facebook/Internet

I figured today wouldn’t be so bad since I’ve already avoided Facebook this week.

I cheated this morning to wish someone Happy Birthday. Then I technically cheated this afternoon when I checked the Wikipedia page of the author whose book I’m currently reading. (And discovered she’s the speaker of one my favorite TED talks!) But I figured that didn’t really break the spirit of my rule, which was just to avoid the time-suck and potential negativity of too much time on the Internet, particularly social media.

In the evening we watched BBC news at my father-in-law’s house. What an efficient way to become informed!

Day 7: Quit Em All At Once

Seriously? Did I really have to do this to myself? I feel like the only reason I abstained from some of these habits on certain days was because I had the help of other habits.

Later:
I pretty much failed them all on some level (except coffee and alcohol!) One at a time was enough. I feel like the week was successful in that it brought me better in tune with WHY I do some of the things I do and what it takes to stop/reduce. Now, onward to a week of trying new vices!

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5 Responses to A Week of Quitting All My Bad Habits

  1. erinjana55 says:

    Since I wish more people would comment by my posts instead of in response to the FB link, I’ll do that for you (my challenge to myself to be the blog reader that I wish to attract–or something like that 🙂 As always, I love reading your thoughts on motherhood, though quite honestly, I’m tuckered out just reading about your attempt to tackle these challenges. I’ll be popping a cork shortly (as soon as I finish wasting time scrolling through nonsensical FB posts and shove this napping toddler off my lap). Seriously, if the rest of the world had your flaws, and only your flaws, we’d all be much better off!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey Megan, I admire your emotional intelligence but suggest you not be too hard on yourself. You know, all things in moderation. Love reading about you as it keeps me bonded. Love, Aunt Marlene

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ps, I’m having a Jamison and ginger ale after an hour workout. Spinach and eggs for dinner, a long hot shower, and now Facebook addiction for 20 minutes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Love your writing. Human, intelligent, emotive, real. Uncle Paul

  5. Anonymous says:

    I like this post. Well why not do your favorite day again next week and your least favorite next month?

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