Out of the Habit

I find myself lately pretty continually dismayed by the frequency with which I have to acknowledge that I’ve lost my good habits. I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing every morning; I’ve gotten out of the habit of leaving work on time in order to make it to my yoga class. I’ve gotten out of the habit of eating well. I’ve gotten out of the habit of making slow but steady progress on a big project. And then there are the less than great habits that I’ve gotten myself in of late (which I won’t delve into here).

Part of the problem, I’m realizing this morning, is that the habits that I want to cultivate aren’t mobile friendly. They require a life in which one reliably wakes up at the same time, in the same place, pretty much every day, or at least for consistently long enough periods that changes can be managed and settled down into new routines.

But the life I’ve chosen isn’t at all consistent. It has periods of consistency that fool me into believing that I have established some good habits that can sustain me through whatever little disruptions I encounter. This, I am realizing today, is a fundamental miscalculation. My life is mobile at heart; if I go three weeks without traveling, it begins to feel a bit like a staycation, a long, luxurious lie-in at home. Every time I leave, every time things get somehow disrupted, I lose my hold on all of my good habits, and I have a miserably hard time picking them back up again.

What I need to develop is a set of habits that are as mobile as I am, habits that are disruption-tolerant. Can there be such a thing? I don’t mean habits that I can take on the road with me, necessarily, though that would be ideal; more, I’m after habits that can be slipped in and out of based on location. Location-based habits. Hey, you’re home. How about a yoga class? Oh, wait, this looks like a hotel. How about taking a walk?

Exercise is the obvious example, and also the example with the most obvious fix: it’s available anywhere. It’s about mobility. But there are other habits that I keep trying to cultivate, habits that require stillness, that continue to slip away every time I travel, or every time my schedule shifts. Habits like writing. I have tried to find ways to accommodate my mobility — the first three-quarters or so of this post was written on my iPhone, while standing on the subway — but there’s an enormous difference between writing a blog post on the run and working on a longer project.

What I want, I think, is to cultivate a set of habits that can look at all of the things I want to do — the big projects, the exercise, the eating right, and so on — and find the writing-on-the-iPhone solution, the thing that will allow me to keep making progress even while I’m on the move.


  1. There’s a distinction between being able to do things from any location, and being able to do them while doing other things.

    I’m a writer. I can write pretty much anywhere on the planet, in nearly any place. The catch is it has to be the only thing I’m doing. I can’t write on the bus or the subway, there are too many physical distractions. Maybe I could take notes, but that’s not the same thing.

    I travel often too. I find the first day in a new place is the key day, and that I have to establish my habits then. This means going to the gym or for a walk, and arriving early enough to ensure it’s easy, before eating dinner or anything else. Sure, this is an extra wrinkle on planning travel, but any habit worth having will cause at least some initial friction.

  2. Kathleen, I hear you. Though I travel little throughout the year, I can relate as a parent of a school-age child. Your time isn’t necessarily yours to shape as you like and the good habits are so easily disrupted. Especially the ones that require calm and quiet concentration- they’re the easiest disturbed and the hardest to pick up again. I have no solutions for you. If I did I’d be writing more and spending less time trying to figure out what I was working on before the last interruption.

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