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Resisting Routine

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to slip back into an old, familiar habit?

It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the best routine or not. The simple fact of familiarity entices us.

I think this is why it can be so hard to make new habits. We start doing them with the best of intentions. We may even feel better.

But then the shiny wears off, and we realize doing the new thing is an effort. It takes attention and some amount of concentration. In our heads, we know it will get easier if we stick with it a little longer.

Except in the meantime, it feels like work. And the old routine is still there. Comfortable. Cozy. Broken in. It would be so easy to slip into, like your favorite sweatshirt.

This is what I felt like my first couple of days coming back from vacation. As I mentioned last week, I was so worried about not eating mindfully that I paid extra attention, and it worked out beautifully.

But as soon as I got home, I fell right back into my old habits. I prepared the amounts and types of food I thought I should have, or be able to have, without really listening to my body.

When I realized what I was doing, I sat down and tried to figure it out. And I discovered a few things going on.

One was simply being happy to be in charge of my own meals again. The food on the tour was good, but I didn’t make the menu. And even when I had choices, they were fairly limited. Subconsciously, I had felt that as a restriction and was now swinging back to making my own choices.

But the other big reason is energy and focus. On vacation, I had no real responsibilities. The only decisions I had to make were around eating, sometimes which activity to do, and whether or not to check e-mail. I didn’t even have to make much of a choice for clothes, since I brought limited options.

In that context, of course it makes sense that I could be more mindful.

Back home, though, suddenly responsibilities and decisions were on every side. A lot of them were good things, but still, they required something of me.

Getting a prescription for my cat. Deciding on and making my own meals. Bringing my car in for service. Juggling at least five high priority projects at work. Preparing to lead an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating course. Putting out my newsletter. Volunteering with church. What to bring to my book group.

It felt overwhelming. No wonder I retreated to the old familiar routine.

Once I understood that, though, I could pause and consider. Did I want to just slide back? Or did I want to try to keep some of that awareness and focus from vacation?

I decided to try to maintain some of that focus. That’s why this past week has been all about load-balancing and prioritizing.

I’m thinking about it like hiking with a full backpack. At first it feels really heavy. Some parts of it might be digging into your back because it’s not organized well.

So you adjust as you go, move things around a bit. It’s still heavy, but it settles better. It becomes more manageable.

And, as with hiking, you keep putting one foot in front of the other. The priorities somehow sort themselves out.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m still considering if I’m carrying anything that I can put down, at least for a while. But eating mindfully is not one of those things. That continues as a focus, and sure enough, it’s easier with practice.

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