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From burnout to balance: All hail the habitual

From burnout to balance: All hail the habitual

Some of us find it a joy to open the wardrobe in the mornings and pick out the perfect outfit: not just a top and pants or a skirt, but accessories ­- a complementary scarf, perhaps some earrings, exactly the right shoes. I work with one or two of these people, and I can honestly say that they brighten my days with their style and flair. On the other hand, I’m one of those people who wants to get dressed as quickly as possible. I don’t even like shopping.

This is how I shop now. I walk in and the shop assistant approaches me, asking, “Is there anything I can help you with?” I reply, “I’m looking for skirts, below the knee, with pockets”. Last week, the shop assistant in question quickly scanned the whole shop and led me to some cute grey circle skirts, kind of ‘50s style, with pockets on each side. I was disappointed, though. I’d already bought one.

If I am at work, I’m almost certainly wearing some kind of dark top (something sweatproof in summer and something a little warmer in winter) and a skirt with pockets. And every morning, I put a whiteboard marker in one pocket and a pen in the other one. (Last year there would have been some coins for the vending machine in my pocket as well, but that’s finished now. I’ve turned over a new leaf. ‘New year, new me,’ as one of my funniest and naughtiest kids said when he walked into class today.)

I shop and dress like this to avoid decision fatigue. After reviewing the research, Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald pointed out that decision-making can be ‘exhausting’. One way to cope is to: “Eliminate decisions. Set up habits or plans so you don’t have to decide. Pilots do this. They use checklists and flowcharts…to cut down on decisions.”

One famous adherent of the philosophy is Barack Obama. Listen to this:
“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make…You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

It’s not just about clothes. Over the last six months, I have tried to eliminate as many decisions as possible, so I can focus my care, attention and energy where it matters most: figuring out exactly what would help my students make progress, being there for a kid who needs me, getting home and cooking rather than opting for a takeaway.

I never ask, “should I exercise today?” If it’s a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, I roll out of bed and into my running gear before I’ve had a chance to think. I have a few summer work lunch options, but all through winter I take a flask of some kind of soup every single day. I get a bunch of dinner recipes and ingredients delivered on Sunday nights, and then I really have no choice but to work through all that food throughout the week.

As a HFG reader, I’m guessing you may well have had a friend or workmate look at your packed lunch or hear that you exercised before coming to work and exclaim, “Oh, you’re so good!” I don’t believe in trying to be ‘good’ (whatever that means), and I don’t believe in willpower, especially not after about 3pm on a weekday. What I do believe in is the power of habit and routine.
*Lynne Glen is a guest blogger and reader of Healthy Food Guide. She has taken up the challenge to use the mental well-being and resilience advice from the July 2017 issue and write about her progress.

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From burnout to balance: Things I’m grateful for
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