Let me begin by stating, unequivocally, that the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious health risk that will take all of us to stem its spread while medical health professionals frantically work for a vaccination. Nothing that follows is intended to diminish the plight of those that are suffering from this dangerous virus.
Still, the shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders that so many of us are currently dealing with present an interesting opportunity for those of us that remain healthy. Our daily routines have been interrupted. We’re no longer commuting into our office. We’re no longer eating lunch at our desks. Many of us are not even able to perform our normal job functions while others are working remotely.
The silver lining is that our daily routines have been interrupted. For many of us, our daily routines aren’t purposeful, they aren’t disciplined, and they aren’t helping us get where we want to be. We move through our days without intention, drinking the same things, eating the same things, moving in the same way, consuming the same media, all without ever evaluating why we do the things we do. Since our worlds have been disrupted, we have a chance to form new habits and routines in a scale that would otherwise be challenging.
To speak plainly, we will all exit this COVID-19 event differently than we entered it. You have a choice. Do you want to be stronger than when you began or weaker? More or less healthy? Smarter or dumber? These seem like very judgmental statements and maybe I intend them to be. Our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our parishes, our businesses…none of it stays static. Either you’re moving closer to where you want to be or further away. There is no staying in place.
In the normal course of our lives, stopping an old habit or beginning a new one is difficult. Our daily routines are hard to change because our habits are so deeply ingrained. Everything about our days conspires to keep us in the well trodden track in which we live our lives. But today? Today we’re not in our old track, we’re quietly creating a new one because we’re at home, with our kids, trying to figure out how to “work from home.” So, let’s take advantage of this time and build some new personal disciplines that allow us to advance confidently in the direction our of dreams.
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal law will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings – Henry David Thoreau
Now, please understand, I am not suggesting that you should expect to be transformed overnight. You won’t. Instead I am suggesting the adoption of small, daily disciplines that help you move forward. I’ve written elsewhere about success being about the process and not the destination. That couldn’t be more true with personal disciplines.
The following is a list of areas that I think are important areas to be pursuing, but you might have something in addition to these in mind.
Too many of us live sedentary, inactive lives. You’re heavier than is healthy and you’re stacking up risk factors. You’ve convinced yourself that you don’t look that bad and, look at everyone else… I’ll give it to you straight. Americans on average are fat and your reference point is skewed. According to the CDC the average weight of Americans has increased by 15 lbs in the last 20 years. Does that seem like a healthy statistic? Maybe you’re thinking I’m talking about someone else. Can you climb a flight of stairs without becoming winded? Two flights?
So, what can you do? Start small but start. Again, your daily routines have been interrupted and are ripe for change. Add a 30 minute walk everyday. Everyday. Just start there. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to do more, there are great body weight workout programs being offered online right now. Check out Ben Bergeron’s Instagram feed or Spartan’s Unbreakable page. These are programs designed to get you off the couch and moving without the need for gym equipment.
I’ll raise my hand and admit it. I don’t drink enough water and I’m willing to bet neither do you. Take this time of disruption, when no one is watching, to make sure you’re drinking at least a gallon of water each day. That sounds like a lot, especially when you aren’t used to it, but it really isn’t. Water is important for healthy functioning of your brain, your kidneys, your liver, basically everything and you probably aren’t getting enough. What you probably are getting is other beverages that contain sugar and calories. So, start small but start drinking more water instead of the other stuff.
Like water, nutrition is vitally important to our overall health and well being. If your diet comes from the center isles of the grocery store, you’re primarily consuming what I call “factory foods.” These are highly processed food like substances and aren’t what your body needs to perform at its best. Ditch that stuff for real food. Yes, I know grocery stores aren’t well stocked right now. Do the best you can but focus on fresh produce and fresh meat. What’s that? You don’t like vegetables? This isn’t about what you do and don’t like. It isn’t. This is about providing your body with the fuel it needs so you can perform at your highest level possible for as long as possible so get over yourself.
What I will admit though, is that its far easier to have factory foods on hand than it is to have fresh things. You will have to plan just a little bit into the future. Plan a day or two or seven in advance and ensure you know ahead of time what you’ll eat and have made preparations for it. Standing in the pantry searching for something that appeals to you is a recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster. In fact, many of us are spending more time snacking while we’re working from home than we would working from the office. That needs to stop too. A solution for boredom isn’t cruising the kitchen for Pringles. The solution is a walk, a glass of water, and an apple.
Just like exercise, water, and good nutrition, sleep is something incredibly important for our health and well being and most of us aren’t getting enough of it because we don’t prioritize it. Sleep is vital to our physical recovery and mental well being but most of us tend to treat it like a nuisance. Binge watching Netflix until 2 AM and dragging all the next day isn’t moving you in the direction of your dreams. Instead, make a plan that gets you in bed at a reasonable hour so you get 7 – 9 hours of sleep. You’ll also find that if you go to bed on time, you’re likely to get up on time too.
Many people don’t think of relationships in terms of personal discipline but they should because healthy relationships are an important part of overall health and well being. During this time of disruption we run the risk of weakening relationships, particularly with those we don’t live with, simply because of lack of proximity. I challenge you to be proactive about strengthening your relationships during this time. Set aside a little time everyday, maybe just 5 minutes a day, to write an email or an actual letter to someone who’s relationship is important to you. Better yet, call them. Set aside time each day to spend with your significant other to listen to what they have to say. At some point our lives will resume the cadence they had before the pandemic began. Make sure you’re relationships are stronger when they do.
What are you reading right now? Use this time to cultivate a habit of daily reading that makes you smarter, better informed, better educated. I am not talking about reading news articles about the Republicans and Democrats latest squabbles. I’m talking about books that teach you something you always wanted to know. Books that deepen your understanding of your chosen career field. Articles that allow you to dip your toe into subjects you’ve always been curious about but never stopped exploring.
This is the time to rekindle the life long learner inside you.
Mindset is important but in someways difficult to describe. I’m referring to the lens through which we view the world but also the way in which we talk to ourselves. Sometimes we go through periods where we see the world through a lens of lack, rather than a lens of abundance. All we can see is what we don’t have rather than what we do; what we cannot accomplish rather than what we can. We talk to ourselves in such a way that if a stranger on the street used the same words with us, we’d be in a fight in no time. We compare ourselves to others…sometimes to people we don’t even know, like, or respect…rather than looking at how far we’ve come.
We’re made for more than that though. Even in our darkest moments there is always something for which to be grateful. We were made by a God who is incredibly generous and wants more for us than we can ask our imagine.
Spend time working on your mindset everyday. Meditate using a guided app like Headspace. Journal. Spend time in gratitude. Read scripture. Pray.
Want to read more about these ideas? Check out these books:
- Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink
- Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron
- Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf
What I want during this time of global disruption and uncertainty is for all of us to come out of the other side healthier, stronger, smarter, and happier. I want us to use this time to become a better version of who God has created each of us to be. I encourage you to be purposeful and be creative and move in the direction of your dreams. You can do this.