We all have habits. Some habits we have purposefully created, and work hard to sustain. We read books. We eat healthy. We exercise. Some habits we regret, and we try to change. We check our phones too often. We eat unhealthy snacks. We watch too much television. Habits can be the keys to our success, and the reasons for our failure.
At work, I talk about habits a lot as I encourage my colleagues to embrace new technology. If we create positive habits for ourselves, we will adopt new technology faster, and we will work more effectively in a shorter time frame. If we abandon some habits, and adopt other habits, we will be working with more collaboration, transparency and effectiveness.
I found myself thinking about habits a lot during a recent vacation. I had a lot of time to think. I had been working with no vacation for over five months, and I needed a break. My wife and planned to spend some time in remote, rural Indiana, and looked forward to an extended weekend of hiking, reading, eating and general relaxing. I eagerly anticipated my time away from my desk.
We drove up to our cabin, and it was exactly what I was hoping for. Rustic, cozy and far away from any stores, restaurants or convenience stores. It was quiet and perfect.
We unpacked our bags, and explored. Our cabin had a beautiful living room, a very comfortable sleeping loft, and a lovely porch where we could sit and read and drink coffee and listen to the wind and the trees around us. I took a deep breath and soaked it all in. “Perfect,” I thought to myself. “Perfect.”
Then, my bad habits whispered in my ear, and I took my phone out of my pocket. No cell service. No bars. Not a single bar. Nothing.
“Even better” I thought to myself. No one could call me, but if I needed to be in touch, I could always just log on to the WiFi network. I opened up settings on my phone, and looked for the cabin WiFi network. Nothing. And when I say I could hear crickets, I could really hear crickets. They were deafening.
Slowly, the reality of my situation kicked in, and I realized that for the next four days there would be absolutely no contact between me in this cozy cabin and the outside world. Not even a landline.
Those habits that I had so carefully constructed for myself over the last several years would now be echoing in my head with nowhere to go. I could not collaborate using my phone. No emails, no texts, no internet. I found myself reaching for my phone, knowing very well that there would be no activity, but hoping against hope that maybe even a single bar would magically appear, and I could actually put my important habits to use. But no. Nothing.
So I put my phone down. I picked up a book. I poured a cup of coffee. I looked across the room at my wife. I smiled. We went for walks. We talked.
I found myself trying to ignore the habits of the workplace, and trying to adopt the habits of vacation. No phone. Achieving a sense of presence. Putting work and technology concerns aside and adopting the concerns of deep breaths, of listening, of slowing down.
It took some time. My well established habits were hard to break. All the way through to the fourth day I found myself checking my phone, but I was checking it less. I was relaxing more, and I was enjoying more.
We work hard to create habits, we work hard to break habits. Maybe our success is not in the habits themselves, but rather in being able to find success in our situation, whatever that situation may be. Whether you need to be picking up your phone or putting it down, recognize where you are. Do what you need to do. Be who you need to be.