It’s amazing how calm a place can seem after a bad storm.
The morning after Hurricane Dorian ripped along the South Carolina coast, I went for a walk at the farm with our family dog named Toby.
It was early — maybe 7:15 a.m. — and the morning light was just starting to filter through the pine trees. The only sounds were the occasional fluttering of wings and Toby’s snort-snuffle on nearby sticks. You know, delicate.
Not one to miss a moment to be dramatic, I stood and let the weight of that silence command my thoughts.
It’s amazing how calm a place can seem after a bad storm.
It’s like when there are coins rattling around in the ashtray of your car, and you don’t realize how loud and obnoxious the sound is until you place your hands on the coins and the noise stops. The contrast of the quiet feels that much more stark.
I didn’t fully appreciate how loud the wind had been on my walk the day before, the way the trees whistled at me, or the deafening pitter-patter of rain falling on my jacket hood. After the storm, the whole forest stood still for me. It was the loudest silence.
It kind of makes you wonder: What else have I grown accustomed to without realizing it?
What habits have I formed (even unknowingly) that aren’t doing me any good?
Where am I settling?
I hate feeling like a habit or lifestyle has crept up on me without my consent. I’m doing my best to find that quiet space where I can consciously curate a life that I’m proud of — that I love.
The above questions can be posed a few ways: First, think meta. Major strokes. The big stuff. Ask yourself:
What truths am I accepting without pursuing them further or learning more about?
How do I feel about my faith? Do I think my say doesn’t matter in our democracy? Does my life, on the whole, feel like something I’ll look back on with a proud smile when I’m 90?
(Should’ve named this post “Awaken Your Existential Crisis in 3 Easy Steps — #1 Will Blow Your Mind!”)
Then, there’s the more actionable, tangible “noise” and habits that creep up when we aren’t paying attention, then stick around for a while. Here are mine:
Too much time on social media
I’ve long held complex views on social media, and to keep this post under 29,489,574 words, I’ll give you a spoiler: I strongly, strongly lean toward the camp of “it’s the worst.” So if I feel this way, why in the world do I keep my social media accounts active? Moreover, why do I spend so much time on them? Relative to many of my peers, I really don’t spend much energy or time with social media — but that’s not a strong enough metric for me. I definitely don’t post frequently enough to ever gain any traction for my blog, but I’m a lurker, and I wan’t to keep my options open. That DOESN’T mean I need to mindlessly scroll and look at memes all the live-long day. I often take a “hiatus” but it’s not enough — I need to really think about how much I want to let Instagram, etc. into my life on the reg.
The need to fill every waking minute with productivity and learning
I’m an outspoken advocate of being a Time Snob. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it (and it got featured on a major personal finance site!). My brain space, energy and emotional bandwidth are invaluable — so I must guard them carefully and thoughtfully. It’s easy to see how this idea relates to saying “no” to extra side projects or blogger brunches downtown, but guarding my brain space also applies to who I let in my head.
There’s this idea that’s pounded into us that to grow we need to constantly be learning. I don’t disagree. I just disagree on what it means to be learning. Especially for a digital marketer, “always be learning” often means you should always have a podcast playing while you’re in the car, while you’re getting ready, while you cook dinner, and so on. I fall into that trap.
Sometimes, it’s awesome to learn via audio while you’re simultaneously executing a mindless task like chopping onions. But for me, more often than not, I need space to THINK. I need to turn the music off in the car; I need to turn off the how-to YouTube tutorial while I do my makeup; I need to be alone with my thoughts. A lot of growth can happen when you take a hot second to just listen to yourself think.
RELATED READ: Here's How to Make the Most of Your Mental Bandwidth
Mad dash mornings
I’m including this because I go through waves and seasons of battling this. I’m not currently in this habit deeply, but it’s something I need to be mindful of. I am a morning person. I like to wake up at 5 a.m., enjoy a mug of hot lemon water because I am my grandmother, do a Bible study and journal, then write before my day even gets going. And for the last few months, several days a week I’ve woken up at 5 to get downtown and teach Pure Barre at 6.
Having to get out the door to teach is one thing, but just getting up and out of bed to get my day started early for no pressing reason is … hard sometimes. But if I don’t, I inevitably snooze, skip the mug and the journal, and jump right into brushing my hair and teeth, then diving into my car to scramble downtown. I don’t quite know how to articulate it, but it’s almost as if I start to rely on that adrenaline rush of getting out the door super fast — like I need the hum of a busy life to make me feel like I’m doing something right. That I’m important or something.
The reality is, I’m not a better person when I succumb to late mornings. Often, late mornings are a result of late nights. Doing what? Sometimes important things, but sometimes watching Madam Secretary. It’s a stupid cycle, and an unproductive habit.
Time to open a Word Doc, Notes app or get a piece of paper.
Where Are You Settling Without Realizing?
Use these thought-starters as prompts to discover where you’ve grown accustomed to the ways things are just because “that’s the way things are.”
Is a family member or partner take, take, taking from you — emotionally, financially or otherwise? Have you accepted this as just the way it goes?
Are you giving up your time to causes, events or people you don’t care about?
Do you have time to learn about the things you want to learn? Pursue the things you want to pursue?
Do you just chalk it up to being busy? Have you been able to pinpoint what activities you can cut in order to create space for a new one?
Does social media have more of a presence in your life than you’d be proud to admit?
Are you satisfied with the way your body feels? Do you move it regularly? If not, what’s holding you back, and are there any adjustments that can be made?
Are you filling your body up with the right fuel? If not, what’s holding you back? Is it time? Money? Effort? There are solutions, ya just might have to work to learn them.
You don’t have to solve everything, but check your biggest impacters: Income, housing expenses, fixed financials (car payment, insurance, utilities, etc.), food.
Are you eating lunch out several times a week? Is it because you want to/it makes sense for you, or is it because you didn’t have time or energy to prepare packed meals?
Have you tried negotiating your internet costs?
Have you asked for a raise in the last year?
Are you working toward a goal with your money? I can help with dat.
Here’s another hot tip: If you want to monitor/adjust the amount of time you spend on Instagram, it’s super easy.
Go to your profile.
Tap the menu bar (three horizontal lines in the upper right corner).
Tap “Your Activity”
You can even set up notifications that’ll ding you when you’ve surpassed your daily limit for Instagram time. Pretty cool!
Do you ever catch yourself in a habit where… you don’t even know how it started? What’s one small change you’ve made that has impacted your life for the better?
Any tips for people trying to make a tweak in their life? Drop it in the comments below!
And if you need a little time to re-evaluate your priorities and your habits, I highly recommend a little farm in the middle of nowhere during a hurricane. You’ll have quite enough of your own thoughts by the end of that ;)