Two bad habits that can kill your calm

Seriously, I have two bad habits that can really kill my calm and create so much chaos in my day. Do you do these two things too? 

Bad habit 1: Bringing every task I have to do in the foreseeable future right into this very moment.

This one is the polar opposite of mindfulness and when I’m in its clutches I could not be further from the peace that living in the present moment brings. Here’s how this habit works:

  • I get busy. (We’re all busy so I don’t have to explain this bit.)
  • I get so busy I start to feel overwhelmed by my ‘to do’ list. (Again, pretty common.)
  • In my panic, I start projecting far into the future, mentally gathering every job and task and commitment I know is coming up (whether that’s 10 minutes or 10 months from now) and bringing it right into the centre of my frantic brain. I start cataloging all these tasks, compiling a mountainous mental ‘to do’ list.
  • From there, I whip myself up into an emotional frenzy, firing off furious rounds of stress hormones to deal with the mounting urgent panic.

So what do I do? If I'm lucky, I stop what I’m doing and take a step back. I try to to see the reality—which is that my power is only ever in the present moment and I can only ever do what I need to do right here, right now. And I try to remember that everything that’s important enough will get done.

This is a step-by-step process. It’s one task at a time. So, I write a list (lists always help) and I try to find the three things that are absolutely must-dos (and tell myself I can leave the rest). Most of the time, I’ll see that not everything on my list is urgent anyway; in fact, often I could cross off plenty of the tasks without any earth-shattering consequences (or any consequences at all!). It’s about getting down to basics: what HAS to be done, and what doesn’t?

And then I do what has to be done. Or I give it a shot at least!

Bad habit 2: Working to self-imposed deadlines.

This is a close cousin to Bad habit 1, and because I work for myself, it comes up for me almost daily. 

  • I get busy. (We’re all busy so I don’t have to explain this bit.)
  • I get so busy I start to feel overwhelmed by my ‘to do’ list. (Sounding familiar?)
  • I look at the length of my ‘to do’ list and feel the crushing weight of the expectations and time limits around each task.
  • I start to think about how busy I am and how much there is to do. (Often this loops back to habit 1, but stay with me here.)
  • Because every task feels urgent, I assign it urgent status. I quickly work out when I can fit it in, shuffling the hours in my day and the days in my week like a deck of cards.
  • I go blindly into my busy day, not once stopping to ask this important question: Who is actually setting the deadline for this task?

If it’s someone else, did they actually specify the deadline or did I just jump to the conclusion it’d be urgent in my usual robust effort to please? What’s the reasonable deadline for this task? What would happen (if anything) if I pushed out the deadline a day or two (or longer)?

If there’s no-one else setting the deadline, then it’s all down to me. I am doing this to myself. And it’s a self-imposed deadline. The good news is, if it’s self-imposed, I am the one driving this busy bus and l can just as easily 'un-impose' the deadline, make it much more manageable for myself, or even drop it altogether (see Bad habit 1). From there, I can generally calm right down and start working on only the tasks with real (manageable) deadlines.

I know both of these bad habits are about people pleasing and worrying about what others think. They’re tied up in perfectionism and over-striving. Author Kelly Exeter has a great book about getting practical about perfection.

If you want to know more, try this brilliant article from Dr Aviva Romm, a Yale-trained physician who specialises in integrative medicine for women and children.

What are some of the bad habits that kill your calm?

Natalie Bartley