2017 in Review: 1/10

Haven’t written for a while, but the year is coming to a close, so I thought I should write a series of posts chronicling what the year has taught me.

Granted, some of this is unstructured (like the rest of my writing), and a lot of it may sound extremely preachy, but this has become one of the places where I can express myself without judgment. The blog’s become a safe space of sorts, to articulate emotions and thoughts in my brain, without having to worry what someone will think about it.

What I’m going to do over the next 10 days is talk about 10 things I picked up through this year. My biggest New Year Resolution was to work on being the version of myself I was most comfortable, and most happy being – from past recollection. At the start of 2017, I found that Law school, being the consuming being that it is, had taken up all of my headspace. Slowly, in the course of one and a half years, I had been sucked into the grey walls I reside: spending 24 hours, 7 days a week in a singular, boundaried space, carrying out tasks that, while enabled personal growth, always had some amount of connection back to the University, and spending time around the same people.

The last bit didn’t bother me as much, but while reflecting about the first two, what I realized, was that it took barely 3 semesters for University to change who I was as a person before I came to Law school. I had stopped doing things I loved, changed the way I socialized with people, and became very committed to goals – hopping from one to another without much rest in between. I vowed to myself that I’d use the year to change that.

In that sense, it’s been an enlightening year. Here’s the first of my learnings.

Develop New Habits 

This is extremely cliche, I think, to be a New Year’s Resolution. People aim to change things about themselves – to, stop biting nails, for example, or to quit smoking. To control alcohol intake is another. But it’s also the biggest challenge.

The Why?

Habits are developed extremely slowly as a result of continual performance. Brushing teeth twice a day, bathing daily, even something as mundane as setting an alarm before going to bed. These are things that require repetition to become clockwork. They’re a part of your fabric and your fibre. Yet, as a result of the frequency of their performance, they begin to become involuntary tasks that you fail to recognize.

Habits are often enforced at home at early stages. I lost several good habits after I came to University, especially those that revolved around the time I slept. It took 3 semesters to change things so intrinsic to my behaviour, that I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take to regain them.

So I picked a couple of things out. Things I thought would be things I would like to do as a person repetitively, and I drilled them into my daily schedule. The idea was to see whether my body would respond differently to a day where I didn’t carry out a “habitual” activity (I’ll come to how I tested this at a later stage).

The What?

Here’s a “daily” list along with my personal motivations for each:

  1. Eat Breakfast: I do not sleep much at Uni. This is a direct result of the things I take on. Therefore, I woke up late every day (“late” is defined as impairing my ability to complete a morning routine + bathe + change into clothes +  eat breakfast + not run to class.) As a consequence, for much of my first year, I’d skip breakfast and go hungry till lunch. It seemed like the most logical thing to skip, because I couldn’t skip the rest (as a result of biological functioning + hygiene worries.) I wanted to eat breakfast again, because it’s a meal I enjoyed.
  2. Run/Exercise: I’ve been exposed to a range of physical activities, but I haven’t excelled at any of them (I can play some sports moderately well), nor have I been physically fit, by average standards. I really, really wanted that. And I wanted to try running, mostly because I have very, very painful memories associated with running/sprinting.
  3. Find 10 new songs: I’m an audiophile. New music excites me. But University prevented me from surfing the Internet and finding music because I always had other things on my mind. I stopped listening to albums in full, stopped forming opinions on songs the way I used to when I was in school. I wanted that back.
  4. Read for about 30 minutes to 1 hour (outside of the Law, and away from the Internet): Law consumed me so much I stopped reading. To be honest, reading is something I stopped far earlier (maybe in Grade 10 – when I stopped being a “voracious” reader). I wanted to reclaim being bookish.
  5. Pray: This one’s tough to explain, actually. Safe to say, Hinduism requires you to devote time to God. The common argument I’ve heard my grandmother make is “you can give time for everything, you should be able to make time for God also”. But that seemed far-fetched a lot of the time, and I found my faith being challenged a lot by several events that took place in my life. I legitimately just wanted to see if I could reclaim my faith and what the impact would be on the amount I believed in something.
  6. Write: I’ve outlined this before. It’s why I started blogging so regularly. Read the first post from this year, here.
  7. Read the newspaper: To help with debating. And also because I lost touch with the world.

The How?

I literally drilled these things into my schedule this year. Here’s how:

  1. Eat Breakfast: I woke up earlier every single day.
  2. Run/Exercise: Moved this to the morning and woke up early to accommodate for the activity.
  3. Find 10 new songs: Reactivated my old Soundcloud account, started a Saavn account, and started scamming off Ahaan’s Spotify. I put new playlists on play when I’m working/reading.
  4. Read: Every. Single. Night. Before I went to sleep.
  5. Pray: This was iffy. I slided it into the mornings usually between when I walked out of my cold water bath and when I changed into warm clothes. I found that was the best time to really concentrate on a higher being. When you need warmth, desperately. But on a more serious note, this was one of the habits I haven’t fully formed yet – only because it’s a little far out of my system.
  6. Write: Some words was the idea. Every day. I wrote haiku a lot. I also downloaded Q10, a minimalist application. Super helpful.
  7. Read the newspaper: Several apps on my mobile with Push notifications on for everything. Drained my battery, but hey.

How successful was I? On a scale of 1-7? 4. You can figure out which ones I missed.

The Review

Halfway through the year I began to test the effects of skipping habits I had effectively begun to create. I’d skip exercising often, or even my reading. The one I skipped most frequently was actually the writing.

What I realized was that our bodies are extremely responsive to minute changes. We’re extremely sensitive, as human beings. It’s why people get into comfort zones with routines, and feel very off when their routines aren’t followed. Or, people like me, are extremely particular about time and punctuality (even though in Bangalore, traffic destroys all my ambitions).

On days where I skipped habits, I accomplished things I didn’t think I was capable of accomplishing on that day. I’d skip these things to make time to write a project in one night, or study for a test, or prepare for a competition. Sometimes I’d skip these things just to talk to my friends on the phone, or to have a more relaxed dinner. The additional time I gained allowed me to complete things in a day that were impossible to do.

But, I was always unsatisfied. And with these, on days I skipped the habit I was trying to create, it became far easier to skip it repeatedly. I went days on end without writing, for example, because my brain forgot what it was like to formulate sentences on a keyboard. It also forgot how to express itself (because I’m slightly closed off as a person, even though I enjoy socializing with people). So it became easier to shut a draft, or save a draft, and not write anything at all.

If I didn’t run on one day, I’d sleep in the next day. The knock-on effect was ridiculous.

And it just made me unhappy. I think that was because cultivating these habits was something I started looking at as goals, perhaps? But it was also because I kept delaying things that would make me the happiest version of myself (from past experience). Ultimately, I figured that I enjoy a mixture of routine with a bit of spontainety, because that allowed me to achieve things I was skeptical about, but also, get a little happiness about being a creature of habit.

More tomorrow.

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