Our habits are what make us or break us. I rely on my habits to keep me moving forward when my motivation wanes. Habits have served me well over my fitness journey… except when I become a slave to them.
This isn’t a new realization. It first came to me many years ago when we took our first “big trip” to Paris. We rented an adorable apartment in the 8th arrondissement that came stocked with a tea and brioche. Every morning I recreated my morning routine of email over breakfast. I checked Twitter and posted to Facebook. Every evening I had an urge to be back before my usual bedtime of 9:30ish. One night as I paced, fretting over the time, while Brian photographed the Arc de Triumph I said to myself, “This is ridiculous. You’re in PARIS!”. I still had my tea the next morning, but I managed to let go of any kind of timetable for the remainder of our time there.
There is a time and a place for a schedule.
This battle would play itself out on pretty much every trip we have taken since then. When we aren’t traveling a schedule and my habits are a necessity. They help me keep the chaos under control. My routines reserve brain power to fight the fires that are sure to come up by making sure I have the day to day on auto pilot. A to-do list and schedule are the only way I can get it all done.
When we travel, however, I should be able to leave it at home. I would love to tell you I could easily but aside my routine on my 40th birthday trip to China but I can’t.
Habits can take away the ability to be present.
We had one night in Hangzhou. The plan (because there is always a plan) was to catch an early train from Shanghai and arrive in Hangzhou by lunch time. That would leave us plenty of time to explore Lingyin Temple. I thought it would be easy to hop off the subway, buy a train ticket and be on our way. Everyone else had this idea too but they had the advantage of knowing which ticket window to go to and how to speak the language. So we waited in the station for about 90 minutes (of fantastic people watching) before we could catch our train to Hangzhou.
From that point on all I could think about was how we would get back. I worried that we would have the same prolonged wait if we waited too late to book our return to Shanghai. How much would this throw off the plan for our last night and day in Shanghai? I worried that we wouldn’t make it back for dinner in Shanghai despite the fact there were no reservations to meet. I worried we would not have time to enjoy a stroll on the Bund before it got “too late”. I worried about how long it would take to get to the tea garden, how long it would take to get back. Despite the fact I had protein bars and fruit in my bag, what if we didn’t make it back “in time” for lunch before the train? Would we be able to stick to the plan? I worried worried worried and almost decided to skip the trip to Longjing Village and the Imperial Tea Garden.
This is where habits are dangerous. This is where routine can steal the joy out of life.
As I got ready for bed that night, instead of continuing down this familiar path, I changed the conversation in my brain.
You have flown to the other side of the world. You have spent almost 18 hours on planes and another hour on a train to get here. Your heart and soul needs let go of yourself for just a little while and to see that plantation. You have no one in this world right now to answer to but yourself.
The next morning I turned over the worry to someone else. I asked the concierge to buy our train tickets. They helped us negotiate a taxi for our trip. I let go, sat back and enjoyed the ride. As the taxi climbed the hills into Longjing Village, the drive pointed out the window and said one of the few words in Mandarin I understand:
Everyone asks me what my favorite part of the trip was. I would have to say it was THIS morning, the one that for a moment almost wasn’t. It was a little over an hour of roaming a tea garden. It was climbing the stairs into the lush and green hills of tea bushes while inhaling their deep aroma. It was listening to the waterfall and seeing the dragon at the well. It was roaming around West Lake afterwards. It was shopping for tea and accidentally wondering into a teahouse with an unexpected dim sum style meal.
Embrace the power of the unexpected.
My habits are here to help us. I fully believe in their power. Just now I fully understand that power can be for good and bad. I’ve always said the rule is 80/20 and so it should be with our habits. I like to be busy. I take comfort in my routines. However checking out from time to time is allowed, necessary and encouraged.