It’s really interesting, to me at least, that we can know something is really good for us, and yet we don’t do it, forget to do it, or allow life to dictate our rhythms, routines and ‘to do’ lists such that the things that are really good for us are sacrificed with disturbing frequency. Equally, the things that are good for us are not always the things we want to do, or are not exciting enough to command our attention in the first place. If we can make the things that are good for us habitual, regardless of how interesting, tasty or exciting they are, then we have a much greater chance of embracing them in the long term and doing ourselves good. (Are you following? I am not sure I am.)
It’s also interesting that a ‘Habit’ tends to carry such a negative connotation… if you hear the words ‘he’s got a habit’, I am willing to place a sizeable wager that the majority will immediately consider the habit to be something negative, such as an addiction that is bad for an individual, rather than a habit that can (I guess) be pretty much anything. While I’m not a behavioural scientist, I assume that they can be good or bad for you… and further, I can imagine that some make no difference to our wellbeing whatsoever – they’re just what we do. They are how we behave, be they physical, mental or maybe a mixture of both, where one triggers the other as a response. Therefore, recognising and challenging those habits and behaviours that are bad for us, while making the things that are good for us a habit, would seem to be a good, if significantly challenging thing to do. Perhaps one thing at a time?
The good news, and as everyone who knows me is very much aware, I am a saint and only have positive habits.
I jest of course, and the reality is clearly very different. Crisps and Beer are my nemesis. I truly love both, and with this in mind, I guess it’s fortunate to have a passion that offsets both so well. In the spirit of balance, I try to ensure that from Sunday night to Friday evening my intake of either is limited… with a reasonably strict beer ban, which does flex from time to time. I also cannot say that I don’t make up for it at the weekend, but I am hopeful that my angelic performance in the week allows my body to recharge, reset, regenerate in such a way as to allow me to enjoy myself a little (too much) at the weekend. In the spirit of honesty, I do however have what some would deem a ‘disgusting habit’ when I am riding. It’s one that I have learned, to some extent through necessity, but I am also very aware it’s not the best… the ‘snot rocket’. Unfortunately, I do get quite bad rhinitis when I am riding, and while my nose certainly doesn’t pour, it definitely runs… almost constantly. While I appreciate that a tissue would be a suitable way of managing this, to the displeasure of some, I deposit unwanted material on the road or verge as I ride. I know it’s not nice, but short of using one of my pockets for an ‘easy dispense’ box of tissues (perhaps there’s an invention waiting here?!?!), it is the least hassle way of dealing with this particular problem – and therefore a helpful, if unattractive habit.
Aside from such vulgarity, cycling is also an opportunity to practice and embed many healthy, and potentially life saving, habits. I find having a routine when getting ready for a ride is really important in order to avoid the last minute flap, checking you’ve remembered everything, while your mate is waiting for you at the end of the road. And as I have first hand experience, the time you forget to put your tools and COVID compliant emergency pack (face mask and hand sanitiser) in your pocket IS going to be the time you’re going to need them. One of my better habits that I really recommend making habitual is the ‘life saver’. While I only rode a motorcycle for a brief period about 10 years ago, the life saver (a look over your shoulder) before you make a move has really stuck with me, and I use it every time I go out on a bike ride. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know what’s behind or around you, always take a quick look over your shoulder before you change your position on the carriageway, road or path. It’s similar to checking your blind spot in a car… and could well save your life (hence the name), or at least a lot of clearing up afterwards (your shorts, or the road)! For something you might think is obvious, it’s amazing how few cyclists I see doing it, and who seem to rely on a sixth sense to know that they won’t be taken out by a passing vehicle or faster cyclist. Further as cars are getting quieter, it’s never been more important to ‘take a look’. I might also add, that its effectiveness is fully dependent on checking the correct shoulder, i.e. the one on the side you’re going to move towards. Though if you are repeatedly checking the wrong side, I expect nature to take its course through what we might call natural selection.
One thing that I am trying to make a habit, or at least make more space for in my daily or weekly routine is creativity, which in these constrained times is I think more important to me than ever. Many reading this won’t understand… but some will, and if you don’t, stick with me, you might learn something.
I was hugely privileged a couple of years ago to spend some time with an incredibly talented, humble and likeable man call Noah Scalin. Noah is an artist from New York who makes some of the most incredible art work I’ve ever seen, using stickers. These are literally the stickers that, as kids we used to get in magazines, and we would stick all over our lunch boxes… like Cinderella, The Dukes of Hazard, Hot Wheels, or the Flumps (an interesting choice of cast!)… you name it, he’s used it. Please look him up (www.noahscalin.com… in fact here’s an incredible piece to get you started – Of America Born! He’s also created some equally incredible pieces with piles (and I mean piles) of clothes, and even animal organs… if you’re shocked, apologies, but in my opinion, Noah’s ability to look at things in a totally different way is truly phenomenal, if not unique. However, what I learnt from Noah was the power of ‘creative’ space in our day, and the positive benefits that this brings to us as individuals and our mental health in particular. I even tried some sticker art with Noah… it was an amazing experience, where working as a team of 4 we created some kaleidoscopic images, which I would never pretend were brilliant, but they did command respect as we looked at them afterwards questioning ‘where the chuff did that come from?’. The creativity was energising and truly inspiring, and it’s too easy to forget how we feel when we’re allowed to explore who we are, even if only for a fraction of the day or week.
Creativity doesn’t have to be sticker art. It doesn’t have to be art at all. It might be visualising and building bespoke furniture in your garage. It might be creating shadow boards for all of your bicycle maintenance tools. My writing is certainly not an art, but it definitely is my creative space. The Gabbling MAMIL is where I come to allow my thoughts to wander, and to vocalise and express myself in ways that I cannot while I am embroiled in the routines and responsibilities of day to day life. For me, an hour writing, feels like 5 minutes. In my early days of ‘writing’ (sounding like a well-proven author), it was certainly about passing time. It began during my early thirties when I was doing A LOT of international travel, and on long haul flights I began writing ‘my book’ called ‘The Madness of Being British’. I had lots of time on my hands, and other than drinking Gin & Tonic, I needed something else to do with my time, as I’m not a film buff and there’s only so much Will & Grace that even I can watch before I am bored. However the book came to an abrupt end when I showed the first draft to my late father… he deemed that I needed a VERY good lawyer to see and edit it before I did anything with it… and so it died. A lot of the content remains, and will be recycled in an updated form – there are many hours of writing that will not be wasted.
Todays’ writing is certainly not about passing time, but it is almost certainly about investing myself in the process of developing something that wasn’t there before, based purely on my own thinking and being. It’s mine. No-one else’s.
And while I doubt that it will ever make me a penny, in the midst of the misery of 2021, it’s something for me to enjoy, and that has to be a good thing and time VERY well spent.