Now that we are into week three of our lockdown in Boston, I’m past the immediate shock that we are living through the worst pandemic to hit in our lifetime. I’m even coming to grips with, albeit still grieving, how much has been lost and how much more will be lost in the months to come. What’s settling in is that the vast majority of anchors that I relied on to plan and organize my life and my work are gone. With the loss of those anchors, my routines are a mess. Like many of you, I’ve worked long and hard on routines that drive good habits. I’m that person with a calendar invite for everything – from commuting to Soulcycle to weekly family calendaring. Most of those entries got deleted as they are neither possible nor necessary.
It can feel like everyone else has figured out how to optimize this time more effectively. I got a survey from one of our advisors asking about what new things I am planning to learn. Unless you count how to fill out SBA disaster applications and which homemade mask is most effective, I haven’t been focused on learning. I’m certainly not getting the recommended 10,000 steps a day and 7 hours of sleep. I’m sure I’ve doubled my carb intake and while the rest of the world hoards toilet paper, we’ve paid more attention to the Oregon pinot noir supply. Basically, my entire focus is getting Stevens Inc, WeSpire Inc., and myself through each day and each night, more or less in one piece.
What I am accepting is that we aren’t going back to normal anytime soon. As a result, we need to plan for new anchors that work for this new reality, for however long it lasts and however it evolves. In this new reality, I still work hard, but I don’t travel and I don’t commute to an office. My kids don’t likely go back to school this year and only have a few hours a day of real intense school work. I won’t likely feel comfortable in a gym setting for a long time. I don’t get to physically see my friends, family, or team members, unless from an acceptable distance (which incidentally, keeps increasing) for at least a few months.
Where to start when rebuilding habits? I looked to a few of my favorite habit leaders—BJ Fogg and James Clear—for advice. BJ has an entire Tiny Habits curriculum designed to support the stresses that COVID-19 is creating. But my favorite line came from Clear’s facebook page on March 25th. “Have the best day you can, today. Win the moment in front of you now. Win the Day.” His whole model is to do plan everyday to reinforce who you are, even if it’s just for a minute.
What are the key elements to win the day? This is where Clear’s advice is so critical. He suggests that you need to focus on your identity-based habits vs. outcomes-based habits. The simple analogy he uses is two smokers. One rejects a cigarette by saying, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.” The other says, “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” It is a small, but profound shift that has a significant impact on likelihood of success.
My identities have not really changed. I’m an entrepreneur and leader, a wife, a mom, an environmentalist, a loyal friend, an extrovert who thrives on socializing, and an athlete. What I can do from home to be those things has to change. However, there is still a way, everyday to reinforce that identity. It’s equally important to know what I am not. I am not a school teacher. I am a really cruddy housekeeper. I may now have to do some of those things out of necessity, but those aren’t the most important habits to maintain.
Winning the day turns out to be about reinforcing those identities that matter, a little at a time. Regular video conferences with friends and family are key to my extrovert/friend identity. I can’t Soulcycle, but I can walk with a friend, take an online class, or use that forlorn elliptical in the basement. Date night might not be at our favorite restaurant, but we can get takeout and light candles in the dining room. We can take advantage of less sports, homework, and school to just ask our kids how they are doing. We can finally understand what they find so fascinating about The Office. We can rub their back at 3am when they can’t sleep, knowing that it’s OK to sleep in and at least now you won’t be charged $25 for missing Soulcycle when you do. I can’t lead or sell or interact with customers the way I used to, but I still have the privilege of having a team to lead and can try out new ways to connect with them and with customers.
As Clear says, “It’s good to have a plan, but it’s also good to avoid getting fixated on one version of success.” Change isn’t easy and certainly isn’t fun. But we can come out of this with our identities intact. We just need to figure out new ways to win the day.