BL&T No. 016: Maintaining Good Habits During Travel

Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share a borrowed idea (quote, excerpt), a lesson learned from the previous week, and a thought starter heading into the new week. Learn more and subscribe here.

Borrowed

"... the benefit of having a habit– the wonderful thing about it– is that it gets out of the business of using willpower. People often [advise that you] go through your day making healthy choices. No, you do not want to spend your day making healthy choices. You want to choose once. Then put that behavior on automatic. Make it a habit. And stop choosing because decision making is draining and demanding."

Author Gretchen Rubin on HBR IdeaCast Episode 453: Set Habits You’ll Actually Keep (Thanks for the podcast recommendation, Kyle!)

Learned

I used to find it challenging to maintain good habits when traveling away from home, especially during the holidays. In the past, the holidays were a time for exceptions. I would take "time off" from my good habits and tell myself that it was okay since I was intentionally making a choice. Although I always got back on track, it was never pleasant to recalibrate.

This year, I decided to prioritize change. If I felt best when I kept up my good habits, why intentionally deviate? With holiday travel on the horizon last week, it felt good to feel prepared. In today's newsletter, I've decided to forego a singular lesson and instead highlight the three simple strategies I've adopted to make progress on maintaining my habits this year when away from home.

1) Find focus. When forming new habits, it is critical to design an environment that makes them feel effortless. For that reason, it is nearly impossible to continue every good habit while away from this environment. Knowing this would be an uphill battle, I chose to focus on the habits where I had the most control, required few resources, and relied on my discipline over anything else to maintain.

Currently, these are: journaling, reading, intermittent fasting, exercising, and keeping up this newsletter. I also aim to keep up my diet and opt for plant-based meals. When I am not preparing the meal, however, this can be a challenge. If I am traveling for over a week, I visit the grocery store early in the trip and even bring along my blender.

2) Create a structure. It is easiest to practice good habits when integrated into a consistent routine. It's no surprise that when that routine disappears, the habits can too. When I looked back at past travel, this was a significant factor. Even with a schedule in place, I acted as if the variability from day to day made consistency impossible. The truth, though, is that we all have some level of consistency. For instance, we all go to sleep and wake up. Rather than stacking habits on top of variable events, I found opportunities in the essential ones. In application, here are some examples:

  • I wake up and write in my journal, followed by 30 minutes of reading.
  • On weekends or free days, I exercise after reading. On weekdays, I exercise after the workday ends. (Related: "Building A System for At-Home Fitness")
  • I create a draft of my newsletter on Sunday evenings before bed based on notes (in Notion) from the previous week.

3) Openly communicate. A common roadblock to practicing good habits comes from the people in our lives regardless of their support (spouse, significant other, friends, family, etc.). This roadblock can manifest itself in a few different ways.

  • Temptation. Ex: You have decided to cut out sugar, but your unaware parent buys you your favorite chocolate as a gift.
  • Judgment. Ex: You want to start stretching every morning. You feel awkward doing it in front of your roommate, but you have very little space in your room.
  • Isolation. Ex: You are giving up alcohol, but any time you hang out with friends, they drink.

While these challenges transcend travel, they are most prevalent when you spend time with people you rarely see in a new environment. To get around this, I have learned that communication is the key. I openly share any new habits that may impact those around me, like exercising or choosing not to eat breakfast. If necessary, I'll provide more context. "It's not weird unless you make it weird."

All in all, these three strategies have been incredibly helpful in maintaining a healthy routine this year, regardless of my location. Looking ahead, I'm excited to see how they evolve as I adopt new habits and transform existing ones.

Thought Starter

When have I let a change in my environment negatively impact my behavior?