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Timeouts And Reflections

I love coffee. I really do. And yet I haven’t had any for 4 days now. The first day was rough, I got the headaches that everybody will tell you about when it comes to the topic of caffeine withdrawal symptoms. The second day was better and by the third, the headaches were gone. And I’m just halfway done. I’m not gonna drink coffee for a couple more days. It’s part of a yearly ritual I have of not drinking any coffee for at least a week or so. Last year the headaches didn’t disappear until day 5 so I decided to go for 10 days without coffee instead of 7. And after the headaches disappear, the fun part starts: trying to figure out how to replace something so integral of my life. What to drink for breakfast now? What to do instead of going to the coffee shop?

So why is this important? Everybody does not drink coffee at some point, right? It’s important because it’s part of something I’ve tried to continuously include more and more in my life over the years. Taking timeouts and making time for reflections. Humans tend to be creatures of habit. If you want to achieve something that needs constant work, build a habit out of it. You want to read more books? Spend 30 minutes every morning with just reading. You want to lose weight? Have a strict habit of going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Want to learn a language? Start memorizing words every day on your commute. If you search Google for “building habits” you will find a myriad of websites, articles, and tutorials of how to hack your life and yourself into a more productive version by making things a routine. And it’s true, building habits is a very effective way of incorporating new things into your daily life.

However the same also goes for negative habits. Smoking, drinking a beer every day after work, eating too much unhealthy food, constantly immersing oneself in the stressful routines at work, not going to the gym because the day already feels too planned out every day. Once something has become an ingrained part of your day, it’s really hard to notice whether it’s there for fun and enjoyment or actually harmful, and it’s even harder to get rid off.

The way I’m trying to battle those things becoming too much of a routine is by taking timeouts and reflect on my choices. Because that’s what they all are. Choices. I do reflect a lot without necessarily taking a timeout, however when I do take a timeout from something, I automatically also reflect on what impact that thing has on my life and whether I like it or not. Over 9 years ago I thought deep and hard about why I was smoking and decided that it wasn’t worth it and stopped. I had multiple times in my life where I completely stopped drinking alcohol for months or even years because I had stopped and reflected on whether I really want to drink this beer because of its taste or because of habit. I generally try to eat vegetarian by default and then have meat twice a week and fish/seafood two to three times a week. I periodically stop and think about whether this is still the case and whether it has been for the last couple of weeks or months. If it doesn’t then I think about why and if it’s because I decided to or just because I got carried away in another routine.

But this doesn’t only go for negative things in my life. I have a very specific set of tools that I rely on heavily for my work. I write code and words only in vim, I have all my todos in OmniFocus, I exclusively use iPhones, OSX on my laptops and FreeBSD on my personal servers. And I really like it. My setup is as close to ideal as I can imagine. However I still occasionally stop and revisit those choices. I have used Atom for a bit when it came out and have tried to use emacs as well. I’ve switched my todos over to a different app or even plain text notes for a month, I every now and then wonder if I want to run FreeBSD on my laptop again, and I’ve switched completely to an Android phone for a week last year.

Of course this is partly because of the ever present nagging of optimizing things. But it’s also because I want to make conscious choices about the things I use and be mindful about the way I consume. Just because I have used a tool for 5 years doesn’t make it the perfect one. Just because I have been doing things in a certain way every day doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. The hard part is recognizing which things are even part of a routine. This is why it’s important to me to have a lot of time for reflections. I try to have multiple times a day where I can just think. This is mostly right after I get up in the morning and prepare breakfast, on my commute, when I do the dishes, or in the shower. I don’t reflect on my habits every single time but I do have the time to do so every day. It’s also the reason why I really value vacation days and completely unplug from work when I go on vacation. This forces a timeout of all work related things on me. It’s so easy to take things for granted and assume that’s how it has to be instead of thinking about what you want it to be. I’ve cut down on mailing list memberships, push notifications, and times I check and respond to email just because I was on vacation and had a timeout from it all and when I came back reflected on why I was getting all those notifications and if I really had to.

Taking the time to stop one of your routines or habits for a week or a month and reflecting on whether it actually makes your life better has been a wonderful way of improving my quality of life. It made me cut out things completely that turned out to not bring me the joy I thought they would. It made me find new things that I thoroughly enjoy now. And it made me appreciate the things that continue to be part of my life even more. Because come Monday I will drink coffee again. And it’s gonna be wonderful because I know why I do drink it.