We all have something we’d like to change about our lives or ourselves, and in divorce, perhaps many things. We may want to lose weight, get in shape or learn to cook. The problem with self-improvement goals? There are never enough hours in the day.
Or are there?
Even amidst the overwhelming emotions of divorce, carving out about an hour a day can lead to acquiring a new skill, and begin an upward spiral of positive change.
Many self-improvement goals actually involve a rather small time commitment in any given day. The challenge is repetition—you need to return to the task every day or every few days, week after week. We make change over time.
Learning a new language or building more muscle mass may seem overwhelming because the shift you desire is great. But in practice, you can do it in an hour or less a day.
The hour-a-day approach also works because repetition leads to habit formation; once established, a habit takes over when willpower might flag. As a 2010 University College London study by psychologist Pippa Lally shows, it takes about 66 days--a little over two months- for a new habit to etch itself into us. Once acquired, habits tend to stick.
We’ve all seen this with bad habits, but the power of habit formation works with good habits, too.
Pick one area on which you’d like to concentrate, and in about two months (your mileage may vary), you will have established a new regimen.
As Gretchen Rubin notes in her book, Better Than Before “The desire to start something at the ‘right’ time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.”
Some habits are particularly beneficial in divorce.
Here are four of the best new habits to consider acquiring during this shaky time:
1. Work out.
I understand: you don’t want to go to the gym. I don’t want to go to the gym either. Nobody does. Do you know who smiles at the gym? The staff, and that’s because they’re paid to. No matter what form of exercise you choose—weights, cardio, Zumba, spinning, kickboxing—the myriad benefits are undeniable. Your endocrine system becomes a benevolent pharmacist, dispensing scrips for endorphins, the body’s morphine. Not only do they induce feelings of euphoria (the “runner’s high”), but they also lower stress levels, boost the immune system, and act as a natural analgesic. Added benefits include looking and feeling better. Many fitness centers are now open 24 hours a day, meaning you might try setting your alarm an hour earlier if you’re having a problem fitting this ritual into your routine.
After the first week of going to the gym, you’ll find that you have far more energy to get you through the day, and to get to your workout.
Don’t have a gym in your neighborhood, or don’t feel comfortable going there? You could start a habit of walking or running around your neighborhood. Sunshine boosts the body’s production of vitamin D, the hormone responsible for stronger bones and teeth, insulin management, cardiovascular health—and mood improvement. Sunshine fights against the depressive symptoms that can accompany a vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, Medical Director of Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, “Because vitamin D is so cheap and so clearly reduces all-cause mortality, I can say this with great certainty: Vitamin D represents the single most cost-effective medical intervention in the United States.”
2. Start meditating.
The news on the benefits of mindful meditation are widespread. Daily mindfulness meditation—focusing on being mindful of your breath and your surroundings in the moment—has been shown to reduce stress and its harmful effects, improve memory and attention, reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, and improve your life in a slew of other ways. “Meditation puts you on the fast track to being happy,” Ronnie Newman, Director of Research and Health Promotion for the Art of Living Foundation, told artofliving.org. Not sure how to get started? You might try a mediation coach, a kind of life coach that some CEOs and professional athletes hire today. Or check out Mind Space, available in the App store on the iPhone and Android phones. This free app starts you out gently with one-minute mindfulness practices, then increases the time as you go. You can use the preprogrammed guided meditations or Mind Space’s own musical compositions. To help keep you mindful when you’re not actively meditating, check out Mindful Reminder, also available for free on both platforms. You set the app’s pleasant-sounding gong to strike at intervals throughout the day.
The gong wakes you out of mindlessness, and reminds you notice your attention and refocus on the moment.
3. Pick up a second language (or third).
Whether you want to learn a new language or brush off a rusty one from high school, this is a great way to spend some you-improvement time. There are benefits to cross-cultural communication, such as say, a bigger dating pool. Studying a new language can improve your memory, increase attention span, and boost creativity and self-confidence. Being truly bi-lingual can make you more appealing to employers. If you’ve got the bucks for Berlitz.com, you can get one-on-one, custom-tailed lessons with one of their professional polygots. Rosetta Stone, a more affordable, self-paced program, is a great method, too. Or if finances are tight, check out Duoloingo.com, a site that offers free language-learning. You can check your local community education calendar, as most offer the basics, like Spanish, Italian, or German, or pick up a few credits at a nearby college campus. Learning a language is also a great way to meet fellow students.
4. Start a blog.
If it were easy, everyone would do it. Oh wait, everyone is doing it! Blogging must be easy. A site like Weebly or Wordpress lets you get started instantly, no technical know-how needed. In 30 minutes, you can be a blogger. Return to your blog every day or so. Find a regular time to blog, and the habit will set in. Why is blogging helpful during a difficult time? A blog can function as a journal, albeit one you can share with others.
Chronicling your feelings can help you better recognize, face, and understand them.
“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior,” says Christina Baldwin, author of Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice. The added bonus is that it’s one of the cheapest forms of therapy there is. Don’t want to share your diary with the outside world? An expertise- or hobby-based blog can take your mind off your divorce while letting you hone and honor your own expertise. Doing something creative has been shown to help provide meaning in difficult times; the act of self-expression helps create a narrative and a sense of purpose and relevance. A blog can also create community. Do you have a unique hobby about which you’d like to share news and information? Are you fanatical about a TV show? Do you have an oddball collection? Try sharing them, and see who else loves rocks, custom guitars, beanie babies, or Star Trek memorabilia. If you’re trying to launch a sideline career writing, this can be an excellent way to not only hone your skills, but also pad your portfolio.
Start with one goal. As Art Markman, University of Texas at Austin psychology professor and author of Smart Change recently told Psychology Today magazine, it’s best to make only one major change at a time. “There's an early period of volatility when you're changing your behavior. It takes a lot of mental energy and planning and playing around with your schedule. If you're trying to do this on several fronts at once, you're going to end up doing a bad job at all of them."
Still, after a few months of your new routine, consider adding another, or replacing this hobby with a new one. Branching out gives you an ever-expanding sense of self. By allocating a (small amount) of daily time to make upgrades, you can find out what’s in store for the new You 2.0.
David T. Kruchowski is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis with his two dog daughters. He writes about relationships, dating, technology, history, and managing anxiety and depression.