• Matt Morrell

Tiny Habits

A few months ago, I realized that I had let the world get into my head in a way that was no longer serving me or my goals. At the beginning of 2020, I was enrolled in an MBA program. I was making progress toward my financial and physical goals. I was reaching a year in sobriety from alcohol and I had clarity in my career trajectory. I was going to the gym three or four times a week and had reconnected with swimming laps as a way to stay in shape and calm my mind.

I was turning in the final project for the first class in an MBA program when the lockdown kicked in. Panic in the grocery stores, moments of confusion, a deep primal need to have enough food at home to feed my kids.

I put the MBA on hold. I indulged in learning to make sourdough. Dormant genes in my physiology seemed to activate, whispering to me to prepare for the unknown.

A few months later, I realized I felt terrible. I had gratitude for my life - my job, my home, my community. But I was letting fear drive me. My hands felt swollen from the bread and evening ice cream. Eating M&Ms by the handful.

I was waking up in the middle of the night in a panic and dreading waking up at 2AM, watching the clock until the kids woke up at 5. I couldn't get to sleep at night. Scrolling through the news in bed on my phone. Dread. Anxiety.

4 months 24 days ago, I decided to make a change. I know that because that was the day I added "Sugar" to the "I am Sober" counter.

In the morning, I started little habits. Listen to a few minutes of motivational speakers on YouTube. Nothing crazy, just some positive reinforcement. Drink some water. Walk the dog for 30 minutes.

After a few weeks, I stopped craving ice cream and sweets.

I added a new counter for another bad habit - taking my phone to bed.

The first night without my phone, it felt like an eternity before I could fall asleep. I still woke up at 3AM and just laid there, thinking about going to get my phone from its charger in the kitchen.

The next night, I brought a book to bed instead, and when I woke up at 3, I read with a little reading light. I started finishing books. Unlike the eternal scroll on the phone, finishing a book actually feels good. I brought more books up and started looking forward to reading before bed. The 3AM wake-ups became less frequent. The reading time became shorter.

Now, after two months or so of doing this, I've only had to reset the counter once, when I was staying in a hotel and gave in to the proximity of the phone in the room. I scrolled through the usual suspects until past midnight. It felt gross. I reset the counter in the morning.

Of all the little habits, I'm not sure which one has had the most impact but I feel more in command of my mental and physical health. I can't really read anymore at night because I fall asleep within a few seconds of getting to my room. I feel a tangible sense of gratitude, purpose, and meaning in the morning that was lacking before, even before the pandemic.

Small changes, one day - one moment - at time. Stringing together all these little bits and pieces to build a life.


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© 2020 by Matt Morrell