Which habits are you trying to break?

By Caitlin Kelly

Sunset in Donegal -- at 10:15 pm
Sunset in Donegal — at 10:15 pm

One of the best things about taking vacation — and the longer, the better — is shedding some bad habits (ideally!) while savoring the pleasures and challenges of a new or different environment.

So much easier to do when I’m not triggered by the same old patterns into the same tired behaviors.

For example:

I’ve been working alone at home in an apartment in the suburbs of New York for nine years. It’s lonely!

Hence a growing reliance upon social media for interaction that doesn’t require me to get dressed, get into a car, drive somewhere and….enjoy my life.

It’s become, as they say, thin gruel.

It’s too easy, too time-consuming and, most of all, increasingly frustrating because it doesn’t, at least for me, deepen intimacy, which is one of my joys in life.

Habits do make life easier; we don’t have to stop and think through why we’re making a specific decision. We just do it.

It was a great break for a week in Ireland to rent a cottage with no wifi or cellphone access. I didn’t miss it a bit! Badly burned by a huge data-usage bill from social media use when in Canada, I left my phone at home in New York this time. Jose dropped and broke his.

Instead we read, slept, took photos, drew, went for walks, talked at length to one another. Connected, with friends and with nature and with ourselves.

When we did have access to wifi by going to a nearby pub, we limited it to an hour or so a day to catch up on email, (some of it for work as we’re both freelance), and social media.

But it provoked some self-reflection on my part to realize how much time I’ve been wasting on “connecting” with others through social media, not face to face.

In fact, social media offers an easy way to procrastinate. It does almost nothing for my income. It rarely makes me much happier.

One habit I intend to keep -- a daily pot of tea
One habit I intend to keep — a daily pot of tea

The question?

What new and healthier habit can I — must I — now create to replace it?

Another habitual behavior of mine, is a default position of feeling anxious. It’s wearying and no fun and it’s been a habit of thought for decades. It comes from a very real place — when you work freelance, your income is precarious!

But it’s also exhausting.

As one wise friend says, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

My media habits need a shake-up as well, so I recently signed up (yes, on Twitter) to follow a French magazine and a Spanish newspaper, both to find story ideas and to expand my worldview far beyond the terribly limited one offered by American media.

On vacation, between jet lag and different light, we were up both much later and much earlier than usual — the summer sky was full light by 4:30 a.m. and remained light until 11:30. I took some of my best photos, walking barefoot on gravel in my nightgown, at 6:00 a.m., catching the light on dew in thick spiderwebs, a sight I never see at home because I never get up that early.

And yet I saw one just like it the other day on our front lawn. Why not start getting up early here?


I need to broaden my horizons at home, not only when traveling.

Like…when I have a free day, I’d normally stick at home or head into Manhattan.


Last night I behaved as though I were still on vacation — i.e. adventurous enough to try something I’d never done at home before. (Why is that?)

I went to our commuter train station and bought a ticket heading north an hour to a renowned concert venue to hear Cherish The Ladies, a terrific all-female band playing traditional Irish music.

It required a taxi to and from the station and a change of trains — would any of that be possible at 11:00 after the show? Fingers crossed!

Instead, I said hello to the pianist we’d met in Dungloe in a pub; she dedicated a song to me from the stage and mentioned my town and a dancer with them drove me home — as he turned out to be a next door neighbor.

Talk about positive reinforcement for breaking a habit!

Loved this recent story about a young Vancouver woman, and blogger, who declared a ban on shopping for a year — and lived well on 51 percent of her income. She’s eloquent and inspiring on how much of her shopping was habitual and, in some ways, mindless.

Now it’s gotten to a weird place where I feel not only uncomfortable spending money but I had to go into a mall to buy a baby present in a mall recently, and I felt almost sick in there because I was surrounded by ads. I felt overstimulated from being inside the mall. I don’t like the energy in there.

I felt this way in the Dublin airport when we were leaving to return to New York, surrounded by shops selling liquor and cosmetics and clothing and electronics….too much stuff! Overwhelmed, and grateful for the things I already own, I bought nothing — maybe a pre-flight first for me.

I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls -- so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret...
I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

Being mindful about what we do, how often and why takes some serious reflection.

It can be painful, and some of our habits, of thought and behavior, can be deeply rooted in emotions we don’t especially want to face or change.

Do you read Seth Godin’s blog? Loved this one:

Stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.

Do you have a habit, or several, you’re also trying to break or shed?

23 thoughts on “Which habits are you trying to break?

  1. I am also in the habit on relying on social media instead of going out. I am going to try just going out with in the next week as you did! I could really use it. This has actually inspired me so much to get off my butt and kick this habit! Thank you, it’s really come at the best time for me.

  2. I love this, “Being mindful about what we do, how often, and WHY”. The last part really gets at the question of our habits and whether they are contributing to ourselves.
    I also loved the advice to take a photograph rather than buy something you might regret later. The attraction to the shawls might’ve been due to the vibrant colors, or to serve as a reminder of being in a particular place. It’s not the shawls themselves but the memory of experience that’s important.
    Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Thanks for weighing in!

      I often photograph items I find moving or beautiful so I can re-live the pleasure of seeing them. I don’t need to own them and save a lot of $$$ and angst by not buying all the things I respond to. We live in a one-bedroom apartment with very limited storage space (even with a garage!) so we’re very selective about what we decide to add to our belongings.

      1. Thanks, and no I won’t fess up! By the way, I’m absolutely loving Germany! I just did some traveling and exploring today, and I might do some more tomorrow, depending on a few things. I even followed a few tips from you, including ditch the experts (though not in the way I expected).

  3. social media offers an easy way to procrastinate. It does almost nothing for my income. It rarely makes me much happier

    I hear you re: the above! I’m guilty of spending too much time on social media too. Recently, I’ve been craving more interaction: quality interaction that isn’t through a computer screen. Even though I spent the last four years as a student, I have few close friends, which is mostly due to a complicated combination of factors: I lived at home and commuted daily to campus.

    No big deal, I guess, but it meant that I was often too tired to go out in the evening to salsa dance classes or events on campus, because that would mean driving home after classes to get ready and then driving back to the city: a total of almost four hours spent in the car. And I was often stressed because my mother was seriously ill in my first year (I took a leave of absence between first and second year to be her caregiver) and her health condition is ongoing.

    To sum up, I would like to shake up my habits, and have more adventures and more face-to-face interaction with people. I need to form a plan…

    1. Good for you!

      I know almost no one from my 4 years at university…I was so often focused on my freelance writing and photos (that’s how I paid for school and living alone). People will come up to me in Toronto and say “Hey!!!!” and I barely remember them. It’s a real loss but I did what I had to do…as did you! I really admire your caring for your mother.

      I’m really forcing myself now to send emails and make phone calls to make PLANS with other people face to face.

      I wept like a baby in the Dublin airport as we were leaving. It stunned me — I never cry! but I also did a year ago, also after a time spent filled with adventure and emotional intimacy, things I find elusive here in NY where so many people focus relentlessly on 2 things, work and family. Friendship has never been a priority for anyone I’ve met here…so when I find it elsewhere, and easily, it’s hard to leave it behind.

      So that was a big signal that I need to make some changes NOW.

      My adventure north to the concert had such a fantastic and surprising ending. It reminded me that “normal” behavior on vacation — a real willingness to try new things — is something I need to add to my normal life much more often.

      Good luck to both of us! πŸ™‚

  4. i think that self-reflection and a reappraisal of our situations and habits are important activities. it is much easier to follow our routines and stay safe within our personal comfort zones, yet it is there that we find ourselves stagnant. only out in the light of the world can we continue to grow, with a return to our nests for renewal and rest as needed. i applaud you for this and love your adventure. i am a morning person my nature and find it to be my favorite time of day, before much of the world emerges and awakens and the day is full of promise.

  5. I need to spend less time looking at silly things online, and drink less rum!
    Both things I enjoy doing very much, at the same time, but it’s not really getting me anywhere!

    I love your new habit of broadening your horizions. I have travelled the world but at home, I go to the same places all the time. Might be time to shake that up a bit.

    1. Those habits sound like fun, actually! πŸ™‚

      It’s really making me re-think how many more adventures I can have within an hour’s drive of our home — like kayaking on the Hudson River where it gets really narrow and gorgeous and feels like the 18th century.

      It’s the endless push-pull of how much $$$ to save for our bigger trips and how much to spend locally and regionally. Sadly, there are $ limits!

  6. I’ve often returned from a trip, happy to be home, but wondering why I don’t live on the water, in the mountains, etc. Thin gruel is a good way to put it. When we get so set in our ways we forget there are other ways . . .

    1. This is one home I have always looked forward to returning to — and I know our river view (trees starting to block it!) is a major reason why.

      I loved aspects of my hometown, Toronto, but much of the city’s housing stock is ugly and very very expensive. I knew I could never get the quality of life I wanted there.

  7. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

  8. It’s funny how refreshing having no internet access can be. It’s like a burden has been lifted; we feel obliged to be contactable by everyone all of the time and this, as you rightly say, hinders our real life relationships in many ways.

    I particularly despise it when people use their phones when eating at the table, as over the table conversation sparks some of the greatest conversations, I have found.

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