Over coffee one day, my friend told me about how self-help books are more to self-help the authors. It was his usual joke, driving at my interest in reading them when I don’t know who to ask about a topic (which is usually 70% of the time).
For this coffee break, we were talking about “the habitus”, mostly because I had been fixated on reading up about starting the year right. As much as 2016 was a bad year for many people, for me 2016 was the pinnacle of my own hubris. That is, I had to learn about my failures in a way that I never experienced, and had to accept that my failings were no one else’s fault. In the midst of that tumultuous time it would have been difficult for me to know what exactly was wrong; a year later, I can’t help but feel grateful that I got myself out of a horrible, compromising relationship masked as a “friendship”.
On the plus side, losing a so-called friend left me re-discovering a lot of good things about myself, placing things into perspective and forcing me to do what I’ve always wanted to do years ago but didn’t have the courage for: to leave. Now, I just had to figure out what to improve about myself, to rebuild my habits in a way that I could re-discover more things about myself. You read that right: this friendship made me forget who I was. Basically I was setting myself up for a 2017 that could restore all the good in myself that I had lost.
Back to coffee with friend.
“We make all these resolutions, but actually most of the time you’re acting on your accepted habits. If you want to make real resolutions, you’ll have to study your daily habits first, otherwise you’re just making a list,” he said as he took coffee. “Not to seem too personal, but just my two cents’.” He was right though, and as an anthropologist with a grasp on many theories and actual experiences and fieldwork, I was not one to challenge his years of study.
So began the daily recording of my “habitus”. I realized that a lot of habits that I wanted to include in my “self-care list”, included a lot of activities that I never really did before– like weekly exercise. It didn’t take long (3 days?) that I broke the resolution and went back to my old habits (like, no exercise for weeks).
Another friend of mine said that “it takes 21 days to develop a habit.” Sure enough, as soon as I started talking to someone regularly, daily, I noticed that it had subconsciously become a habit– I began wondering if the person was all right, and wanted to talk to them.
And so began the experiment: I wanted to inculcate mindfulness. This to me meant becoming detached from my cellphone. I made it a goal not to look at my phone the entire time that I was commuting on the way to school (2-3 hours). With traffic jams that caused commute time to extend to an hour almost everyday, I had developed the habit to read through my Facebook feed, social media sites, or whatever else I had on my phone. I thought, if I could overcome this habit of filling my commute time with social media reading, maybe I could build other habits later on.
A week into the resolution, I had a difficult time stopping myself from reaching into my bag and checking if anyone had replied or sent me anything. For someone who’s pretty low-profile, I no longer understand why I felt the impulse to respond immediately… but during that first week I can’t deny the impulse I felt to make sure that people who responded to my post were not neglected. On the third day, though, I had realized that I just checked my phone to see if I had any “likes” on a post– I felt a little pathetic after realizing that. I mean, who cares if people liked my post on Facebook anyway?
After that week, it was a lot easier to tune out my need to check my phone. I almost wanted to buy a basic brick-phone to completely tune out the need to check social media. On my way to work, I had also begun to notice some things which I never really did when I was distracted with my phone. I noticed that the coffee shop that I passed by daily had familiar faces (maybe they held office there?). I began to drop by the chapel and notice how people from all walks of life would also say a few prayers before heading out. I also noticed how many people were constantly glued to their phone when I’d be on the train.
I felt free, not feeling the need to be on my phone.
So the next coffee break, I’ll be telling my friend how right he was. And also, I’ll be taking note of how often I’ve been asking him out for coffee.