Tweaking the Zen Habits Approach

If you’ve read my previous post, you know I’m applying the Zen Habits approach to my morning routine. As a quick recap, my morning routine didn’t exist and I wanted to change that. The hardest part of my routine was starting it since I already knew what I needed to do during my routine. So, with my Zen Habits book by Leo Babauta in hand, I begun the very slow process of building up to the morning routine I wanted to implement. The baby step I was working on was to be on my feet by 5am.

Since my last post, I’ve only failed to be on my feet by 5am once, meaning I had to pay my friend $80 per our accountability terms. That sucked, and has so far been enough to keep me going strong. Though I noticed something that happened halfway through my first week of doing this teeny tiny first step – the follow-through on the rest of my routine wasn’t guaranteed. At all. In fact, it crumbled the more I kept at it.

Some days were great – I’d be on my feet downstairs by 5am and after sending the accountability selfie (totally a thing) to my friend, I’d immediately feed my cats and then myself since I was already downstairs. But a growing number of days lately has had me rushing back upstairs to hide in bed, sometimes not leaving myself enough time to eat or even shower before having to leave for work. Definitely not the point of starting my day at 5am with this small step.

Even though I’ve been doing good at this small step, it’s not bringing me much satisfaction if it’s harming other aspects of my life/routine. I’m trying to build a solid foundation but I feel like I’m cheating by doing it then forgetting why I’m doing it in the first place.

Right now I’ve worked up through chapter 23 in Zen Habits and I feel one of my issues is that I’m forgetting what I’ve already done in the previous day’s mission/exercise. I also read ahead at one point, which threw me off. So in lieu of a traditional Habit Sprint, I thought I’d take the time to do over the missions from the past 10 days (11 including today’s) that I haven’t been keeping in mind. Here they are:

Clarify intentions. My intention is to build a strong foundation for my morning routine, which is to say that this small step puts that routine in motion and is what I base my entire day off of. The point isn’t to prove to my friend that I can be on my feet at 5am everyday, that would be silly. That’s why it’s silly for me to rush back into bed to hide after taking that picture in the morning. The picture isn’t part of my routine, it’s not the end goal, it’s just a layer of accountability for me to prove that I’m starting my day and routine. That’s why I feel like I’m cheating when I rush away to hide for another hour – my routine falls flat and doesn’t actually get started.

Watch your urges mindfully. It’s a bit hard to mindfully get on my feet at 5am when I’m literally racing against the clock to take a picture before it’s too late. I’ve been doing it, but it’s been a rush to take the picture, not a rush to start my day. Here’s where the urges come in: once the picture is sent, I have the biggest urge ever to basically get in as much more sleep as I can manage. I don’t have the urge to feed my cats or myself, what goes through my mind is phew, made it down here before 5am. Time to go back to bed! It’s as though my brain isn’t processing that there are other tasks to do instead of taking the picture. I have somehow allowed my accountability measure, which is supposed to keep me in line, let me stray from my intention of creating a strong foundation for my day. My thoughts on combating this urge to run back to bed? I’ll stand downstairs by the clock for a few minutes after sending the picture and stretch. I know that I’m supposed to be doing the bare minimum here but I need to make sure that I’m not shooting myself in the foot. For some, adding more into their routine at this point might be a doomsday plan and for me it certainly is, but I think there’s a threshold and as long as I stay within it, I’ll still be able to function at a better level. Right now, my routine isn’t helping me function, so something’s got to change.

Adjustments. I’ve already explained adjustments I should make, but another factor in me going back upstairs is taking my medication. I sometimes wake up too close to 5am to have time to take my morning medications and then go downstairs to take the picture. That means not only do I have the urge to run upstairs and hide in bed, but I can justify going back upstairs to take my medication where I’ll inevitably get back into bed. By setting my alarms 5 minutes earlier (since I dismiss the first ones without acting on them anyway) I’ll give myself enough time to take my morning medications before going downstairs, giving myself one less reason to head upstairs before I need to shower. At some point in time, I’d incorporate making my bed first but a) let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I’m not at that level yet and b) hell if that’s going to stop me from laying on my bed to catch more Z’s.

Embarrassing consequence. If paying my friend $80 for missing a day of my habit wasn’t enough motivation to do it, I need to pick an embarrassing consequence to do if I miss two days of my habit in a row. I decided that I’d go on social media and make positive statements about a certain political candidate I do not support. Safe to say, that is never happening; it’d be way too hard for me to find anything nice to say about them.

Finding gratitude for resistance. My resistance is being awake. The gratitude I could possibly find in that is my body craving more sleep because it needs it, and me wanting to give it the rest it’s asking for. I feel that’s a little bit of a stretch, but that’s the most positive response I can come up with in the face of my resistance (if you want the negative stuff, I could go on forever).

Minimum viable habit. This is supposed to be the bare, bare minimum task for me to do on days when resistance is extremely strong. For me, it’d be just doing what I’ve been doing: getting on my feet at 5am and taking a picture to send to my friend without the added in dose of mindfulness to try to keep me going.

Seeing the moment. This is just a meditative practice I need to start doing. Instead of focusing on beating the clock, I need to ground myself and focus on being on my feet at 5am and all the possibilities that opens up for me. I need to appreciate the fact that I can be on my feet at that time and that I’m able to do so much more because of it (not including running back upstairs to my bed).

Don’t act on urges. Again, I need to start noticing my urges and separating myself from them. This is something that helped me out a lot when I was getting sober, so it’s only natural it’d be helpful to get through the difficulties this habit is presenting me. Just because I have an urge doesn’t mean I have to act on it. As I stretch in the morning, I’ll notice my urges, acknowledge them, and let them pass on by. I am not defined by my urges nor are they a requirement for action.

Practice with discomfort. Doing my habit with the included stretching is going to help me do this exercise. I’ll want to go upstairs, I’ll think of any reason possible to go back into bed (especially on the weekends) but I’ll need to force myself as best as possible to not act on my urges, even if that means staying in the position I’m in (on my feet in front of the clock) until I’m ready to make a move in the right direction. I’ll feel discomfort but the more I feel it the more familiar it will be and the better I’ll know how to handle it.

Appreciate the habit. This is similar to finding gratitude for the resistance and realigning my thoughts with the intentions of my habit. When I do my habit, I need to appreciate those mindful moments and know that it’s just the first step and I’m in control of the rest of what’s to come. I’ll remind myself of how I feel when I’m able to get things done early in the morning and how I don’t want to disadvantage myself more than my depression and anxiety already do whenever they feel like it.

Turn towards fear. The main fear I have is rooted stubbornly in my depression: the fear of facing the day and the unknown that comes with it. That’s part of why I’m so eager to start a morning routine in my life in the first place. That will be one chunk of my day that I can count on, that I know I have control over, and that I can do (eventually) automatically. I crave that stability in my life. Why I want to run and hide into bed has less to do about being tired and more to do about literally hiding from having to face the day. It terrifies me. Every single day that I wake up, I wake up terrified of what’s to come. It’s not even about knowing what will happen that day since I do have a schedule and a general idea of how things will go. It’s more of a fear of not knowing how I’m going to feel, react, think, or perform in any given situation. My medications haven’t stabilized my emotions to the point where I react to things like a normal human being; the slightest bit of unintended criticism can send me down a shame spiral so fast and negative that I swear it should be in the record books. A thought of my ex will float into my mind and I’ll run to cry in the bathroom for half an hour, even though I don’t necessarily feel like crying. It’s things like that, my lack of control over my own self, that I fear and having to present myself in front of my coworkers or friends with my emotions being in such a variable state. That’s why I hide, that’s what I fear, and that’s why I’m trying to redo my morning routine to add stability into my life in any way that I can.


To recap, here are what my issues have been with my morning routine/habit:

  • My accountability method has become the end goal in my mind, which works against the intention of the habit I’m trying to put in place
  • I run upstairs to hide in my bed for as long as possible after I send my accountability selfie (a term I never thought I’d be using this regularly) to my friend because I’m scared to face the day (thanks, depression!)
  • I haven’t been mindfully doing my habit or pausing on the urges to hide in bed after I’ve shown I’m on my feet at 5am

And here’s what I’m going to do to correct it:

  • Take my medications before I go downstairs so I have one less justification to rush back up there
  • Set my alarms for 5 minutes earlier so I don’t feel quite as rushed when I try to beat the clock and take my accountability selfie (can this term start being a thing? It’s growing on me)
  • Stand and stretch for a few minutes after sending the accountability selfie to my friend, loosening up for the day and observing my urges and letting them pass
  • Leave myself peppy notes downstairs to remind me to go feed the cats before going upstairs, since notes have been helpful to get me out of bed in the first place:
Post-it saying Feed the Kitties!
A closeup of the Post-it

Clock and post-it


I’ll let you know how things go with these adjustments!


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