We work with uber-busy people. And something we frequently hear are complaints about end-of-day habits–too much Netflix or wine, staying up too late, being caught on email all evening, late-night snacking, or just not spending enough time with their loved ones.
They always resolve to do better–go to bed earlier, drink less wine, spend more quality time with family, etc.–but typically, these attempts often fail.
We’ve found that good intentions don’t stick because our clients are striking at the limb, not the root of the problem. Trying to change your end-of-day habit doesn’t work because that habit got set up at the beginning of your day.
Let us explain.
Imagine you are in a meeting that goes off track. You’re frustrated because it happens over and over again. You’re just too tired to say something, so rather than address it, you multitask and answer emails. You’ve checked out and had yet another unsatisfying meeting. So, rather than feeling satisfied that you tackled something substantial, you end the day with a sense of despair and meaninglessness. Wine, a movie, a silly reality show–whatever gives you a ‘sort of’ sense of meaning or satisfaction, making up for what you missed earlier in your workday.
Or, imagine you agreed to help a colleague with a project that wasn’t originally on your plate, so you wind up pushing and rushing to get everything done in time. You don’t leave your desk, you skip lunch, and end up missing your workout. Later that night, you find yourself eating a second brownie and pouring your third glass of wine searching for the mental and physical break you missed earlier.
If this sounds like you, we invite you to reflect on these questions, the habits and routines that start at at the beginning of your day, not at the end:
- What’s the first time in the day you notice yourself anticipating your evening ritual?
- What’s happening in your morning and daytime routines that set up the cravings?
- Are you not taking a break when you need one?
- Are you staying in conversations you don’t need to be having?
- Are you agreeing to meetings you shouldn’t be in?
- Are you skipping meals? Not moving your body throughout the day?
- Are you focusing on the urgent issues but not the important, essential, and ultimately more satisfying things?
The important element to recognize is that your routines, behaviors, and reactions throughout the day set the stage for your poor evening habits.
So, our best tip for overcoming your unwanted nighttime habits: don’t rely on willpower; instead, reverse-engineer your day as you focus on what happens in the hours before your bad habits creep up.
- Choose the one habit you find to be most disturbing to you each night.
- What are you trying to feel or get through with that habit? Are you seeking relaxation? Excitement? Meaning? Intimacy? Energy?
- Look at your day, starting when you wake up, and identify one thing that sets you up for needing that feeling. Where did you choose to skip or give up something essential–your time, energy, physical needs, focus–that leads you to still be seeking that by nightfall?
- What if you didn’t do that one thing? What would it look like? How would you have to change your day?
- Experiment with that for one week and see what changes during the day and evening.
Once we become aware of how our choices and habits are all connected–from morning to night, from day to day–it’s easier to pinpoint the crucial moments that can turn things around for the better.