How to do Shit that’s Hard: Breaking Habits in 5 Easy Steps

Step One: Look at yourself in the Mirror

Step Two: Say one positive thing about yourself.

Yay, me! I got out of bed today!

Step Three: Think about that hard thing you have to do.

Is there such a thing as a nail-less dog?

Step Four: Slap yourself hard.

Good morning!

Step Five: Go get shit done.

Clip the dog’s toenails already!

There are other strategies for getting shit done. I’ve been making lists lately.

Eventually I’m hoping the list will look less like:

— move heavy furniture

— clean kitchen

— call intimidating governmental department

— wait for next available clerk

— search for scrap of paper on which you wrote the magic words the clerk from last week told you to say to the clerk this week

— dig through garbage with your bare hands

— shower (some days it must be scheduled)

…and more like:

— Call decorator

— Check dividends

— Tell personal assistant to write list for cleaning staff

— Write list for personal assistant

If you know about any little scrap of my life, you’ll know things have been difficult the past few years. Dealing with the death of my husband is hard, but harder still were the years of dealing with his mental issues. The fallout is still there, making my feelings kind of hazy, especially as this is his birthday month.

A friend of mine recently said he didn’t know what he’d without his wife — and this friend had cancer, as if that’s not hard to deal with. And that’s the point — we NEVER know what we’ll do in a situation until it happens. It’s like being hit by a truck. If we could’ve seen it speeding around the corner, we would’ve prepared a little. But that’s not how life works.

We find ourselves fighting cancer — bam; or dealing with a partner’s mental illness — smack!; or a loved one unexpectedly dies — well, quite simply, there is no preparation for shit like that, and life becomes a matter of survival.

But HOW you survive can go two ways: up or down.

Moving forward is the most difficult option because it requires an almost supernatural power of introspection. You know your own mind/wishes/desires/hang-ups the best; and it can be downright scary to shine a spotlight into those cobwebbed corners of the attic.

Then we have behaviors or habits to complicate matters. If you’ve been a passenger in your own life for a few decades, it takes a Herculean amount of effort to scramble into the driver’s seat. But it CAN be done: you make a list, or slap yourself and get your ass moving. That’s one option.

The second option is the spiral.

Unfortunately, I’ve done the spiral thing — and I don’t recommend it. I was tired. Hiding. Drinking too much and ignoring the problems poking their boney fingers under my door.

Then the kids’ dad died.

It was a slap in the face: a sudden awareness of my own condition.

I wish you could slap people to make them wake up — like in the old movies when someone’s hysterical. But you cannot beat introspection into a person.

You don’t remember how you got home last night, or why your family is pissed at you?


The slap of self-awareness. It should be a thing.

Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.

Looking at one’s self honestly brings us to the next fork in the road: change or denial.

Denial is easy. You continue with the same bad habits. It’s a comfortable way to slowly die, alienate your friends and family, or destroy your health. Your bad habits (whatever they are…eating too much, drinking too much, fighting with people, biting your fingernails…the list is endless…) will go on until you are physically sick, alone, or have no fingernails.

You know how your life is supposed to flash before your eyes when you die? When the kids’ dad died, my future flashed before my eyes — and it wasn’t pretty.

Change is hard AF. This means you look at that crap in the attic and realize it’s time to get your hands dirty. Let me tell you — withdrawal from habits is HARD!

If you’re used to being with a person (though the relationship is unhealthy) you might throw your energy into deep cleaning the house because you don’t know what else to do with that time. When certain hours of the day come around, you distract yourself: you linger at the cafe, you do extra workouts at the gym, you call people you haven’t talked to in years.

It feels weird.

Your mind tells you that you are not in the right place; or that you should be texting so-and-so because they just got off work; or that you are not drinking (or eating) the right thing at the right time — no matter how fucked up that habit was. Because it was a habit, your mind made it natural.

Thus, the hardest challenge of all: making NEW habits. Healthy habits. Cleaning the house is good. Having movie night with your kids is good. Exercising is good. And, as one of my friends/coaches told me, if you work on establishing one doable habit at a time, it doesn’t get overwhelming. When ONE new habit becomes natural, then you can move on to the next.

This is how I stopped drinking so much; this is how I lost weight; this is how I fixed broken relationships. I finally feel connected to the world in which I want to live — I’m building a new, healthy life.

And guess what? These new habits make me happy. I FEEL good most of the time, mentally and physically. I am tossing out the bits and pieces of negativity that litter my life.

I know that if something isn’t good for me, I can walk away from it. Life doesn’t have enough square footage to clutter it up with crap.

I wish for everyone who’s dear to me, that their futures would play out in one terrifying second in front of them. And I wish it could be done without being hit by the truck.

American expat in Germany, formerly conservative homeschool mom now navigating widowhood; runner, writer, Crossfitter, trying to figure **it out

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store