By the time you read this, we’ve already made some pretty strong headway into the new year. It’s February and the celebrations of the new year – along with the hopes and prayers that this year will be infinitely better than the last – are falling further and further into a distant memory.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in wishing for a better year than the one we just had. But it would be naive to think that the turn of a new calendar year somehow will have any kind of direct impact on the world and how things are going to turn out. In fact, the world isn’t going to change at all if the people inhabiting it don’t change. So, how can we change?
As part of my annual ritual, I took time out to reflect on the different areas of my life : which areas went the way I wanted them to and which needed some positive tweaking. An area I definitely let slide was my sleeping pattern.
To fulfil my obligations in various roles with clients and organisations, as well as serving my local church, I’d be having meetings with people in different time zones across the world. By doing so, my workday – instead of being condensed into consecutive hours – would be spread over the day and night. Sometimes I’d have meetings at 8 in the morning. Other days I’d be done with Zoom at 11 o’clock at night. And so to accommodate, I’d shift my sleep all over the place. There were many occasions when I’d be climbing into bed at 2am when my wife would already be into her second, perhaps even third, sleep cycle of the evening. This wasn’t without its consequences.
My energy levels were erratic. I’d be sharp and mentally focused on some days and on others, I’d be foggy-brained and have to concentrate twice as hard to stay in the conversation. I was also out of sync with my wife. We weren’t eating together or having downtime together, which had the potential to create distance between us.
My morning routine suffered too. I normally would spend an hour at the start of each day stretching, reading, praying and meditating. I found myself trying to play catchup with those habits every few days. But that’s not how it works. Just like how you can’t eat 6,000 calories in one go in order to go three days without food, you can’t do an extended stretching session or prayer time to make up for missing the previous sessions. It’s about doing the small consistent actions that lead us towards our bigger goals and mission in life.
Falling behind on keystone habits will leave you feeling stressed and in a perpetual state of playing catch up. A keystone habit is a habit that has ripple effects into different areas of your life. For example, having a solid sleep schedule is a keystone habit because if you have this in place, lots of other positive things will come from it.
Your body will function better. You’ll be more refreshed physically. Your mental performance will be more consistent. You’ll reduce your levels of stress. You’ll feel more emotionally resilient, and on top of everything that’s going on.
That’s why I’ve consciously recommitted to a more predictable sleep pattern this year. I’m already seeing and feeling the benefits. It’s better for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It’s better for my marriage. Last but not least, it’s better for my work performance.
As with most keystone habits, there’s a cost ; it likely creates a puzzle that needs solving. If I want to be in bed by 10:30pm each night, I have to do some reverse engineering. I must shower by 10pm. My last meeting of the day must finish no later than 9pm. I need to finish dinner by 7pm. I should finish my workout by 6:30pm, and so on.
If you’re starting to feel like you’re falling behind in life, or you’ve been dealing with a level of stress for a while, that’s going to get worse if you ignore it. It’s worth taking some time to do a little audit of your habits. Identify the keystone habits and then make a decision to plan your lifestyle around them.
This is an extremely effective way to get ahead and stay on top. It’s a relatively straightforward exercise you can do by yourself. Your reward? A better sense of control and peace – something we all need more of at a time of extreme uncertainty with everything that’s going on in the world right now.