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When something feels wrong, your routines are a mess, and nothing is working, you want to make a change. The impulse is to go big: start a ten-day fast. Work out five times a week. Quit your job, end your marriage, and move to Dubai — raze it all to the ground. But those drastic efforts tend to fizzle out before they’ve even begun. The Habit Trip maps the topography of who you are and what you love, revealing a personalized infrastructure for well-being that is hiding in plain sight.
The journey is divided into three sections:
- The Situation: evaluate your life in ten areas to identify what’s working and what’s not
- The Solution: find micro-doses of solace and strength to bolster your health and stability
- The Payoff: amplify the power, peace, and presence that comes with knowing what matters most
The Habit Trip is an actionable antidote for stress and frustration, nestled inside of an interactive workbook in which you are the one and only expert. By the end of your rollicking journey (accompanied by a host of enchanted creatures), you’ll have charted an easier way to roll through the joyful chaos of life, one habit at a time. Your challenges, your solutions, your way.
Which Way Is Up?
Raise your hand if you have no aches and pains, no bad habits, and no stress.
If that’s you, put down this book and back away. You are superhuman and should make yourself scarce before the rest of us either deify you or imprison you for crimes against humanity. If, on the other hand, you generally feel more like a Tasmanian devil than a Zen monk, settle in.
The Habit Trip is a practice of proactively fortifying your body, heart, and mind with small, life-giving changes—microdoses of solace and structure—in response to the mayhem of daily life. Determine your own dose as you go, and take as needed.
You arrived here today via one road or another. Whether you are an entrepreneur, teacher, designer, parent, farmer, marketing guru, or any other occupation—you have arrived here with some tricks up your sleeve. You’ve learned a few things, messed up a few, slayed a few, and forgot what you were doing in the first place more than once.
Perhaps you’ve been circling a roundabout for months or years, unable or unwilling to peel off in a chosen direction. Or perhaps you’ve just conquered an autobahn of school, career, or family at a face-melting speed and screeched to a halt with your lungs pulsating through your eyeballs. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
Wherever you’re from and wherever you’re going, you’ve developed some habits along the way—ingrained ideas about who you are and ways of interacting with the world that may or may not be helpful. Like them or not, those ideas are familiar. They create a net around your life and keep you feeling safe from the tightrope walk of the unknown. No surprises or challenges. You know exactly how to live within those expectations. Happy or grumpy, impulsive or deliberate, you are who you are, and that’s that.
Except not really.
We have more wiggle room than we think.
Enigmatic questions about who we are, how we got that way, and how we react to various circumstances call to mind the age-old nature versus nurture predicament. If you’ve ever raised a human child, or a feline or canine one, you know that some aspects of their personalities are undeniable. My son has been an observer since the day he was born. He wants to know the lay of the land before he makes any moves. My dog is a turtle, forever in search of a pillow or person to hide under. My best friend is a fire-starter: give her a task and she will build it into a towering inferno. (This is especially useful when the task involves party planning or fundraising.) And I am an animal lover through and through. If you lose track of me at a cocktail party, look under the table. I’m probably on the floor, bedazzled with fur, talking to the resident pets.
Other folks are dyed-in-the-wool competitors, peacemakers, organizers, jokers, artists, or analysts. Whatever your default mode, these instincts are your guideposts, the strengths and values that come to you effortlessly.
But there are also some assumptions that you’ve painted on throughout the years that aren’t so useful, assumptions about how “someone like you” can or cannot be. You slather on a layer of not-smart-enough, paint the trim with some too-fat-for-that, and touch it all up with healthy splatter of that’s-just-the-way-I-am.
The paint has dried now, and it’s peeling. It’s a little itchy actually—and annoying. You’re flaking it off with your fingernails, but what you need is a sandblaster—or, if you’re feeling moderate, perhaps a nice, wide spackle scraper.
This is your house: your body house. It has lots of secrets to tell you, but it’s been awfully dark in there for a good long while. The electricity is flickering; the wiring is functional, but the charge is low. It’s hard to see inside. On the outside, you’re keeping up appearances but showing signs of wear.
Decoding the parts of our lives that need attention and doing something about them doesn’t require an advanced degree in engineering—or a lot of money. We’re all different. We all have unique passions and interests, but to show up for them—awake and engaged—every one of us needs the same basic reinforcements. We need rest, nourishment, safety, strong communities, and a reason to get up in the morning. Our minds and bodies are spectacularly functional structures. They’re just encased in a little fog, and they need a good, strong wind. This book clears the fog and peels off the drywall, exposing the studs of our lives so we can inspect for termites and rebuild stronger than ever.
By the end of the book, you will have built a personalized platform of behavioral reinforcements for both high- and low-stress periods of life—to stabilize you on the rough patches and build speed and endurance for the straightaways. Once you have the tools, you can apply them over time, whenever you feel like it.
There are ten primary areas of life that impact our health and happiness—Time, Sleep, Food, Fitness, Space, Play, People, Money, Spirit, and Voice—and there are countless ways to enrich each of them. Too many, perhaps, to choose. The options and obstacles can be overwhelming.
Our bodies are the means by which we experience being alive. Everything we encounter is filtered through our five senses, processed by our brains, and translated through our nervous systems. The things we do every day shape our bodies and the circuitry of our brains—and we vastly underestimate the transformative impact of tiny changes that feel like oxygen to the blood when chosen purposefully to fan our individual flames.
When something feels wrong—nothing is working; you want to make a change, but the days are moving too quickly—the impulse is to go big. Start a ten-day fast. Work out five times a week. Quit your job, end your marriage, move to Dubai, and start a tourism company. Raze it all to the ground and start over.
Problem is, you can’t start over. You have a physical body to contend with, experiences you have internalized, and ingrained habits that follow wherever you go. The only viable option is to pin your current location and start from there. You are standing nose-to-nose with a greatly improved quality of life, but it’s hard to see through that beastly fog.
The Habit Trip maps the topography so you can show up on time for what matters—with a little mischief and a lot of love for yourself and your fellow travelers.
How does your body respond to stress, and how do you alleviate it? What are your triggers and go-to release valves? Which ones are helpful, and which ones leave you feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, rehashing the same negotiations in your head again and again? How do you break the cycle? And what are you doing this for anyway?
You already have the answers. This book will help you find them.
Take a moment, if you will, to peek out the window of your house. In the distance, you see something unusual—a crowd of enormous, clear, plastic balls with people inside—rolling free, bumping around indiscriminately, bouncing off rocks, and careening down hills. What the… ? What? You sit down at your computer to investigate.
According to the Google machine, orbing “involves rolling down a steep hill in a gigantic inflatable ball… either splashing around inside the ball or flipping literally head over heels.”4 Orbing, otherwise known as sphereing, globe-riding, or zorbing, hit the mainstream in New Zealand in the 1990s.5 The sport has since spread all over the world to places like Spain, Denmark, and Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, where competitors race downhill at speeds up to 32 miles per hour.
The first time I encountered it, I thought, Yep. That’s pretty much how I feel most days—tumbling head over heels, trying (and failing) to get my balance while the world passes me by. It’s how my coaching clients feel, too. We’re scrambling to grab ahold of something, but it’s all moving too fast. We can’t get our footing long enough to catch our breath, much less maintain a workout plan or start a business… or a family… or a grassroots revolution.
Orbing is life, y’all. It’s a clusterfuck of lawless summer days, unexpected cliffs, and adrenaline. It’s a human blender in need of safety rails, and we’re all on board whether we like it or not.
But what if we could each build a platform in our respective orbs with some nice, strong handrails to hang on to? We could decorate our orbs with wallpaper, paint, and glitter and allow just the right amount of light to shine through. We could pad them with memory foam or lush cotton pillows. Then we could ride in style with a supportive infrastructure to keep us steady as we free fall.
This is not a fantasy. It’s doable. We just need some insight into what’s working, what’s not, and which reinforcements are most helpful—which habits function like a balm for our inflamed bodies and agitated minds.
Pinning Your Location
As of this writing, I am forty-three years old.
I’m pretty sure that makes me too old to be cool and too young to be wise—but sometimes it’s hard to tell reality from bullshit.
I have held the following jobs in my lifetime: CD store clerk, fruit wholesaler, cocktail waitress, bartender, personal assistant, street mime, secretary, actor, HR coordinator, singer/songwriter, personal trainer, magazine columnist, author, speaker, and health coach.
I have been a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a wife, and a mom.
I have despised my body, sucked in, pinched, and posed.
I have also strengthened my body, hiked, run, stretched, and lifted. I have celebrated my friends, family, and clients. I have traveled some but never enough. I have questioned my judgment and underestimated my value. I have undercharged for my work and overpromised on my time. I have read a million books and written a million words. I have volunteered and rallied. I have coached and trained hundreds of people, listened to their stories, and learned how excruciatingly common our struggles are.
So here—right here and now—I have landed. As I write this, I’m in a pretty good spot. I feel mostly good: safe, and loved by my people. Work is satisfying. I can pay the bills, and my body hurts in only a few intractable ways. But, by the time you read these words, I may be tumbling through the countryside again, holding on for dear life and hoping the support systems I have built can withstand the repetitive blunt force trauma. There is no such thing as standing still. If I sat right here at this desk forevermore, hiding behind this computer screen, in this place that feels so happy and stable, I would grow stale. My muscles would atrophy. My relationships would fail. I would become isolated and afraid to move.
Stability is fleeting, and turmoil doesn’t last forever. So the question is, how do we roll with both?
Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”6
No matter where you have landed or where you came from, you are on your very own hero’s journey. Your contribution matters. Your wisdom is real. You have access to all the solutions you could ever need to make your life richer, more fulfilling, and more impactful. I don’t have answers for you, but I do have a map, questions, and clues to support you on your way. You will find fill-in-the-blank opportunities throughout this book to help you identify where you are and what comes next.
The world may have turned out to be somewhat less accommodating than you’d hoped when you first woke up as an adult on planet Earth. Leaving your nice, stable house behind to go orbing at the ripe old age of (fill in the blank!) might seem like madness, but you need supplies to keep your house in order. You need tools and fresh paint, lumber for a project out back, and a welcome mat for the front door. If you don’t ever move from this place, the roof will begin to leak, the weeds will eat away at your foundation, and the walls will crumble around you.
You have no choice except to keep moving—but not to worry. The hero’s journey always leads back home—to your center of gravity, wherever it may be.
Before you go, take a moment to get your bearings, right here in the fog.
There are no wrong answers, only the beginnings of gut instincts, stirrings of the innate knowledge that will tell you what you need and where to go next.
One note of caution: this journey is not intended to conquer the rugged terrain of trauma or abuse. Moving through that kind of territory is a challenge that requires the care and safekeeping of a trained guide. This book is not intended to cure serious substance abuse either. It’s not therapy. It’s a straightforward process of teasing out frustrating habits—patterns you’d prefer not to repeat (but can’t seem to stop), beliefs or ideas you no longer accept—and playing with them to see what else might be possible. Microdoses of well-being are accessible to every one of us—no matter how we got here or how off track we might be.
The voice that matters most in this book is yours, not mine. This is your story, your chance to chart your own course, to explore your motivations and move toward your goals. To do that, you will need to distill your thoughts and—most importantly—write them down.
According to Forbes magazine, “A Harvard Business Study found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA program who had their goals written down, ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation.”7 Harvard MBA grads shouldn’t get to have all the fun, now should they? We have pens, too. We can benefit from this practice just as well as they can. So:
What brings you here today? Why did you pick up this book?
In a few words, make a list of personality traits, roles, or stereotypes that have defined who you are—in your own eyes and in the eyes of others.
Which of those descriptions suit you, and which would you rather not identify with anymore?
Now that we have that out of the way, step outside. Your orb is waiting. It’s in the garage, clear as cellophane. It’s been there all along. Jump in. Seal it up. Let’s go. Throw your weight as hard as you can down the driveway, down the hill, and into the supernatural.
Ten Areas of Well-Being
As the dizzying spin of the orb comes to a rest at the bottom of your driveway, you discover that your house is located at the center of a multidirectional intersection. Stepping onto solid ground, you see roads stretching out in ten different directions.
You steady yourself by leaning on the orb, but it slips out from under you, bobbing away before stopping against a street sign with arrows pointing to each of the ten roads. While you catch your breath, you dig in your backpack in search of a hat to shield you from the brutal persistence of the sun. There isn’t a soul in sight. The next phase of this journey is entirely up to you.
At the center of this intersection is your body—the root of your experiences and the messenger that tells you when you’ve run off the road.
No more spinning out. No more wondering which way is up. No more unidentified flying impulses passing over your head and torpedoing your best efforts before you can grasp where they came from.
In this chapter, you map the landscape. No judgments. No deep dives. Just your initial observations. You’re getting the lay of the land and flagging the potholes. In the following sections, you’ll have a chance to gut-check each area of well-being and identify challenges you may have by answering two questions per category. This lays the groundwork for the steps you will take in Part II of the book.
As you squint up at the words on the signs, a breeze blows, and the orb rolls slowly toward a road called Time. But this road is not particularly smooth. In fact, it is cluttered with litter and boulders. It looks like there’s an old airport in the distance. Between here and there, you see several staircases that seem to lead nowhere at all. There are giant billboards streaming videos about all sorts of things: how to replace a doorknob, viral puppy-cam clips, how to be a better public speaker, how to make a spinach smoothie, instructions for clearing out your hard drive, and—fuck—politics… so much politics, so many talking heads. At every crosswalk, there are stacks of papers blowing out of filing cabinets, and the cloud cover over this road is growing. It gets so dim in spots you’re concerned you’ll lose track of where you’re going. The chaos is intriguing, though. You’re mesmerized but unsure of how to focus your attention.
This street turns and twists and intersects with every one of the other roads you will explore. Time is the most frequent obstacle to change that my clients name. There simply isn’t enough time. I can’t carve it out. Every minute of my day is spoken for. I’m stuck at work. I’m stuck with the kids. Everybody wants a piece of me.
But time is the structure by which we live. If we can build best practices on this road, we set ourselves up for progress in every other part of our lives. Luckily, time comes in small increments. It can be broken down and taken back in pocket-sized, clever little nuggets: one minute, five minutes, fifteen minutes at a time—and in those minutes, we have the power to shape our daily experience.
Chade-Meng Tan is a computer engineer, creator of Google’s groundbreaking Search Inside Yourself mindfulness program, and co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize–nominated One Billion Acts of Peace campaign. In his book Joy on Demand, Tan tells a story about an assignment he gave in one of his corporate seminars: At work tomorrow, spend ten seconds at the top of every hour doing a loving-kindness meditation for whomever crosses your path. Simply take a breath, wish that person well, and get back to work.
One of the attendees, a woman named Jane, emailed Tan after doing this exercise. She told him that she dreaded going to work every morning. She hated her job, but the day she had just spent experimenting with this assignment was her “happiest day in seven years.”8 Micro-change: ten seconds per hour. Jane decisively impacted her workday for the better by carving out a total of eighty seconds.
When we talk about time, we are talking about routine—the patterns that structure our days and how minutes are lost or found amid those patterns.
The thought of modifying our routines on a grand scale can be paralyzing, so most of us cover our eyes and plow full speed ahead until we’re knocked out by a brick wall we never saw coming. The ways we utilize or surrender our time dictate how much access we have to the people and activities that enrich our lives—and how vulnerable we are to burnout. We know we would feel better, in theory, if we made time for a workout in the morning, took dedicated time away from our phones to accomplish specific daily tasks, or, God forbid, said no to commitments we genuinely do not have time or interest to complete. But in practice, those goals tend to fall apart because they disregard the current, familiar rhythms of our lives. The leap is too far, so we never reach those lofty ambitions—instead, we dig in deeper right where we are, scattered and overburdened. We get behind on all the things and run out of time to reorganize our priorities (or our closets). Too many pressing matters to attend to!
Claiming your time in smaller increments, as Jane did, may seem inconsequential at first, but in practice, it can be transformative. Microdoses of time, rightness, levity, breath, movement, and clarity cannot help but change a little something for the better. And when you succeed in following through—with a bit of space here, a breath there, a bath, a walk, or dinner with a friend—you realize, in spite of all the crucial demands on your time, you have the ability to make a palpable difference in your quality of life. That recognition ultimately gives you the agency to address bigger changes, as well.
Time is yours to take, and the scale and substance of those changes are up to you. There will, of course, be parts of your days beyond your control. The joys of adult life do not come without cost, but there are infinitely more opportunities for infusions of pleasure and release than there are lost minutes. What parts of your day are locked in, and which have potential for change?
You’ll have a chance to rearrange or reclaim some of that time in Part II. For now—a gut check:
What times of your day feel out of step?
What is your favorite time of day, and why?
Self-help authors, leadership coaches, nutritionists, and other such well-meaning folks will often ask you to consider the course of your day to discover the patterns you fall into—beginning first thing in the morning. It’s helpful to get a full-day perspective, for sure, but in my experience, if you start in the a.m., you’re behind the eight ball.
Decent sleep makes everything easier, and when we don’t get it, we pay a high price. According to Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Patrick Finan, PhD, “Sleep can affect your mood, memory, and health in far-reaching and surprising ways.”9 His research shows that sleep deprivation increases our risk of depression, irritability, forgetfulness, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, the common cold, poor judgment, and good old-fashioned weight gain. It makes us more accident-prone, too. Great. One more worry to keep us up at night.
Here’s the deal. I have insomnia on a regular basis; I know that agony firsthand. I’ve endured months when I could barely sleep and have been jacked up by sleeping pills and restless leg syndrome. I get it. You won’t find me preaching about how easy it is to fix your sleep woes, but I’ve also learned a bunch of techniques to handle it when it gets bad, and even better, to prevent the downward spiral in the first place. Most of us can influence our quality of sleep, at least to some degree.
The BBC reports that understanding our circadian rhythms, establishing a “personal, optimal sleep schedule—and [sticking] to it, no matter what”10 is one of the most important things we can do to sleep better. I’m sure this advice is true, but I find it mildly infuriating. How exactly are we supposed to align our ideal sleep schedules with the realities of stress and obligations? Maybe you’re a night person with a small child who wakes up at 5:00 a.m. every day. Maybe you’re a morning person who keeps getting called in to work the closing shift. Changing our responsibilities may not be possible, but, one way or another, sleep is imperative. We might not be able to maintain a perfect sleep schedule, but we can definitely make changes for the better.
There are legit clinical sleep problems that can be vastly improved with help from a doctor, but milder problems can be eased by experimenting with behavioral and environmental changes. Stretching before bed, taking a hot bath, shutting off screens at a designated time, getting our thoughts out on paper, wearing an eye mask, using pillows in various ways to prevent pain—all of those have helped me and my clients incrementally over time, but there’s no panacea. You probably have other ideas about what might help you—and something is better than nothing. Progress is better than defeat.
How do you spend your evenings as you’re winding down? What prevents you from getting to bed at a decent hour? What do you do if you wake up in the middle of the night worrying?
If sleep is an issue, you’ll have a chance to explore your options when we get to our action plans: what works, what doesn’t, and what’s worth trying. (In the meantime, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m decoding this puzzle right alongside you.) Getting more sleep isn’t so much a decision as a management skill. It’s forever in flux.
If sleep is not a problem for you, brilliant. Ignore this section entirely.
This road resembles a bowling lane, smooth and slick down the center—but it’s super easy to slip off and fall into the ditch on either side.
What challenges do you have with sleep?
What routines have helped you sleep better in the past, even if just a little?
"In The Habit Trip, Sarah Hays Coomer reveals a refreshing new way to approach positive change: listening to your gut, your heart, and your inner voice. If you've ever wanted the process of change to feel more playful, joyful, and rooted in self-trust-not self-criticism-this guide will show you the way."
—KellyMcGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Willpower Instinct and The Joy ofMovement
- "The Habit Trip is a fresh perspective on ways to consider, measure, and ultimately change the many micro-habits that shape our lives. Coomer does an incredible job weaving together science, narratives, and her own journey in this compelling and highly practical book, which actively invites the reader to engage. I recommend it to anyone who wants to make changes to their keystone habits."—BenMichaelis, Ph.D., author of Your Next Big Thing
- "The Habit Trip is a joy. Imagine if childhood stories got together with behavior science to give us lessons on how to change."—Daniel H. Pink, #1 New YorkTimes bestselling author of Drive and When
- "The Habit Trip is a choose-your-own-adventure guide to help us identify how to boost our well-being. Through engaging ideas and tools Sarah Hays Coomer guides us to answer the very questions that underlie the quality of life we all yearn to achieve. If you are ready to feel and live better, The Habit Trip will quickly launch you on to this inspiring path."—Michelle Segar, Ph.D.,MPH, author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can BringYou A Lifetime of Fitness
- On Sale
- Dec 1, 2020
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Running Press