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Background Conditions

What conditions are you living with that prevent you from being your best self? Sometimes we’re living in an environment or with habits that we don’t quite realize severely limit our potential. Other times we know all too well the habits and other factors that stand in our way, yet changing our environment or kicking bad habits can seem impossible.

Changing our environment can sometimes mean an investment of time, money or both. One of the biggest obstacles to my productivity has been that there is no heat or air conditioning in our home. In the winter it’s so cold that it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning or work at my desk. In the summer I’m so enervated by the heat I only accomplish a tenth of what I’d like. This background condition has become untenable.

My husband and I finally decided that our quality of life and our productivity would be immensely improved by installing heat and a/c. It’s a pretty hefty expense, which is why we have put this home improvement project off for so long. But the amount of productive time I will be able to spend in our house will likely feel worth twice the price.

Are you living with something that is broken or has never worked correctly? Is your car unreliable? Have you not spent enough time learning to use your phone and other technology to their fullest potential? List all of these kinds of background conditions that you can identify and decide if addressing them should move up on your priorities list.

Background condition habits are harder to change. My background conditions are overeating, obsessively checking the news, not meditating, binging on Netflix and other streaming services and addiction to caffeine. When I look at this list of habits I still feel somewhat unmotivated to change. Part of the reason I’m writing this column is to “out” myself and force myself to tackle these habits.

What are some of your unaddressed habits or personal (mental or physical) issues? It could be something like menopause, which is a huge energy sucker for many women and could be addressed in several ways, beginning with a discussion with a physician. Other health issues, even subtle ones, like needing to update an eyeglass prescription, can greatly improve your productivity and quality of life.

Work-aholism is another background condition. Lack of sleep is very common and extremely destructive to health, mental well-being and productivity. Arianna Huffington, who can’t stop talking about how great sleep is, has been lecturing Elon Musk about it: Musk apparently works 120 hours a week and sleeps at his factory. Instead of thriving, the company is having some highly publicized problems.

Sometimes having another person to work on habits with is helpful. You can hold watch other accountable for making changes and check in with each other. Choose someone who will tell you the truth. If the condition you want to correct is shopping too much even though you need to save money, you will need a partner who will not egg you on to buy that new sweater or tell you, “Get it, you deserve it!” We all have plenty of enabling friends; what’s needed here is a friend who can be brutally honest but still kind. If you can’t think of a friend or family member you’d like to work with, an accountability partner could be a personal trainer, 12 step sponsor or a professional life coach.

It’s tempting to try to kick every bad habit and adopt every good one all at once. This scorched earth approach works for some people, but more often than not, better success is achieved when we take one or two habits at a time and get comfortable with our new behaviors over 30 days to a year before folding more into the mix.

I think I can tackle three of habits at once because they are sort of related: limit the news, limit the Netflix and start a short morning meditation practice. I just finished Season Two of Goliath on Amazon Prime and Season Six of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, so now is a good time to cut back on the streaming and, oh, I don’t know, maybe interact with my husband and other humans more.