In 1960 a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz observed that it took around 21 days for his patients to get used to their new faces. He wrote about it in a book called The New Psycho Cybernetics an since it was published many people have adopted the belief that it takes 21 days to make (or break) a habit. There are other studies that suggest it is more like 66 days but it can vary substantially depending on many different factors including your personality and motivation. I left for New Zealand on February 2nd and returned on February 25th. That’s 23 days of adjusted routine (no routine?) and 23 days of disrupted habits.
I’ve been back home now for almost four days and I’m struggling with implementing my old schedule. Most of this has to do with the fact that I didn’t have a schedule for three weeks although some of it also is my jet-lag which is worsened by the fact that I flew across seven time zones and from the southern to northern hemisphere which means I’ve jumped from summer to winter and less daylight hours.
Waking up at 5am
THEN: I used to enjoy 5am. It meant I had more free time in the evening which is particularly important to me in summer when there are more daylight hours and I can spend my time outside. I also truly believe the proverbial saying “The early bird gets the worm” – if you want to dominate in anything you have to be better and quicker than everyone else. I would go to the gym in the morning and loved how happy I felt afterwards. Physical activity is proven to cause your body to release serotonin (a mood-regulating chemical) and so post-workout I felt ready to conquer my day and be successful.
NOW: I woke up at 5am Monday, Tuesday and today each time forcing myself out of bed. It was hard – not just because it was 5am but I have been sleeping terribly. I always go to bed between 10pm and 10:30pm and have no issues falling asleep but the last few nights I have been seriously struggling to catch enough zzz’s. Tonight I will take some melatonin in the hopes of drifting off for some peaceful rest. Fingers crossed.
THEN: I love working out. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after a solid lifting session at the gym. Nothing is more satisfying that exceeding your own expectations and seeing constant improvements – whether that’s increasing speed, reps or weight. The most physical activity I completed on vacation was an 8km walk on day two, a 1.5km hike up Queenstown Hill day X, and kayaking on day X. Prior to vacation I would lift weights six days a week and attend a cardio-kickboxing class two or three times a week.
NOW: On Monday I was excited to hit the gym! I crushed a leg workout in the morning and then went to kickboxing in the evening. By Tuesday morning my muscles were aching but I dragged myself back to the gym and enjoyed an upper-body fix. Today was awful. I didn’t want to go but, since I know that consistency is key, I did. I couldn’t lift as much as I should normally be able to and I really dragged my ass for the entire hour.
Having a structured meal plan and counting macros
THEN: Macros – proteins, carbs and fats – are the major components that make up food. I count my macros because I have a specific goal in mind that requires a balanced macronutrients load. I’ve struggled with disordered eating habits in the past and so it was actually nice to break the habit and not count everything I ate while on vacation. Since I’ve been tracking my food intake for a couple years now I have a good idea of what to eat versus what to avoid without having to record it all in an app so this was actually a habit I didn’t mind breaking. Sometimes it’s good for the soul to enjoy a little freedom. That being said our meals on the road were quite simple: cereal for breakfast, a sandwich with cheese and deli meat for lunch, a piece of fruit mid afternoon and typically something BBQ’d for supper.
NOW: I have started to track again for a couple of reasons. I know I’m jet lagged – I feel lethargic, my muscles ache, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around and I just generally feel blah. The healthier and more nutrient dense food I eat (think rice, chicken, steak and a lot of veggies) the better I will feel. Secondly, I’ve still got those workout goals to crush so I need to fuel my body properly to get there. It’s hard having to figure out what to eat though so most suppers have been soup.
I experienced zero jet lag when I arrived in New Zealand and therefore assumed it would be the same on the way back. I was so wrong. I feel tired and irritable. I can’t sleep properly and have been having some really bad dreams during the night which cause me to wake up screaming. The dramatic shift from mid-twenty degree Celsius temperatures to minus fifteen or worse is awful. There’s less daylight hours and I’m not outside in the fresh air as much as I was before. The landscape here is drab – everything is starting to look that dirty-brown colour due to the snow melting. Nothing is green and lush, obviously, as it winter here.
So what now?
Most studies suggest that it takes your body a day to overcome for each time zone you moved through (that would be seven for me) but I’ve also heard that it will take as long to recover as you spent on holiday (23 days … I sure hope not). I already said that I know consistency is key so I’m going to try to adhere to my schedule until it sticks. That means plenty of awful 5am starts, a lot of frustration in the gym, and sticking to a healthy eating regime. I’ve been crushing the water (staying hydrated should help too) and will book a massage asap to help with the aching muscles. I’ve started taking Vitamin B12 complex and Vitamin D (the sunshine one) to help boost my natural levels. I hope to pick up a Himalayan salt lamp tomorrow And to combat the dreary landscape, maybe I’ll go buy myself a new plant …