Dr. Marry and Me,  Personal Writing

Forming new habits to carry on

I can’t be the only person who has almost forgotten what “regular” life used to be like, can I? Am I the only one who has fallen into the new normal as if getting up for spin class, coming home to shower and rush out the door, tearing home to let the dog out and grabbing something quick for lunch, packing my work into days that spilled into post-dinner more often than not, hurrying to put something on the table for supper and sometimes grumbling about another thing I have to do/event I have to attend in the evening never really existed? Is anybody else trying desperately to figure out how to keep some of this slower pace, this more leisurely work-from-home rhythm (I never forget that I am working from home without the burden of homeschooling and entertaining children all day, too, since mine has flown the coop and lives on his own all the way across the country) so that when we do get to easily move about again, we don’t fall back into our old routines?

There’s so much about this time that I have loved.* It’s as if the whole world has gotten very quiet. I like to imagine (yes, I know this is pretty preposterous. I’m writing this on a computer, for example, but stay with me) that we are closer to Thoreau’s Walden Pond era or more like what Laura Ingalls Wilder experienced as a child (If you want to know how truly WASP-y I am, read Sherman Alexi’s incredible poem On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City.

But I digress (for an extremely important cultural reminder!).

Nature is a primary sound and visual of our days now because we can be out in it with so much more frequency. And there are so many fewer cars and people around that we can actually hear more birds, see more wildlife, watch the seasons evolve. I am enjoying and noticing spring in a completely new way because I am taking two-three walks a day with Dr Marry (and our dog), and our routine is taking us past trees and flowers that I am watching burst forth with new life a little bit more every day. In short, I am seeing, hearing and experiencing spring at a pace nature intended, not at the “We’ve got to take the dog for a quick walk. Let’s GO!” pace that had been our lives much of the time.

I can’t tell you how much I love that I haven’t put gas in my car since before March 14. I’ve driven a total of four times in two months. In the last 30 days, my step tracker says I have walked 241,581 steps. We are averaging nearly 4,000 more steps/day than we did last June. And it hasn’t even been a particularly warm or even always nice spring, but we’ve been out in it over and over every day. And that’s a really lovely thing…even when I grumble about putting my purple wool hat on again in May!

As I type, I have a new bagel recipe proofing for its final raise before I boil and then bake them.** I’ve made so many meals I wouldn’t have taken the time to make, or quite frankly had the time to even discover, before. And we have loved them all.

If you read my blogs frequently, you know I am pretty devoted to Dr Marry. That has only increased. In addition to our walking obsession, we have completed some major house projects in this time because I don’t resent working hard on the weekends since I don’t need them to simply recover from my crazy weeks. And we have joyfully worked on them—I assume everybody who has a spouse knows exactly how much of a winning indicator that truly is.

The one thing that has nearly completely fallen away is my reading. I checked out a number of books before our public library closed, and while I have finished a few of them (I mean, it has been two full months!), many of them have been started and put down so many times, I need to begin again if I am actually going to take anything from them. I hear this isn’t unusual for many readers. I don’t quite understand what this phenomenon is, but I am not judging it. Instead, I trust that when I need to read again, I will.

I’ve noted before that in many ways, my team and I are working more efficiently, more deliberately and definitely more creatively than at any other time in my years at this job. So why would we give that up because the scare of getting sick abates, which means we can go back to an office, the demanding schedule and all our old routines?

I’m cooking and baking more. I’m gardening more. I’m exercising for free more. I’m sleeping more. I’m intentionally developing many of my relationships more. I’m writing more. I’m creatively thinking about my personal journey more…

Apparently, according to science, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. We are approximately seven days away from that mark. I desperately want a lot of my current life to stay, to become my longterm normal.

I’m curious to know what you are noticing and appreciating about this new pace of life. But even more, I’m curious to know what habits you have developed in this time that you will try to carry on when we can resume a more “normal” lifestyle. And how do you think you’re going to be able to do it? How will any of us balance this slower pace and more relaxed schedule with the demands of our old lives? And, perhaps most importantly, why would we even try?

The great challenge, at least for me, is going to be diligently guarding my time and my schedule so that it doesn’t run out of control again. It’s going to be saying no to unnecessary in-person meetings that could be electronic (thereby saving travel time and gas). It’s going to be prioritizing my home life as much as my work one. How about you? Let’s lay out our goals to help keep each other accountable so that these new habits stay in place and today’s atypical opportunities and blessings become simply our lives.

*The great qualifier, of course, is that everyone I love has been healthy and everyone who should be employed has been and continues to be. That’s an astonishing set of privileges that I can’t not mention because if one or either of those things were not in place, this would be a time of incredible uncertainty and fear. I am grateful beyond words (clearly not!) and find ways every day to express that.

**Exhibit A: The bagels are an enormous success! Definitely building these into my new normal. Guess I will have to up my walking. Totally worth it!

Photo credit: Thanks to Terry Adams and Naomi Nakamoto for planting this incredible garden in their front yard, which I insist on walking by every single day, so that we can all enjoy it.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.


  • debfargo

    Dayna –

    Forming new habits – wow, did that resonate with me, along with the change in pace of life.

    1. It isn’t only me, it’s Aja, her 7-year-old daughter Aduk, and 5 month old baby boy Ngot. She arrived in late November, and I drove her to the hospital Dec 6 at 4 am. She had intended to return to South Sudan (where Ngot’s dad is and where she works for the Ministry of Health) at the end of March, but the coronavirus changed all that. I think Aduk pretty much thinks she’ll grow up here, but she misses her dad as well. Yesterday, the two of us cleaned out my under the stairs storage, where I keep kids books and toys and so on. Vika’s kids – two-year-old Nikolai and 3-year-old Katya – have pretty much destroyed it. Aduk uses it as her “office” when she does her online school. The cleanup – which resulted in many things tossed, some stored in my office, and some ready to go to the little grandkids – has resulted in a lovely room where she can lay on her tummy on the floor and not be surround by unnecessary clutter. It was cathartic for me as well. Lots of stuff will go to the little grandkids and some to thrift stores.

    I am hoping to do the same sort of reordering in my office on 2nd floor, where I have several shelves of books I’ve read, that could now be passed on to someone else, as well as junk I put in storage when I first moved here – 14 years ago??? Oh, and Christmas tree and decorations, old photo albums – back when we had actual printed photos. AND a valuable collection of Asian ball joint dolls and clothing in original boxes, and many displayed throughout my condo. These are worth actual $ – if I can catch up on everything else in my life, and if the virus makes people willing to buy and sell online – or may stop doing that – at some point, I might be able to turn them into cash.

    And 2. – Doug Hamilton is staying here as well, which has been lovely for all of us. Once a week Ajah and kids and I go to his house on Bluemont for dinner – for a change of location! Such a blessing.

    Hugs to you.

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