Episode 80: Episode 80: Take a Break from Your Habits with Shivani Gupta

Shivani Gupta

Hello everyone and welcome to the AskShivani podcast. I wanted to talk today about the topic of taking a break. And what is taking a break really mean? And partly, it got me thinking about my sabbatical that I'm currently doing I’m still working part time. But I have sold one of my businesses that occupied a lot of my space and time in my diary. And it certainly got me thinking about taking a break. And third, taking, taking a break from, I guess, short term things and long-term things as well.

So, what do I mean by taking a break? Okay, so over the years, we form habits. And in those habits, we work out how to do something a particular way. For example, some of the researchers talk about that by the time that we've reached our late 20s and early 30s, that we drive a particular way. We dry ourselves a particular way after having a shower, we brush our teeth a particular way. We start to form these habits, subconsciously, but a lot of them unconsciously. And when I'm talking about taking a break, it's like, how do you break that rhythm? And how do you break that habit? So, you actually start something new. There's a neurologist called Dr. Katz. And he found that, and, in his research, he found that in order to stimulate the brain, and the activity in the brain, he said that it's really necessary to do things a completely different way. And he developed a whole science around it. And rather than you know, aerobics, which we know is aerobic exercise, he called it aerobics, the fact that our brain needs different kinds of activity, different kinds of brains, stimuli, to be able to do things in a different way.

And he said that it's almost like a way in a brain training. And that by training your brain to do things differently, and to try different things. So existing things in a different way or new things. What it does is that it gets your brain moving in new directions, and Dr. Katz and many other scientists to discover that when you do that, you activate the nerve cells in your brain.

And as I sit in the sabbatical, you know, for example, let's look at some very simple ways that we might be able to break some habits. You know, when we sit in a family around the dinner table, we sit in a particular spot. So it could be that you often might be somebody that needs to sit in a different direction and several a different seat to wherever you sit, that might be the dining table, it might be the kitchen bench, it might be the board table, do you go and place yourself in the same spot to do that?

I know when I do my yoga, I often have one or two spots that I love the most in a room, I don't want to be too far forward, I don't want to be too far back off, I want to be around the middle of the yoga room. And even just sitting or placing a mat in a different direction, a different position gets your brain activated. And you get what Dr. Katz talks about the new rope and new aerobics happening in your brain and activating your brain cells. And it sounds very simple. But that's in fact, how it works. So maybe you could one of the things you could try out of listening to this podcast is if you sit in a particular chair, then maybe change it around a bit, maybe look at a different chair that you might sit in at work at a meeting, or in the boardroom or around the kitchen table, or your dining table. And just move that around a bit and also very good habit for your family and your colleagues to be able to do that as well.

And one of the things that Dr. Katz and other researchers spoke about is the fact that you actually then start to view something in that space in a different way, because you're looking at it from a different angle. And in that different angle, you want to be able to get a different perspective. And so, when we talk about for example, in our workplaces have, you know, companies that do 360-degree reviews, so you do the review, and your colleagues do the review on you and how they perceive you. And then your boss might do a review on how they perceive you. And then the people that work for you might do a review on how they perceive you. And so, you have an ability to finally be able to look at things from a different perspective. You don't have to agree or disagree with all of them. But there's a lot of commonalities between different people who have thought about things to give you some feedback, then it's a really, really great way to be able to get a different perspective and it's the same thing when you sit on a different thing. You look at different things and it opens up your eyes in terms of where you might sit and what you might do and what you might learn.

The other thing, that might also break a habit is a simple thing, like rearranging some of your things or your stuff. Right, for example, you don't have to buy anything, I'm not suggesting you have to. But what would happen if you hang a different picture on the wall? Recently, I noticed that the dining room, you know, and the living space that we have, which is probably the most common area that we use, we swap where the dining room was for the couch and swap the couch over to where the dining tables was. And we've just noticed that the flow of let's call it traffic in and out from one end of the room to the other, has really shifted. And the way that we are using the sofa is much, much different. So, we weren't using it very much. And we were sitting around more the dining chairs because that was the closest part to the kitchen. Now that we've got the lounge, we're actually reading more books, and I've noticed that the books have been piling up a lot more on that little reading table because we are accessing the couch a lot differently.

And so, by just by rearranging things, by putting a new painting in just moving a couple of chairs around, you run to rearrange it just to go, let's just move it around a little bit and just see what happens to that flow, and see how that actually works for you. And to be able to make that happen.

The other way that you might want to look at them is, you know, often when kids are young, you try this thing called using your hand. So, I'm predominantly right-handed. What happens when you switch hands, maybe not to write or type because that might be pretty inefficient. But what about simple things like the way that you brush your teeth, I mean, I've tried to do that with my left hand and my electric toothbrush as we move in different directions. But that little, tiny change will start to again, activate some of your some of your nerve cells. And I guess, you know, the whole thing about taking a break is also really, really good for your mental wellness and your mental health just by changing some things around a little bit. And you've may or may not have heard the saying, you know, when everybody's zig zag, like the zipper or moving in a particular direction. And so, for example, what I mean by you know zigging rather than zagging or zagging rather than zigging is say, you drive to pick up your kids or you drive to your workplace, or you drive to a friend's place exactly the same route. And so just by zigzagging a little bit differently, and trying, altering the way that the way that you might get to work, or you might get home, or you might go to a particular sporting venue or to drive your kids somewhere, just that little bit can have a lot of impact on your brain activity.

And again, we're trying to find some really simple ways to improve mental wellness here. If you don't have a routine, for example of having lunch, and this is something I've struggled with, particularly when I get right into my work, I don't often want to take a break. So, I've now set up little new habits, new taking breaks, where my alarm will go off at particular times of the day. And so, I'm trying to increase a bit of my metabolism. So, I'm trying to have some smaller meals to be able to go - okay, great. You know, I'm going to eat something before I before I get to even like recording this podcast today. Or I'm going to take a break there and have a stretch and walk around and go and make myself another pot of tea or fill my water bottle. So just having little breaks in there away from your screen away from your desk, when you come back, even that 20-30 seconds break can have a lot of impact on your brain activity as well.

And, you know, if, if you depending on where you are working, whether you're working from an office or working from home, or perhaps you're not working at all, but even just getting out and getting some vitamin D with a sunshine, and just getting out for 10 minutes and grabbing your lunch, grabbing a break and just having a stretch and just getting a few moments of the sun will do wonders for your wellbeing and then coming back and then doing that. And I know some people that, for example, don't get a lot of time to walk. At the beginning of the day or the end of the day. They have really busy lives and a lot of responsibilities. So, one of the things that they do is the 30-minute break that they've got for lunch, they will have their lunch, and then they will go and do a 20-minute walk. So that 20-minute movement a day, you know does again wonders for your wellbeing around what you do.

The other way that I was thinking about, and this was sort of forced upon me when I hired somebody to help me look through like a stylist that looks through your wardrobe and looks through your colors. And this is going back quite a few years ago now. Somebody had bought it for me as a present. And I really enjoyed like getting to work out what colors I look good in and what I look terrible in. And then putting more of my energy into what you would buy and making sure that it's more aligned to your colors. For example, I then thought I would invite this particular stylist to my home. And one of the themes services that she offered was to be able to look through your wardrobe. And then based on your color palette, workout what sort of things you would look great in what you wouldn’t and give you some guidance in terms of what you should throw out and rearrange your closet a bit. So, it was a little bit full on for me because I was like, oh my god, I really liked that outfit. But you know, when I thought about it, I hadn't worn that for a long time. But you don't need to get a stylist to be able to do that, you know.

For example, you might just be able to change the way that you store your T-shirt, or your socks or your underwear and move them into a different place. Or you might want to move a few things around in your kitchen just to look at how you might get a little bit better flow, and a little bit better ways of doing things. And again, just these little things, these little, tiny parts can have a huge impact in terms of what you do and how you do that. And so one of the things that happens is when we get caught up in our habits and our routine, one of the things we do is, and I've heard this described as we sometimes blindly move through our day, what I mean by that is that we almost so unconscious, we're going okay, now I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do that, and I'm going to do that. And everything is routine, everything is structured, everything is organized.  And, you know, there's not a lot of difference between one day and another day. So even just the little tweaks that I've spoken about there so far.

Let's talk about some of the bigger changes. And one of the things like I've done probably for about five years now is taking a break from social media. So, taking a month off from Facebook, and Instagram and LinkedIn and whatever other profile that you may be on. And I used to try and do that around the January month where a lot of people are busy with school holidays, particularly in our summer in Australia. And I've usually got the kids home at that particular time of the year as well. And so, I just think it's so important just to really disconnect. And I don't always have to go to a retreat or up in the mountains or whatever. Where there's no cell reception or mobile reception, you can actually do that where you consciously choose a period. And that period might be a day, that period, maybe a week, maybe a month, or maybe longer for me about that month, particularly in a month, and I'm quite busy. And I don't want to have all my brain switched on for work and looking at what posts are going to help my business particularly. So, I'll tend to connect a lot more through text messages, or phone calls or video calls with my family and friends in that period as well. So maybe have a think about if you have never taken a break from social media, maybe try a day or try a week. Or perhaps try a month or even longer to be able to do that.

The other break that's really great is to look at if you drink alcohol, you know, obviously there's some places I know in Australia, we do a thing called Dry July where you can then donate some money into certain charities. But having a having a few weeks off alcohol is really, really, really fantastic to clean up your system. And then just noticing going - Ah, you know, I'm sleeping better or I'm thinking more clearly or whatever it may be. And if you can't do that, but you drink a glass of wine every night, then maybe look at this guideline that we've had for a while about these five two principles. So, you have two nights off and two nights alcohol free each week. So, whatever it is that you do now and just breaking that habit a little bit not destroying it, but just breaking it just cracking that habit a little bit. So, we get out of the way that we do certain things.

At the moment in two and a half weeks in exactly 16 days today, counting on having a month off coffee, and I find coffee a lot harder to keep up than alcohol. I really love the taste of coffee. And so just again breaking that habit had a couple of days of pretty bad headaches and that was really interesting because I only used to have one coffee a day anyway. But even that that addiction where my brain was going well where is my coffee and not being able to have it. So, you know, just having that break from that I will go back to having coffee next month. But just to be able to stop and not have a coffee and not to have that habit of - okay, when I get up in the morning and I'm making kids breakfast, I make myself a coffee. And I'm now just having a herbal tea, which has no caffeine in it and just clearing up the body clearing up the habit, and then going up and doing that. And look, some of these, you know, it might really appeal to you. Others you might go, oh my goodness, that's way too much for me to even try and contemplate. And you might just want to, you know, swap something simple in your kitchen or in your sock drawer or, you know, something really simple. Just get out and have a stretch and move your body a little bit. And you know, even if you're just stretching at the desk, get out of the chair, or if you can get some sunshine. So just little things, little tweaks little, you know, I call them the one percenter. We're not asking a full 180 degree change here or 100% change. They're just little, you know, one 1% changes, which are really, critical and really important for your mental wellbeing.

So, I hope today's session helps you think about that mental wellness is not just always about a big part of what you do. It can be something really small, it can be a tweak, it can be just shifting, and breaking that habit, or what I call taking a break from that particular habit and seeing where it lands for you. I hope you stay well, and I look forward to more conversations with you.