On sneaky habits and small changes

Penn Station at 8:30am on a weekday is a little bit like a mall on Black Friday.

Not even a mall. It’s like Walmart at midnight on Black Friday back in the Tickle Me Elmo days.

Some mornings, I’m invigorated by the chaos. I’m in NEW YORK! The hustle and bustle feel extremely on-brand. The people rushing past me in suits and heels are movers and shakers, and for a few days a month, I get to be one of them. (Though I’m never in a suit or heels. I may be in New York, but my wardrobe is solidly Pennsylvanian.)

On other mornings, I feel less invigorated. After waking up at 4am and riding a train for 3.5 hours, I don’t particularly feel like running through hundreds of commuters to barely squeeze into a too-full subway car—all before I’ve had a single cup of coffee.

Today was one of those other mornings.

I was perfectly happy to be in New York for the day, but less-than-ready to elbow my way through Penn Station. So as my train pulled in, I decided to change my regular routine. I ordered a flat white latte from the Starbucks app and hoped I was picking the right mobile pickup zone from the four Penn Station options (?!). A few minutes later, after navigating to the outside lane of foot traffic so I could easily turn into Starbucks, I discovered my short little latte at the front of a long line—and even more miraculous, found an open seat!

So I sat down. Ate a breakfast bar. Drank a latte out of a Christmas cup. And watched the flood of people outside turn into a very manageable stream.

It took all of 10 minutes for Penn Station to feel like a completely different place.

A place I felt much better about navigating, thanks to a small pause and a little caffeine.

Note: this did not change the trajectory of my entire day. No need for hyperbole here. But it did make the morning, like, 20% nicer. It was a helpful moment of calm that cost $4 and took 10 extra minutes. And I had never even considered it before because I couldn’t see past my now-engrained Tuesday morning narrative:

  1. Arrive at Penn Station
  2. Get a bagel with scallion cream cheese from Le Bon
  3. Eat half a bagel on the run/walk to the subway
  4. Inevitably drop a dollop of cream cheese on the platform
  5. Clean up cream cheese
  6. Stuff remaining bites of bagel in bag as I stuff myself into a subway car

It’s not a bad ritual. But it’s also not an immutable chain of events that can’t be broken. It’s just the way I’ve gotten used to doing things.

It made me wonder how many other self-imposed patterns could be changed for the better on occasion.

A whole bunch, I’d bet. They’re sneaky habits, tucked so seamlessly into regular routines that they’re hard to see. And it just takes asking a question rather than rushing to a well-worn answer to find them. Like, “Do I want to win the Olympic speedwalking trials today? Do I need to get to the office 10 minutes faster? No? Great. Let’s have coffee.”

I’m not taking this as an invitation to pick apart every habitual moment of my day. But I am taking it as a reminder that the next time I find myself in a rush/mildly overwhelmed/low-key dreading something, I should probably stop to ask why, and then see if there’s a 20% nicer way forward.

If this morning is any indication, there is! And it’s probably very doable, and very pleasant.

Good Things

I successfully made it to the gym four times last week, and ran twice! I’m calling this a win.

A friend shared some of these chai cookies and I may have a new obsession. Be prepared for lots of tea-infused shortbread, people who live close enough to receive baked goods.

Let’s just bask in the goodness of this moment from a snowy winning Sunday at Lambeau for a little bit longer, ok?

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