We are creatures of habit, quickly becoming settled in ways and practices that are sometimes good and sometimes not so. With any habit, once they’ve formed, they become difficult to give up.
The key I believe when it comes to developing positive habits at the table is to try and turn those habits into a tradition.
To clarify, habits are generally something someone does in isolation of others, they can be positive, like going for a run once a day at the same time, or they can be negative, like smoking.
Whereas traditions are generally something done by a group of people in order to bring them closer together in a set of beliefs or practices.
So the question I ask is can we reframe our habits to become positive traditions? Can we identify the triggers to these habits and make them more inclusive and engaging, so much so that they might start to form a tradition?
So how do traditions start? If a tradition is in essence a shared habit then how do you start the habit?
What are the traditions you carry out during your time at the table? How often do you carry them out?
One tradition my parents adopted was “The Sunday Dinner”. Almost without fail and religiously my Mum would spend most Sundays in the kitchen preparing and cooking Sunday dinner. In fact, Sundays in our home were more about food than any other day. It would start with me waking up to the voices of my parents talking in the kitchen and the sound of spoons on tea cups chiming. I would then get up, walk downstairs and sit at the table with a cup of tea, poured from our old brown teapot which had its own tea cozy on it. She would then place the traditional English Breakfast; bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, etc..in front of me and we would sit together and eat and chat. Back then the conversation primarily took place between my parents, but from time to time my sister and me joined in.
I would sit and watch my mum prepare the chicken and vegetables; placing them in a large roasting pan. This was our tradition, and one that she still does, though not as often now that we are further apart.
Not all traditions have to be as big as the preparation of the meal itself though, some traditions can be really small and simple.
The very simple act of making a pot of tea and sitting together at the table can be a really meaningful tradition and one that can be carried out daily with great reward.
A friend of mine who owns a great place in down town Saint Louis called The London Tea Room uses this as her company purpose. Something as simple as having a pot of tea on the table can be really powerful and bring people together.
Another habit we have adopted is to stop using technology at the table during meal times. We recognize that the table is a place where life happens and that technology is now part of life. But we have made the commitment not to use it at meal times. This is a habit that is hard to maintain and one even I find myself breaking on occasion, but the important thing is that we all made the commitment to do it.
One key to success here is finding a substitute for the habit you are replacing. For instance if we do not use technology at the table, how can we replace the technology with a positive substitute.
One substitute we are trying is the Conversation Pot. I will discuss this later, but it seems to be a good replacement.
On this journey to adopting better habits, what are the barriers?
One barrier to adopting new habits from a psychological perspective is failure. Many people will find it easy to identify the new habits, the important thing is to remember that if you fail along the way, keep on with it and don’t use your failure as a reason to give in. For a lot of people when they face a setback or failure they use it as a reason to give up and go back to old habits. It is at this point that it becomes really important to keep going.
Another barrier to consider is that of perfection. It’s is great to strive for it, but don’t let it be the reason for not adopting the right habits.
I learned an important lesson last week, and one that I will share. I was becoming so caught up in the pursuit of making the table perfect, wanting matching cutlery and tableware that for others this became a chore and was turning the whole experience into something laborious and unenjoyable.
So I decided to stop and just to focus on the fact that we were together and enjoying each others company. This is a small reframe, but one that I think will strengthen our relationship. My head was so focused on where I wanted the table to be, that I lost sight of where we were; the now.
How might you focus more on the time you have, versus the time you want to have or don’t have together?
Preparing and cooking meals is also a huge barrier too, preparing and cooking the meals for some can be the very reason why they don’t eat together. The truth is it does take time to prepare food and it does take time to cook from scratch. Again this should not be the reason for not eating together. With the rise of many famous chefs talking about “half an hour meals” the opportunities are there and it’s ok too, to order take away meals. I have focused on gathering a few recipes that can be easily achieved with practice and more importantly can be done with the boys.
How might you develop a set of true half an hour recipes to prepare with the ones you love?
I will say though that the more involved the ones you love become with the preparation and cooking the better. A simple soup and bread dinner is a great low time and low risk way of getting together. Our boys love cooking and we do try to make the preparation and cooking time inclusive. My youngest loves to help me make soup, roast potato soup is his favourite thing to help me with, (recipe to follow). My eldest loves making deserts and sweet things and will spend time in the kitchen with one of us making it. The key thing here is that they are involved at all stages and feel part of the tradition.
This is a good habit to develop with friends too, when we have friends over or if we go to friends, we will become involved in the cooking with them. When I look back at these times, they are among some of my happiest. My good friend Jim and I would often spend time cooking together, sharing a glass of wine and catching up. This was this was time well spend and brought us closer together as friends. So much so that now we live on different continents we still keep in touch.
How might you integrate the ones you love with your time at the table?
This is a broad topic and one that has many dimensions, hopefully this has been of interest and one that provides a little value to all who read.
As I move forward with Owl & Ash I will be researching this area more and adding more to the topic. I even plan on reaching out to a few close friends and colleagues to write guest posts on this topic too.
Thanks for your time and I would love to hear about your habits at the table.