Leeds 2023 chairperson Ruth Pitt: 'We don’t have to be stuck with the same habits as we get older'

In her final column as chairperson of Leeds 2023, Ruth Pitt reflects on why habit is a powerful force and the benefits of embracing change.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 11:45 am

One of the oddest things about human behaviour is our love of habit, she writes. We plod along on the same train tracks, dreaming of doing things differently but never quite managing it.

Read more: Chair of Leeds Culture Trust Ruth Pitt steps down amid workload and health concerns

It’s just so easy to stick with the same job, live in the same house, see the same friends, wear the same clothes and hold the same opinions, despite seismic change beyond the front door.

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Ruth Pitt is stepping down from her role as chairperson of Leeds 2023. Picture: Tony Johnson
Ruth Pitt is stepping down from her role as chairperson of Leeds 2023. Picture: Tony Johnson

Habit is a powerful force with lots of merit. It saves us from having to learn new tricks every day and it’s strangely reassuring because we can sit there in our comfort zones and watch the world go by, unfettered by the anxieties of choice.

But maybe that’s the problem. As the world goes by our lives go with it. So for those of you old enough to have been ploughing the same old furrow for far too long (spoiler alert, old age comes to us all if we’re lucky), here’s a suggestion for breaking the cycle: try something new today.

I’ve been experimenting with changing how I include culture and sport in my life recently and the results are exhilarating. Take music. I’ve stopped waking up to interminable news reports and opted for morning music instead. Who knew the joy that lay hidden in dancing before breakfast?

Another quick trick is to break the same old sleep-wake cycle. Stirring at 5.30am recently, I dug deep and changed the habit of a lifetime by going for a run as the actual sun came up instead of later. Suddenly the rest of the day felt stuffed with opportunity.

I’m reminded of that tired old joke about how many Californian psychotherapists it takes to change a lightbulb (answer: none – the lightbulb’s got to want to change), because breaking our old habits only works if we’re open to new ideas and not daunted by the prospect of change.

I’ve always said it would take a million quid before I’d even consider skydiving, but maybe it’s time to challenge that inner wimp and seize the chance to fly.

What would you do? Ditch knitting and take up coasteering? Try opera for the first time? Find your inner ballerina? Sit in a different armchair maybe? The opportunities are endless but they rarely inhabit that comfy sofa in the living room.

Change is invigorating. I’m stepping down from chairing Leeds 2023 but I definitely won’t be giving up on culture. I want to break the habit of working so hard that fun doesn’t get a look-in. So I’ve promised myself to try something new, not just today and tomorrow but every day until I run out of options, which will be never.

One thing’s for sure. If Leeds 2023 is a big success, it won’t be because of any high celestial force descending on our city and turning us all into culture vultures overnight. It will be because of your creativity, your enthusiasm, your resilience in the face of difficult times.

So go boogie in the kitchen, embroider your cushions, write your memoirs. Take up table tennis, change your hairdo, wear hats. Join a club or society, it’s as easy as clicking the link or picking up the phone. You can do it.

Look out for me dancing in the street and good luck finding your thing.