Author Archives: JulieD

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at StoryADay.org and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from FoxesLoveLemons.com

photo: FoxesLoveLemons.com

Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well

Anchoring

I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.

Logging

Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.

Food

Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On

Weekends

Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

Incentive

  Hubby’s playing the “work hard, let me retire and I’ll bring you fun refreshments all day” card pretty hard, while he works at home today ;)

(It’s just Ginger Ale)

Things I Miss From My Childhood

Blotting Paper

The smell of a Spirit Duplicator

Pressing ‘record’, ‘play’ and ‘pause’ at the same time

A fresh packet of Plasticine

Jumping off the swing

Hanging upside down from a railing by my knees

Swinging my feet

My English accent

My Scottish accent

Netball

The monkey puzzle tree

Conkers

Bonfires on the 5th of November

Indoor shoes

Red squirrels

Concorde

The lucky dip at the Christmas fete

The Sealed Knot society

My red spangly roller boots

Douglas Adams

Facebook Fast

I had a little crisis this week.
And in the midst of it, I realised that spending time on Facebook was a, sucking hours of my life away in a fashion that would make Count Rugen proud; b, not making me happy; c, often making me actively unhappy.

So I mothballed my account.

But then I remembered I have a page that supports StoryADay.org. In order to have that running, I had to create a new FB profile associated with that email address. So now I still kind of have a FB account but people are trying to friend it and I’m ignoring them, not because I don’t like them, but because I’m not using FB. (My mailing list software auto-posts to the page).

Oh, technology. How I love thee, and how you tie me in knots.

So if you’re looking for me on Facebook and I’m not responding, that’s why. Sorry.

SuperHero

I’ve cooked three different breakfasts (none for me); got medicine into two boys; packed a lunch; dealt with The Mystery Of The Missing Sheet Music (outcome: it’s missing); prodded a boy to do last minute homework we didn’t get to last night because of Prep and dinner and other homework; and been one half of a team that got two boys up, showered, dressed, fed and out of the door with bags, lunches, percussion kit and smiles on their faces; filled in a form and an SAE for dental records for the school; finished a half cup of cold coffee…and it’s 7:35 AM!

And we live within a mile and a half of both schools.

Now I have to get the dishes done, shower, and start my day.

There’s an 8 AM mass I might go to. I know that sounds like I’m adding things to a crowded morning, but I suspect it might actually get me back on course.

P.S. How does a sheet of music evaporate overnight?!

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6 – The Heat Ray In The Chobham Road

The humans are not coming off much better than the Martians in this chapter. Some things never change…

Chapter 7 – How I Reached Home

He does a fabulous job of capturing the way that the most vivid and extreme experiences are suddenly just part of our experience, a memory, and how we can’t conjure up the feelings any more. One minute the narrator has collapsed by the road the and next he’s back to himself again.

A few minutes before there had only been three real things before me —- the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again — a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it … p. 266

It’s not often I come across a word I don’t either know or can’t figure out from the context. But this has me stumped:

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive power in a state of erethism. p.269

Oh, how fabulous. It’s a term, more properly erethism mercurialis, which is a neurological condition, also known as Mad Hatter’s Disease (because hat makers used mercury to make the brims of hats stiff. The mercury fumes — my chemist husband has told me this story in the past — are a neurotoxin and made people irritable, physically weak and could result in delirium.)
And he knows how to end a chapter!

I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for many strange and terrible days…p. 269

Tell me you’d put this book down and walk away now and I’d call you a liar!

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 4 & 5

Chapter 4 – The Cylinder Opens

The poor shop assistant! Wells really leaves him dangling.

The description of the Martian is creepier and more alien than anything I’ve actually seen in a film.

 Chapter 5 – The Heat Ray

This is a big feature of the musical, so I’m eager to see what really happens…

I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring at the mound that hid them. was a battleground of fear and curiosity.

I did not dare go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it… p.259

Ack! Aren’t you right there with him?

“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer… p. 259

Does nobody else care about the poor shop assistant? And they call the Martians brutes?!

I stood, staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noisless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine-trees burst into fire, and every dry furze-bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames…p.261

This is so very chilling. He’s not telling us he’s horrified. He’s allowing us to see it as it happened, only with the knowledge of what’s actually happening.

The end of this chapter is masterful: the fear that descends on him ‘like a thing falling on me from without’, infected me too!

Reading War of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Three, On Horsell Common

war of the worlds by h.g. wells, chapter 3 As with any extraordinary event, a crowd has gathered. Boys, as they will, are throwing stones at the unknown phenomenon. The narrator muses on how utterly incomprehensible this is to the average ogler:

Fewof the common people in England had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days…p.253

Unlike in the musical, our narrator seems not to be the Journalist, but an independently wealthy gentleman, with nothing to do but dabble with intellectual ideas and hobnob with others who do the same. That’s how he gains access to the inner circle around the cylindar.

My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its containingmanuscript, on the difficulties in translation that might arise, whether we shoud find coins and models in it, and so forth…I felt an impatience to see it opened..p.254

…and even if you knew nothing else about this story, the writing here tells you to scream ‘Idiot! Run!’ at the narrator :)

Chapter Notes

I love the sense of pause in this chapter.

He describes the scene, the crowd, the oppressive heat of the day (‘not a could in the sky nor a breath of wind’). He shows us ‘half a dozen flys or more fromthe Woking station…a basket-chaise from Cobham, a rather lordly carriage’, all the sightsee-ers of every class, coming to gawk.

He’s really ratchetting up the tension without being at all flashy.

Reading War Of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Two

Many people in Berkshire, Surrey and Middlesex must have seen the fall of it… p. 249

 This was one of the things I loved about this story when I was young and listening to the musical version. I knew these place names…I lived in Surrey. It was the 1970s, almost 80 years after the book was written, but it wasn’t hard to picture the setting. We spent Sundays going for walks through the very countryside he travels.

Reading it now (over 30 years after we moved far away from Surrey) I had to go and look up places like Chertsey, Ottershaw and Woking and make sure I hadn’t made this up. Sure enough, my old hometown is definitely in the vicinity, and there are plenty of place names on the map that I recognise here.

He approached the mass, surprised at the size and moreso at the shape…p.250

The writer in me is wondering how the narrator knows this. I’m going to assume that Ogilvy meets up with him later and relates this. My critique group would never let me away with this kind of perspective shift (unexplained) these days. Modern readers are so demanding. Sigh.

(I’m so nervous for Ogilvy. Not just because I remember what’s coming, from the album, but because Wells says “poor Ogilvy” the firsttime he mentions him in this chapter. You know that can’t be good. Foreshadowing, people!

He met a wagonerandtriedto make him understand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild — his hat had fallen off in the pit — that hte man simply drove on. p 251

Heavens! Imagine being seen without your hat! Clearly, a madman. ;)

One can imagine them, covered with sand, excited and disordered, running up the little street in the bright sunlight just as the shop folks weretaking down their shutters and people were opening their bedroom windows… p. 252

Poignant and foreshadowy. Tension builds…

Chapter Two Notes

Wells is doing a good job of writing a suspense thriller, here. We know it’s going to go bad, from everything he’s said so far, but still he lets us see the excitement of Ogilvy the astronomer and Henderson the journlist as these two men of curiosity investigate the most exciting new thing that’s ever happened to them. He really takes his time, building up the World ThatWas, without boring the reader.

I feel compelled to read on, how about you?

Reading War Of The Worlds Book One, Chapter One

Dedication: to my brother Frank Well, this rendering of his idea.

P. 238

Given how successful this book became, it seems like a very generous gesture to acknowledge it wasn’t his idea. But of course he couldn’t have known how successful it was going to be (one might say “no-one would have believed…”)

Book One – The Coming of the Martians

I-The Eve Of War

No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century… P.244

I will never not hear those words in Richard Burron’s voice!

Men went to and fro…serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. P.244

New word! Excellent word.

The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. P. 245

First: wait, what?! I don’t know this story and must look it up. If it’s true (and it probably is), ugh!

Second: “in spite of their human likeness”?! Even as smart and modern and enlightened a thinker as H. G. Wells is hampered by the conventions and scientific limitations of his time. Even when he senses the pure error of the thing.
“Men like Schiaparelli…failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well.” P. 245

Reading this 117 years later, we know so much more. But it’s fine. I’m reading this as alternate history or alternate reality spec-fic!

…the serio-comic periodical Punch…made happy use of it in a political cartoon. P.247

Oh, I do hope someone eventually mocked this up…

It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. P. 248

I love that he spends half a page detailing the tranquil, idyllic banalities of daily life-as-it-was (he’s “learning to ride the bicycle” — not a child’s occupation in the machine’s own youth!)

Chapter One Notes:

This whole chapter is solidly, delightfully science fiction. He talks about current scientific knowledge, real research locations and scientific instruments and practices, but puts them to work in his “what if” story. Love it!