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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
…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.
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.
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, 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
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.