Category Archives: Progress Report

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.

Good Writing

2300+ words on the novel today.

It doesn’t seem like that much until you realize that I’ve been up since 6:30 AM and it’s now 3 PM and I’ve exercised and eaten well, and got two boys out to school (with help) and cleaned up the breakfast dishes and eaten a healthy lunch and spent half an hour on the treadmill and that, as well as all that, it was GOOD writing.

I don’t mean deathless prose. I mean: I thought about what I wanted to write and made notes. I worked through my temptation to give in to Resistance. I put myself in front of my keyboard and pounded out words until some of them started to go together in ways I liked. I let go of ‘perfect’ and settled for ‘something I can work with and that gets me closer to the end of the story’.

These are big things for me, people. Big things.

Routine. Determination, Persistence.

Not things that I specialize in. (Going, rather, for a hopefully charming spontaneity and good humor).

But I’m trying to find a process that gets me closer to what I want (which is to be writing and finishing stories all the time.)

So, huzzah. Now I’m off to do the domestic goddess bit.

How have you fed your Creative Animal today?

Two Steps Forward…

More of that Writing Amidst Life stuff today.

Two hour delay; breakfast with husband; the lure of fine writing implements

The kids had a half day yesterday because of The Blizzard That Never Was, and I not only negotiated some writing time with the Husband, but used it productively to add 1400 words to a scene in the novel.

Today I had more time at my disposal and managed to sit and stare at the scene for quite a lot of it. I figured out my problem, though, which is something: I need to know what the heroine’s story goals at this point in the story. It’s a waste of my time to just add more words to the scene if they don’t serve the overall story. So I did some background writing to figure out what she needs to figure out at this point.  That sounds very clever and it would have been, had I not succeeded in completely confusing myself. Time to go back to my notes, It think.

But this is the absolute worst time of the day for met to try to make decisions, so I’m going to send a few emails and try to get back to this later. Or tomorrow. But at least knowing what the problem is, now.

Sheesh!

Current projects/priorities/progress:

  1. Finish draft of the novel (so I can revise it for the critique group) – Getting there. Have added, since last week, about 4000 words in three different scenes, building towards the climax. Huzzah!
  2. Post weekly Write On Wednesday prompts to StoryADay – No progress, but I have three weeks’ worth in the bank
  3. Start prepping for April’s build-up to StoryADay – Wrote a Thursday Feature Article about Turning Up At The Page
  4. Non-fiction book proposal No progress
  5. Reading –  Um…
  6. Regular column for other site – Really very little progress unless you count what I do  in the next 30 minutes…
  7. Planning – Captured a list of Things I Want To Do This Year. It’s quite a lot, and now it’s all organized and in a Google Document that I can update from year to year. Fun!

Writing-Adjacent

So far today I haven’t got very far with the actual *writing* stuff.
Lots of stuff that is “writing-adjacent”, not to mention booking tickets to see a touring Broadway show in June (that was surprisingly stressful. The tickets went on sale this morning and we had to get into an electronic queue and be alerted — by email — that our number had come up. Then K had a meeting to go to and IM-ed me the information, but I couldn’t take over his spot int the electronic queue of course, and had to wait for my own number to come up. When it did, the system told me it had expired, in spite of its only havng been up for 10 minutes not the much-vaunted 20 minutes they said I’d have. Aargh! So then I had to get into another queue and wait for that number to come up and all the while I was thinking ‘but what if all the good seats are gone?’ even though this is a pre-sale and only certain bona fide theater goers — as evidenced by previous ticket purchases — were allowed to be in this queue. Agree! So mumuch stress for 10:30 in the morning.

Now I’m faced with the eternal problem: lunch? Nap? Work?

Let’s have a look at what I achieved yesterday. Hmmm. I think it’s clear that the answer to the above question needs to be ‘work’, with a lunch chaser.

I spent some fun time after the stressful-ticket-buying experience, creating (templates for) graphics of inspirational quotes that will work well on Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, because everyone seems to like images these days. People allegedly are all about video now, online too, but I surveyed “my” people and it turns out they, like me, do not like everything to happen by video. So that’s good. I can forget about veering off into distracting video-producing territories and stick to the writing.

Ah, yes, the writing…

Current projects/priorities/progress:

  1. Finish draft of the novel (so I can revise it for the critique group) – No progress. Boo
  2. Post weekly Write On Wednesday prompts to StoryADay – Yes! Posted three of these as well as five Reading Room Tuesday reviews of short stories I have read.
  3. Start prepping for April’s build-up to StoryADay – Some social media stuff. Lots of lists made. Reminders put in Evernote.
  4. Non-fiction book proposal – No progress
  5. Reading –  Read 1 short story
  6. Regular column for other site – No Progress

I Need A Routine

Sliding DoorsThere was a moment, this morning, that was like that moment in the move Sliding Doors.

Had I gone one way, I would now be ensconced in my writing garrett, churning out words. As it was, I went the other way. And while I am now well-fed and have managed to con my sister into buying me German wool, I have not actually made any progress on my creative writing. Dangit.

So, having publicly shamed myself, I should probably put my socks on and get me to my garrett.

Wish me luck.

Let The Summer Time Roll

I enjoyed our two weeks away, and it was definitely long enough for me to start thinking about all the things I wanted to do when I got back.

There are many writing-related things, of course, but I’m trying to let them take a back-seat to family life, since I have my boys (9 and 7) all to myself for two and a bit more months. That’s a backseat, not ‘getting out of the car and wandering off’, Write-Brain, ya hear me?

So anyhoo, today was the first day of Operation Summer.

MUSIC
Before we left I had purchased three recorders (yes, the musical kind) and two instructional books with the plan of getting the boys good enough to play from the Star Wars and Harry Potter books I had also bought. A has already had some recorder lessons at school and scurried off in an ‘it’s-too-early’ grump this morning, but I managed to snag the sweetly-enthusiastic 7 yo, G. I got him to stop making hideous screeching noises by showing him how the holes make impressions on your finger pads — if you’re doing it right. He was quite tickled by that. Then we went through the book’s lessons on note-length. I’ll say it one more time: the boy has rhythm!

He managed to successfully, if not consistently, play B, A & G, and I left the lesson there for today.

LIFE SKILLS
I confess to being a complete wimp when it comes to grocery shopping and doing it almost always when the boys are at school. So much so that the thought of having to take them with me today filled me with a kind of cold horror reserved by most people for public speaking and death. But I know that part of my job as a parent is to prepare my children to take their place in the real world and function without a mum or a wife or a paid staff to manage their affairs. So I made a list and told myself that I would take them to the shop and send them out to find things and all would be well.

Still I managed to stave it off for a while by saying ‘no, no, leave him with me’ when one of the neighbours sent her son over to play then sneakily announced her intention to slope off to the doctor’s. (Really, it was great; the boys burned off some energy and I got to feel like I did a good deed – even though it mostly involved not-having-to-entertain-my-kids-myself. Win!)

But eventually I could put it off no longer (well, I could have. Of course I could have. We could have eaten chicken breast with Kraft Mac’n’cheese instead of with broccoli and beets and I could have fed the boys month-old Frosties for breakfast).

i put on some soothing classical music in the car, to calm things down on the drive to the store. (It actually worked pretty well. I’m sure it will never work again.) All was calm and serene as we piled out of the minivan and scampered across the grocery store parking lot, the soles of our shoes threatening to melt right off on the boiling tarmac (really! It was like that scene from Terminator 2 where the T-1000 gets stuck to the ground by the liquid nitrogen. Except hot. Not cold. And our feet didn’t actually break off. OK it was nothing like that, but we just watched it again and the image is stuck in my head. Sue me. Unless you’re James Cameron in which case, don’t. You don’t need my money.)

The serenity was quickly broken by cries of ‘quit it’ and “he’s touching me!” and all sorts of joys of childhood that MY children are supposed to be above. I don’t know why this drives parents quite as crazy as it does, given that we were all once children imprisoned in relationships with irritating siblings who knew just which buttons to press to get us in trouble for whining about something THEY did, but it does. Maybe it’s the sheer relentlessness of it. I have been poked so often in that one spot, that just hearing the edge of a whine in a voice makes me wince as if someone has punched me.

In the store I let A drive the trolley for a while until my nerves finally frayed (lord help me when he’s old enough to actually drive). Then I sent the boys out on errands for various fruits and vegetables, but confess to losing heart a little when both boys forsook their quest for their stated heart’s desire – raspberries – to instead marvel at (and hit each other in the face with) a fruit that looked like Banakaffalatta from that Spaceship Titanic Doctor Who Christmas Special with Kyle Minogue. Sending A alone into the dark interior of the produce section to find a solitary orange resulted in my having to mount a rescue party and retrieve him from his position staring blankly at the orange display, clutching a little net bag of pearl onions hopefully in one hand. (“We could make pickled onions!” he said, quite truthfully. We still, however, lacked an orange.)

Somewhere along the line G touched something then stuck his finger in his eye, resulting in a frighteningly blood-red orb leering up from among the brassicas, and A managed to convince met to buy more chips and chocolate than were strictly necessary, but we finally made it to the checkout. Where we were slo-o-o-wly checked out by a boy whose mother really should have taken HIM to the grocery store more often when he was 9 or 7. (“Is this celery?” “No dear, it’s broccoli.”)

All I can say is ‘thank you, Reader’s Digest, for placing your humor issue on the supermarket checkout stands this week. Both boys seized upon it and all was calm as “Zack” picked his red-faced way through my spring onions and (heaven help us!) beets.

COOKING

My celery sensitivity has made many pre-prepared foods a minefield for me -soup and stock among them – so I am currently simmering up a batch of chicken stock, and have already made a teriyaki marinade for tomorrow night’s flank steak (hello, barbecue!). I have part of a chicken tikka marinade ready too, so I’m feeling pretty good about this shopping trip and its results.

Tomorrow morning I plan to use some of the bounty of apples I inadvertently let the boys sneak into the cart to teach A how to make apple pie. From scratch. With nothing but a knife and a rolling pin and the able tutelage of Delia Smith. And that’ll give us a good home for the evaporated milk A wanted to buy.

GARDENING

A insisted on picking up some living parsley while we were in the produce section. I was quite surprised when he, very responsibly insisted on planting it this evening. Sadly he decided to do it right when the mozzies were at their most voracious, but hey. We also scratched out a couple of lines in the soil for carrots. A could definitely be a gardener. That’s something to work on this summer as one of the many ongoing little projects.

LANGUAGE ARTS

I’m also planning on making the boys memorize poetry this summer, because it’s awesome and a huge contributor to one’s ability to use the language properly. While I wait for their materials to arrive, I stalked around the upstairs of the house re-familiarizing myself with “Casey At The Bat” which I learned a couple of years ago but then forgot. I’m using the ‘memory palace’ method to assist me (Google it). In my head, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine on my front porch, and Casey advances to the bat in my dining room. And if that didn’t make any sense at all, you need to a, read the poem and b, Google ‘memory palace’.

KNITTING

I’m making fingerless gauntlets. Because it’s 100 degrees.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation. So far.

Day One; Story Done!

Wow.

That was tough.

I’m the person that had the most warning that StoryADay was coming, and yet I think I was the least prepared of anyone!

For some reason I thought that I should save up all my ideas and writing energy until May started, and then today? That’s when I realised that I had been completely and utterly wrong.

Sitting down to write a story out of the blue today was so difficult. I didn’t think it was going to happen.
But that, in itself made me so glad I had launched this as a public challenge, because I couldn’t face telling everyone I had crapped out on the first day!

So I soldiered on, wrote tons of stuff, then started again, wrote through dinner and kids’ TV shows and people talking to me…and loved it.

The story’s not brilliant but it is a story and might polish up into something better.

Best of all, I’m loving reading everyone’s posts, which all have a kind of breathless quality to them. We’re all giddy and excited because we committed to this and can’t believe it, and yet we have written and had fun and are loving letting our creative kittens out of the river-bound sack.

So fun.

Also? StoryADay stories are not the kind of stories I’m going to be able to spend a lot of time researching. I did that today to get myself going, but that’s not sustainable.