Monitoring

I am reading “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ll review elsewhere, once I’ve finished (I like a lot, and I dislike a lot). For now, I’ve just read the chapter on monitoring. I found it inconclusive, so I thought I’d write up some of the ways I am using monitoring and where it seems to be effective.

Turns out I monitor quite a lot.

Some things I monitor

*** work diary

I keep a timesheet for work. New page every day; top of page I list priority tasks that day, then make a two-column table “Finish time” and “Task” and I log everything I do during the day.

This has been very effective for time management. Obvious things like how much time I spend on work for particular clients, how much time I spend on project admin. It has also affected the way I work.

For example, at first I would write down, at the end of a work session, the time and what I’d been doing — “12:30, accounts”, “14:15, stats for client X”. The way I used the timesheet changed gradually and I’m fairly sure unconsciously.

First change was that I would “finish” a small task or subtask and note that down — “10:00, August accounts up to date”, “11:45, unit test Y passing”.

Second change was that I would write down the subtask at the beginning of the time — “_____, bring August accounts up to date”, and fill in the time once I’d completed the little mission.

Now I am starting to write notes at the finish time, writing down next steps (in green) or errors that need to be followed up (in red).

What is changing is not just that the monitoring is making me more aware, but also the relationship between the monitoring and the activity is changing.

*** daily diary

On-and-off since I was a child I have kept a “daily diary”. This is obviously a kind of monitoring. However, it has never played a role in behaviour or habit modification. I can think of two reasons for this:

1. My diary has always been a “let it all hang out” diary. Any and all kinds of observations, feelings, styles, are ok. So anything that doesn’t or can’t get expressed or sorted out anywhere else will end up here — not just updates and trauma but nice things too. For example, apart from online, it’s the only place I can talk about God.

2. Writing in my diary is always a separate thing I do. Any monitoring I do in the diary is not part of the activity being monitored (cf the work diary where the logging becomes part of the activity being logged).

*** reading log

In the back of my daily diary I note down every book I finish (author, title, publication date, start date, finish date). Unlike Some People I only read a dozen or so books in a year. I don’t write down any impressions because I can always remember.

Although I do occasionally have plans and targets to do with reading, I never meet them, and this log is just a retrospective log.

I could use this more mindfully: make sure I write the log on the day I finish, write a few words in response, hold myself to targets. One project I had that petered out I’d like to revive: I decided I’d read all of Shakespeare’s plays in honour of my mother (who got me into Shakespeare when I was a kid).

*** “dressing up” diary

In September 2012 I decided to keep track of how much I was spending on lingerie. In a small notebook, on one face I would sellotape in the receipt, and on the opposite face I would write in reviews of the things I’d bought, as well as keeping a running total of spending.

Although I haven’t bought anything since my Total Purge last August, I have kept the diary.

I don’t think keeping this diary had any effect on keeping my spending down (I have no idea how much I was spending before I started keeping this diary, possibly less; my spending level while I was keeping the diary seems to have been fairly constant).

Monitoring and controlling spending was a main reason I started this diary, but looking back the associations are different. I started the diary after a particularly pleasant shopping experience, and keeping the diary became part of enjoying the “hobby” rather than controlling the money.

I suppose this might be what a reading diary might be like.

*** self-abuse log

After my Total Purge at the end of August I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t slink back into dressing up, less confident that I wouldn’t find excuses to start using porn again. Without porn to soak them up, all kinds of lustful fantasies were bouncing around my head the whole time. So I took to jotting them down in a little notebook as soon as they came up (just a few words, not an elaborate story). This seemed to encapsulate the thinking so it was easier to let it go.

This little notebook is always with me. I took to jotting down things I did to avoid temptation, and times when I failed. Finally, I noted date, time, and thoughts every time I masturbated “to completion” (sorry to be gruesome).

Like with the work diary, the monitoring became associated with its activity and this worked well: I kept away from porn until Christmas (on which see below), the storms of lust and temptation calmed a little, and I am more aware (and use) temptation-avoidance tactics.

We spent Christmas at my mother-in-law’s. It was a very pleasant, relaxed Christmas, but there were longueurs. For a few days I had been thinking, “it won’t hurt if I just have a little look”. On Boxing Day I dipped into twitter porn and it was then my “go-to” boredom solution for the next few days. I have been dipping similarly most weekends since, and gradually upgrading my sources.

What went wrong? I didn’t realise until I came to write this up: I forgot to pack my little notebook for going to M-i-L’s; it slipped my mind when we came back; and it actually took me a while to find it today.

Learning points:

  • keep this notebook handy always
  • always log promptly
  • log looking at porn as well as the other activities

Conclusion & further work

So for me monitoring is effective when:

  • the monitoring activity is physically associated with the activity being monitored (e.g. I do them at the same time)
  • my reason for monitoring is clear and explicit (actually, if I don’t know why I’m monitoring, how do I know whether it’s effective?)

At the moment I’m mostly interested in breaking habits. The self-abuse log has potential.

It’s difficult to imagine how to monitor *not* doing something.

A better thing to monitor might be my successful resistance to temptation. Not just, “today I didn’t do X”, but “here, now, I wanted to do X but I didn’t, and I did Y instead”. I could use twitter for that perhaps: when I want to look at porn, turn away from it and tweet a short impromptu prayer instead.

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  1. Four Bad Habits: progress review | Luke 7:39

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