Outsourcing Decision

I finally finished Better than Before. I can’t say I liked the style — far too chatty for me — but I made lots of notes and it gave me lots of ideas. One idea in the book was “outsourcing decision”, eg to a schedule: I make the decision to put something on a schedule, but once it’s on the schedule I just follow that. The schedule idea can be used to encourage activity / build a habit (eg go to the gymn every morning) or to ration an activity / weaken a bad habit (eg only eat junk food on Thursdays).

One bad habit I have is surfing twitter. In moments of boredom or mild anxiety it is very accessible and very easy to while away … too long. And it leaves me not refreshed but even more enervated. “Just take it off the phone!” but Twitter is occasionally useful/informative/cheering/etc — only about 10% of the time perhaps, but you never know which 10%.

Twitter itself is not the danger, but the way I use it — the association with boredom, anxiety, …, and the way it fills and even expands that anxious moment.

Scheduling “twitter time” didn’t feel right, so my brainwave has been to toss a coin first thing in the morning: Heads = twitter; Tails = no twitter today.

Amazingly, it works. If the coin turns up tails I don’t even think about looking at twitter that day. Even several days in a row. I’ve been on the programme for a month now and it is very robust.


  • It is weakening my twitter habit overall: on twitter days I surf less and tend to catch up, then close the app. Interesting links I email myself rather than just like or bookmark.
  • It is weakening the association with boredom/anxiety: the association is now with the random coinflip.
  • It means I am having to find other ways to respond to boredom/anxiety. As these are not habitual but are consciously chosen they tend to be more wholesome — eg go & get something to eat, do a minor household chore.

So far so good. It has not been an unalloyed success however. Just as the “Tails” gives a strong and effective prohibition that I don’t question, the “Heads” gives a strong feeling of permission. This over-rides an earlier prohibition that had been working quite well (more on that another time but you can probably guess).

So — more work needed, but a simple, powerful and fairly effective device.

Old Testament reading plan 2022

Isaiah2Jan, Feb
Jeremiah2Mar, Apr
The 12 Minor Prophets2Jun, Jul
Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther1Aug
Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Daniel1Sep
Proverbs2Nov, Dec

After the Prophets (the 12 Minor Prophets stands for the books Hosea to Malachi), I’m doing a bit of damage to the ordering. August is my wife’s birth month & I thought it would be inspiring for me to read these three books about women. I don’t know the Ruth and Esther stories at all. The Song of Songs … I know all those things Christians say about it being a metaphor for the church but the poem is clearly about sex, the smells and tastes of sex, the physical passion of sex.

I’m giving myself a bit of slack with Proverbs, partly as I might want to dwell and abide over verses more than with more narrative books, partly to give Psalms the new year.

I’m minded to let the Psalms sprawl over at least the first half of 2023. I’ve read through them a couple of times already. This time I might do something special (read some crit at least; try writing versions — a sonnet of Ps 19?).

Faith after Doubt

Faith after Doubt, Brian Mclaren, 2021


I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I found it engaging and inspiring, even (or especially) where I had criticisms.

The core idea of the book, stated early on, is that doubt is not an enemy of faith but a kind of stimulus to faith’s development. Our faith develops and grows by transcending our doubts — not by ignoring them or by bulldozing over them, but by listening, engaging, finding the fit, and restructuring.

This made the book exciting to me from the beginning. The idea that “contradiction is the engine of development” and the importance of a developmental perspective are familiar to me from philosophy and psychology, and very much the way I approach things generally.

Many thanks to Lisa for bringing the book to my attention, and for reading it with me. Reading in company adds an extra set of dimensions to a text, and Lisa is such a generous and positive reader (as shown in the book reviews on her blog). Reading with Lisa helped me see that this story of development applied to my own journey of turning to Jesus.

The first half sets out the idea and outlines four stages through which our faith develops (slogans added by me):

  1. Simplicity: Off the shelf
  2. Complexity: My own personal Jesus
  3. Perplexity: The centre cannot hold
  4. Harmony: Love conquers all

A bit of description:

  1. An unthinking, implicit faith, often inherited or found. Perhaps not experienced as faith or belief, or even noticed at all. eg the atheist who follows an “everything is physics” viewpoint, without much of an idea of what the natural sciences actually do. The realisation that one’s beliefs are just that — beliefs — is the first step to the next stage.
  2. I have a set of beliefs and attitudes, and I notice how this relates to the set of beliefs and attitudes of my community, those of neighbouring communities, … I begin to pick and choose and make my own nest of beliefs. If the goal is to grow in faith, then this stage — of consciously or not selecting beliefs that are easy or convenient or useful to hold — is like putting up scaffolding or putting training wheels on a bike. The transition comes when we start to be self-conscious about this cherry-picking, and when we notice that … everyone is doing it!
  3. This stage seemed to be all transition, characterised by questions like, “is there a faith at all?”, and can lead to dead-ends like postmodernism and nihilism. The move up from here is more of a decision or an act of faith than in previous stages — “yes, there is a faith, and I will find it!”
  4. The realisation that love of God and love of neighbour take many forms, and a realisation that tensions, contradiction and resolution are all part of the process of building love and faith.

“Harmony” was a huge and pleasant surprise! And this stage in the book had a strong Christian humanist flavour, which made it even more attractive to me. In my late-pre-believer days I thought the humanism of Christianity one of its most attractive features. And “strong, confident humanism” is what I thought when reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Mclaren gives a clear disclaimer and caveat about “stage theories”. There are plenty of these in developmental psychology. The important thing is not the number of stages, what they’re called, or even their characteristics; the important thing is what drives development. Here, our exploration of our own faith, and testing it against the world, reveals contradictions and doubts that we overcome to strengthen and transform our faith.

In the second half, Mclaren explores the implications of this developmental idea — the tone is basically, how and why to get everyone up to stage 4.

This was a beautifully encouraging book to read in Q1 of my Year of Harmony. It seemed so rooted in many of the ways I think already. Along with the strong humanism with which Mclaren characterised Stage 4 Harmony, I felt it as a confirmation that I can make Christianity my intellectual home as well as a spiritual home.

A story like this has to be very abstract (in which case nobody will understand it, like Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit), or it needs concrete examples. Mclaren gives plenty of stories, … unfortunately they are rather homogeneous. The stories also conflated a faith journey with a policial journey — essentially the adoption of the currently fashionable identity politics of BLM, LGBTQIA++, etc.

This will limit the appeal of the book, it confuses the issues (or at least begs the question), and it denigrates the unique perspective of Christianity and humanism, as if harmonising were merely about “fitting in”.

Ironically, Mclaren’s attitude to identity politics has hallmarks of Stage 1: adopting jargon (“white privilege”, prioritising gender over sex) uncritically and apparently unconsciously; and showing little familiarity with the product (how many Pride marches has he been on if he hasn’t seen all the corporate sponsorsip? Corporate marketing and HR departments love postmodernism and identity politics).

I found this exceedingly annoying while reading, and the book’s ideas will reach a narrower audience than they should because of it. However, I think it is a fairly superficial flaw.

next steps

  • I’d like to find some contemporary “Stage 4” Christian voices who also have “Stage 4” politics. For example, critiquing identity politics from “the left” and/or from a Christian and humanist perspective.
  • Christianity and humanism. Follow up this theme. eg Tom Holland’s “Dominion” caught my eye when it came out. I’ve been reading a chapter on Levinas in a book by Jens Zimmermann called Humanism and Religion. It was a good chapter and he’s written a few attractive books recently on the theme, one of which I shall read soon. eg as well as the above:

2019 Reading

Some reading goals for 2019:

The remaining books of the Bible that I haven’t read yet

The remaining books are:

  • Judges
  • Kings (1 & 2)
  • Job
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Chronicles (1 & 2)

I have two confessions to make:

  1. The “Old Testament” I have been reading is actually a Jewish Tanakh, so the ordering of the books is different. I picked it up decades ago as part of a job lot of Religious Texts (including a Koran, a Dhammapada, etc.). Presumably the translation is slightly different from a Christian translation, but I like the translation.
  2. I read the Book of Revelation when I was a kid — read it as a bit of exotic weirdness. I don’t have much interest in reading again.

Non-scriptural Christian writing

  • I have Augustine’s Confessions & it’s been on my “to read” list for too long.
  • I see quotes from G. K. Chesterton from time to time & his theology intrigues me.
  • Modern and contemporary Christian authors. For example Madeleine L’Engle, Elizabeth Goudge, Eugene Vodolazkin.
  • Speeches of Martin Luther King (update after reading Only Love Can Do That – The Voice of Martin Luther King Jr.)

Male bloggers, British bloggers

I wrote about these two last February. The problem persists.


There are two things about my Christian blog/twitter reading that I’d like to change. I do try to tackle these periodically but generally end up back where I started.

  • Almost all the bloggers I read are from the US, none are Brits.
  • All the bloggers I read regularly (actually only three) are women.

The first is not a big deal. It might be nice to hear some voices from closer to home but otoh those voices will bring a lot of local cultural and political baggage that I am not interested in.

The second point is perhaps more interesting, especially given some of the issues I am dealing with on this blog. So why don’t I read more — any — male Christian bloggers?

Many of the male Christian bloggers I’ve come across seem much too keen (for my taste) to lay down the law, as if their role model is Paul rather than Jesus. Women bloggers are much more like, “Here I am, a Christian”. In the women’s blogs the law (I mean the Good News) speaks through a person’s life; in the men’s blogs the law is stated as such, with examples (sometimes from the blogger’s own life).

This might only go for American men (US masculinity seems very narrow); it might only be the tiny sample I’ve come across.

Perhaps I just prefer women’s voices.

Perhaps there is nothing to be explained: I’ve been blogging in this persona for 4 1/2 years and I’ve only found three blogs I like enough to read regularly. Perhaps I just have very high standards.

Anyway, I am going to make a conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone of these three blogs and seek out (a) British voices and (b) men’s voices.

How, I don’t know. Perhaps run twitter searches for “Philippians” and see what turns up.

All recommendations and suggestions welcome.

First Steps (good habits)

I think focussing so much on sin and on stopping my bad habits has been affecting my mood. :(

At least with all that I have made a start. For notes on this chapter I’ll think about good habits I’d like to cultivate.

good habits to start

A habit is a means to an end — e.g., I’ll exercise daily because I want to get/stay fit. Come to think of it, that will go for bad habits too, though the end might not be conscious (but that’s a story for another time).

More generally, keeping good habits — as long as they don’t interfere with each other — can lead to an orderly and harmonious life.

I have three areas to work on:

  • I’d like to incorporate study time into my day. Three languages I am supposed to be good at have rusted away to almost nothing.
  • I’d like to be fitter. I get plenty of aerobic exercise cycling to work, but I am not very flexible. I used to go to yoga classes so I’d like to bring that back. Also, yoga would give an outlet for my “sensual side” that can be public and not sinful.
  • I’d like to pray every night at bedtime. I enjoy it and it helps me sleep better, but I often forget, even if there’s something specific I want to pray about.

ideas from the book

There are a lot of good ideas in the chapter. Two are particularly relevant.

start small (study, yoga)

The theme of the chapter is “start now” — don’t put off starting your new habit until the “right time”. One way of doing this is to start small, even find the smallest thing you can do that “counts”, and do that every day. Finding and doing “the smallest thing” can have other benefits: it’s a good practice in computer programming for example and can make for modular, flexible and reliable design.

Following this idea is helping me spend time with my languages more often, and I’ve discovered I do have time for a short study session every day after all. With yoga, I can fit in a few stretches before breakfast or after cycling to work (and I’ve already noticed an improvement in my posture on the bike).

marker activities (prayertime)

Rubin gave the example of brushing her teeth in the evening. She wanted to stop snacking in the evening so, instead of brushing her teeth at bedtime, she would brush her teeth soon after dinner. Because of the strong associations already set up, brushing her teeth meant “no more eating”.

I thought I would make Scripture my bedtime reading, or at least the last thing I read (I have a small pile of books by my side of the bed, and most nights I will dip into a couple). The Gospels especially I find very relaxing. That will be a very easy habit to pick up, it will put me in the right state of mind, and in turn it will (hopefully) remind me of my desire to pray.


A brief note on the Accountability chapter.

I think of accountability as making sure I am following the rules I have set myself. It might also include things like: whether I am cheating, or exploiting loopholes; whether targets are too hard/easy. So, like a coach or a trainer.

Rubin discusses four types of accountability:

  • self
  • public (e.g. I announce at work that I don’t drink)
  • group (e.g. Weight Watchers)
  • partner (e.g. a coach or a trainer)

Really I think self-accountability is not like the other three. (i) it is not an external source of accountability like the others are, so in a way it’s weaker and less reliable; (ii) even with the other three, self-accountability must still be there as a kind of bedrock — otherwise you will find a way to play the system.

An external source of accountability is obviously a Good Thing, as long as the type of source fits the type of person (Rubin has Four Basic Personality Types) and the type of project.

I am not going to announce at work that I don’t want to wear frilly knickers and bras any more. I am not going to tell my wife that I want to stop watching porn.

An accountability partner must be the “gold standard” but that would mean a professional service or some kind of reciprocal relationship (you check I’m doing my French homework; I check you’re doing the knowledge).

A group, an online forum could be ideal. I have looked in the past and not found anything. In a recent comment, Beth provided the phrase “bouncing your eyes”. I did a web search and that came up with a lot of promising links I hadn’t seen before.

A forum or group might be more trouble than it’s worth — and I think I do have quite strong self-accountability. OTOH it might give me a space to delve into the gruesome details, leaving this blog for my more general Christian exploring. (unless separating like that would be unhealthy?)(in any case, I’ll see what there is.)


Scheduling is a way of manipulating your environment so that your environment will then act on you in certain ways: you do something “because it is on the schedule”. I think this is a theme Rubin returns to later in the book.

There are quite a lot of good ideas in this chapter. Here are some of them:

ideas that I’ve started using

When scheduling a new habit, it helps to tie it to an existing habit … or an external cue … [rather] … than using a particular start time. (p. 76-7)

At work I have had a rule that I would do all admin — paying bills, logging bank statements, etc. — on a Friday afternoon. On a Friday afternoon I am a bit tired, I don’t want to be starting anything new, perfect for small relatively mindless tasks. However, come Friday afternoon, I am rarely in the mood for ploughing through a pile of receipts and statements — so the stuff doesn’t get done — until the molehills turn into mountains and bills are paid “just in time”.

My new idea is to deal with admin as soon as it arrives. I was thinking, “this is a case for *not* scheduling” but Rubin is cleverer: instead of scheduling to a time (Friday afternoon), it is sometimes better to schedule to an event (the post arriving).

Now, not only does the stuff get done but, as with the monitoring, the activity is qualitatively improved: my feeling for the company’s finances are much more immediate and intimate; and seeing to the task actually energises me (as it’s usually just one or two items at a time) rather than dragging me down.

“Quitting Time”: after Quitting Time I don’t check my email or social media, or do original writing. (p. 83)

This I honour “more in the breach than the observance” but it’s definitely an aim. I am quite good at not working late in the evening, but it is too easy to drift along on social media — and it is not at all relaxing.

ideas that I want to use

I schedule some slightly ridiculous habits, such as “Kiss Jamie every morning and every night.” (p. 74)

The more I think about this the less ridiculous it appears, and the more I want to emulate it. I kiss my wife a lot as it is (I am a very kissy person), so I’ll have to think of a way to “escalate” it without seeming weird. Another good target would be to touch my son every day.

I often find it harder to make myself do something that I enjoy than something that I don’t enjoy. (p. 82)

People who schedule playtime are more likely to tackle unappealing projects than people who never let themselves enjoy guilt-free fun until after their work is finished. (p. 83)

I tell myself that I don’t deserve nice things — there is no time, there is too much work to do, how can I enjoy myself when my wife is ironing/cooking/working? So enjoying myself is already encumbered with shame and secrecy … but there are things I enjoy doing that are not shameful and that don’t have to be secret. Some of these could even not inappropriately be scheduled into my work day.

to be continued …

Scheduling can also be used to restrict the time spent on an activity. (p. 85)

I’ll cover this in a separate post.

Quotes from the book

In the meantime, here is another half-dozen quotes from the book (I am trying to train myself to touchtype;):

Scheduling forces us to confront the natural limits of the day. (p. 75)

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now. (p. 77)

In many situations, we do benefit from scheduling a habit every day … I’ve found that it’s actually easier to do something every day than some days. (p. 79-80)

While we often overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, we often underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term if we work consistently. (p. 84)

Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. (p. 85)

The goal is to develop habits that allow us to have time for everything we value, in a way that is sustainable forever. (p. 89)

Sleep, Exercise, Eat, Tidy: tweaks

The “Foundations” chapter in “Better than Before” is about establishing good habits in these four areas. My behaviour is ok I think but could probably do with some tweaks.

This post is a record of ideas for me to refer back to. More ideas welcome!


I am a “Lark”. On work days I get up at six, or even 5:30 if I’m cycling into work. On home days I love a lie-in but it ruins my day.


  • On my days at home (one or both days of the weekend, often a day during the week), don’t overdo the lie-in (9am is too late).
  • We are invariably in bed well before 11pm, invariably reading. I should (a) read an actual book rather than the web; (b) close the book and lie down no later than 11 (my wife M is in charge of the bedside light).
  • I don’t always remember to pray but I do think praying helps me get to sleep. I need some kind of trick to help me remember to pray after lights out. I have a book of Christian Verse by the bed. If I made sure the last thing I read was out of that (or similar) that would put my mind in the right space.


I cycle to work most days. It’s only a couple of miles but our house is at the top of one hill and my office is at the top of the next hill, so it’s a reasonable workout. I am quite good at getting up from my desk every hour, but I could get a bit more fresh air.


  • The office is in a park so, as winter turns into spring, there’ll be opportunities to go for walks. I could take the “scenic route” to the cafe where I buy my (usually late) lunch.
  • Cycling is good aerobic exercise, but not so good for flexibility. I need to find somewhere to fit in a bit of yoga or other stretching.I could probably swap twenty minutes on twitter for twenty minutes on a yoga mat most days.


My eating is fine, except I drink too much coffee at the office. I don’t especially like coffee — for example, my morning drink is a pot of tea — but it seems to go with “work”.


  • monitor coffee drinking in my work diary — jot down a little “c” in the margin.
  • decide which coffees are “allowed” (e.g. when I arrive, with food)
  • make pots of tea — I have a pot and some nice tea at the office

So here, as well as — or instead of? — a negative goal of “drink less coffee”, I have a positive goal of “drink more (nice) tea (instead of coffee)”. The monitoring can attach to (and reinforce) the positive goal.

Thinking back to other habits I want to cut down on, I could rephrase an avoidance tactic as a positive goal: pray more during the day; reach out for God more; don’t wait until a designated “prayer time” — call on Him “in the moment”. As “monitoring” I could tweet “I just prayed”, and after a while, the monitoring tweet could become the prayer itself.

Tweets are timestamped and archived so I can do whatever kind of auditing I decide to, just as it I’d been monitoring on paper.


There are some things I am dogmatic about — kitchen must be immaculate before end of evening (dishes washed or in dishwasher); all office crockery must be cleaned before hometime — but everything else basically piles up until it is too annoying. At home that’s things like ironing dusting, vacuuming (everything apart from the dishes :D; At work it also includes things like admin & accounts that I think of as the same kind of tidying.


  • Perhaps I could give myself set times for this kind of work, and noting those times on the household “agenda familiale” and in my work desk diary. e.g. at work, last half hour of every day, and all Friday afternoon, is for admin & accounts.


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