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.

Accountability

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

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!

Sleep

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.

Ideas:

  • 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.

Exercise

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.

Ideas:

  • 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.

Eat

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”.

Ideas:

  • 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.

Tidy

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.

Ideas:

  • 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.

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

(more…)

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