Tag Archive | habit

Three Ways to Motivate Your Practice

Long-term goals are wonderful things, and some of them are shiny enough to be enough, in and of themselves, to inspire a regular practice.

Other times the goals are more nebulous, and the temptations of the GravyHose are far more present and close. So rather than pull up the word processor you pull up Facebook, and rather than laying out the yoga mat you turn on Netflix. Hey, it happens, and there are times when an episode of Arrow is what you need more than writing an entry in your journal. And there’s a neat secret (that I’ll mention later) that is yet another reason not to beat yourself up when you just don’t feel like it.

But at the same time, I would like to share three things that help me reach the “Don’t Wanna – Did It Anyway” state of mind.

Check the Box!

I understand a lot of the ways evolutionary behaviorist explain things, but one that I don’t quite get is why humans like checking off things in lists. There’s something about that blank box or circle that makes you want to put a big green check mark or red X or Please fill in the circle completely when the time is right.

Has anyone tried selling books that are nothing but blank test forms, along with No. 2 pencils? Kind of like a cross between bubble wrap and a coloring book? Seems like that’s a missed opportunity…

Anyway, you can make your own. I’ve got a little row of seven circles each week in my bullet journal for my Morning Rituals of journaling and yoga, as well as my goals of drinking enough water each day and reminding a weekly Master Mind partner to move further towards their goals.

Does it always work? Nope. Notice that picture? That should be starting today, Monday, and you’ll notice that I haven’t checked anything off yet. But that’s just it: I’m motivated to do so. I’m about 65% on the water so far, I just sent the reminder (check!) and the yoga and journaling still has time to happen. Assuming I don’t let things distract me, the unchecked boxes will nag at me until I can fill them.

Sometimes a Bullet Journal isn’t obvious enough; my partner Natasha uses a dry-erase board on the refrigerator to use the same method for her goals. It really doesn’t matter if it’s written in sharpie on your arm or painted on your lawn in chalk; if you want to give yourself an easy nudge towards your practice, make an empty space that only the practice can fill.

Guilt By Association

The second method requires that you not be a sociopath. Simply put, tell people you care about that you’re going to do it. I mentioned that I started up this blog again because someone told me it helped them; I’ve heard that from others, and even have been given support via my patreon when I wasn’t writing. There are particular people who I know will read this, and I care about them, and that makes me write.

I asked my MasterMind partner to encourage me to do more drawing practice, preferably with an eye towards process instead of product, because I need to develop skills, not sellable materials. I will swear, and grumble, and come just short of pouting as I pull out the sketchbook and the pens to draw things that I don’t think are good at all – but I know that when they remind me next, I can triumphantly say Yes, I have drawn! I did the thing!.

Natasha and I even do weekly meetings just to set short goals and hold each other accountable for them. I should note that when I say that “guilt” is the motivating factor, it is not that she lays a guilt trip on me. That’s not her job. It’s the job of my own internal voice to be useful for a change and make me feel guilty if I haven’t done what I told her I would do.

Your kid. Your cat. Your future self. All four billion people on Twitter. Pick one, and let them know you’re going to do the practice. And then, when you’re feeling like it’s just too much, think about them being disappointed, because you have denied them the unique pleasure of knowing that they helped you get closer to what you want. Think of the sad eyes. The shake of the head, the slump of the shoulders.

Then do it.

The Improbable Life of Kathryn Joost

This is not my story to tell. Read the thread on twitter. And remember that the only way to get anywhere is step by step…and the next step is your next practice session doing whatever it is you need to practice.

Oh, and that neat secret? Well, it’s kind of related to those empty boxes in my Bullet Journal (aka “BuJo”). See, normally I don’t have trouble checking those off, because I do them first thing in the morning.

Today, though, we had to get on the road early for an 8-hour road trip. And that meant that I missed that window this morning. But that’s the secret:

There’s always another window.

When we get home, my yoga mat will be waiting there for me. My journal and a pen and a neat new chair to write in. And those boxes will be filled. So even though I’ve been spending most of the trip driving and singing along to musicals and reading sci-fi books, the practice will wait until the motivation catches up with me.

What’s your secret technique to Do The Thing when you Don’t Want To? These work for me, but the point is: whatever it is that kicks your tuchis into gear, do more of it.

Practice makes progress.

The Magic Words of Flossing

Do you floss?

I’ve found that there seem to be two kinds of people: those who answer that question with an incredulous look and “Of course! Who doesn’t?” and those who get a kind of wistful/guilty look on their face and say “Well…sometimes…” unwilling to admit they’ve had the same box of floss in their medicine cabinet for the last four years.

I have fallen into the latter camp for the vast majority of my life. For whatever reason, flossing wasn’t a habit really enforced by my parents, and there was always a terrified feeling that I was going to slice into my gums somehow. So I avoided flossing.

That, of course, led to the predictable results, and suffice it to say that my dental health is not the best. But this isn’t that story.

Finding the Flossing Habit

There are all kinds of techniques for establishing all kinds of habits, including flossing. One of my favorites was ZenHabits technique of flossing one tooth – just one – for a week. Then doing two. Then adding them, incrementally, so what seemed like a bother just became a matter of rote.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I tried it, and yes, I flossed for a while, and then I fell out of the habit. I changed my morning routine multiple times, I established habits and then let them go and flossing just kind of fell by the wayside.

I realize now why that was. My lack of flossing wasn’t because I felt didn’t have time. Nope, it was much deeper and darker than that.

I didn’t floss because I was apathetic about my own body. It wasn’t I can’t be bothered, it was why bother? The interior dialogue when I opened the cabinet to grab the toothpaste and saw the little box of string went something like this:

You really should floss.

Yeah, but I’m going to just brush my teeth. I don’t feel like flossing.

You KNOW that flossing is good for you.

Yeah, yeah, but so is brushing my teeth, and I’m going to do that. I’ll floss some other time.

And that would be that.

The roots of where that feeling of apathy came from…well, again, this is not that story. There’s a lot of personal and practical work that has to go into unpacking that particular realization.

No, this is the story of the last month or so, when I have flossed almost every day. In fact, one of the few days I didn’t was because I ran out of the thin string. It has not been difficult; it has not required electrical zappers or post-its all over the bathroom mirror.

Nor can I say that this magical technique is due to years of research and development and testing. Nope, I basically came across this by accident, and much to my surprise (and the delight of my gums) it just works for me.

The Magic Words

I was going through my evening ablutions, and I saw the floss in the medicine cabinet as I reached for the toothpaste, and I went through the standard guilt trip:

You really should floss.

Yeah, but I’m going to just brush my teeth. I don’t feel like flossing.

This time, though, that Better Self came up with something new:

Yeah, but I’m worth it.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I’m worth it.

Suddenly I felt like I was somehow deserving of flossing. Of doing what I can to take care of this meat sack I’ve been given.

I know, it seems like a simple and little thing. But I flossed that night. And the next night, when I saw the floss box, I said it again: I’m worth it. And it was no problem to take the time and the care of my teeth.

Every night it works. I hate to call it an “affirmation”, because those tend to ring hollow, and don’t tend to be connected to an individual action. But because this one is, it reinforces itself: I am worth it, and then I prove it by taking an action that shows that it’s true.

Maybe you already floss regularly – I hope so. I wonder, though, if this particular mantra – or battle cry – might work for others? If there might be something out there that is good for you, but that you don’t let into your life for whatever reason. Maybe changing the motivation from “Eh, it’s just not worth the effort” to “Yes, I am worth this particular effort” will help change that idea?

Or hey, maybe it’s just me.

Give it a try anyway. For science!

The Magic Words of Flossing

Do you floss?

I’ve found that there seem to be two kinds of people: those who answer that question with an incredulous look and “Of course! Who doesn’t?” and those who get a kind of wistful/guilty look on their face and say “Well…sometimes…” unwilling to admit they’ve had the same box of floss in their medicine cabinet for the last four years.

I have fallen into the latter camp for the vast majority of my life. For whatever reason, flossing wasn’t a habit really enforced by my parents, and there was always a terrified feeling that I was going to slice into my gums somehow. So I avoided flossing.

That, of course, led to the predictable results, and suffice it to say that my dental health is not the best. But this isn’t that story.

Finding the Flossing Habit

There are all kinds of techniques for establishing all kinds of habits, including flossing. One of my favorites was ZenHabits technique of flossing one tooth – just one – for a week. Then doing two. Then adding them, incrementally, so what seemed like a bother just became a matter of rote.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I tried it, and yes, I flossed for a while, and then I fell out of the habit. I changed my morning routine multiple times, I established habits and then let them go and flossing just kind of fell by the wayside.

I realize now why that was. My lack of flossing wasn’t because I felt didn’t have time. Nope, it was much deeper and darker than that.

I didn’t floss because I was apathetic about my own body. It wasn’t I can’t be bothered, it was why bother? The interior dialogue when I opened the cabinet to grab the toothpaste and saw the little box of string went something like this:

You really should floss.

Yeah, but I’m going to just brush my teeth. I don’t feel like flossing.

You KNOW that flossing is good for you.

Yeah, yeah, but so is brushing my teeth, and I’m going to do that. I’ll floss some other time.

And that would be that.

The roots of where that feeling of apathy came from…well, again, this is not that story. There’s a lot of personal and practical work that has to go into unpacking that particular realization.

No, this is the story of the last month or so, when I have flossed almost every day. In fact, one of the few days I didn’t was because I ran out of the thin string. It has not been difficult; it has not required electrical zappers or post-its all over the bathroom mirror.

Nor can I say that this magical technique is due to years of research and development and testing. Nope, I basically came across this by accident, and much to my surprise (and the delight of my gums) it just works for me.

The Magic Words

I was going through my evening ablutions, and I saw the floss in the medicine cabinet as I reached for the toothpaste, and I went through the standard guilt trip:

You really should floss.

Yeah, but I’m going to just brush my teeth. I don’t feel like flossing.

This time, though, that Better Self came up with something new:

Yeah, but I’m worth it.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I’m worth it.

Suddenly I felt like I was somehow deserving of flossing. Of doing what I can to take care of this meat sack I’ve been given.

I know, it seems like a simple and little thing. But I flossed that night. And the next night, when I saw the floss box, I said it again: I’m worth it. And it was no problem to take the time and the care of my teeth.

Every night it works. I hate to call it an “affirmation”, because those tend to ring hollow, and don’t tend to be connected to an individual action. But because this one is, it reinforces itself: I am worth it, and then I prove it by taking an action that shows that it’s true.

Maybe you already floss regularly – I hope so. I wonder, though, if this particular mantra – or battle cry – might work for others? If there might be something out there that is good for you, but that you don’t let into your life for whatever reason. Maybe changing the motivation from “Eh, it’s just not worth the effort” to “Yes, I am worth this particular effort” will help change that idea?

Or hey, maybe it’s just me.

Give it a try anyway. For science!

Three Daily Planning Layouts to Try in 2018

I know better than to try to set resolutions this time of year. Also, after 2017, there’s a bit of a grim “batten down the hatches” attitude. In all honesty, there’s a part of me that looks at 2018 with a level of gibbering fear that has nothing to do with politics or climate. I’ve simply got three Very Big Projects coming up Very Soon, along with multiple smaller ones. The potential to have them all come Crashing Down Disastrously is enough to merit Random Capital Letters.

One of the ways I confront this paralyzing anxiety is to set up a schedule. Lists! Daily charts! Zero-based calendars! These provide a comforting, if illusory, sense of control and of forward progress.

Here are three very different daily planning methods that I’m considering trying for the month of January. You may find one here that appeals to you, or they may just seem like too much work. However, there’s a good point of doing what is known in some productivity circles of “fake work”. It’s not really fake – because it is work – but it’s the kind of work that creatives don’t get paid for. It’s taking the time to sit and plan out the day, taking a look at big picture next-steps and the like.

One thing you’ll notice about all three of these: they are not apps. In fact, the closest they get to digital is the occasional download. Why? Well, for one thing, I like my notebooks. For another, the calendar on the phone or the computer is more like a clock than a planning device for me. Useful for an alarm, but when I’m looking at the structure of the things that I want to get done, I can picture it better when it’s paper and pen.

The When Daily Planner:

I’m a little fanboyish about Daniel Pink; his earlier books like Drive and To Sell is Human I found valuable and fascinating. It’s no surprise that I’ve pre-ordered his next book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, because I’m a sucker for click-bait titles. Along with the pre-order you can get a nifty little pack of goodies, including planning sheets and a brief explanatory preview of what’s in the book.

It’s not your normal schedule – there’s no hourly set, but instead a Peak, Trough, and Recovery time, along with two Break times. There’s a little math you do based on sleep patterns that figures out what hours during your workday fit each of those categories.

You then are asked to divide up your daily tasks into three categories as well: Analytic, Insight, and Administrative. These match up to the times: analytic tasks to peak times, for example. And there you have it – a schedule of what to do when, during your day, based not on arbitrary Taylorist numbers but rather on your own particular work rhythms.

He also stresses that breaks are really important, and so there is space not just to schedule them but also to write down what you’re going to do. Sketch. Walk to get the mail. Juggle. Yoga (ugh).

Finally, in a part that is reflective of 5-Minute Journaling, he suggests you end by listing “3 Things I Got Done Today.” This is especially appealing if you are like me and have a hard time recognizing the things you’ve done sitting in the shadow of all the things you have yet to do. Having those three things – even if they are as simple as “I took both my breaks – can be the difference between waking and sleep when it’s time for bed.

Daily Momentum Planner

This planner also appeals because it is designed for Creatives. I’ve long chafed under any schedule that is task rather than project-based, and that’s a weakness, not a strength. The Momentum planning sheets from Productive Flourishing are designed around people like me, who would rather focus on “Today’s Projects” than hourly events. In fact, the “Scheduled Events” section is almost the smallest part of the sheet. Instead, the majority of the space is for “Supporting Tasks” (the things you know you need to do for projects) as well as “Emergent Tasks” (the things that pop up, aka “shit happens”).

With all this, you also do some energy level tracking so that you can see when you are tired of a certain task — which may mean to do it first thing, to get it over with, or after a nap so your mind is clear, or may mean that’s the time for the jolt of coffee or a quick workout to get the blood flowing.

While the daily planner is what I’m focusing on here, there’s a whole host of resources on the website, such as monthly planners, daily habit trackers, etc. If you clicked on that link, it took you to their newsletter signup page; yep, you do have to give them an email to get access to the downloads. However, there is a hidden bonus: everything is free. That’s right, every month they publish a new bunch of resources that you can use for free. Sure, they also sell a bigger package, but that’s only if you want to throw them a few bucks – less than a movie.

There are two downsides I can see to this: one, if you’re a big fan of pretty layouts and fancy lettering and BUJOesque fanciness, this is not the planner for you. It’s a gridwork of blanks to fill out, basically. Two, because this does not come bound in a book, it means you have a lot of loose papers, or a three-ring binder. It may be possible to spiral-bind them, but I am certain that the lack of a bound journal will be felt as I try this one out.

Radial BUJO

While Bullet Journaling is based around lists, there’s another way of visualizing it that’s a bit more unusual. It’s based on radial planning, whether that’s for a day, for a month, or even a year. Rather than a linear list, you’re given circles to fill in the blanks. As you can see, it can be combined with lists, and either made all pretty with colors or just left as lines (I particularly like the “DO ALL THE STUFF!” battle cry on the example page).

Obviously you can draw your own circles, but there’s a thriving online business community of downloadable templates if you don’t feel like trying to divide the circle into 31, 30, or 28 segments for your monthly work.

Why would this appeal? Well, I’m someone who gets a jolt of energy out of re-arranging things (probably part of why Natasha and I threw away our couch today). Looking at my day as a circle rather than a list changes things up. There’s also something to reminding ourselves that we are in cyclical lives, not linear; the ending of one day is the beginning of the next.

Also, hey, it was good enough for the Mayans, it’s good enough for me.

There you have it! What kind of planners are you using in 2018? Let us know in the comments — we’ll be coming back to this again at the end of the year.

The Interrupted Practice

Today was supposed to be a much simpler post.

It was going to be a simple layout of how I do my notebook…ahem how I aspire to do my notebook, both for the monthly layout and the daily one.

However, I think I need to own up to a different issue, one that ties in pretty nicely with the last Life post that I put up, Your Schedule is Not Your Life. Because shortly after putting up that post, I clicked into my Editorial Calendar (a great plug-in for WordPress) and planned out the next two weeks of posts here. Three times a week, writing prompts about love, about life, about practice.

And then Thursday we got on the road, and drove to Cleveland to visit our friend the author Ferrett Steinmetz (yes, I’m name dropping, but only because I want you to do a search on Amazon for him and buy all his books) and somehow in spite of being in the car for hours I neglected to write a post for Friday.

And on Friday, when we were again in the car for many hours on our way to Gettysburg (where I was presenting on The Defining Moment among other things) I again Completely Forgot to write any post at all, much less the post about Love I had planned.

(That one had the working title of “Yelp Yourself” and was supposed to be about the joy of making lists of things you loved. For example, I recently started a list of cigars I enjoy. Guess what I didn’t update when I had a lovely Diesel cigar Saturday afternoon?)

Prioritizing Time

As I mentioned, I can’t pretend that I didn’t have time to write that post. What I failed to do was set aside the time to write it. Time was spent on Twitter, reading the Star Wars comic series (a much better way to prep for the next movie than trying to watch Episodes 1-3), and driving and teaching. My partner Natasha and I took a tango class that was great – but that was ninety minutes that I wasn’t writing.

The good news, though, is that I can see where the way I spend my time can be changed. I don’t even have to “give up” anything, and I can leverage things to be rewards for habits. For example, I can set a boundary for myself: No twitter on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday unless the blog post is up.

I still get my dose of dopamedia, but I have a motivating factor to get it done proactively. In fact, that motivates me to do it the day before, scheduling things so they release at 8am on each of those days.

Becoming The Me-Whisperer

Any good dance lead will tell you they don’t really “lead” their partner — they create a space for their partner to be and then “invite” them to occupy that space. It’s similar to the idea of the horse-whisperer (caveat: I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book so I may have a false idea of what that word means). Basically, instead of berating yourself for not sticking to habits, calling yourself a failure, or trying to muscle through things…create a space for yourself to do the thing you want to do, and make it inviting. Make it as joyously inevitable as your soft bed at the end of a hard day, or a warm shower after coming in from a cold one.

It’ll be easy to see if this works: just come back on Wednesday and Friday and see if the post is up! Meanwhile: what are you going to whisper yourself into doing?

When Practice Gets Derailed

One of the common mistakes that I used to make about practice was that I kept waiting for everything to be perfect. “Time to sketch!” I’d say, and then putz about with sharpening pencils, adjusting the light, setting up the pose, changing the height of the chair, finding a zillion little details that needed to be just so before I could do the practice.

Some of that, of course, was procrastination. Some of it, however, was justified: I was creating a little bubble of reality in which all the factors that I felt would let me be my best practicing self were in place.

Nothing wrong with that! The problem comes when that is looked at as a necessity, rather than a luxury.

Plans Make the Gods Laugh

The fact is that reality rarely allows for us to control all the variables around our practice. ”Time for bed!” you say, and begin to shut down the computer screens and change into comfortable clothes and begin a quiet reflective journal session over tea…

”Mom! I don’t feel good!I” comes the voice from up the stairs. Or the phone beeps from your private number, because the office needs a different report tomorrow. Or your lover comes in and says “We need to talk”. Or your stomach gurgles, prelude to informing you that you’re really going to regret that Tuquelenas Torta you had for dinner…

The point is that if we let that dissuade us from our practice – or worse, let those realities tell us the story that we’re bad because we weren’t able to do the practice perfectly – then it is the literal manifestation of “the perfect is the enemy of the good

Persistence Makes Practice

Instead of beating ourselves up about a missed practice, there are a few things you can do to let these unforeseen circumstances support, rather than hinder, your practice.

  1. Don’t Play the Blame Game. Certainly don’t blame yourself, but also don’t blame your kid, your boss, your lover, your stomach. Even – or especially– if it’s their fault. It is what it is, and any time spent stewing in a blame soup is energy wasted when you could have been doing something like…
  2. Mind Practice. Ok, I made that word up, but it’s based on fact: athletes who spend time visualizing doing well in a race tend to do better at racing. This applies to just about anything. If you imagine, as vividly as you can, the practice you would have been doing, it helps reinforce the neural pathways that you’ve been trying to create. Whether that’s a vivid meditation deep in the night as you’re cuddling a sick child, or just a random thought as you try to print a spreadsheet, having your practice in your mind helps keep it current.
  3. Let This One Go. Not that you’d want to make it a habit, but sometimes it’s good to practice another skill: the skill of releasing yourself from an expectation. Of simply saying “I didn’t get to do it this time. I will try to do it next time.” And then you can devote yourself mindfully to whatever it is that has taken the place of your practice for this particular round.

The biggest thing is to remember that you’re playing the long game. Statistical trends look like cliffs when you close in on them, but when you look at the big picture, you can see a smooth and graceful curve. If you miss a day of practice, remember that it’s a blip – and if you keep your focus on the arc of your life, you can choose what direction that curve takes.

Breaking Hard on Bad Habits

Life rewards those who move in the direction of greatest courage. – Franklin Veaux

“I have a suggestion, and you’re not going to like it.”

“Ok…” She knows from the tone that I’m talking about a Task of Uncomfortable Growth, and braces herself for this particular TUG. I feel a little bad, because I know what’s going to happen.

“I think you should leave your phone in the other room at night instead of having it next to your bed.”

I wait and watch as it sinks in, and her eyes, even in the little Wire video window on my screen, look huge and possibly tear-filled. Her mouth literally makes an “oh…” of terror, and I hear strange syllables as she tries to express the horror at the thought.

Don’t laugh; imagine if I was coaching you, and I said to you: What you really need to do – right now – is turn off your phone until tomorrow. Some of you would shrug and say “No biggie!” and then weasel out of it by using your friends’ phones or your tablet, cleverly sidestepping the usefulness of the TUG.

Others would try it, and within a few hours the anxiety of emails missed and memes lost and opportunities to “like” something would be making their hands itch. But after about eight hours that goes away (especially if there’s sleep involved). They will wake, and breathe deep, and realize that they really don’t need that constant dopamine jolt all day – that the world is actually just fine the way it is!

Happy in the joyful pleasure of kicking the habit, they’ll pick up their phone just for one quick check on twitter…

The Chicken-and-Egg of Habit Change

Sometimes it’s necessary to quit things “cold turkey”. There’s a lot of arguments for and against this, based around ideas like “willpower depletion” and the like. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple; while some studies indicate that yes, our power to make good decisions is a finite resource, other studies indicate that it’s only finite if we choose to let it be.

In a study conducted by the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. Those participants who did not see willpower as finite did not show signs of ego depletion.

Yep, you can decide you are “recharged” (I’m picturing Green Lantern reciting his creed in front of his lantern) and suddenly you’re back to making good decisions!

Of course, you have to decide to recharge, and if you are too tired to make that particular decision…

That’s the problem with trying to make it an internal process. We have far less control over our neurochemistry than we pretend to have, and the idea that our brain is somehow separate from our bodies is as silly as the idea that our bodies are not actually part of the physical world around them. “I know it’s below zero outside, but I don’t need a coat – I’m just going to not let it change my body temperature.

However, we can change our habits by leveraging that in the other direction: structuring our environment so that it is easier to reinforce the good habits than the bad ones. Possibly the most stunning example of how environment change affects our compulsions and addictions came after the Vietnam war, when the government was bracing itself for the huge numbers of heroin-addicted soldiers coming home.

But instead, those last two words are what really mattered. They’d been addicted to heroin as a way to cope with the horrors of the war. When they got home, those horrors were gone – and so was their need for heroin. In fact, the percentage of soldiers who remained addicted was right about on par with the number of addicts you’d find in the general population.

All it took to kick one of the most addictive substances in the world cold turkey was a complete change of environment. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, if you suddenly decide “I’m going to do yoga every morning”, your chances of success are better if you replace that comfy chair where you surf the web every morning with a yoga mat. And set up some kind of timed release for a yoga video – and look, there’s an app for that!

In other words, you’re breaking the chain of events that keeps you in the path of your bad habit and replacing it. Preferably with something constructive, but hey, you can also choose “less destructive” (which is why there are a lot of smokers in AA; smoking is unhealthy, but not as destructive for most people as alcohol).

Me, I got into a journaling (and later blogging) habit by linking it to my morning coffee. And my personal assistant lays out the yoga mat between my bed and my desk, so that I literally trip over it before I can sit down and get into work.

Meanwhile, my friend who I was coaching did try to leave her phone outside of her bedroom…but found it too unsettling, and so compromised by putting it in the bathroom, so that if she can’t bear it she can still get to it. However, she has also acquired a small glowing analog clock which is now how she checks the time if she wakes up – thereby breaking the chain of reaching for her phone in the middle of the night and succumbing to the temptations of the social media gravy hose.

Go Out and Break Something

We all have something that we want to change in our lives – whether that’s something we want to do, or something we want to stop doing. Far too often the way we manifest that desire is to simply say “I’m going to do this!” as if our willpower (or won’t-power) alone is enough to change it.

Think of it this way: if simply thinking about it was enough to change that part of your life, you would have already changed it. It exists (or doesn’t exist) because something about your environment is making it that way.

Change your environment. Make the easiest path the one towards the life you want. Even if it makes you cringe with terror. Courage is the fuel that powers the practice that takes you into the life you want.

Cascading Styles: The Secret to Successful Morning Routines

If you ever get the chance to talk with web designers who worked during the turn of the millennium, mention the phrase “the Browser Wars”. Then prepare yourself for a whole lot of groans, eye rolls, and war stories starting with “So, I had this client who wanted…

Back then the web browsers – of which there were a lot – each had their own particular method for interpreting the code that created the web pages. It was an ugly and frustrating process, and it only ended when the WorldWide Web Consortium – basically the equivalent of the UN, only more effective – created a standard by which the browsers and developers could agree.

Part of that standard was the creation of “Cascading Style Sheets”. The idea was that there would be an “ideal” version of your web page that looked exactly the way you wanted it. In the best-case scenario, your audience was looking at your website on a big monitor with all the same colors and fonts and your message would definitely go through.

But what if they’re on an iPad?

That’s where the “cascading style” starts. The savvy web designer has built in fallback code that makes the site look good on your iPad, too. Or on the iPhone. Or on an older web browser that might not have updated plug-ins. Or for someone who’s using a text-to-speech app.

Each step away from that “ideal” situation degrades gracefully, at the very least keeping the content – the purpose of the site – still useable by the consumer.

Applying Graceful Degradation to Your Morning Routine

You hear it over and over again from personal development blogs: Successful People use morning routines. There are entire blogs devoted to it (I’ve even been featured on one). It’s great when you can maintain a streak of morning routines, and feel that your whole day starts out more balanced.

There’s one problem: life. Alarms don’t go off, kids get sick, you get sick, your partner needs a ride to work – you name it, there’s a whole lot of things that can throw off your morning routine.

Let’s reframe that, though: there are a whole lot of things that can throw off your perfect morning routine. Sometimes you don’t wake up with the latest version of Operating System You-Point-Oh. Sometimes it’s more like you’re waking up with Operating System You Vista (side note: that’s a computer joke. The Windows Vista OS was notoriously bad). You just don’t have the capability to run the program that you created for yourself back when you were feeling optimistic.

So instead, you gracefully degrade. You have a fallback position that isn’t the ideal morning routine, but still maintains the intent and even some of the basic functionality of it.

Examples of Cascading Style Habits

This morning was a good example. On really good mornings, I start the day with a 1/2 hour Yin Yoga routine with Kassandra. It’s slow, it’s progressive, and really good for my body and a nice, easy wake-up.

But it’s a frakkin’ half-hour.

If I don’t have time for that, I do a different routine – a fifteen minute “Super Hero” vinyasa adapted from my other favorite yoga teacher, Adriene. It’s more energetic and more difficult – involving some balance poses and a lot of chaturanga dandasana (aka, “push-up pose”).

And there are some mornings when I don’t really have the motivation even for that. When all I want to do is stay in bed until the nagging get up and be productive voice won’t let me anymore, and then to shut it up with the distractions of social media. There’s a real risk of wasting almost an entire morning down the rabbit hole of Twitter if I don’t manage to get into my morning routine.

If all else fails, I do the Five Pillars five times. That’s not really yoga, and frankly the history is a little suspect – but it is simple. It requires minimal counting of reps. It doesn’t require any meditative or mindfulness type energy. It is basically the equivalent of morning calisthenics in the military.

And that I can do. I did seven reps this morning, since I was a motivated underachiever, and it kept me from the Gravy Hose and focused my morning.

Create Your Own Cascading Style

What’s that habit that you’ve been trying to sustain? Even if you’ve been doing great with it so far, it might be worth thinking about how you can maintain the purpose of the habit even when you’re not in the ideal situation:

  • If you can’t meditate one morning, focus on breathing and being present any time you’re waiting at a traffic light.
  • If you can’t write the 1000 words for your novel, commit to writing one sentence – even if it’s only in your head.
  • If you can’t do your full work out, go into the bathroom and do a couple of isometric pushes against the wall, maybe a lunge or squat. Pick an arbitrary number (Pro tip: you can say “Hey, Siri, give me a random number between 1 and 10” and you’ll have your number of reps)

These are not replacements for your habits. That’s a different technique that we’ll talk about next week, called Progressive Enhancement. No, this is designed to help you keep from “breaking the chain” and making allowances for the fact that our practices need to reflect reality, not the perfectionist fantasies of our over-achieving imaginations.

If you have a cascading style habit already, tell me about it!

The Simple Way to Reduce Your Social Media Dependence

I’m a day late! So this is a quickie, because we’ve already lost a day of practice! Happily, I can assure you that this is a practice that is 100% effective. It is one of those win-win practices; it helps take your brain off of the intermittent-dopamine-reward addiction of checking your twitter or Facebook or Newsfeed app incessantly, and it helps make you slightly more antifragile by increasing your situational awareness and capacity for “boredom.”

Ready? Here it is:

Shut off your cellular data to those apps.

I’m not going to go through the steps of doing this; it’s different for every kind of phone or computer or tablet. But most of your mobile devices, when they don’t have a wifi connection, will be using data via the cellular network to refresh your feed from social media.

Don’t let them.

Just cut off the gravy hose. It’s the equivalent of saying “Want to watch less TV? Unplug it.

What will happen (and go ahead and try this, just to get a laugh) is that the next time you want to “check the feed”, you will reach for the phone, pull up the app – and stare blankly in a moment of digital deja vu: “Didn’t I already read this?” scroll down “They already said that this morning.” scroll further”Wait, why is that story posted agai- oh.”

And that’s when your lizard brain, deprived of the easy source of dopamine, will throw up its scaly hands in despair and change the channel to that tried-and-true reality show, “Scan the Horizon for Predators.”

It’s Not About Weak Will, It’s About Strong Won’t

Now, notice I did not say this will cure your compulsion entirely. That takes something a big bigger, like maybe a Simple Time of Peace or other media retreat (I am late with today’s blog because yesterday I was in just such a place, and damn, it was lovely). This particular practice is just a way for you to be able to cut back a bit, to reduce things.

It’s dead simple: you already have all the tools you need, no apps to install, no weird devices to strap to your wrist. That is also one of the weaknesses of this method: it’s just as simple to turn your cellular data to those apps on again, wherever you are. So it’s not about whether you will want to check your feeds; it’s about whether you won’t make it possible again.

Gonna try this hack for a week? I did it last week, and I confess; there was a moment when I “had to” check my Facebook. I rationalized that I needed to chat with my daughters; but really, could I have found a different method? Certainly.

Let’s see if we can make it to next Monday. Who’s with me?

My Key to Morning Rituals

This month I’ve been successful in doing my Morning Protocols more than any other month. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Yoga or “5 Rites”: A short stretching routine just to get the body moving.
  2. Sitting Meditation: Nothing fancy, just my butt on a cushion for 15 minutes.
  3. Journaling: One page, while I have my coffee.
  4. Deep Reading: A book. Uninterrupted page after page, preferably on some deeper subject.

Now, when I say “more successful” I’m not talking perfect. Sometimes my “deep reading” isn’t so deep, or I let it go. Sometimes I skip the journaling, or the yoga. But by far the worst thing that happens to disrupt the morning protocols is the World.

You know the World I’m talking about. It’s Facebook, Twitter, email. It’s your to-do list, it’s the meeting you have later in the day. It’s all the things that are waiting for you – all the things that often make one decide that they don’t have time for Morning Protocols (or Rituals or whatever).

It’s a simple truth about any morning habit. Pick out one that you may have considered before, but decided not to do – maybe “getting up an hour early to write”. Think about all the reasons that you don’t do it.

Now think of something you do every morning. Breakfast, maybe (for yourself, or for someone else). Or going to work. How about putting on clothes? Whatever, pick out something you absolutely do. Why did you do it? Was it harder, or did it require less work than that morning habit? I mean, in the last example, you not only had to pick them out and put them on, there’s a whole host of connected work (buying, washing, folding, etc) that increases the difficulty.

But you still do it. Why? Because that thing is important to you. It may even seem necessary (what, am I supposed to go around naked all day?).

That Morning Habit that you (and I) don’t do? We haven’t decided it’s necessary. That’s the only difference.

There are a lot of self-help bloggers who try to provide various ways to get yourself to do things that are good for you but that you don’t internalize as “necessary.” For example, there’s the “small victories” concept, based on the adage If you win the morning, you win the day. That adage is talking about morning radio shows, by the way, which may be why it’s never done me much good. Yes, even getting out of bed is a “victory” of sorts, but it feels kind of like everyone getting a gold star; the victory doesn’t mean much.

The Key to Morning Rituals

…for me, at least, is instead a bit of selfishness. From the moment I wake I’m aware of the pressure of the day, of clients’ emails and phone calls and holidays and the like. I look at them in my mind, and I shake my metaphorical finger at them, and I say:

You don’t get me yet.

This is my time. These protocols, this mode of framing my day, belongs only to me, and all the other things that will chip away at my willpower throughout the day until I don’t even have enough decisiveness to pick out what I want for dinner…they can wait.

I say it with a snarl of defiance, and a growl of possessiveness. It changes the Morning Protocols from something I have to do or need to do into something I get to do, just for me. It’s my own little version of Odysseus lashing himself to the mast as his ship went past the sirens: You don’t get me yet.

Someday, perhaps, I’ll reach the point where I can leave off the last word. But for now, this is what helps me build my morning protocol habit.

How about you? What habits do you wish you could start in your mornings, and what is keeping you back?