Tag Archive | habits

Why I Think the Flips Bracelet is Brilliant

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you know that I’m interested in personal development. How do we develop habits? How do we change them?

I’m a freelancer, an entrepreneur, and a fanatical autodidact. Trying to fit everything I want into a day is impossible; there are always So Many Projects as well as So Many Things to Learn. It’s easy for the rituals of self care to be overlooked: meditation, journaling, yoga (ugh! Yoga!).

Also, I’m an early adopter and frequent user of technology, and like many who struggle through the bugs and bloat of the latest apps & devices I have a love affair with “lotek” – things that don’t require obvious technology, such as notebooks and pens and yoga mats (ugh!) and nice desk chairs and such.

I get two or three emails a week from people who are pitching their own personal improvement apps or products to me, asking that I share it here on the blog. This may surprise you, because I don’t do it very much. So when I tell you that I am enthusiastically recommending the Flips Bracelet, you can understand: I’m really excited about this.

Also, full disclosure: while I was granted access to the press kit, I am not in any way being compensated for what I say and share here on this post.

Flips Bracelet, The Bracelet with a Hidden Agenda to Create a Better You

Its brilliance lies in its simplicity.

It’s a string of flat wooden beads around your wrist. Each bead has a tiny symbol burned on it that represents something you want to remember to do during your day – a pen for writing, a barbell for exercise, a heart for telling someone you care for that you love them. At the start of your day, all the beads are facing out.

Note: first bit of joy for me is the way this incorporates visual thinking and iconographic power into the everyday. Our brains respond to symbols more readily than text; plus, the icons are burned into the beads by a Pyrographer, and that’s just gotta be one of the coolest job titles ever.

During the day, the bead is a constant reminder that there are things you want to do, daily, and because you can see the icon, you haven’t done them yet. So eventually you say Fine, already, I’ll do my (ugh) yoga!

And after the asanas are done, you flip the bead. On the other side, burned into the wood, is a viscerally satisfying checkmark.

No batteries. No weekly review. No updates needed. Compatible with all future updates of your personal OS. Ok, maybe we should let the press kit speak for itself:

“Ideal for adults seeking a way to better themselves and children to create good lifelong habits. It is also perfect for helping autistic and down syndrome children to remember their daily tasks. Even the elderly can benefit from it as a reminder bracelet.”

Personally, I like what Kim Ghindea, the creatFounder of Flips Bracelet, explains, “I wanted a piece of jewelry that was beautiful, natural and served a purpose. I love all creations that have more than one function. Why wear just any bracelet, when you can wear one that actually triggers you to be a better?”

Kim is the aforementioned “pyrographer”, and she hand-makes the beads (for now – she’s resistant to the idea of manufacturing, but if demand got too big she has said she likes the idea of outsourcing to other artists to help them make an income from their craft). 

I couldn’t agree more. My partner Natasha does already, a pretty little device called the Leaf, and I do too, a slightly less pretty device called the Apple Watch (series 1, for you tech nerds who were wondering). And we both love our little devices.

But this will never need charging, will never need to sync, will never be like my favorite meditation app, Mind, which no longer works anywhere. 

Launching on Kickstarter TOMORROW, October 9.

Kim is launching her project with an early-bird special, where you can get your own bracelet (in several beautiful finishes) with your own customized set of icon beads for only $24. That’s the advantage of working with an artist; you can talk directly with her and if an icon doesn’t quite work for you, she will come up with something that does. For example, the Sanskrit that she used on the “yoga” bead doesn’t quite work for me, and so I’ve been brainstorming a little stick figure doing downward dog, or tree pose, or maybe just “Ugh!”

Whatever. The point is, it will be personal to me. And that, I think, is a brilliant. 

The State of the Habit

I remember the good old days when I felt that my voice wasn’t needed. There were plenty of people who were saying important and useful things, often better than I could say them, and therefore I hung up my virtual pen and took a hiatus from this blog.

When I did that, though, I also took a hiatus from a three-day-a-week writing habit. For years I’d spent a good portion of my days either thinking about or writing about things I loved, my perspective on life, and my practices.

My life didn’t fall apart. I’m not depressed, nor am I lost. I am doing quite well, occupied with meaningful work and wonderful people and at least a bit more slack than I used to have.

Still, the practice of this writing is missed – not only by me, but by a few other friends and loved ones who had missed seeing these little screeds every other day during the week.

So we’re back! And I’m going to start off this practice day by talking about three practices that I’m currently engaged in: The Good, the Bad, and the Temporary.

Running

I was a cross-country runner in High School, and while I was never very good, I was adequate, and I grew to love running. In the USMC, though, the cartilage in my knees was damaged and for the most part I gave up running as an impact sport that would injure me further, and I wanted to save my knees.

As I approach 50, there’s another thought: what are you saving them for, exactly? Inspired by a marathon runner I met at a conference, I decided to try to run a 5K (that’s 3.1 miles). My plan was to do the Zombies, Run “couch-to-5K” 8-week program.

Let me tell you, it is a lesson in humility for a cross-country letterman and hard-charging devil-dog to start at “couch” level, but that was where I was at. There was a lot of walking, and a little running, and then more of the latter and less of the former.

I haven’t finished the eight weeks yet, but I did try my first 5k, and managed to make it with only a few stretches of walking thanks to the encouragement of my dear sister. I’m continuing to use zombies as the motivating force behind my runs, and I tend to be out on the road about three times a week.

And my knees? Yes, they hurt, but no more than the rest of my body, and it’s a price I pay willingly for the fringe benefits of feeling more fit the rest of the time when I’m not running.

Yoga

If you thought that I would have, during the hiatus, lost my dislike of yoga, you’d be wrong. It is still the most unpleasant best way to keep my body limber, and I still am bitter about that.

On the other hand, the above-mentioned aching body tends to function better when I start the day with either Adrienne or Kassandra or, occasionally, Boho Beautiful. Kassandra’s “yin yoga” series, strangely, is my favorite, and my partner gets a lot out of her seasonally-themed videos. I also have gotten a lot of good use out of the CleverYoga travel mat, which is a painless way to carry a good-sized mat through airports everywhere.

I’m resigned to the fact that yoga is going to need to be a regular part of my day for the remainder of my life. Perhaps someday I will learn to enjoy it. Instead, for now, I enjoy having done it, and that needs to be enough.

NaNoWriMo

I’ve attempted National Novel Writing Month five or six times, and completed it three times. The goal, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. The most valuable tool I’ve found for this is the same thing I’m using right now to write this: Ulysses, a writing application. Aside from providing me with a nice focused writing environment, it also has publishing features (if you’re reading this on Medium, thank Ulysses).

I’m on track to make my goal without much stress — and in a way, that makes me feel a little like I’ve cheated. The idea of NaNoWriMo is “quantity over quality”, and the power of the exercise is to get past the idea that you can’t write a book. You prioritize the time, and you get the word count done.

Thing is, I already know I can write books. Three novels and two non-fiction books proved that. What I’ve not proven is that I can write a good book, or that I can take the time to polish what I’ve written so that it actually seems good to me. And that’s the frustrating part of this month: getting the word count is not a problem, but what I’ve got is a bunch of pieces of a story without the thread to bind them together. Luckily, January is National Novel Editing Month, and perhaps I can use something like the Story Grid to turn them into something readable.

The Unrealistic List

Steven Pressfield named the combination of Imposter Syndrome and Procrastination that stifles our creative pursuits “the Resistance.” I happen to use that word in a different and positive context these days, but he’s right that the repression inherent in our systems is insidious. One of the best ways my own brain tries to keep me from doing these habits is by suggesting other things for me to try. In no particular order, here are practices that interest me:

  1. Dance (of any kind)
  2. Ju Jitsu (hey, if I can ruin my knees running, why not doing BJJ?)
  3. Sketching
  4. Programming, especially white-hat hacking and security
  5. Playing guitar
  6. Film making
  7. Meditation (yep, fell off that wagon)
  8. Journaling (that one too)
  9. Reading dead-tree journalism
  10. Bookbinding

Now, any time you ask a personal development blogger why you don’t have enough time to do all the things you want to, their first question is: How much TV do you watch? And it’s true, I do enjoy watching TV, and also spend more time on social media than I’d like. But what the bloggers never tell you is that if you do give up on TV and social media and replace them with those activities you dream of doing, you will end up exhausted.

The reality of being an adult is recognizing that time and energy are limited, and making choices based on that. It can be hard to live with them, and that’s a great thing to talk about in a future post.

Meanwhile, what are your current practices? How are you enjoying them? And what would you like to do more of?

Fighting Self-Sabotage with Time Travel

I’m going to share with you a nifty little trick you can use to travel into your future and your past and change things. No joke. And yes, I’m going to rely mainly on the power of your mind, but that’s ok, because that’s how you experience time anyway.

Step One: Get in touch with your Future Self

You know who I’m talking about. The person you imagine you could be – or the person you want to be. This may be someone with more money, or with better health habits, or maybe someone who writes every day on the novel that Future You is the author of. Maybe it’s simpler: Future You is playing a board game with your kids, enjoying their company. Maybe they’re at a museum, or volunteering at a food pantry, or…well, you get the picture.

You know who that person is. Maybe you try not to think of them too much, because as Buddha said, “the measure of your suffering is the difference between the way the world is and the way you think the world should be,” but really, this time that Future Self is your ally.

So close your eyes, and imagine that Future Self that is the person you really want to be.

Step Two: Establish the Objective

Now that you’re in touch with Future You, ask a question: Hey, Future-me, what do you wish Now-me had done to make things better?

There could be many answers. It’s easy to figure out, because I promise you that Now-You has spent time berating Past-You for things you wish they’d done. Wanna see me do it?

  • Practice guitar more.
  • Don’t date that person. But don’t let that other person go!
  • Daily yoga. I don’t care if it’s boring, do it.

…and so forth. But Past-me didn’t know this trick, so that stuff doesn’t matter. We’re talking about Now-You talking with Future-You.

What would have made Now-Me becoming Future-Me easier? (Yes, I’m aware the tenses are getting a little weird, but what did Past-You expect when they started reading a blog post about time travel?).

Now, it’s important that you don’t stop here. Because the fact is, I did say to myself many times in the past “I’m going to do yoga every day”. But as I mentioned, I didn’t really understand this trick as well as I do now, so I have an intermittent yoga practice instead.

Step Three: Get in the Way

You know what Future-You needs to have happen – but that’s Future-You, and they have (at best) hazy memories of what Now-You is actually going through. They don’t really remember how hard it is to get up in the morning, or how alluring that Netflix series is, or how amazingly delicious the Gravy Hose can be. No, they are sitting there reaping the benefits of the work that Now-You still has to do, smugly taking credit.

Ok, yes, maybe they’re entitled to take that credit. But it’s ok to resent them a little, because Now-You still has to do the work.

And notice I’m not saying it’s The Work. Nope, I’m talking about the little w, the tiny steps that are required to get to Future-You. And this is where you have to let Future-You inhabit your brain for a moment, looking around at your environment:

Where can I get in my way?

That is, Now-You has a particular way of doing things. If there are any parts of that particular way that do not lead to Future-You, then that particular way needs to be interrupted. It’s the classic time-travel scenario: I placed the magazine on their bedside table; now they’ll be inspired to invent the magic whatsit. Or I hid their shoes so they were late for the bus and on the walk to work they met their true love.

Except now it’s Future-You using Now-You to change things. Here’s an example:

Now-Me gets up and walks right past the yoga mat in the corner every morning and picks up the phone to check Twitter. Tonight, though, Future-Me is going to have Now-Me power down the phone completely and also put the yoga mat in the middle of the floor. Yoga will be easier than waiting for the phone to boot up!

Maybe it’s taking all the icons off your computer desktop except your writing app (or better, shutting down your computer every night but making it so when you start it the first thing that opens is your writing app). Maybe it’s putting the salad in the front of the refrigerator. Maybe it’s hiding the TV remote at work and leaving a board game out on the table tonight.

It’s a little thing – and it’s almost certainly not the only thing that Future-You needs help with – but it’s something. And it’s time travel, because Future-You is looking back to the past and saying Wow, if it weren’t for that thing, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

That “now” is a good place to go. There’s only one way that you’ll get there, though:

Start traveling.

Another way that Future-You can enjoy the Future is by helping to support this blog! If you feel like you’d buy me a cup of coffee, how about doing it literally via my Patreon page? Every little bit helps!

Five Unusual Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Practice

It’s a pretty simple and common problem: practice means “more than once”, and that implies a repeated action. Life has it’s own gravity, though, and there are times when it really sucks (ha). One of the ways we try and make it less sucky is through comfort (think of it as inertia; a safe place you can stay). That leads to comfort food, binge watching, Amazon shopping sprees and endless Facebook scrolls.

There’s nothing wrong with comfort, any more than there’s anything wrong with inertia (without it, things would not ever stay in the same place, and that would make finding your car keys even more difficult than it already is).

Which means that you have this kind of Newtonian Physics of habit formation, where a practice at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. And it has to be an outside force greater than the force of comfort/inertia – as expressed through the common aphorism: Change only happens when the discomfort of staying where you are becomes greater than the discomfort of moving.

How to Make Yourself Uncomfortable

It follows, then, that the real secret of motivation (hey, look, more physics, as the root of that word lies in the idea of movement) is about making yourself uncomfortable where you are. Again, our sayings reflect this benevolent sadism – “That coach really lit a fire under her team”. But while the cruel kindness of the educational system is well known, when we become grown-ass adults there is a solemn awakening: It’s up to us now.

The science of motivation is big business now; I’m not going to rehash things like “streaks” and “accountability buddies” – at least, not in the way they are usually parroted. No, these five suggestions are for those people who (like me) look at the streak of X’s on the calendar, measure it against the inertia/comfort I’m feeling that particular day, and say “Screw that X. It’s a silly game anyway.

  1. Mentor’s Guilt: Lots of methods use guilt for accountability, but there’s a special kind of guilt when you have someone who looks up to you checking in on your progress. Kids work for this, but it’s better if it’s an actual adult who you would dread getting that “disappointed” look from.
  2. The Un-Friendly Competition: We live in an age of causes we either support or hate, whether that’s punching Nazis or writing our Congresscritters about the horrible law they just passed. Tie your practice to that action; I don’t get to go to the anti-Nazi demonstration until I’ve done my yoga. I’m sure that’s what the Buddha would have done (well, maybe not. Still works).
  3. Here, Hold My Whine: I’ve written before about the idea of creating Tasks of Uncomfortable Growth for yourself and others. What you’re looking for here is a good story about how uncomfortable you were, about the obstacles you had in your way on your way to do it, about the triumph of the spirit as you broke through that last wall and did the damn TUG. It plays on the natural tendency of people to want to one-up each other (use this video as a good example) and has the side benefits of improving both your storytelling and your empathy skills.
  4. The Thief of Time: This one is remarkably cruel, and may require the assistance of a partner/friend, though you can always just use your alarm on your phone. The basic idea is this: why don’t you do your practice? Because you don’t have enough time, right? So we steal a little time each day you fail to do your habit: set the alarm for five minutes earlier. Yes, I realize you can fight this with a snooze button, but that would be with the knowledge that you would then have to hit the bar five minutes earlier the next day. At a certain point, it’s easier to get up and do the damn practice (and know that you’re gaining an extra five minutes of sleep back the next day).
  5. The “Oh, yeah?” Technique: This is a version that only works for a particular brand of malcontent – the kind who will go to absurd lengths to prove someone else wrong. I know it works, because it is literally the reason I made it through Marine Corps boot camp. Not because of love of country, or love of my bride-to-be; it was because my future father-in-law had told me I could never make it. There was no way I was going to let him be right about that. You can do the same (minus the father in law). Just find someone to tell you “I don’t think you can do that…” Maybe pick your least-favorite politician and create your own meme that says “You think you’re going to meditate? Sad!

Bespoke Motivation

Yes, I do realize that the last one is basically stealing the Pick-Up Artist technique of “negging”. That’s ok; the real point of this post is to understand that while it’s great to learn about “the Tools of Titans”, when it comes to motivation, one size does not fit all. Find your own discomfort zone, and then leverage it to get yourself moving in the direction you want to go.

If you know a friend who could use some motivation, how about sending them the link to this article – and maybe even showing a little love with the links below.

Want some more direct help? I’ve provided mentoring and coaching to people to help them reach their goals, and I’d love to do the same for you. Contact me at gray@lovelifepractice.com and let’s see what we can accomplish together!

Diving Back Into Practice

I swear, I had the best of intentions.

I was traveling, and I really wanted to incorporate some kind of daily morning routine. You know the stuff – some yoga, some meditation, some journaling, maybe even some inspirational reading over morning coffee. The kinds of things that start the day off on a roll of self-care and personal development, or at least (if the day goes to crap) where you can say, at the end of the day, "Yeah, but I did the things!"

There's only one problem with mornings: they tend to happen early. And when I'm traveling, my schedule is not terribly regular, including bedtimes. My level of activity is also variable – one day I may spend most of it sitting down, another I may be standing and talking all day, or I may be lugging boxes and cases and setting up equipment all day.

Now it could be argued that the benefit of a morning routine is that, when everything else is hectic, you have at least one area where you are consistent. Unfortunately, it's harder to get out of bed and do yoga when you're still sore from the three flights of stairs you went up and down the day before. Or to write anything coherent when you're still bleary from the late night after-gig sushi.

So what do you do when you want the benefits of a morning routine, but routines are hard to come by and mornings suck?

Plan A: Reboot

Unless you pay money for someone to coach you on it, there's likely no one but you who really cares about whether you've done your routine. Even if you do have a coach, it's not likely they'll focus on what you didn't do – instead, they'll ask you: what are you going to do now?

In my case, I'm at a point in my traveling where I have a week in the same place, and it's a nice quiet home in the outskirts of Pennsylvania. I have minimal appointments, and that means that I can reboot my practice – and I do mean reboot it hard.

I normally do a 10-minute yoga routine; now it's a half-hour. I normally have a goal of 15 minutes of meditation; I luxuriate in the free time to do 20, or maybe even 30 or 45. I take the time to make the journaling a delight for the senses, using a special pen and working in the sunlight with fresh brewed coffee at hand.

The idea is to immerse myself both in the pleasure of the acts and also in the habit of them. If I can meditate for 45 minutes, then it's easy to do 15 when I don't have as much slack in my mornings. I am creating sense memories filled with positive associations, which I can call upon later as needed when the environment or the slack isn't as conducive to the particular discipline I'm practicing.

Plan B: Screw Mornings, Anyway

You know who writes books on the benefits of morning routines? Morning people. Seriously, there is some evidence that this whole idea that "mornings" are key productive times is just a big case of confirmation bias by people who were able to get up and function earlier than the rest of us.

The postman doesn’t think for a second that the young man might have worked until the early morning hours because he is a night-shift worker or for other reasons. He labels healthy young people who sleep into the day as lazy — as long sleepers. This attitude is reflected in the frequent use of the word-pair early birds and long sleepers in the media. Yet this pair is nothing but apples and oranges, because the opposite of early is late and the opposite of long is short. – Internal Time, by Till Roenneberg (via BrainPickings)

So perhaps your chronotype would benefit more from an evening routine. Or a special thing you did at lunchtime. Who says these habits have to be in the morning, anyway? Journaling, or sketching, or yoga, or exercise not only is still good for you later in the day, it might even function as a great “reset” button that allows you to finish strong while your colleagues are fighting the mid-afternoon slump with coffee and social media.

Plan C: Get Real

We have a friend who’s working on improving her sleep habits, and she’s doing a good job. But one thing we often laugh about is the fact that most advice about sleep ignores the reality of being a parent. It’s part of her job description to sleep lightly enough that when her child calls for her, she hears them. She has to be able to function as nightmare-dispeller and sheet-changer and on-call diagnostician at any hour of the night, and then still get up the next day at the regular time and take care of the rest of her children.

Sleep. It is not for parents. Things that Natasha and I do to help our sleep are just not available for our friend.

So we get real. We celebrate the rare unbroken sleep night when we hear from her, and we support her in the occasional “Hey, I get to go to bed early!” text.

The fact is, your world may not support a regular routine as it is prescribed by the books and bloggers and coaches and such. That’s ok. You do what you need, and trust that the one unchanging fact about life is that things change. Kids grow up, seasons change, jobs move; you can do what you can now, and then take up your practice later.

You have time.

Diving Back Into Practice

I swear, I had the best of intentions.

I was traveling, and I really wanted to incorporate some kind of daily morning routine. You know the stuff – some yoga, some meditation, some journaling, maybe even some inspirational reading over morning coffee. The kinds of things that start the day off on a roll of self-care and personal development, or at least (if the day goes to crap) where you can say, at the end of the day, "Yeah, but I did the things!"

There's only one problem with mornings: they tend to happen early. And when I'm traveling, my schedule is not terribly regular, including bedtimes. My level of activity is also variable – one day I may spend most of it sitting down, another I may be standing and talking all day, or I may be lugging boxes and cases and setting up equipment all day.

Now it could be argued that the benefit of a morning routine is that, when everything else is hectic, you have at least one area where you are consistent. Unfortunately, it's harder to get out of bed and do yoga when you're still sore from the three flights of stairs you went up and down the day before. Or to write anything coherent when you're still bleary from the late night after-gig sushi.

So what do you do when you want the benefits of a morning routine, but routines are hard to come by and mornings suck?

Plan A: Reboot

Unless you pay money for someone to coach you on it, there's likely no one but you who really cares about whether you've done your routine. Even if you do have a coach, it's not likely they'll focus on what you didn't do – instead, they'll ask you: what are you going to do now?

In my case, I'm at a point in my traveling where I have a week in the same place, and it's a nice quiet home in the outskirts of Pennsylvania. I have minimal appointments, and that means that I can reboot my practice – and I do mean reboot it hard.

I normally do a 10-minute yoga routine; now it's a half-hour. I normally have a goal of 15 minutes of meditation; I luxuriate in the free time to do 20, or maybe even 30 or 45. I take the time to make the journaling a delight for the senses, using a special pen and working in the sunlight with fresh brewed coffee at hand.

The idea is to immerse myself both in the pleasure of the acts and also in the habit of them. If I can meditate for 45 minutes, then it's easy to do 15 when I don't have as much slack in my mornings. I am creating sense memories filled with positive associations, which I can call upon later as needed when the environment or the slack isn't as conducive to the particular discipline I'm practicing.

Plan B: Screw Mornings, Anyway

You know who writes books on the benefits of morning routines? Morning people. Seriously, there is some evidence that this whole idea that "mornings" are key productive times is just a big case of confirmation bias by people who were able to get up and function earlier than the rest of us.

The postman doesn’t think for a second that the young man might have worked until the early morning hours because he is a night-shift worker or for other reasons. He labels healthy young people who sleep into the day as lazy — as long sleepers. This attitude is reflected in the frequent use of the word-pair early birds and long sleepers in the media. Yet this pair is nothing but apples and oranges, because the opposite of early is late and the opposite of long is short. – Internal Time, by Till Roenneberg (via BrainPickings)

So perhaps your chronotype would benefit more from an evening routine. Or a special thing you did at lunchtime. Who says these habits have to be in the morning, anyway? Journaling, or sketching, or yoga, or exercise not only is still good for you later in the day, it might even function as a great “reset” button that allows you to finish strong while your colleagues are fighting the mid-afternoon slump with coffee and social media.

Plan C: Get Real

We have a friend who’s working on improving her sleep habits, and she’s doing a good job. But one thing we often laugh about is the fact that most advice about sleep ignores the reality of being a parent. It’s part of her job description to sleep lightly enough that when her child calls for her, she hears them. She has to be able to function as nightmare-dispeller and sheet-changer and on-call diagnostician at any hour of the night, and then still get up the next day at the regular time and take care of the rest of her children.

Sleep. It is not for parents. Things that Natasha and I do to help our sleep are just not available for our friend.

So we get real. We celebrate the rare unbroken sleep night when we hear from her, and we support her in the occasional “Hey, I get to go to bed early!” text.

The fact is, your world may not support a regular routine as it is prescribed by the books and bloggers and coaches and such. That’s ok. You do what you need, and trust that the one unchanging fact about life is that things change. Kids grow up, seasons change, jobs move; you can do what you can now, and then take up your practice later.

You have time.

Hot Fudge for Habit Change

It’s not often that I get to come to this blog with a clear-cut “Hey, this worked exactly the way I expected!” anecdote. But this is one of those times.

I have a weakness for hot fudge brownie sundaes. When I say weakness, I mean that the bowl of gooey yumminess is more than just tastiness, more than just a sugar high, more than even “comfort food.” When I was a kid, it was a symbol of accomplishment – my crafty parents, wanting me to look out the window on our long car trips, used it as a reward for me spotting a deer. The rest of the time, when we would go to the ice cream shop, they (the adults) would have an “FB” – “fudge brownie” – while we children had to settle for plain ol’ sundaes.

That simple sundae – brownies covered in a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, slathered with hot fudge – became a symbol to me. When I became independent, it was that mark of rebellion: I can eat an FB any time I want! It was a mark of resourcefulness: I can buy my own FB, regardless of whether I see a deer! And, of course, as I grew to understand more about habits and diets and such, it became a weakness: I must resist the craving for FB’s, because they are Bad For Me.

The Search for the Right Reward

Yay!

Yay!

Yay?

Yay…?

Shifting gears a bit: part of my group coaching process I’ve been participating in is coming up with concrete rewards for accomplishing the three tasks I would set for myself each week. Coming up with the tasks was never a problem; coming up with a reward was always a struggle. Mainly because if the reward involved money, it became a stressor, and if the reward was about an experience, well, that’s an area that I’m rich in already; there aren’t a lot of experiences that I deny myself if I want to have them.

Even when I would come up with a reward, it didn’t always feel like one. For example, I treated myself to something from my Amazon Wish List as a reward – a book on the handwriting, called “The Missing Ink”. I set the tasks, I did the tasks, I paid the $5 for a used copy which should arrive sometime next week. Guess how that makes me feel?

Meh.

On the other hand, last week in the middle of busy work, I got my advance readers copy of Kameron Hurley’s new book. Thrills! I shook my fist at the heavens, both in thanks for such a treasure delivered and in despairing frustration at my lack of free time to indulge in that kind of deep reading. You see the problem? The thing I’d set for my reward was only vaguely satisfying, whereas something I’d totally forgotten about felt like Christmas in July.

Weakness into Strength

One day, at the end of the group coaching session, one of my fellow coachees mentioned that they were going to have ice cream as their reward. I was inspired: I was already primed to think of a fudge brownie sundae as a reward – in fact, I had to devote a measure of willpower to resist it. What if I made that the prize at the end of performing my tasks? Time to experiment!

Natasha (who enjoys baking) was more than happy to help, getting brownie mix and the other essentials together, and asking me several times in the course of a week if I’d gotten my tasks done. When I did, and the moment came…that was possibly the best fudge brownie sundae I’ve ever had. Guilt-free, using my pre-existing conditioning (three decades worth!) to reinforce the habits I was wanting to cultivate. Even the tiny voice of But it’s bad for you! So many calories! was easily drowned out by an understanding of the benefits of relaxing, of not needing to resist, of channeling that weakness into the development of resilience.

Success.

I hope, as the weekend comes, you can take a look at one or two things you love to do but maybe resist…and see if you can channel them into a positive force in your life. I can tell you from experience: it tastes great.

Picking Up a Practice Again

Remember the Five-Minute Journal? I love the thing; I extolled its virtues, I recommended you buy the fancy one if you like that kind of thing, I even formatted one for my daughter to try and help her get more centered as she prepares for her boards.

However, if you look in my colorful little Field Notes book, you’ll see a bit of a discrepancy. There’s May 8, when my mantra was “Centered”, then May 13th , when I was thankful for Spring, a day to work on my busines, and a good night’s sleepThen there’s two blank pages, and the next date is March 18, which doesn’t make any sense except that it was early in the morning and I probably meant May 18. On that day I planned three things to make the day rock:

  1. I will sketch
  2. I will think
  3. I will relax

…and I must have done them a little too well, because guess what? Not only did I neglect to fill out the remainder of the day, the next entry doesn’t happen until June 18 – a full month of no Five-Minute Journal. In fact, there is only one other day in June that I did it – June 23rd.

Let’s jump past the simple self-recrimination of Bad Personal Development Blogger! No biscuit! Instead, let’s ask the more pertinent question: during that month of no-five-minute-journal practice, did my life fall apart? Was I unhappier?

And if not, perhaps the initial joy of the Five-Minute Journal was less about the efficacy of the journal and more about the Shiny New Technique to Make Life Grand?

There’s No Magic Bullet. Except for…

No, I wasn’t unhappy during the month of June. In fact, I had a lot of great things happen, things that are still happening. The Five-Minute Journal could have made things happier – maybe – but they didn’t make things unhappier. It’s one of many tools that you can keep in your Personal Maintenance Toolbox, and just like a torque wrench isn’t going to be the only thing you need to fix your car – in fact, you could get by without it and just use a socket or adjustable wrench and guess – it’s a nice tool to have. When it comes to doing that one precision thing, having the right tool feels great.

Almost everything I write about in this blog falls into that category. I love reading articles like “100 Things You Should Be Doing to Increase Productivity” for the same reason gearheads like to browse tool shops: not that you want to buy all the things, but because you appreciate the myriad possible ways of doing all the things.

(Let’s face it, there’s also the inherent joy of realizing that the tool you already have works as well or better as the shiny new ones, but that’s a guilty pleasure we won’t dwell on.)

The one exception – the one thing that is a magic bullet, and for which there is no substitute tool, is sleep. As my fellow blogger Karl (who is on that most civilized of breaks called “paternity leave”) mentioned to me last week: “It’s amazing what getting enough sleep can do for your stress levels.” But this blog post isn’t about sleep, so I’ll simply point you towards another good post if you’re interested in that.

Getting Back on Your Habit Horse

What do you do when you fall off a horse? Dust yourself off and get back on. I’m happy to say that my 5-minute Journal is on a 4-day streak that started on the 10th with mantras of “ease”, “happy”, “joy”, and “forward”. I’m considering downloading the app Chris Brogan recommended, “Streak”, which will help me celebrate this (and other) practices (though I’m trying out the free “Productive” first). I’m pleased to say that I’ve even managed to mostly avoid that typical “Why bother? You’ll only quit again…” voice in my head.

What was it that got me back in the saddle for 5 minutes a day? Not some epiphany. Not some great resurgence of will or resolution. No, it was a simple request from one of my patrons for some “custom content” (that’s right, if you’re my patron, you get that kind of access to Love Life Practice! What a deal!).

Specifically she wanted to see how I laid out the book I made for my daughter. So I made this little video:

In the process, I was reminded of how much fun the 5-Minute Journal was to do. I was reminded of how easy it was to do if I set up an Environment of Win. Next thing I knew, I was making sure the pen and the book were next to my bed, and poof the practice is reborn.

The lesson I got from this is that if you’re having trouble maintaining a practice, maybe talking yourself into it or trying to create peer pressure aren’t the best strategies. Maybe it’s as simple as this: tell your friend why you want to do the practice. Maybe they want to try it out too (or, for your sake, could pretend to) and you get to show them how to do it. Heck, use this blog for some techniques; I grant you permission to steal liberally.

It’s not about being happy. It’s about being happier. It’s not about being perfect, or even about being better. It’s about being authentic. Some practices help you with that, some don’t. The nice thing is, they may come and go, but your authentic self?

It’s always there.

Priorities vs. Values in Your Every Day Practice

Get a Pen and Paper: Pop Quiz!

Today’s bonus question: what did you do today that you also did yesterday? Can you think of anything?

Let’s make it a little harder: did you do it the day before? Did you do it last week?

If it is difficult to think of something, maybe you’re trying too hard. Take something simple: I showered. I ate pizza. I meditated. Write it down, along with as many other things you can think of.

imageOK, now for another list – go ahead, start a new sheet of paper. This time, write down the three most important things that you think you should be doing. Your big goals, the projects that you dream of, the things that you say you’ll get to when things “calm down” (such a lovely euphemism!).

Again, don’t think too hard; you can put something big like “Work on my Great Novel” or something small like “Floss“.

Last step, I promise: for each of those three things, put a little check mark next to it for every concrete time you can remember actually doing it. By concrete, I mean that you actually have a date in your mind that you remember doing the thing. I remember opening the rough draft file last thursday is concrete. I think maybe I exercised yesterday – no, wait, was that the day before? is not so concrete.

The Grade You’ve Made

Take a look at the list. What you’re looking at is possibly a stark contrast. Your Every Day Practices – EDP, to borrow some geek traditions – are the reality of what you value, of what your priorities are.

I am not saying they are what is important to you – it’s entirely possible that something like “eat healthy” is important to you. At the same time, when pizza comes your way, it becomes a priority, and so you eat some – perhaps even doing it with a thought of I’ll just work out extra tomorrow. Aside from the fact that the caloric value of that slice is much more than you likely expect, unless exercise is somewhere high on the first list or has a lot of check marks on the second then you are basically engaging in a cheese-laden form of self-sabotage.

Don’t feel bad; most of us do it at one time or another. It’s through lists like these that we learn our patterns, and then get to choose what we want to change. It really doesn’t matter which list you decide to adjust – it’s just kind of important that your actions align, to some extent, with your intent.

Otherwise you’re basically flailing about like Alice and the Red Queen, running as fast as you can to stay in the same place.

Surely you owe yourself better than that?

The Battle of Wills

courtesy Jamie Henderson via Flickr CCThere’s a conflict that rages every morning the moment I first drift into waking consciousness.

It first manifests by my social media (aka the Gravy Hose) craving, when I wonder What have I missed in the last seven hours?

My hand reaches almost automatically towards the bedside table – where my phone isn’t. No, my phone is charging out at my standing desk, about as far from where I am as you can get in our apartment.

Fine. I don’t get to check social media, and I know what I should be doing: my morning protocols. Which consist of the following:

  1. A short 15-minute yoga routine;
  2. 15 minutes of meditation.
  3. One page of journaling (with coffee)
  4. A light breakfast while watching something inspirational (usually a TED talk).

Sure, that’s what I’m supposed to do. But it’s not what I want to do. What I want to do is skip right to the coffee. Every morning I have an argument with myself as I stumble into the living room.

C’mon, you were absurdly productive yesterday. Why not give yourself a break?

(as I turn on the light, I see the yoga mat in the corner. Automatically my hand reaches for it.)

Yoga? Again? You don’t need yoga. You’ve been working out a lot – you should give yourself rest.

I unfurl the yoga mat on the living room floor. The voice in my head changes tactics.

Like this little 15-minute routine you stole from Tara Stiles is actually doing you any good. What, you expect to look like Rodney Yee or something? You’re probably not even doing it right, since you don’t even have an instructor. Why are you bothering?

By then I’m doing the cat/cow stretches, and usually my brain stops for a little while. Then I reach for my phone – where it’s two clicks to the meditation app, vs. three levels to the social media app. It’s early, and my finger manages to stumble over the Mind App, with a neat little ratcheting sound as the electronic timer winds to 15 minutes. That’s when the voice in my head really hits stride:

Oh, look at you, all meditating! Fine, might as well use this time to think about your day –

Come back to the breath.

Did you see what Bruce wrote online yesterday? Can you believe that? Here, let’s compose a new entry in response, since you’re not doing anything useful.

Back to the breath.

You realize you’re 46 years old with almost zero net worth? Why are you wasting your life? Other men are successful. Plus they’re more attractive. They do more than yoga. You are wasting your.

BREATH.

Don’t you think it’s been a long time? You probably didn’t set the phone right. You’re gonna be late, because you’re too dumb to check your phone. Come on, just look. It won’t hurt.

I breathe. I wait, and finally hear the three soft chimes that tell me the meditation is done. I get to my feet and for a while the battle is over; I have finally reached the Sanctuary of Coffee, my reward for being able to write in my journal – and better yet, what I write in my journal is the voice in my head. It suddenly has an outlet, to write about hopes, anxieties, happiness and sadness and anything.

And did I mention I get coffee then, as well? Mmm. Coffee.

Then I grab the fruit, or make a little Memphis toast, and grab a glass of water along with it as I settle in to my iPad, where again the TED app is easier to get to than Twitter or Facebook. I find a short talk and let my brain get primed. Sometimes the talks are silly first-world elitists, sure, but I find it pretty easy to just find incredible people, as well, and even if the ideas are pie-in-the-sky, well, I find that the sky tends to look a little better with pie in it.

With that, the protocols are done. I look at my schedule, and the voice in my head smugly announces Yes, those protocols make your day better, without fail. You really need to do them every day, no matter what. A really good personal-development writer would certainly do it. Hope you have the willpower to do it tomorrow; you have a tendency to be lazy, you know, and want to just slack off.

My brain is not helpful in the mornings. So I’ve chosen the ground in which the conflict occurs, and it makes my path to victory that much easier. Not assured, mind you – but easier. Much more likely to happen, and that makes the rest of the day that much better.

What’s your morning look like? Does your environment support it? If not, you might want to look at a little optimizing.

And if you have a voice in your head, too, I’d love to hear how you quiet it down. Mine’s telling me, simultaneously, that I should write two more posts and that there’s a whole season of Daredevil on Netflix, and I’ve been working all weekend, and surely you deserve a break, Gray.

Sigh.

No. BREATHE.