What happens when you just jump into doing something new? When you decide that you want to test out this thing called ‘bias toward action’ for yourself, or perhaps debunk it? What happens when you breathe through your tendency toward analysis paralysis and start, ya know, doing stuff? When you make motions in the direction of a goal rather than waiting around for the willpower or the motivation to show up?
What happens is that you come up with more reasons to do it.
My philosophy is: Do Things That Are a Good Idea; Don’t Do Things That Are a Bad Idea. I know, I know, that sounds too meta and deep for the general user. How did I ever come up with that? From reading lots and lots of super-heavy philosophical tomes. Just trust me. I’ll explain it a little more, though, just to make sure it makes sense.
Do things that are a good idea: If something is a good idea, then I only need one reason to do it. My dentist told me to floss my teeth, so I do. I’m not going to spend any more time researching and reading articles about flossing, because it only takes me two minutes a day.
Don’t do things that are a bad idea: If something is a bad idea, then I only need one reason NOT to do it. Don’t put a fork in the electrical socket. Don’t slam your finger in a metal door. Don’t read the comments. Don’t wear tights that are an exact match for your skin tone.
Most people tend to do a better job avoiding things that are a bad idea, especially if they’ve done any of them. Not me, though. Today is perhaps the third or fourth time I’ve spilled green tea soy latte inside my work bag.
Apparently I need more reasons to sit and savor my tea slowly. ...?
Think of your favorite thing. It could be an object, a place, an activity, a song you play over and over on repeat, just something you totally love.
Okay, now think of reasons why it’s so awesome.
Fun, huh? If you did that exercise, I highly recommend doing it every day. It’s good brainstorming and it reminds you to do stuff you like.
I’ll share one of mine. I love reading. What do I like about it so much?
Can’t stop myself
Learn new things
Keeps me entertained while I do boring stuff
Or folding laundry
Or driving on a long road trip
Or standing in line
Always have a way to squash bugs
Handy way to repel unwanted attention of strangers
Keeps me from perseverating or pointlessly worrying
Way to connect with old friends
And make new friends
Always have something interesting to talk about
Share with friends and family who want a book recommendation
Way to keep papers flat in my bag
Reminds me of other books that I also loved, like in the same genre or series
Financially support my favorite authors
Cheaper cost per hour than going to the movies
What the heck else would I do with my time?
I could go into exhaustive detail if I wanted. If I started sharing what I loved about particular books or authors, this could go on forever. The point is that I love something so much that I’ll never stop doing it, and I’m convinced it will always be a part of my life. I can’t think of a single reason why I should ever stop.
What else can I do that with?
If I were asked to come up with reasons to do something I know nothing about, I’d be a bit stuck. Why should I... buy a luxury vehicle? Um... I guess because maybe it would impress people who don’t currently talk to the likes of me? Maybe it would make me enjoy driving? I dunno. You tell me. I have a bunch of reasons NOT to buy a luxury vehicle, especially because it would be out of my price range.
This is the position in which we find ourselves when we’re contemplating a change in our behavior.
Why should I start running? I shouldn’t! Running sucks!
Why should I go to bed earlier? I shouldn’t! Late night is my only time to decompress from being so burned out and exhausted all the time!
Why should I pay off my credit cards? I shouldn’t! Please allow me to unroll my lengthy scroll of unavoidable expenses and I’ll document them for you.
Status quo bias. We all have it, and it’s a supremely useful tool for making rational choices. Obviously the status quo is fine, because what I’m doing right now works for me. Why should I change anything at all?
Allow me to offer some More Reasons:
Because making even one tiny change in one area could make your life easier, better, more fun, or more interesting;
Because no status quo is permanent, meaning that change is coming for you whether you approve of it or not;
Because it’s generally better to plan changes for yourself rather than having to react to the changes that fate throws at you.
It’s also worth mentioning that we usually don’t realize how uncomfortable the status quo was until we find ourselves in a better situation later on. Certainly this feels like the story of my life. I never really realized I was obese until years after I started gradually losing the weight. I didn’t really realize how unhappy I was in my first marriage until quite some time after the divorce. Arguing for the status quo is, in some ways, slamming the door shut against serendipity, felicity, or simply a shift in perspective.
One way that I started to look for more reasons to do things that are a good idea was to read through lists of other people’s reasons for doing that thing. I do this with extra focus when it’s something toward which I feel a strong resistance. The more I reject something that other people like doing, the more I want to inquire of myself: what’s so bad about it? For instance, I’m very afraid of snorkeling, but I keep hearing that many people find it absolutely magical, even peaceful. If my list of reasons to try it keeps getting longer and my only reason not to try it is that I’m scared, then at some point I’m going to sign up for lessons. Why would I deprive myself?
The reason I seek out more reasons to do things I don’t already do is that I’ve ruled out the standard default mode. I am insufferably bored by sitting around watching TV and I lack all interest in gaming. If I don’t watch TV or play games, what else is there to do? Watch paint dry? Listen to the grass grow? I already know why I do the things I enjoy. For a more interesting life, all I need is more reasons to do the things that other people enjoy, too.
I broke my 415-day activity streak on my Apple Watch. By five calories. Why? I was distracted and didn’t notice the clock ticking toward midnight. Also, I was getting over the flu.
That blank space is all the different ways I tried to put into words the inchoate rage and bottomless disappointment I felt when I realized that there was no going back. My streak is gone and I can’t even pick it up again until March of 2019. No perfect week badge. No January 2018 badge. Two and a half years, and I still haven’t managed a perfect calendar year.
I feel significantly worse about this than I did earlier this month, when I realized I had paid nearly $40 for an online class that I didn’t need.
The work that goes into maintaining a 14-month streak. The focus. The dedication. The, shall I say it, obsession. I’ve maintained that streak when I was sick. I’ve maintained it when I was injured. I’ve maintained it while traveling across eight time zones. I’ve maintained it with house guests and on road trips. I even bought an extra $30 charger to keep from breaking the streak when I forgot to pack that key, irreplaceable item. On the way to a major family event.
It got really bad the first time I broke my streak, by one calorie, because I didn’t notice it was past midnight. I went out into the yard with my hammer and beat a foot-wide hole into our lawn. I’ve been less angry at being burglarized!
Why midnight? Why this arbitrary split second of a minute of an hour of a day?
Why can’t the user set when a “day” starts and ends?
Why isn’t there a reminder, like the stand-up reminder, to point out that the “day” is nearly over and you’re really close to closing your ring?
Why am I so susceptible to this digital brain-prodding?
Obviously, the reason to wear an activity tracker is to bring awareness to your activity level. This is great. Certainly the Apple Watch has done that for me. I can look and see that I walk an average of over six miles a day. I can see how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed, literal stairs, because I skip escalators now. I can see my average heart rate and all that awesome stuff.
The problem comes in for me, and I suspect for a lot of other achievement-oriented alpha types, with the badges and the streaks.
My desire for a complete collection of rainbow-colored virtual badges knows no bounds. I know that other people have hacked and cheated by setting their goals artificially low, or coming up with some other method to trick their tracker. You could shake the old pedometers and get the step count to go up. Apparently you can dangle your arm from a chair and convince the Watch that you’ve stood up. The badges redirect the focus to badge-getting. Whether that’s through fair means or foul, we want to get those badges. It can be hard to distinguish one form of gamification from another, especially if the user is also playing other sorts of games that come with badges. OOH PRETTY.
I’m a fairly serious amateur athlete. I ran a marathon, I take martial arts classes four hours a week, I walk everywhere because we don’t have a car, I routinely go on backpacking expeditions. Someone who does not have a digital hook in their brain may believe that a real athlete would simply focus on the activity and ignore those dumb old badges. Sure. That person probably doesn’t need or wear an activity tracker.
I’m starting to think that I can’t do anything that involves tracking a streak. It... activates something inside of me. Something very dark and negative and unhelpful.
I want to rage-quit. I want to crush things. I want to throw something off my balcony. I actually had a flash of an image that involved me breaking our glass sliding door with a hammer, just to exorcise the demon of BROKEN STREAK somehow.
Only a few weeks ago, I spent no fewer than three hours at the Apple Store, while no fewer than three separate geniuses sat with me and helped me transfer my iPhone 6 to my new iPhone X. The specific reason was so that I could keep my activity streak on my Watch. Nobody knew how to do it. Finally the floor manager came over and figured it out. I guess I let down the team. Sorry, guys.
I’ve felt less bad when I’ve shattered my phone screen. I’ve felt less bad when I’ve spilled dinner on the floor. I’ve felt less bad when I’ve gone to purchase airplane tickets only to see that the price has increased before the transaction was complete.
This is an entirely contemporary, artificial emotion created by technology. Or, rather, by the designers of it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve developed a little problem with streak maintenance. I was trying out a meditation app. I completed the meditation at 12:00 AM, and didn’t get credit. I had meditated for seven days straight and the app was only showing a two-day streak. There was no way to turn the feature off, so I wound up deleting the app. It struck me that a meditation app that generates the competitive streak feeling was counterproductive.
I want a cute little enchanting reward for doing well. Sure, of course I do. I want a collection of pretty, sparkly rainbow stickers to show off. Look how hard I worked! Straight As! Isn’t there a way, though, to set up those badges and stickers so they still reward the user, even if the clock has ticked past 11:59 PM? Couldn’t the rewards come for reaching mileage goals, or resting heart rate goals? Could a monthly badge come from the average daily activity rate, rather than an unbroken 31-day streak? Couldn’t there be a skip, or a make-up function, or a freaking doctor’s note?
The cruelty of the digital god. Applehovah.
I’m wearing this thing that I call The Overlord, feeling despondent and thoroughly demoralized. Do I actually want to keep wearing it? If streak tracking is going to mess with my equilibrium this much, shouldn’t I be wary of it? Maybe take it off? I looked through the other apps and features, asking myself if the other use cases are worth setting myself up for this kind of digitally mandated despair.
Maybe it’s just the flu, and I should have spent the day in bed, rather than trying to close all my rings.
Maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with a system that incentivizes people to stay active even when they’re ill.
I’m an active person now. I didn’t start out that way. It wasn’t until my thirties that I stopped being almost 100% sedentary. Various digital displays have helped encourage and inspire me. I beat chronic illness and thyroid disease to become a marathon runner, and that’s saying something. What I want is a device that brings out the best in me. Not the beast in me.
This book is not for amateurs. Or, rather, an amateur who picks it up is in real danger of abandoning amateur status. Jocko Willink is not messing around. Discipline Equals Freedom has the makings of a cult classic, the sort of book that is handed down from person to person, possibly to inspire a series of tattoos. For the standard-issue procrastinator, it could be fun to explore this as poetry. Regard it as a peek into the mindset of a hardcore, never-quit action-oriented achiever.
Stoic philosophy lives and breathes. It’s really the only difference between a super-achiever and an ordinary person. Discipline Equals Freedom is an example of that. It’s a common fallacy to think that a muscular person is dumb, that bias toward action is a demonstration of lack of depth or strategy. That’s because most people don’t talk and act at the same time, at least not at an extreme level. Even the fittest elite athlete in the midst of the most strenuous training period is still resting at least part of the day. What are they thinking about? Now we get a chance to find out.
I freaking love this book. I love it so much that I bought a digital copy to keep on my phone. I’ve been following my husband around, demanding that he listen to sections of it.
“Is this what I want to be? This? Is this all I’ve got—is this everything I can give? Is this going to be my life? Do I accept that?”
We’re both huge fans of the movie Full Metal Jacket, and we often quote whole sections of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman going off about something or other. “A jelly donut?!” This is how I got through my first mud run. “Are you quitting on me, Private Pyle? Are you quitting on me?” If only I’d had Discipline Equals Freedom; I could have had so much more variety in my self-talk.
Discipline Equals Freedom is divided into sections. The philosophy section is Part One: Thoughts. Part Two: Actions has more philosophy, and then it’s divided into nutrition, injury prevention and recovery, and workouts. The nutrition section is based on the Paleo diet. While I dispute the premise of Paleo, I wouldn’t let that mess with my appreciation of the book overall. I agree with Jocko on a few important points, namely that sugar is poison, that we need to take sleep seriously, and that we should be as physically active as possible every day. I haven’t eaten meat in twenty-five years, and almost the entire cadre of instructors at my martial arts academy are completely plant-based. Both locations. Our paths are different, but we both agree that the Standard American Diet will kill you.
As for the workouts, even the Beginner level is quite tough. Jocko has modifications for those of us who can’t do a pull-up, a handstand, or a regular push-up. I’ve been there, and it works. If you really want to be able to do a pull-up badly enough, you can make it happen, even if, on the first day, all you can do is grab the bar and hang there with your arms straight. The first time your chin clears the bar is a feeling of childlike dazzling joy.
People constantly say, “I wish I had your willpower” or “If only I had the motivation.” These are core misunderstandings of what makes other people tick. It’s self-discipline. It’s the inner philosophical alignment that says I refuse to accept inferior results for myself. If I want a better life, more grit and determination, more education, better communications and relationships with other people, then I can’t accept anything less from my own behavior. Discipline Equals Freedom is an instruction manual that teaches the mindset of self-discipline. Now read it, and liberate yourself.
If a single critical comment or one harsh word can destroy your supposed motivation, you’ll quit everything you ever start. Hearing a phrase like “this is why you’ll quit” should spark an unquenchable fire inside of you. HA. I’ll show you. That’s what you think. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.
You’ll quit, though.
You’ll quit because you believe in “motivation.” You think there’s a magical feeling that comes shooting into your belly from a big sparkly rainbow. You don’t believe in determination or commitment or choosing things that suck on purpose.
You’ll quit because you believe in “willpower.” You think some people are born with it. You don’t actually want self-discipline or perseverance because you know those take work, more work than you want to put in.
You’ll quit because to keep going would mean waking up early and doing it when you’re tired. You’re tired because you stay up late, pretending you have two lives, and the late-night you doesn’t give two figs about the morning you. You’ll never stop staying up too late, and that’s why you’ll quit.
You’ll quit because you’re always going to choose instant gratification. If someone waves a brownie bite in front of your face, that’s it, you’re done. You’ll fold like an umbrella. You can’t bear the feeling of deprivation that you imagine is worse than your real deprivation. You deprive yourself of your own goals and dreams in favor of entertainments and treats that would impress a five-year-old kid.
You’ll quit because you went for something too far out of your reach. You’ll quit because your ego can’t take being at beginner level. You’ll quit because you can’t stop comparing yourself to other people who have put in months or years or decades of continuous practice. You’ll quit because you’d rather have nothing than having something cool in six months. Or three months.
You’ll quit because three weeks feels like a long time to you.
You’ll quit because your own future self is a perfect stranger to you. You deal with the poor choices that Past You made every single day, but you never realize that you continue to do the same thing. You get in your own way and make your own life harder.
You’ll quit because you’re in love with your television. You’d watch it twelve hours a day if you could find a way to quit sleeping.
You’ll quit because you can’t even choose sleep as a goal, even though it’s free, it feels great, and it makes everything in your day easier and better.
You’ll quit because you think the pain of change is worse than the pain of your status quo.
You’ll quit, and do you know how I know? You started in January. You’ll become a statistic, just like everyone else. If you joined a big gym, they didn’t tell you that their pricing model depends on having 6,000 members, 3,000 of whom literally never show up at all. There’s only room for 300 people to work out at a time. You’re not used to it, you’re put off by everything about that environment, and you’re not willing to budget the time or money to pay for anything else. You’ll quit because they set you up like a sucker.
You’ll quit because it hurts and three minutes of moderate physical pain is too much.
You’ll quit because of the delayed onset muscle soreness. The first time you do enough for your body to start making a difference, you’ll be so tired that you’ll quit before you find out that feeling eventually goes away.
You’ll quit because you always quit before the results have enough time to show up.
You’ll quit because there are no consequences.
You’ll quit because you let yourself off the hook.
You’ll quit because you never made any backup plans.
You’ll quit because you’re a “perfectionist” and that means you care more about weird inner standards than you do about results or performance. The moment something happens and you break your streak, probably by the third week of January, you’ll give up.
You’ll quit because you’d rather have a perfect nothing than an imperfect something.
You’ll quit because you forgot you had even made any kind of commitment in the first place. You are so loose with giving your own word to yourself that you’ll break promises you never really realized you made.
You’ll quit because you have no idea how to make yourself do things.
You’ll quit because it suits your image of yourself. Staying with it would mean redefining who you are, and if that’s someone with grit and determination, well, how are you supposed to recognize that person?
You’ll quit because you believe in personality, not behavior.
You’ll quit because you don’t care about your goal, not that much, not really.
You’ll quit because you always do.
You’ll quit because you take criticism personally and you actually let it inside of you. A single sentence will do it, one word, one facial expression, or part of a hint of one.
You’ll quit because continuing would take more approval and applause than the world is prepared to give, to anyone, for anything.
You’ll quit even though you paid good money to do it.
If you had it within you to do things you didn’t like, when you weren’t in the mood, you’d find that you could keep going.
If you knew you would never give a commitment you weren’t prepared to keep, come fire or flood, you’d look at your reflection in the mirror differently.
If you treated your future as if it mattered, you’d keep going.
If you were patient and humble enough to do tiny steps, one day at a time, you’d get there.
If you started taking next year as seriously as you take your next meal, you’d win every time.
If you heard someone say to you, “I know you are going to quit,” and it made you laugh deep inside, you’d never quit anything at all.
Well, which is it? Am I right or am I wrong?
Now that I have your attention, let me explain what Tetris has to do with habit change. Or, rather, let Sean Young explain it. He shares the research he used to get his PhD in Stick With It: A Scientific Process for Changing Your Life - For Good. This book isn’t about what “should” work, and it’s not about “willpower” or “motivation.” It’s about what has actually been proven to work on actual people in real-life situations. Think of incarcerated felons, people who are addicted to drugs, and veterans with PTSD. Yeah. Those kinds of real-life situations. If this research can help people in those circumstances, then it’ll probably work on us.
The huge takeaway from this material was, for me, differentiating between three different types of habit. Is it an A, B, or C? A is for Automatic, the stuff we do without realizing it. B is for Burning, the stuff we obsess over and can’t stop thinking about. C is for Common, the ordinary stuff we do on a routine basis. In my case, if I were talking about Past Me’s eating habits, I’d say corn chips were an A, Pepsi was a B, and my baseline consumption of baked goods was a C. I had to tackle each of my bad eating habits with a different strategy. It would have been a lot easier with information from Stick With It, rather than having to figure it out on my own!
Another area of Dr. Young’s research that was new to me was his discussion of neurohacks. He says that while there is plenty of research into the science, there is very little about how to apply it to daily life, and so he’s developing it himself. He starts with the way he gets his dog to quit acting up by moving her ears to put her in her submissive posture. Whoa. My dog Spike is sure going to have an interesting week.
I’ve used behavioral techniques on myself, with sometimes surprising results. As an example, I’ve been working on my fear of public speaking for two years, and I still sometimes get that horrid burst of butterflies in the stomach. If I know I’m going to speak that day, I put a rubber band around my wrist. The moment the butterflies kick in, I snap the rubber band as hard as I can. I used to have to do it three or four times, but now once is enough. When I get up to give the speech, I end with the positive reinforcement of laughter and applause. None of this would work, though, if I didn’t have the underlying story that public speaking is a valuable skill, a challenge that is a better use of my time than anything else. Going by the lessons from Stick With It, I used the Stepladders of the Toastmasters manuals, the Community of my club, my story that speaking is Important, and the Captivating rewards of winning award ribbons and having lunch at my favorite sandwich shop. It’s also Captivating that the process is really working, and that what used to make me sick with fear is now actually fun! At this point, the habit is Engrained. I’m sure I’ll do it for life.
Stick With It is full of case studies. How do I quit drinking cola? How do I get my kid to quit snarling every time we ask her to put her iPad down? Sometimes all it takes is a valid story of someone with a similar issue for you to say, Hey, you know what? I’m tired of annoying myself and if that works, I’m going to do it, too. It helps to remember that behavior change happens by 1. Doing the action and then (quite a while later) 2. Feeling the emotions and thinking the thoughts that go with change. Also, lasting change comes from tiny little itty-bitty eensy steps, which Dr. Young calls Stepladders.
Now I’ve done one of the Neurohacks. I’ve written this book review on habit change, thereby convincing myself that I am the kind of person who knows how to do this stuff. This builds the concept into my self-image, and also tells me that I have a reputation to uphold. Tricksy, isn’t it? I recommend that you read it and then explain one of the anecdotes to someone. Then the same thing will happen to you!
PS What was the deal with Tetris? Apparently, it works as a “cognitive vaccine.” If someone plays Tetris for ten minutes within six hours of a traumatic event, they have dramatically lower rates of flashbacks afterward. I’m going to try this technique the next time I get into even a minor kerfuffle.
“Acknowledge that your plan to change the behavior may not be as easy as you believe.”
I put a bunch of habit-tracking apps on my phone and tried them out so you don’t have to.
The first thing about habit trackers is that you should only use them for habits that matter to you. Habit tracking is a habit in itself!
Also, it’s best to add just one or two new habits at a time. Maybe something fun that you look forward to, alongside something you do to annoy yourself that you want to quit. A common pitfall is to stop tracking all the habits because you don’t want to admit to yourself that you aren’t doing one of them right now.
Next stipulation: Make sure the habit you are tracking is the habit you actually want to track. Your metrics may lead to one objective when your real objective was something else entirely.
I’m the sort of person who gets very hooked on metrics and analytics. I will basically lose my mind at the prospect of breaking a streak. Imagine rage-quitting a meditation app at midnight and you start to get the picture. If you’re an alpha type personality, a habit tracking app may turn into a negative for you. The app should be a value-add to your life, something that feels emotionally neutral while supplying valuable information.
I’m using an iPhone X. Almost all of these apps were first installed on my iPhone 6, and a few I’ve had since the iPhone 4S. Sorry, Android users - I also have a tablet that runs Android and I simply don’t like it as an operating system, on its own merits, much less in comparison to iOS.
In alphabetical order:
Countdowns. I really love this app for reminding me that an important date is coming up. New Year’s Eve, race day, a party, anything exciting that I’m planning. I put the widget in my Today screen so I see it all the time.
Days Since. The opposite of Countdowns. I mainly use it to show how many days have elapsed in the current year. There’s something compelling about seeing that it’s Day 200 of a year!
Done. This app allows you to track whether you want to build or quit a habit and at what frequency you’ll do it. You can write your own motivational statement for each habit, choose the color, and whether you want a reminder.
Goalmap. I like this app because it has two different types of goal-setting features. You can set reminders for habits you want to track on both a daily and weekly timeframe. You can also choose “aims.” I have one for reaching a particular net worth by a particular date, and it shows my percent complete. I have another for “complete world tour” by 2035. Seeing it reminds me that Future Me said to travel more. There is also a ‘Motivation’ section that has inspiring quotes, videos, and silly poems.
Habits. This app is really pretty! It opens to ‘Ideas,’ a bunch of floating colored bubbles that each contain a new habit to try. The color corresponds to whether the habit is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. You can set a daily reminder and choose the days of the week you’ll do the habit. It starts with a 21-day challenge. There are some fun ideas like ‘go barefoot’ and ‘kind deed for stranger.’ You can also create your own habits and track your streaks.
Mint. This app changed my life. I’ve used it for years. Just link all your bank accounts, credit cards, investments, student loan, and any other accounts, and you can see your financial picture at a glance.
MyFitnessPal. When I first downloaded this app, I deleted it. I realized it was a food log, rather than an exercise app, and I thought it was dumb. Then I logged everything I ate for a year, focusing on micronutrient intake, and it was revolutionary in my life. Cured my migraines and my night terrors.
Remente (came up in spell checker as Revenge). The reminder hoots like an owl! This app tracks goals along with your mood and life balance. If you like life wheels, this is the one to get.
RunKeeper. I used to use MapMyRun but it started to get glitchy. I love that RunKeeper tracks elevation, splits, and how many runs I’ve done over the years. I don’t love it when I forget that the narrator voice is on and it starts shouting my stats over my audio book.
Streaks. This app is really stylish and simple to use. If you want to set up a streak and “not break the chain,” Streaks is a great choice. For someone like me who obsesses about habit streaks to the point of disrupting vacations, it’s good to evaluate whether we want to open that door.
Things 3. I finally bought into the hype and discovered that this IS the best planner app of all time. “Expensive but worth it.” I adore being able to put in tasks by date that don’t demand a reminder at a specific minute. The ‘Anytime’ and ‘Someday’ sections are magic to me, and I also love the concept of sorting by ‘Areas’ as well as projects and tasks.
WaterMinder. I paid for this app a few months ago and it’s saving me. When I don’t drink enough water early in the day, I start getting irritable, and if I don’t make my hydration goal, I wake up in the middle of the night with cotton mouth. Also has a useful widget, although it gives the message ‘Unable to Load’ if you haven’t made an entry for the day yet.
Way of Life. This is my favorite habit tracker for tracking multiple habits. Being honest about whether I did it or didn’t, and using the ‘skip’ feature, gives a trendline. I can really evaluate whether I’m keeping my commitment or whether I need to adjust my schedule... or my expectations.
My best advice for using habit tracking apps is to consider how you respond to notifications. If they keep popping up at inconvenient times, or if you’re getting the sound effects AND the banners AND the badges, pause and adjust the settings. Choose a time during the day, like while you’re getting ready for bed or while you have your first coffee, when it’s convenient to check in. Habit tracking is a parallel habit that can either help your focus or drive you batty by draining it. Pick something that delights you visually. There are so many beautifully designed apps that it’s easy to pick one with a color scheme or icons you really like.
Best of luck with your new habits in 2018!
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Cull any expired medications. Ask your pharmacy or police station if they accept them, or burn them, but please don’t throw them in the trash or flush them.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them.
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class.
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
For the past 20 years, I have done a New Year’s ritual that includes a review of the old year. Tomorrow I will post my resolutions for the New Year. Reviewing the past year should include appreciation for happy times, celebration of milestones reached, and acknowledgment of mistakes. This is how we figure out how to do fewer dumb things while putting more energy into what worked. This is also how we continue to make the connection that we have the powers of free will and attitude adjustment, no matter what fate throws in our path.
Our 2017 started badly. Really badly. We both rang in the New Year with a nasty cold. On my hubby’s first day back to work, he found out he was laid off. Almost immediately afterward, he was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma in the middle of his cheek. This was very scary because his mom had died of cancer barely six months earlier. While he got an amazing new job offer shortly afterward, we went through a brief period fairly described as HOMELESS WITH FACE CANCER. Yay, neat. This would have been the worst time to lose one’s health insurance ever. Thanks to Obamacare, my husband was able to have the cancer surgery even while unemployed. He started his new job with a 2” gauze pad on his face. Now he’s fine, with barely a scar, and the moral is: WEAR SUNSCREEN.
Then our dog got a corneal ulcer (that’s Latin for “expensive veterinary emergency”) and had to wear a cone while we were packing to move. Strangely, I got a scleral abrasion in my own eye (same side) a couple of months later, although they didn’t put me in a cone.
Fate is weird.
As of January 6, all our carefully crafted resolutions and goals and projects and plans for the New Year were upended, thrown into the air like a chessboard at the rodeo.
In March, we found ourselves living in a beach resort. My husband got a promotion, a raise, and a team of four engineers, two lab techs, and two interns. He now goes to work in a private office with a door. Denhams always land on their feet.
You can choose to confront your fears proactively, or you can try your best to avoid them. Either way, life is coming at you in an endless tidal wave of BS. This is the point of the annual review. What do you still have control over, even when everything sucks?
I did something that was really difficult for me, something I had feared and avoided for many years. Even though I was scared, for the very first time, I finally tried... a breakfast burrito. With mango salsa. I loved it and now it’s one of my new favorites.
Highlights from 2017:
Went to my grandmother’s 80th birthday party!
My brother got married!
Moved to the beach
Did not lose sight in my eye
Finally prevailed in four-year tax dispute after being summonsed by the City of Los Angeles
Attended World Domination Summit for the second time
Taught my first workshop
Camped in the Grand Tetons
Saw a pair of sandhill cranes
Saw a sage grouse mama and her chicks
Saw the eclipse in its totality, in a clear sky
Spent our wedding anniversary in Las Vegas
Became a Competent Leader in Toastmasters
Became a club officer in Toastmasters
Competed in two speech competitions
Completed the work for Advanced Leader Bronze in Toastmasters
Doubled the readership on this blog (thanks, guys)
Published 1044 pages on this blog (261,069 words)
Published a blog post every business day in 2017
Made my activity goals every single day of 2017
Maintaining a 383-day move streak
Averaged 11,054 steps per day in 2017
Read 336 books (101,132 pages, or an average of 300 pages each)
Personal: My personal goal was to follow a set schedule. For the achievement of this goal, I can thank my adorable upstairs neighbors, who so charmingly run appliances at 7 AM, even on weekends. They even vacuumed their bedroom at 8:30 AM on Christmas morning, right over my head! Wake up, sleepyhead! This is a reminder that external circumstances are what they are. They’ll either give us a tailwind and push us along, or give us a headwind to make us stronger and more focused. There’s nothing like having 1500 near neighbors to instill patience and bring home the need to always be considerate of others. Also, I was right that having a more consistent daily schedule, contrary to my nature and proclivities, would make me more productive. This one is a keeper.
Career: My career goal was to form an LLC. This seemed like the obvious next step in January 2017. This became a non-goal for various reasons. 1. Prototype tools were not able to meet our production needs, even after multiple revisions. 2. Business model and viable product pricing did not cover cost of production, much less profit. 3. Bad timing for all parties concerned. 4. All parties had other business interests that were equally or more compelling. These were all very valuable lessons, worth more than the sunk cost of money and time that we had already invested. The moral: Just because there is a market for a product, does not mean it can be supplied at a profit. My takeaway is that I now understand the process of forming an LLC and feel that it is straightforward and simple.
Physical: My physical goals were to get back up to running five miles and to do P90X. Then, less than a week later, we found out we had to move, and we wound up in a tiny apartment with only 3’ of space in front of the TV. I am back up to running the five miles (5.5 as of December). I also signed up for an 8k in March. Oh, and? It turns out you can do P90X even when you only have about enough space to roll out a beach towel. I literally just finished a workout 20 minutes before posting this so I wouldn’t have to say I never tried. There is no ‘done’ in fitness. They say your max today will be your warmup one day, and I know that’s true.
Home: My home goal was to ‘digitize, downsize, minimize.’ I had NO IDEA WHATSOEVER that we would be living in a 680-square-foot apartment with one closet just two months later. We downsized our entire yard, garage, and several truckloads of stuff. Now I know that if we were given the opportunity to travel the world or live on a yacht for a year, we could be ready over a long weekend.
Couples: Our couples goals were to go to WDS and to make homemade pickles together. Then we had to move, yadda yadda. Our pressure canner won’t fit on our stove because there’s a microwave installed in the cabinet above it. We did of course attend WDS, and we bought our tickets for WDS 2018, too. And we’re still testing recipes for refrigerator pickles. After taste-testing at least five different brands of store-bought pickles, we simply aren’t satisfied. The quest for a mutually enjoyable luncheon garnish continues. When circumstances interfere with your goal, modify, improvise, and brainstorm with your partner.
Stop goal: My stop goal was to stop being the last person to pack up my tent on camping trips. I did go camping and I did succeed in not being last! The key was to solve my problem of refusing to get out of my sleeping bag until it was “warm enough” outside.
Lifestyle upgrades: I wanted the upgrades of fixing our tent after a raccoon tore it up (done), getting a new work bag (done), and upgrading my phone (done). I also got the extra upgrade of moving to a beach resort. This goes to show that however grandiose your wishes, Spirit always has something extra in the bag for you. Plus I got to keep my eye and my husband didn’t die.
Do the obvious: My ‘do the obvious’ goal was to transform my appearance. I did this by getting a frantic, last-minute makeover for my first game show audition. The results were so stunning (especially for my husband) that I went straight home and learned to straighten my hair. While I am alienated and annoyed by the concept of “beauty” as applied to women’s fashion, I wish I had spent some time learning this stuff twenty years earlier. It has about 1000x more impact than it deserves for about 1/3 the effort than I had assumed.
Quest: My quest this year was to BE RIDICULOUS. This was the absolute stupidest quest I have ever chosen. Remind me to be exquisitely careful about choosing my words from now on. I had planned to spend the year doing amazing stuff like taking exciting risks and learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube while riding a unicycle. Instead we got “homeless with face cancer with a dog in a cone,” followed by “cut my eyeball on a bird-of-paradise plant and have to get a tetanus shot.” I did audition for two different game shows, so that’s something ridiculous for you.
Wish: My wish was to pay off my student loan. This has not quite happened yet, but I did pay off 1/4 of it in one lump sum! I also voluntarily increased my monthly payments by 50%.
To sum up: I made all my goals for the year, even though we had a lot of disaster and chaos, with the exception of my stated business goal and my wish. My external surroundings have been utterly transformed. I was also crazily productive, to the point that I’m having to reexamine how much I can get done in a year. My biggest takeaways from 2017 are to make goals that can be accomplished 1. Regardless of location and 2. Without the participation of any other specific person.
Personal: Follow a set schedule. SUCCESS
Career: LLC. CANCELED
Physical: P90X, run five miles. SUCCESS
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize. SUCCESS+
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles. SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent. SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent. SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance. SUCCESS+
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS. Um, SUCCESS+++
Wish: Pay off my student loan. PROGRESS
The best reason to make positive personal changes is that we can’t make anyone else change, no matter how annoying they are. What are we going to do with all that pent-up change energy? The person who cuts in line, the person who parks crooked, the person who is trying to prove the existence of auras by wearing a cloud of body spray - none of them are going to do anything about themselves. They’re too busy feeling annoyed by everyone else. WHY do other people insist on getting to the store before me and standing in MY line? WHY do other people insist on parking in the spots next to where *I* want to park? WHY can’t other people simply appreciate my gift of extreme fragrance? Start with the assumption that you are exactly as annoying as the people who annoy you, and you already have your hand on the doorknob of spiritual enlightenment.
It’s all about the categorical imperative. Act in such a way that, if your behavior became universal law, you would endorse it. If you floss your teeth, you’re saying that everyone should floss their teeth. If you’re nice to animals, you’re saying that everyone should be nice to animals. If you tap your pen, you’re saying yes to a mass cacophony of pen-tapping, synchronized to such a degree that it might vibrate in harmony, triggering an earthquake or possibly setting off a volcano.
Now, how about a list of nearly-universal pet peeves, at least one of which each of us is obviously doing, but would never admit (or possibly notice).
Taking up more than one parking spot
Leaving your shopping cart in your parking spot
Leaving used diapers in your parking spot
Texting and driving
Letting your dog poo and walking away like it didn’t happen
Talking on your cell phone while making commercial transactions
Burning microwave popcorn at work more than once per lifetime
Microwaving leftover fish at work
Sticking gum under tables, chairs, or anywhere else
For that matter, chewing gum at all
Clipping your nails at the coffee table (and leaving nail bits for us to step on)
Leaving containers of moldy leftovers in the fridge
Leaving laundry baskets of “clean” clothes for the cat to sleep/pee in
Mowing your lawn at 7 AM, especially on the weekend
Vacuuming your bedroom first thing in the morning when I live downstairs from you
Playing loud music off your patio
Loud arguments in hotel rooms
Leaving paper covers on the seat after leaving a public restroom stall
Talking about politics at work (unless that is your literal job description)
Exploding stuff in the microwave and leaving it for someone else to clean up
Defending your kid for being a bully
Letting your dog jump up on people, especially strangers
Thinking that being a troll or griefer is funny
Publicly shaming people for misusing punctuation
Letting your kid kick the back of someone’s seat
Shouting at cashiers, baristas, waiters, or any other person just trying to do their job
Putting your bare hands in the bulk bins at the grocery store
Flicking your fingers under the tap instead of actually washing your hands with soap
And one from me: Posting pictures of food on social media. I want to see you, not your dimly lit plate
Please stop doing these things! Love, Everyone Else
Are you excited? I’m excited! I did my New Year’s planning yesterday, because I just couldn’t wait any longer. It reinforced my strong sense that most people fail at resolutions due to their planning process, rather than anything inherent in New Year’s Resolutions themselves. As a culture, either we’re saying that most of us have weak characters or that it’s humanly impossible to make positive changes. Since New Year’s Resolutions work for me, either pop culture is wrong or I’m some kind of mutant.
Either way, please tune in to my webinar!
Now, let me try to anticipate some questions.
Q: Why a random weeknight?
A: Closest I could get to New Year’s Eve without trampling on other December holidays.
Q: Why 6 PM Pacific Standard Time?
A: There is no time slot that would work for all of my readers around the globe. I tried to pick a time that would work for North Americans and Australians.
Q: What if I can’t watch it then?
A: I’ll offer a recording for download later.
Q: Do I have to sign up somehow?
A: Nope. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel, though, in case I do more webinars in future.
Q: I hate New Year’s Resolutions.
A: That’s not a question. You are excused.
Q: I disagree with you.
A: Good! Nobody agrees with everything I say, including me. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Mine is one contrarian opinion among hundreds of millions, and my expectation is that I’ll be received merely as one voice in the choir.
Q: What next?
A: I’m offering a workshop that will drop this weekend. Those who want to try a New Year’s planning process are invited to join. Details to follow. Tonight’s webinar is an opportunity to hear what I sound like and get a sample of my teaching style.
Throughout this week, I’ll be posting about the turn of the year. To follow:
Resolutions We Wish You’d Make
And on Monday:
As a rule, I don’t update this blog on holidays. New Year’s Day is my one exception. Let’s start the New Year off right!
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.