A Week Like Last: Why routine and habit has become crucial to my functioning

I’m writing this from North Carolina and I’m very happy about that. Willy finished his final papers and exams at 5PM Friday evening. It was an intense two weeks of assignments and exams for him. I joked with my coworkers that he was hardly a whole human being anymore. His life was studying and writing, save sleep and a short time for meals. I had a busy week consolidating things at the end of the school year, having final meetings before we went on vacation and then switched gears to start working on a new project when I return.

Last week was a big reminder that I still need to grow in developing habits and routines in my schedule that are non-negotiable. Buying groceries is one of those things. There was much chaos last week and I’m confident we could have maintained a sense of normalcy if I had a structured time I did groceries (we didn’t have much in the fridge last week and were too busy to go get some), still making time for other things.

My ideal has become building a series of habits and routines that reduces the amount that I need to think and maximizes getting things done. “Things” being primarily the things I don’t like doing and don’t want to do and therefore don’t make proper time for: Like washing my floors and grocery shopping.

I can’t remember if I’ve posted about this before, but this isn’t the first time that I’ve felt like my life is a bit of a gongshow and I think to myself: I know how to fix this, I just have to do it.

Just doing it is half the trouble, right?

But this week is about chilling out, enjoying the sun, eating really cheap food here in America, and relaxing.

The role of vision in goal achievement

vision

Source: Nomadic Lass

The last week I’ve been mulling over the concept of vision and how it can motivate us as well as give us drive that we might not otherwise have. In connection with this, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shift that happened in my life that led to me starting this blog. I think it really has to do with a renewed vision of what my life could be. It was through that heart-capturing renewed vision that motivated me to make important changes in my life. Here’s what I mean:

Last fall I blogged these words,

A few weeks ago I was reading the ebook You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins. He wrote something that really got under my skin.

“Not too long after the race, I woke up early one morning, drank some coffee, and went for a five-mile run. After that, I wrote a few pages for my book and went to work.  

That evening, I looked back on the day and I was shocked by all I had accomplished. Getting up early, running five miles, writing over a thousand words — where did all this discipline come from?”

Those words really agitated me. I stayed up late that night talking with my husband about it. I hated that I didn’t have the discipline to have the discipline to run. I hated that I cared so much what people thought of me. I hated that I wanted to pursue writing, but there were things holding me back and I couldn’t figure it out. That night as we were talking I realized that my personal idol of acceptance/caring what people thought of me was the biggest problem standing in my way.

“I don’t want to be this person!” I exclaimed. Willy thought I was concerned with my weight, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I was letting things get in my way from getting what I wanted out of life, from achieving my goals. When I was a teenager I decided that I wanted to accomplish some things in life and I was going to do what I could in my power to make those happen. It’s one thing if Providence moves those things out of the realm of possibility, but at least I could say I did my best with my circumstances. That’s what I want to be about.

Those goals acted as a vision for what my life could be. They were things I wanted to be true of me. I imagined the next 60 years flying by and me ‘not having the time’ to make these changes and regretting it. Let me be clear: the things that I wanted to change were accents to my life. They were the pops of colour in a wardrobe, or the jewellery to complete the outfit. I am very happy with my marriage, my work, my life in Montreal in general. It was the “less important” things that I wasn’t happy with: the lack of hobbies (not that I didn’t have ideas of what I wanted to do, I just didn’t have the confidence or self-discipline to start). I will write more on this later.

Vision and belief

The first step was having vision or a picture of what things could be otherwise. This is beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if?” and more along the lines of “this is what it could be!” The next obstacle to surmount was to decide whether it was even reasonable. I’m a pretty rational person. I’m often too rational to the point where it can hurt people’s feelings, or I forget the people within the problems I’m trying to solve. I didn’t want to set myself up for inevitable public failure. I wanted to be somewhat sure that I could do these things. As I evaluated, I realized they were pretty reasonable. The one thing standing in my way was fear.

I refuse to let fear run my life.

Recognizing the obstacles

Recognizing the obstacles helped me find the resolve to overcome them after coaching myself into believing that they weren’t as important as I thought they were. Who cared what people thought? Who cared if people laughed and scoffed? Was their opinion more important than my own self-perception? Not a chance. The fact was, I was not happy with the momentum my laziness was gaining. It was humbling and embarrassing to come to terms with the fact that my laziness wasn’t Who I was but more like What I was allowing myself to be. It’s hard to change our nature, it might be even impossible! What we can learn is discipline and grow in maturity as a person if we identify the areas we’re lacking.

But it all started with a vision of the person I could be.

What about you? What do you want to have accomplished in 50 years? Are there things that require changing in your life now to achieve them? Do you believe you can change ? Share your goals or ideas in the comments here.

Lift

photoI was telling my coworkers yesterday about much I am enjoying Lift App. Here are a few reasons why:

  • I get to see my progress.
  • It encourages me (“Congrats, Jess! You’re on a 5 day streak of drinking more water!”) daily.
  • I actually derive pleasure/value from that BIG GREEN checkmark. Never before has a digital check mark been of value to me.
  • Other people can give me props.

It’s basically a community/app/thing based around achieving goals/to-dos. I only have one “friend” connection on it and he’s not really a friend so much as a guy I have a tech-crush on who I see all the time in St. Henri and I’m too afraid to say hi (he co-writes books with Chris Brogan). He also wrote about Lift this week and what he says is really helpful so I’ll quote him. He’s actually writing about morning/evening routines, which is something we’ve been talking a bit about since this blog’s inception. (How many of you just thought “whoa, inception” and thought about the movie? Me too). You can read the full post here on Julien’s site In Over Your Head.

My life is structured around a set number of goals to complete every day. Some of those goals are tiny, others are large. Here is an incomplete list in picture form:

As you can see, I have tiny habits, like ”Smile at a stranger” (which breaks my usual pattern of looking grumpy all the time), and then I have large ones, like “Finish all to-do’s,” which is a pointer to a another HUGE list in another app.

When I finish all of my habits for the day, like the ones in the list at right, I’m done. But there’s more to it than that.

I also deliberately plan the orderin which I will do these, and the reason I do this is because it helps keep me cheery and motivated to do more.

So I wake up and immediately floss and weigh myself. These are like little wins that get me started on my habit building. Then I go into “Process mail“ and maybe ”Take fish oil“ (very good for you btw).

Then my day is started and I’ll go into my calendar and see what my day is going to look like.

I also force introspection every day through a habit of free writing, which helps me think about my own path, or my work, or whatever else I feel like putting some thought into. You cannot trust yourself to think through important stuff in your head only. Because we are so distracted, it simply does not work. So this forces it to go on paper, where I won’t quit until I hit like 750 words.

So it’s almost like my day is structured with easy win > hard win > easy win > hard win-style loops that will keep me from feeling exhausted. Some stuff is easy, others are hard. With breaks obviously. And of course I forgive myself if ever I don’t get everything done. I draw a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous style ideas so that I can think one day at a time.

The final thing I wanted to mention about this is that often, at night, it is a great idea to just do one more thing. It can be small or big, doesn’t matter, but it helps set you off on the right foot and feel like you were extra productive today. For you that could be anything, maybe doing pushups, or writing a blog post.

I never thought Lift would be as helpful as it is. I don’t even know where I heard about it, but I’m lovin’ it. If you want to add me as a friend/follow me it will automatically suggest me as a friend if you’re following me on twitter, or you can search my name and follow me. Make sure you let me know so I can follow you back and encourage you, too!

Have you found any app or anything that gives you the reward or “lift” you need to reinforce your habits? Comment here and let me know. 

Decision making in the groggy moments of morning

This week has been unseasonably warm. It’s basically April up here right now this strange week of January. So I’ve been motivated to run again because the sidewalks are free from ice and snow. Three out of the last four days I said to myself before going to bed “tomorrow, you’re going to get up and go for a run right away.”

Didn’t happen. Any of those days.

Both yesterday and today, about thirty minutes after I had gotten out of bed, I noticed I regretted the fact that it was too late for me to go for a run.

So what’s the deal?

I realized this morning that my decision-making skills were non-existent. My grogginess factor was so powerful that if that continues in the morning, I will never ever accomplish anything until I wake up. That’s when I realized I was having all this success last fall because I had never once tried to get up and go right out the door for a run. The plan was always wake up, do light therapy, journal, then go for the run. By the time I had spent that 30 or so minutes waking up, I was awake and enthusiastic enough to grab the shoes and go.

According to EasyWake.me‘s 12 most important facts about sleep inertia (the grogginess after being woken up), “within the first three minutes of waking, decision-making performance can be as low as 51 percent of the person’s best decision-making ability before sleep. Decision-making performance may still be 20 percent below optimum performance 30 minutes after waking. Sleep inertia may affect cognitive performance for up to two hours.”

This is a super helpful realization for me because it’s the difference between me tweaking my plans and feeling demotivated and wanting to quit. Realizing I need at least 15 minutes where I get vertical (out of that comfy bed) or do light therapy. Then I will maybe be rational enough to make the right choice to go run or another form of exercise.

Here’s to tomorrow morning and outrageously warm weather for January!

What about you? Do you now have a little bit more hope for your morning routine with this information? Share your thoughts in the comments here.

Morning routine + NaNoWriMo Update

I’ve had a few people text me and leave comments to congratulate me on starting to run. I’ve also had people tell me I’m crazy for doing both at the same time, which is not all that far off, perhaps. Aside from being sick last week and this week which affected my runs, things have been going well. I managed to desire to get up and go, but just take it a little easier, which has been good.

Why am I doing two things that require so much discipline at the same time?

It’s a good question. I think part of it is is that it doesn’t feel like it’s requiring that much discipline, but here are a few more reasons.

  1. These are two things I want to build into my life as habits. Natural responses, things I do automatically.
  2. My morning routine had been going quite well so it didn’t feel like too challenging to add the writing challenge.
  3. My husband has night classes three nights a week, which means I have plenty of time to write and not feel like I’m neglecting our relationship. He was the one who encouraged me to do it, anyways.
  4. I wanted meet people outside of work who had similar interests to me.

So far, I have runs scheduled into my week and I look forward to them. The days I’m not so sure I want to go, my husband reminds me that I’ll enjoy it. I always do, so that’s a big win. I’m ahead of schedule so far on the novel in terms of word count. I’ve got nearly 10,000 words which is 1/5th of the book (obviously). I feel confident because I have lots to write yet in plot development etc. I should be able to finish no problem unless life just suddenly goes crazy, which is totally a possibility.

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