Regarding Habits

A More Sane Way to Set Yearly Goals: 19 for 2019 with Gretchen Rubin

Recorded on December 20th, 2018

My wife got me excited about Gretchen Rubin’s book Outer Order, Inner Calm, and the Happier podcast she does with her sister. On episode 199, they reviewed progress on their respective “18 for 2018” lists. These are as simple as they sound — lists of things to do, see, make, or habits to adopt in 2018. They’re doing their “19 for 2019” lists and I like the idea much more than the tired, futile (for me) process of “new year’s resolutions”. Those always sound like “Be it known that once and for all I am going to correct longstanding character flaw X in my brain and 2019 will be the year it happens”.

The “19 for 2019” is more like a to-do list for the year, just like I make to-do lists for certain days. It’s a way to say, OK, I can only get so much done in a year. What things would I like to not allow to sit idle for another year? Those can be as mundane as “Paint the front steps” or “Build a bookshelf”. It’s so easy to let a year slip away without moving on a bunch of projects that would make life better if they were done.

By the way, reading “Outer Order, Inner Calm” is on my 2019 list. App for Habit Tracking

Recorded on May 17th, 2016

If you’re like me and prone to an absence of good habits, or a continual struggle to get back on the hoss with good ones, you may think there’s an app that can help. There is. There are (many). The one I’ve been trying for the past week with great success is All the bling-bling awards and way-to-go animations and the emails to hire a coach are a little much, but it’s nicely designed and works well. It’s free, although I wish they charged at least a few dollars. I think it’s better to pay for apps you depend on.

Here’s my list from today, and I’m not even revealing the really dorky stuff:

screenshot from app

The deal with any of these habit-tracking apps is that they’re only effective if you use them consistently. (Habit List is another great one.) You have to have enough habits in there that you check them off as you complete them throughout the day, and when you do you’ll see and be reminded of what the next thing is that you wanted to accomplish. You just have to live in it, no matter which one you pick.

I did end up flossing, btw.

And “morning squatting” is not a euphemism.

Don’t Do a GTD “Review” — Just “Get Yourself Up to Date”

Recorded on April 19th, 2016

Joe Buhlig talked on Mac Power Users #314 recently about how he runs his GTD weekly reviews. As long as I’ve been sporadically attempting some version of the review process, I’ve struggled with doing it regularly and thoroughly. I’m always open to one more person sharing their tricks. Buhlig said:

“Whenever you first start getting into Review, a lot of people start asking, ‘Well, what’s the point? Why would I do that?’ The thing that I always try to tell people is that it’s impossible for you to trust that system unless it’s fully up to date. And the only way to keep it up to date is to go through it and make sure it’s up to date.”

You may think, Well, duh. But it’s only deceptively obvious. You have to re-think what you call it. He continues:

“If you changed the name of it from ‘Review’ to ‘Get Myself Up to Date’… you’re usually more likely to do it.”

That was the a-ha moment. Maybe one of the reasons I resist doing the weekly review — other than the fact that I never prune projects like I should — is that the term sounds so weighty. Like something someone does while wearing a necktie in a 1980s office with a lot of paper and no computers: “Heah, I shall now commence upon The Weekly Review, in which I shall dust off ye olde Next Actions note-book, and thereby cross-reference it with the items on the Projects list, arriving at the eventual optimal outcomes of which we are here to determine, thank-you very much.”

Or, I could say, “I’m going to spend an hour getting each project’s very next few tasks up to date,” which would be way less overwhelming.

Pretending I Already Have Better Habits

Recorded on April 6th, 2016

When I write about stuff here, it’s usually because I’m trying to remind later-me about something present-me just figured out. It isn’t because I’ve come down from the mountain to announce The One True Way (except when it comes to my method for logging the music I find daily, which everyone should adopt). So it’s funny for me to write about anything approaching the topic of good habits. I have the attention span of… someone with a short attention span, and it’s a constant struggle to keep doing the right things to make life nicer/easier.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s a thing I do when I want to get better at some virtuous habit, but I feel too overwhelmed by a long streak of sucking at it to start. The virtuous habit could be keeping up with email, journaling, eating salad at lunch, going one day without pizza, etc. I’ll think, “Self, you are terrible at Habit X, but it’s ok, because today you’re going to pretend that Habit X is something that you’ve been great at for weeks. All you have to do is keep it up one more day. Act like this is a good habit you’ve already mastered.”

A surprising amount of the time, this is the mental trick I need to take one small step in the right direction. It can short-circuit the feelings of not knowing where to start, by revealing that the starting, or re-starting, or re-re-starting, is the important thing. And when you’re going through the physical motions of carrying out a good habit, it looks the same whether you’re doing it on Day 1 or Day 365. It doesn’t matter whether being good at it or pretending to be good at it is what got you moving.