Routine and Habit: Fan the Flames

Way back in August 2013, I wrote a post about how routine was similar to armor, and have referred back to it in a number of more recent posts. When writing this article, I discovered that it had never been published: sitting as a draft for the last 2 years! Suffice to say it is now live, along with the video content I shot at the time.

Over the last couple years, I’ve come to appreciate the power and vitality of what routine provides. It is essentially the building block of what creates good habits, and it’s often difficult to try and understand just exactly what the differences are.change-old-street-sign-bigst

You need a routine, in order to build a habit. But you can’t have habits, without proper routines. Now a habit is something you do unconsciously, whereas routine is something you pay attention to. A habit can be good or bad: usually the more effortless ones tend to be a bit more self destructive or self indulgent – It’s easy to fall into the habit of having some chocolate after each meal : the habit is also a reward, and that reward (sugar) is pretty darn easy to convince ourselves to include on a regular basis! The routine of the chocolate becomes an easy, mindless habit.

Did you catch what I just said there? Obviously the important word here is mindless, and it’s also the key to unlocking the power of productive and healthy, positive routines – those that will birth habits we can be proud of. By being mindful instead, by living in the moment of each action or thought we want to turn into routine, into habit, we activate the inspiration that sparked our desire for conscious change in the first place: It sets the match to the fuel.

Let’s take a look at some tools and techniques to set ourselves up for success. Naturally, it’s repetition that leads to progress: the more often we repeat something, the easier it “sticks” – and the more out of place we feel when we don’t do it. This has been realized and implemented as “gamification” by a number of different companies and tools, where rewards as “badges”, virtual “trophies” and other such marks of distinction are awarded to those who show dedication and time vested in something that requires focus and careful patience/dedication. So we understand that repetition is important for making routines into habits, and apps like Rewire replace those huge wall calendars we’re familiar seeing in movies: the ones where the protagonist marks huge “X’s” on each day as things progress. The apps work well because they let you mark more than one “X” every day for subgoals.

So now we understand a bit more as to how to differentiate between routines and habits, how they are integrated, but also how to set ourselves up for success.

What spurs your desires to change? How can you set yourself up to success versus falling into old, easy habits?

Letting It In

Anyone who has made a conscious effort to improve themselves knows it’s an incredibly tough fight. We all understand that the exertion is what makes the progress and milestones that much more satisfying: it’s an uphill battle against convenience, against a society that, as a whole, tries to reduce the work we have to do to live our lives, to make things EASIER.

Since this only  serves to make our resolve that much easier to break, it can be exhausting to tread the dogged path towards success. Often we are our own worst enemies, beating ourselves up for eating that slice of pizza, for not lifting enough at the gym, for not getting an assignment or piece of work done on time.

We set up walls to protect ourselves, routines to ease our path, like armor we strap on every day, the habit is what keeps us strong, and keeps us protected. There’s additional comfort in learning more about ourselves, where we are weakest, strongest, how to continue to rely on the only person who has been with us through the fight: ourselves.

What I’m saying here is that it’s easy to get bogged down in the monotony, tripped up by our own rules, to drown in our own resolve.. So just like you opened yourself up to the possibility of change, so, too, must you remember what it’s like to smile. To dance like no one’s watching, to take a chance on new friends, new opportunities.. to let in the love, happiness, and joy.

Cracks

It’s in the cracks between everything: it’s the masonry that holds it all together. It’s OK to forgive yourself, and it’s OK to be vulnerable, and it’s even OK to get hurt again. You can’t block everything that’s bad, and expect to only encounter pure positives. As Ehssan said “Life is like a piano; the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life’s journey, remember that the black keys also create music.” ― The good and bad are equally cyclical: it’s our perspectives on them that define their severity. By letting in the light, we remember what it’s like to be human again – to hope.

Analog Lifestyle – Part I: Analog Bedroom

I’ve noticed a habit that’s slowly gotten worse.. Lying on my bed around the time I should be going to sleep, but interacting with my phone for (sometimes) hours after I should have closed my eyes.. This not only leads to groggy mornings, but to grab my device as the first thing I do when I awaken.

It’s a cascade of bad habits, all stemming from the casual use, then dependence, on digital devices to provide some sort of structure. That’s the thing about structure: it’s an amalgamation of habits (both bad and good) that creates a framework for the day. It only makes sense that one bad habit begets the next, and before you know it, your entire schedule is rife with unhealthy behavior.

Alarm-clock_2093184bThe end of one day is the starting of the next. It’s a cyclical process. You often hear the phrase “Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start”.. The promise of a clean slate is appealing, but for me it starts in how you end the day before. Removing dependence on digital devices at least an hour before sleep: cutting out “screen time” (as a friend of mine coined it when referring to how her kids consume digital content) lets your body start to naturally slow down – bright lights from displays (TV’s, phones, laptops, etc) all interrupt our circadian rhythms and disrupt our bodies from falling asleep when they need to.

If you’re someone who is on a device “for work” or are having difficulty with the sudden eradication of devices so abruptly before bed, try installing flux, available free of charge for PC/Mac, Twilight for Android devices, and jail-broken iOS mobiles, all of which “warm” the color profile of your displays, letting your body get tired naturally: mimicking sunset.
I rarely watch much TV, as I haven’t had cable since 1996, so there’s not much self control needed in regards to taking my flat screen out of my bedroom, however, I do now charge my phone downstairs in the living room, and have banished my Kindle to daylight hours, eschewing the convenience for the handful of regular books that I haven’t yet read. I’m on the lookout for a decent analog alarm clock: one that’s battery powered is fine, but I’d prefer actual hands versus a digital display: if you can recommend one, leave me a comment.

I’ve also set an alarm on my phone, but it’s not to help me wake up.. (I actually only have an alarm clock as backup: 90% of the mornings, I wake up before it sounds) Instead, it’s to alert me to a permission to start using my phone again. It lets me enjoy my mornings, unfettered.. Have a walk with Lucas, a cup of tea, go through my planner.. frame the day before I see what’s in store.

It’s been a couple nights, but I’m already asleep by 11 and awake by 5:30 – a behavior I haven’t seen in about 3 or 4 years – and honestly? It’s great to be back.

Offering Help vs Offering to Help

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern in my own life, and how I frequently offer advice or help unasked. When friends, family, or others choose to open up, or to vent about something that is bothersome in their lives, I seem to see it as an opportunity to provide solutions.

A few friends have called me out on this, but it’s gone fairly unabated until recently, when I chose to not help a moth that was fluttering, struggling, with wet wings outside my apartment. I realized that the assistance might actually hinder, or create further problems with its wings.

Wet moth

Choosing to let others’ paths and lives unfold as they would, unaided or unaffected by my own influence is empowering and eye opening. In fact, it only further lessens my social anxiety and need to feel like I “fit in”. By letting others live their own lives, I am free to live my own, unfettered by their judgement or perspectives. I see it as boats in a stream.. we all idly float by each other, and choosing not to cause ripples at a strangers bow only further lets me focus on what’s ahead of my own boat.

Conversely, I want to defend and strength this philosophy. Naturally it’s not absolute. There’s still space to offer to provide advice or help without actually doing so. It shows willingness and compassion: just don’t be insulted if you’re rebuffed. You also should be wary about re-extending the assistance on the same/similar topics. Even if your friend or loved one chooses to stumble and fall over the same obstacle repeatedly, all you can do is to be there to help pick them up when they open up.

Belief: In yourself, your Dreams

People often harp on their continual search for the “motivation” they need to get started on whatever difficult tasks they have been procrastinating. It’s a little bizarre how this requirement for motivation is not only seen as the holy grail for conquering difficult or unwanted (yet necessary) tasks, but also common as an excuse for not taking the first steps towards not starting a new hobby or for realizing a lifelong dream.

To further define this behavior, it’s well documented that while motivation might indeed provide some sort of impetus to get started, it’s ensuring that well designed habits are ready to put into place to continue to fuel the path towards completion.

I have something further to add to this discussion, and that’s the importance, power, and requirement of belief.  I’ll go so far as to stipulate that it’s belief that is not only the precursor to motivation, but an essential additive that continues to increase the effectiveness of habits to continue our drive towards success and happiness.

Belief provides us with the confidence that what we want to achieve is, in fact, not only possible, but attainable. It allows us to see the value in hard work, the meditation in preparation, and creates an almost palpable, tactile desire to create the energy to keep moving forwards. Want an example? Think about something you’re already good at. Something you might even take for granted as so effortless that it comes as second nature. Got it? Ok. Now remember the last time it was called into play: when you were “called up to the plate” to either lead a group along with a task that you were uniquely qualified to spearhead, or even a when you were talking to someone about it and realized they were hanging onto every word. The passion you conveyed by your confidence and sheer unassuming knowledge and comfort in this area was inherently, if subconsciously, fueled by the unequivocal belief you had in yourself.

Now. Imagine something you know almost nothing about. Try to choose something that you have interest in, perhaps even have Googled a few times to try to understand. Imagine you could master it with the same level of comfort and ease of the previous example. No matter what this new desire is.. the only thing that’s standing in your way is your belief that you can achieve it. That’s right: this belief will let you visualize your goal, motivate the first step, generate the habits you need.. everything will fall into place: this belief in yourself will extinguish the fear that is stopping you from achieving success.

Let that sink in for a moment. The one thing standing between you and success is the belief in yourself.

But the best is yet to come… Belief isn’t as difficult to attain as some of the other obstacles you have in your life. Belief is something that can be it’s own habit.. Belief is something that should be practiced daily: Every morning, make a mantra out of your dreams and desires.. Tell yourself that you believe in yourself, and in your ability to make them happen. The very process of belief will banish the demons of doubt and fear – they cannot exist within such a sphere of positivity and self-assurance.

Naysayers: How to handle negative influences in our life

Now, hang on, before you all lynch me for addressing what you might think is an obvious answer, there are plenty of reasons “Just cutting them out” isn’t the easiest option, or even viable.

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I always worry that I won’t have enough things to talk about here, but topics seem to not only drop into my lap – they actually contribute to a unifying theme over a few days, giving me ample time and ammunition to construct a pretty cohesive post: as well as allowing me the time for my pertinent perspective to congeal quite nicely.

That said, I had a conversation with a wonderful new friend yesterday on this very topic, then this morning had a relevant online chat with someone who’d fall quite nicely into the “naysayer” category… So since I’ve had a couple days to think about this, let’s define where we stand.

For me, a naysayer is, at their core, someone who dwells in the negative during any interaction I have with them. This allows room for those who either cannot stop thinking about how dissatisfied they are with their own lives, but also those who feel the need to judge me on how I lead mine. Don’t get me wrong, friends who are blunt with me and expose me to see some of my own “less than desirable” habits or behaviors are immensely helpful: as long as their perspective and advice comes from a trusted and loving place! Instead I refer to those who only speak ill, as if their way of seeing a situation is the only way that’s acceptable.

You’re going to laugh now, because the advice is, obviously, simple. You need to reduce or eliminate these interactions, and how you choose to do so is where the intricacies lie.

So if they’re an acquaintance and there’s no “love lost” between you, telling them to get bent or get stuffed (choose whatever colloquialism matches your country of origin or abode) is short and simple. Depending on how you interact, you can end your relationship in one of two ways. If you only chat in the virtual sphere, either ignoring their messages or blocking them from your lists is a great non-confrontational technique. This is similar to receiving unwanted advances from someone on a dating website: ignoring/not replying to a message has the same effect as responding to them telling them you aren’t interested, while sidestepping your actual reasoning.. It lets them form their own reason, versus you having to uncomfortably tell them that you aren’t attracted to them, or something they might find equally insulting. Skipping that whole interaction is often easiest, especially if you haven’t studied conflict resolution.. Inevitably if you give your real reasoning, a counter message will follow. Be prepared!

What if they are a close friend, or a family member? The former can be treated as above, but with an even softer, cuddlier variant of kid gloves. If it’s family, and breaking all ties is (usually) not an option, honesty of some variety is the only recourse if you want to change the dynamic. I’ll link the “Aikido in Everyday Life” book again here, please ignore the poor Google reviews: while some of the situations and names used as examples show the age of this “manual”, the techniques are not only still sound, but incredibly efficient in their effectiveness. Basically, knowing how to present your feelings and standpoint on how the other person makes you feel doesn’t have to be communicated in a way where there’s a clear “winner” and “loser” in each conversation. The book does a far better way of describing these techniques than I do, and I won’t try to do them any justice in replicating them here. Even if this particular post doesn’t apply to you, the book is still a wonderful read for anyone who deals with potential verbal conflict in their lives. Aka, everyone!

In my situation, as far as the old friend I chatted with this morning, it was far easier to just choose to cease initiating or responding to attempts at conversations. Not that it’s easy – in fact, it’s a little painful, but it’s less hurtful to both parties with this particular flavor of history that I’d rather not dredge up or revisit that time in my life: I’ve made such vehement, severe efforts to leave it far behind and move on, whereas that circle that I have extricated myself from (in my perspective) hasn’t grown in the direction that has become pillars supporting the strongest core principles in my life. I won’t say that I haven’t tried to make our tentative friendship work over the last few tumultuous years, but each time we conversed, old behaviors surfaced on both sides, perhaps out of previous paradigms of comfort. Once we’d part ways, I’d head home and “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” would pervade my mental headspace, often for days, as I’d try to process and eliminate these previous past thoughts from my thoughts. No more. It’s far healthier for me to move on alone in this situation, and only wish the best for this old friend.. I wish him well and hope that he’s able to wade through the waters to the comfort of personal resolution on his own.

Video discussion below:

Cluttered Space / Cluttered Mind

I’ve been bad with the whole regularity thing in my past, and I still struggle daily with the process. When I had a full time job working for the man, despite my general malaise, at least I had a structure that was imposed upon me, and I could fit the rest of my own life within the crack, making a nice comfortable padding.

Now that I am responsible for everything,  it is only more important that I prioritize a routine that extols healthy habits: physical, mental and psychological are equally essential. That healthy mindspace has its root in the physical realm: comfort and familiarity are bred from a well organized living and working environment.

The apartment in which I call home (and my office) was an emergency choice – I needed to get out of my previous unhealthy space, and did not have much time to search.. It’s pretty awesome, but way too big, and way too expensive for me as a longer term solution.  I think I’ve moved every couple years for the last decade: comfort in my inhabited space often seems to elude me.. whether I convince myself that I need a room mate, or to live on my own.. this basement is too dark, or this other apartment is too big.. Excuses are everywhere..

de-clutter-mm

I’ve always found myself attracted to smaller multi-use spaces.. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been on my own for the better part of the last decade, but my space is very much my own, and how I inhabit/am comfortable in it rarely involves making it somewhere that’s ideal to share with a friend or for general socialization… I find that the more space I have available, the more I will find things to fill it up.. The older I get, the less “knick knacks” I own.. But the cleaner my space, the less non-essentials I have “cluttering” my space, then the more relaxed I feel.. If I forget where I put my keys, and they aren’t in their “home”, the less surfaces I have, and the less things those surfaces are adorned with, the easier it is to find them.

The image below is a bit amusing to me, as it details how to declutter one’s life.. yet the graphic itself is a mess, a veritable tangled maze of color, suggestions, and ideas.. Yet it does have plenty of merit. Part of organizational habit is making sure to take decisive permanent action every day to create a space and a system that works for you and your unique needs/situation; the other part is ensuring to divest time every day to keeping your space clean.. Sweeping for 10 minutes a day, washing dishes as they are used.. Not putting anything off. Decluttering is as much about avoiding adding new chaos as it is about stripping existing anomalies away!

How to Make a Living…

What does that even mean? How does one “make” a living? Doesn’t living just happen on it’s own, and the way in which we invest our limited time on this planet define how we perceive not only ourselves, but how people perceive us?

Self satisfaction isn’t necessarily tied to what we are seem as skilled doing.. Now, conversely, anything can be manifested as an art form so long as we spend so much time doing it that the actual core principles become automatic, and we start to add artistic flair in order to continue to stay actively engaged with the tasks. Take this street vendor as an example. His hours of practice have evolved into a passion for flair

As we continue into the new millennium, how we make a living only becomes more flexible and varied in its choices. We can operate an online store, delivering products from Thailand directly to other westerners without the products even touching our hands.. we can sell ideas: ebooks and online courses that teach others how to live healthier, more productive lives.. even informing others how to follow our footsteps and to become entrepreneurs themselves!

Setting our own hours lets us take even more control of the ship that is our lives. By taking responsibility of “paying” for our own space in the world, it only serves to strengthen and further boost self confidence and lessen anxiety. In fact, even those who supplement their normal jobs “working for the man” with part time endeavors can often build a platform that provides a slowly growing and stable business.. so that once it’s stable enough, and generating enough income, they can “jump ship” and work for themselves full time!

So, perhaps you’re now chomping at the bit.. “How do I get started?” you’re saying.. “What’s the first step?”

Now as alluring as all this sounds, know that most people don’t embark on this process without encountering, and conquering, fear.  It’ll seem insurmountable at first, and when you think you’ve finally knocked it out cold and persevered, you’ll find it lurking in the darkest corners of your success, where you least expected it to be. Don’t worry. This is normal, and how you continue to fight fear, and past it, is what will continue to fuel your passion and your ideas.

Start with Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup, and go from there.. There’s plenty of other resources, plenty of which you can search out yourself.. or you can comment below and we can discuss it right in the comments. I’m eager to see the fruits of your labor, and what your potential will produce!

And yes.. vlogs are finally back, as is the warmer weather. Enjoy!

 

Connections

The digital world facilitates connections. Someone half a planet away can quite easily find you if you’re both somewhat public about announcing your mutual interest in a shared topic. New tools, platforms, services.. They all exist to make these connections easier, automated, and more transparent.

Yet they all facilitate virtual space. Even those that promote shared activities like hiking or running groups can also be host to dozens of participants that live too far away from each other to make actual “meat space” connection either impossible, financially improbable, or inconvenient. As the rarity of the time we spend with others in physical space, the more valuable that interaction becomes. Or it should…Yet the majority of social situations are rife with faces illuminated by handheld devices.. Each connected device is a fully user dictated portal to access specifically controlled content. No matter what physical space we inhabit, we can retreat into this screen and have total control – Any lull in the conversation, any discomfort.. All addressed by handheld escape.

What only exacerbates this situation even more is the specialized content that is available through mobile screens. Since it has such complete penetration in the developed world, the social rules that surround it make it a fairly acceptable activity.. Or at very least silently tolerated by all but the most outspoken pundits in most situations that might be much less flexible with other activities.

Of course, everything above that I’ve written is common sense, but still helps set the scene, to illustrate the new “norm” that’s taken hold in as little as maybe 8 or so years…Most of my content always comes back to self control, moderation, balance… Human beings as a species, especially in 1st world countries and civilizations are always seeking the route of minimal effort.. By not being challenged by basic elements of survival, we tend to create alternative stresses and still want to spend considerable time escaping those artificial situations.

are-you-making-the-right-connections

The more time I spend away from other people, the more excuses I’m make to continue to hermit away. Perhaps it’s because my job can be easily accomplished from anywhere with a laptop, but I have to physically force myself to get outside, to get in front of people.  The real kicker is that when I do I realize how much I missed it. How much I need it, how much I thrive in the interaction.

Tonight I had a drink with an old friend. Our parents were social when we were kids, we went to high school together (albeit a year apart, and so there was less academic social mixing)  As we sat and chatted about various tech solutions, and what we’ve been up to for the last decade or so, it was refreshing to be spending time discussing the human element within all these faceless services, tools, and ideas. We didn’t pull out a device once.. And it was glorious!

It’s prompted this rant, and only motivated my writing anew. I have committed to engage in something similar at least once a day, whether it’s seeing my folks, or talking to a stranger at the bus stop.

Try it. Keep your phone in your pocket and say hi to someone new, or make plans to have coffee with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages: you’ll thank me for the suggestion, and perhaps feel as rejuvenated as I do!

Changes

So it’s confession time. I’ve not been sitting for a couple months now, since getting to my new apartment. I’m definitely missing the positive effects it carries with it, but I still find it incredibly easy to procrastinate even taking ten minutes to myself to just breathe.  For someone like me who is such a fervent supporter of meditation, and a champion of just how many areas of life it changes for the better, I’m almost scared to get back into it again.

Now I’ve written about fear before, but I’ve never experienced it like this. The last few months have led to increased anxiety; what’s the solution? Medication? Moving to Thailand and selling coconuts on the beach? I’ve been looking for answers in all the wrong places: I can easily admit that it’s a common behavior for me.. I’ve been doing it most of my adult life. In fact, it’s become so ingrained that I often find myself following patterns and behaviors where I am in complete awareness of the impending negative outcome.

Am I along for an oblivious ride? Not even.. I am fully  cognizant of the destination to which I am headed. Despite common sense weighing in, prompting me to turn the wheel.. nothing happens. I’ve been trying to understand this repetitive process, perhaps looking for the easy way out, how to stop getting in that car in the first place. There’s a few things that I have identified (and continuing with the automobile imagery)

  1. I take some modicum of comfort in the familiarity of the destination. I’ve been there before, and it’s actually an easy, self-fulfilling processsabotage-your-diet
  2. Steering the car in a healthier direction becomes harder and harder as the journey and time spent in the car increase
  3. Identifying this pattern before it begins, stopping myself from even getting into the car, would probably be the best decision in avoiding these scenarios in the future, but this doesn’t effect any current travels I’m still undertaking
  4. A general sense of self-approval and internal gratification model is woefully absent from my psyche. While this sort of thing is not uncommon (as humans, we all wax and wane on the happiness scale: some controllable, some inevitable), I feel like introducing one at this stage would require far more resources than I have available.
  5. I’m more used to failure than I am success. In fact, so much so that I often sabotage efforts before they begin. Am I afraid, not of change, but of happiness? What on earth has convinced me of something so foolish? (Bit of an epiphany here. Blinking back tears)

There may be more to add, but I’ll stop there so I can continue with my train of thought. Now despite all the history listed above, I don’t live entirely obliviously, without any effort to break the pattern. If you’ve read anything else I’ve posted, you’ll already be acutely aware. I will admit here that perchance I might not work on it as dilligently as I should, or put in the energy and focus that is required to clear results. And here’s a further obstacle pointing to that portion: When I decide to actually implement a positive change in any area, including this one, I am ridiculously inflexible, unbending..there can be no room for error. Obviously this self-imposed stress only exacerbates the situation and I abandon any beneficial changes almost right away

So what now? Where do I go from here? I think I’ve identified a number of things in this post that could use attention. Most of them I’ve known about for awhile, yet there were some revelations as well. I’ll post a follow-up in a couple weeks with updates and (hopefully) a strategy