12 commandments

I got a bit lost on Challenge 6, 30 days clarity.

The idea for this challenge came from Stephen Covey’s Second Habit: Begin with the end in mind. That is, to start with a clear understanding of your destination; to know where you’re going so that the steps you take are steps in the right direction.

I imagined that I might do some activities in this sphere that appealed to me including writing a personal mission statement, identifying my personal values and setting some goals.

I made some progress on the values idea, which actually came about through another exercise rather than this challenge, and I’ve been tinkering with this document for quite a while.

At the same time I’ve been re-familiarising myself with Gretchen Rubin’s work. One of the things she did in her Happiness Project, which I really liked, was to develop her 12 Personal Commandments. These are overarching principles on how she wants to live her life

She describes it as “a creative way to distill core values”.

While I love the idea of having this sort of list, it also terrifies me a little to think about setting down my own rules for my own life. You know, because once you have rules set down like this you can never ever ever change them because they are set in stone . . .


I know this isn’t true, but it’s one of the mental barriers that I think was preventing me from taking action on this challenge: the mistaken belief that once I’ve written down my life goals, I’m wedded to them FOREVER.

It’s why I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up because I didn’t want to make a decision that would bind me to a career path for my entire working life. (So I’ve ended up in a career I chose because there was nothing else going at the time. I’ve been here for 20 years. And on reflection, I seem to have decided my fate by not deciding. Wrap your head around that. Ha.)

I’m thinking about getting back into the clarity exercise and, to kick it off, a few days ago I decided to make my own list of 12 commandments – not for my life forever, but for the way I want to live my life this year. That seems a whole lot less daunting than committing myself to something forever (even though, as we know, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a forever commitment).

Here’s my work-in-progress list. I wanted to put something together now and see how it sits, and make adjustments as I work my way through the other exercises I’m going to do. I think something to start with will be better than nothing.

My 12 (draft) Personal Commandments for 2017

  1. Be kind to everyone I meet.
  2. Nourish myself. (Take care of myself.)
  3. Express gratitude.
  4. Pause before responding, rather than reacting instantly.
  5. Be the change I want to see in the world.
  6. Focus on cultivating positive habits rather than eliminating negative ones.
  7. Be present. Feel my feelings. Fully immerse myself in my experiences.
  8. Fix what bugs me if I can change it. Don’t complain about it if I can’t influence it.
  9. Start where I am; Use what I have; Do what I can. (Know that I am enough.)
  10. I am what I am.
  11. Know what’s important and focus on that.
  12. Simplify. (Don’t take on anything new unless I have identified something to give up. One in, one out.)
  13. Consolidate. (Reflect on what I’ve learned and put it into practice instead of collecting more shiny new objects.)

Yeah, I know. There are 13. The Arthur Ashe quote (number 9) wasn’t in the draft list of 12, but it came into my head while I was writing this post. I love this quote and it needs to be there, but I don’t know which one has to go to make way for it. Maybe none of them do. Who says it has to be 12 anyway? Make your own rules.

I think I want to re-read The Happiness Project now, but I already have three books on the go, so in the spirit of “one in, one out”, I’ll wait.

The three words in bold are the three words I picked out at the end of last year to try to guide me through this year. This is a thing. Three words or one word. It sounded like a good idea, but I’m not really sure what to do with them, so I incorporated them into my commandments. Now I’m not sure if I need big ticket ones and subordinate ones, or if they all belong together . . .

See! This is why I never get anything done. I overthink things.

Just put the damn list out there, refer to it regularly and do it.

I’m going to print this list out and stick it up where I can see it, so I don’t forget. I hope that this will be the restart I need to get me back into the #steppingonthecracks project.


Walk in her shoes – a reflection on the week

So another Walk In Her Shoes week is over; my third time participating in this event for CARE Australia.

I love the idea behind the challenge: to walk 100km (or the distance of your choice) to raise funds for CARE’s work in countries where women and girls miss out on opportunities to attend school and work because they have to walk for several hours a day to get basics for their families like water, food and medical supplies.

Having to walk six kilometres carrying 20 litres of water on the way back isn’t something that sounds like much fun. I’m often guilty of forgetting that it’s nothing but my good luck that I was born in a country where I have access to plentiful water, food, education and opportunities for work. Walking for pleasure is a luxury that I am grateful for because it symbolises many other things I have.

Even so, I found this year’s challenge a struggle. I didn’t build-up to the week through the structured training and gradual increase of my daily goals that I’d done the past two years. And there wasn’t the excitement of being in the local papers like I was last year. (Yeah I did kind of like the attention for a couple of days!) I was distracted by other things going on at the same time, and just as the challenge started I came down with a miserable cold.

I think it’s the equivalent of the “difficult second album” syndrome that bands get afflicted with after a successful debut album, only for me, this was the difficult third album.

Not such a good analogy then. It sounded better in my head.

Anyway, as you know, I struggled through, and I ended up with a total of 150,400 steps for the week. A long way short of the almost 200,000 I did last year, but I’m OK with that. I can have a go at cracking 200,000 next year (maybe!). I’m pleased with what I achieved this year. I’m also thrilled to have raised $610 for CARE Australia – thank you to everyone who donated.

20160320 WIHS Steps

The main difference between this year and the previous two years is that after the challenge in the past I’ve stopped walking. I’m not sure why – maybe because there didn’t seem to be much point to be getting up at a time that Slabs mutters “it’s still the middle of the night” and going for a walk when I didn’t have to be accountable to anyone about it. (I told you already, if you believe Gretchen Rubin’s “four tendencies” I’m an obliger, so I tend to meet obligations to other people but not to myself. This is a really interesting framework – go check it out here if you’re interested.)

I want to keep walking, and so far I’ve continued the routine for almost a week after the challenge finished. I dropped my goal back to 15,000 steps. It’s that high because walking is the only exercise I do, apart from a weekly yoga class, so I wanted to make sure I had to do more than my everyday walking to and from school and work. One week in and it’s going well.

Ask me in the middle of winter if I still think this is a good idea . . .

So – a successful challenge that has given me a foundation on which I can build a regular exercise routine. Now to keep it going.

I also intend to wear bright leggings to work more often because I can!

And in case you missed my leggings pictures, here they are for the whole week.

20160314 WIHS Combo

Book 4/24 – Better Than Before

This is my final catch-up post of the books I’ve read this year. I’m currently reading book #5.

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since I read her first book The Happiness Project in 2011. Her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, was released last year. I’d been following some of her posts about habits on her blog, as well as doing my own reading on habits (in particular the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which Gretchen recommends on her blog and is well worth a read if you’re interested in finding out more about habits). I was keen to see how Gretchen tackled this topic, so I finally got around to reading it last month.

2016 Book 4 - Better Than Before

I like Gretchen’s approach of testing her theories on herself and writing about what happened, and she continues to use this approach in this book. This personal experience means that things that worked for Gretchen aren’t going to work for everyone, and it’s interesting to see how this realisation dawns on her during her conversations with people she relates in the book.

The first part of the book looks at the differences between people and how these differences will impact how a person might go about forming a habit.

The conclusion that Gretchen draws at the end is that we can only build our habits on the foundation of our own nature, so a lot of the book is focused on figuring out our own preferences and how we can use them to form and stick to the habits we want to develop.

This resonates very strongly with me as I work towards accepting my own nature instead of fighting against it.

First up Gretchen considers what she calls the Four Tendencies, which go some way to explaining how people respond to expectations – both external (rules, externally imposed deadlines etc) and internal (set by ourselves). Upholders meet both inner expectations, Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations, Questioners will meet their own expectations but will question why they should meet external expectations, and Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. Where you fit into this framework might influence how you form habits.

For example, I think I’m mostly an obliger. If something is due at work on a set date, I will make sure it’s done, but if I set myself a deadline I often struggle. If I have to be at the radio station by 8pm to start my show I will be there. If I want to get up at 5am to go for a walk, it’s hit and miss (especially on a weekend), but if I have to do it so I meet my step goal for Walk In Her Shoes that day, then I most certainly will do it.

The second part of the book looks at four strategies that help us to build and maintain habits. These are strategies that you’d find in many posts about how to form a good habit: monitoring what you do; building strong foundational habits (eating, sleeping, exercising and deluttering) that if you get right will make it easier to build other habits; scheduling time to do what you say you’ll do; and being accountable for doing it. (This is where the upholder/obliger/questioner/rebel tendencies come in.)

The next part looks at actually getting started in forming new habits, and the following (rather large) part examines ways to make it easier to stick to our desired habits. This includes a very necessary group of strategies to overcome temptation and what to do if you stumble and fall.

The final part of the book looks at how defining specifically what we want helps us to form and maintain habits, and how we see ourselves helps us behave in a certain way. For example, if I consider myself a person who doesn’t eat sugar, I don’t have to decide whether or not to have dessert. There’s no decision to be made.

While I can’t relate to everything in the book, and there are some key points about habits that I’ve picked up in other places that perhaps deserve more prominence, or aren’t covered here, I think it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for some direction around introducing habits you want to cultivate. The chapter on loopholes is particularly enlightening, because I think I found myself nodding in agreement at every single one of the loopholes Gretchen identifies.

“Begin now” is also a key point. Because future me won’t start a habit. There is no future me, only now me.

I enjoyed reading this book, and it’s added to the mountain of fascinating resources I’ve been building up about habit forming. I think it’s a really good practical guide. Recommended.

30 days of lists – days 9-12

Carrying on with the catch up theme, here are the next 4 days of 30 days of lists.

Day 9: Weird stuff that makes me cry. 

Someone asked me why the Melbourne Cup makes me cry. I know there is lots to dislike about the racing industry and most horses are not as lucky as these elite racers, but there is something that really moves me seeing these magnificent animals give their all in such a huge race. I loved watching Makybe Diva race and I think I cried every time she won.

Day 10: Meaningful gifts given or received.

  • Photo shoot and photos (coordinated by Lil Sis) for my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Engraved cake knife for Juniordwarf’s first bithday
  • 40 years album for Slabs’ birthday
  • Brooch Slabs gave me for our 10th anniversary
  • Everything Juniordwarf makes for me

Day 11: This was meant to to be “things my family taught me” but I decided to make it more relevant to me now, and included my (work in progress) list of 12 commandments, as inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project.

Day 12: Favourite things about this month – which could be this month to date, or this month in general. I guess I included a bit of both

Happiness is not a destination

When walking past a shop recently, I glanced into the window and saw a poster with this quote on it:

Happiness is not a destination.
It is a way of life.

It sums up the attitude I’ve been trying to instil in myself.
Last year I blogged several times (here, here and here, for example) about my realisation that ‘life is now’. That means that I can’t wait until I’ve ‘fixed’ the things I think I need to fix and until everything is perfectly in place before I start living my life (my life is now) or before I can acknowledge that I’m happy.
And as I walked, I contemplated the quote (for which I have tried to track down a source, but I’ve been unable to do so) and it occurred to me that this was not just a quote about happiness. It could actually be applied to any number of things that I’m trying to address in my life.
Try replacing the word ‘happiness’ with ‘health’. 
Health is not a destination; it is a way of life. 
Of course it is. For a long time I’ve focused on an attempt to ‘get healthy’, which implies that there is some point at which the unhealthy me will suddenly be the healthy me, after which everything will be easy, I will never crave chocolate again and I will only drink two glasses of alcohol two nights a week.
I know that’s not going to happen. There’s not going to be a flick of the switch moment, when I suddenly become healthy.
So if I see health as, instead of an end point that I have to reach, a way of life, then the challenge is no longer to get to ‘the end’ (to get healthy), but to live a healthy lifestyle (to be healthy).
Instead of complaining that I’m overweight, unfit and unhealthy and telling myself I have to lose weight, get fit and get healthy, I choose to be healthy today. And every time I have a choice, if I choose the healthier option (herbal tea instead of beer; going for a walk instead of watching TV; fruit instead of cake) then I’m reinforcing being healthy. (OK, not every time. I think that’s unrealistic. But most of the time.)
Sure I might have some specific goals*, like I want to be able to run 5 km or I want to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans**, but those goals are not the end point. They are milestones. Am I unhealthy because I can only run 4 km***? Do I suddenly become healthy once I can run 5km? Of course not. There is no end point. You don’t just achieve your health goals and then stop and go back to your old ways once you’ve done it. Health is not a destination; it is a way of life.
I feel much better for starting to live this way of life.
Something else that has been a big focus of my life and that I’ve blogged about several times could also slot right into this quote, and I’m sure there are many others too. But that’s a story for another night.
* Not my actual goals.
**That would be the immediately pre-pregnancy size 8-10s, not the 12 months pre-pregnancy size 14-16s, because fitting into those would require a certain level of relaxation of my lifestyle; and besides, I got rid of them and have no intention of ever buying a pair of jeans that size again.
*** I can’t.

the star chart (and weekly check-in #2)

Let’s talk about resolutions.

Well, actually, since this is my blog (and my weekly check-in) I’m going to talk about my resolutions.

Or, more accurately, my commitments. I decided to call my resolutions ‘commitments’, because to me ‘resolution’ conjures up something you come up with for New Year and, more often than not, fail to keep. I know – the two words are most likely interchangeable and I’m just playing with semantics here, but if I’m going to be more likely to stick to a commitment than a resolution, then I’m using that word.

But first, a recap of what I’m talking about.

In January I wrote about resolutions in the context of The Happiness Project. Basically what Gretchen Rubin did in an attempt to make progress towards reaching her goals was to make resolutions related to those goals that were ‘concrete and measurable’. She then made up a chart to record those resolutions and included space for each day, where she would tick the box if she’d fulfilled the resolution and cross it if she hadn’t. (The Happiness Project, page 8.)

The idea behind this is that if you put the chart somewhere you can see it, you’ll be reminded of what you’ve set out to do, and if you record your progress, this provides a degree of accountability and encourages you to keep going.

For her Happiness Project, Ms Rubin selected a different subject for each month (such as ‘work’, ‘money’, ‘friendships’) and then set herself specific, realistic tasks related to those subjects, which at the end of each day she could assess whether or not she had done.

Each month she added the new month’s resolution’s to the previous ones, so that by the 12th month, her intention was to be keeping all of her resolutions every day.

So, having explained all that, it’s back to me.

A couple of weeks ago I posted how my first commitment was going to be to make sure my kitchen benchtop was clean every evening and that all the washing up was done and put away. 

It’s a fairly simple task, but it’s something that, by the time we’d done everything else we had to do once we got home – especially on the days when we pretty much got home and went straight into dinner – I was often in a state where I couldn’t be bothered to finish. I’d do the washing up and leave it in the drainer, I’d leave things on the bench that I wasn’t sure when I’d be needing next and I’d leave the stove to be cleaned until I next needed to use it.

The result was being greeted by an untidy kitchen first thing in the morning, which set me up for being in, well, an untidy mood for the rest of the day.

So I decided to start to make a bit more of an effort, and to make sure that I did, I made my own version of Ms Rubin’s resolution chart. It looks a lot like Juniordwarf’s star chart for the little tasks we were having trouble getting him to do, and is going to need some resizing pretty soon, once the number of commitments gets much bigger.

Yep it’s probably a little bit childish, but there is a certain satisfaction in doing something I said I’d do, and seeing my chart fill up with stamps. Juniordwarf is quite amused by it all too. But if it works, then I’m not complaining.
Last week was my first full week trying to fulfil this commitment, and this week was my second. My first weekly check-in was here, and I committed to coming back every Sunday night and reporting on my progress, in an attempt to hold myself accountable. By that I mean I hope I’m less likely to give up if I’ve made a public commitment to doing this stuff (even if only one person reads it).

Ok, I can’t put it off any longer . . . time to report.

Kitchen bench: 7/7 stars.
Bed by 11pm: 3/6 stars (I can’t count tonight, since I haven’t gone to bed yet).
Drink enough water: 7/7 stars.

Next week’s new commitments

This is going to be tough. The commitment is to get up and dressed by 7 am every day.

Not difficult on a work day because I get up well before then. But on weekends and on my day with Juniordwarf, I tend to lounge around for a long time before I get dressed, I don’t actually do anything during that time and I waste a lot of the day. I’m hoping that the act of getting myself ready for the day will move my mind into an action frame of mind, rather than a sloth one.

Also, if I have to get up earlier, this might help me stick to the 11 pm bed time, which I did well at the start of the week, but lost it at the end of the week.

Maybe I should make it 8 am on a Sunday though.

Weekly Check-in #1

Remember my post a couple of weeks ago in which I made a commitment to myself to wash up and clear off my kitchen bench every night?

Well, it’s not much good making that sort of commitment unless I have a way to keep myself honest, so I made myself a version of a star chart to keep track of whether I’ve actually been doing what I said I would.

And to keep myself more honest, because I made a public commitment to doing this, I’ve decided to have a weekly check-in post every Sunday night so I can celebrate my success (or admit my not-quite-success).

So, where am I up to?

Week 1: 5/5 possible stars. A good start.
Week 2: 4/7 possible stars. I didn’t quite get there.

Next week’s commitments
1. The kitchen task remains.
2. I will be in bed by 11.00 every night.

The reason for making this commitment is that I simply am not getting enough sleep. I’m run down and sick all the time and I need to rest. So I’ll see if this makes a difference.

I’ll be back next Sunday night to report on my progress.