Baby steps

So I’ve now publicly confessed that I’ve become somewhat more relaxed about sticking to some of the healthy life choices I’d been succeeding with, and have had a good hard look at why it might be a good idea to make some changes to get things back on track (she writes with a glass of wine in one hand).

Good. Recognising that there’s something not right and, very importantly, identifying why I need to fix it is a good first step. But now I actually have to do the hard work, decide what I’m going to do and (shudder) do it!

But where to start?

There are loads of areas I would like to have better habits in, but I know if I try to change everything at once, I’m not going to succeed. It will be too much in too short a time. There’s some reason out there in brain research world about why this is. It’s something to do with our caveman brain getting very agitated if things change too fast, and sabotaging our efforts because Change = Danger. So, the theories go, we have to trick caveman brain into thinking it’s safe by making only very tiny changes that don’t register with it.

If this is right, the baby steps approach is in order. And absolutely no stepping on the cracks, because caveman brain would notice that kind of dangerous behaviour and step in to try and keep me away from danger.

A concept I’ve read about in several places when you’re contemplating trying to make a change is, rather than looking at what you want to do, to ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask yourself what that person would do.

Gretchen Rubin refers to this in her book Better Than Before as “the Strategy of Identity”. The basic idea is that: “Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity”.

Ms Rubin gives an example of a way she changed her own thinking:

For years I thought of myself as someone who “hates exercise”, but at some point I realised that I hate sports . . .  I don’t mind exercise .  . .  Thinking of myself as someone who “enjoys exercise” allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.

Neat hey.

I looked at the main habits that are causing me concern – the afternoon snacking, the extra glass or two of wine every night, and the late nights – and I considered who I wanted to be in relation to those habits. This is what I came up with:

  • I am someone who doesn’t regularly eat food with refined sugar.
  • I am someone who doesn’t drink alcohol at home during the week.
  • I am someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep a night.

Oooh! Dotpoints! This is serious.

I think that if I tried to become that person in one big swoop, caveman brain would notice and would strongly resist, and I’d fail. Again. So I’ve decided to be that person on Mondays. The rest of the week, caveman brain can stay safe with the familiar.

(Maybe I need a name for caveman brain, which is looking out for my best interests and keeping me safe by making change so damn hard, so that we can become friends. I know it’s just doing what it was programmed to do and thinks it’s acting in my best interests. I mean if I was suddenly jumpscared by a tiger, caveman brain would be right there trying to save me.)

So now, what would dotpoint person do on a Monday?

She would make sure she has a nice healthy snack on hand so that when she gets the after lunch craving, she has something else available. (*Puts almonds on shopping list.*)

She might also think about taking all the cash out of her wallet when she goes out, so it’s slightly more difficult to buy the item in question. (She has a reluctance to EFTPOS small amounts, which might turn out to be a useful thing for this situation.) She also might decide not to walk past any tempting shops when she goes out at lunch time (including a certain clothes store).

James Clear refers to the practice of setting up your environment in a way that will support your desired (healthier) habits as “choice architecture“.

Having succeeded at not indulging in the afternoon, our hero would feel pretty good when she got home. (OK, hero might be overstating things a bit. She resisted eating cake. She didn’t save someone’s life.)

Yep, today she’s someone who doesn’t eat refined sugar. The same someone also doesn’t drink on a school night, but by the time Monday evening comes around, she’s tired and would quite like to relax with an alcoholic beverage. However, she knows that one leads to two leads to three leads to staying up late and being exhausted in the morning.

Knowing the flow-on effect of one drink on her ability to be someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep, she also has to be someone who doesn’t drink. She has learned about choice architecture, and so she thoughtfully set up her teapot, tea and cup near the kettle, which she filled up before she went to work in the morning. They’re all there, making it easier for her to make the choice to drink tea rather than beer.


She sits with her tea and writes in her journal.

And when her 9.30 pack up alarm* goes off, she doesn’t have half a glass of wine left that inevitably seems to get refilled, or the decreased will power that alcohol appears to inflict on her, and she actually packs up and gets to bed by 10pm.

A successful mission.

These are the smallest of baby steps. In isolation, this is no big achievement. It will only benefit me if I keep being this person every Monday. I’ve already noticed how much better I feel on a Tuesday when I’ve had more sleep than I get on other nights. Wednesday morning me wants to be like Tuesday me, so Tuesday me will have to have almonds instead of cake and herbal tea instead of beer, and will have to go to bed on time. And within a few weeks, I’ll be that person I want to be without caveman brain Betty having noticed.

It sounds easy. I’m sure it won’t be. So, in the spirit of trying new things out, this is an experiment to find out if thinking about who I want to be rather than what I want to do is an effective way to change a habit.

If you think this might be a helpful strategy for a habit you want to change, tell me about it in the comments, and we can cheer each other on.

Who do you want to be?

* The packup alarm is supposed to remind you that you need to be getting up in 6/7/8 hours, and that it’s time to pack up, turn your screens off and go to bed. I have several of them. I ignore every single one and carry on. (Bedtime alarms really is a thing. Google “bedtime alarm”.)

Challenge 8 – Crosswords Day 15

I’m now half way through the crosswords challenge and have started puzzle 22 today. I completed three puzzles this week, one of them I cried out for help on Twitter because there was a clue I just couldn’t get:

“American runners from Alaksa wearing cruel smiles (8)”.

I got that there would be AK (Alaska) in there somewhere but couldn’t put the rest of it together. The answer is “sneakers” – AK in cruel smiles (sneers) = American runners. I was thinking of runners in the sense of athletes, not in the sense of shoes.

Thank you Annie!

I have a long way to go. But I’m enjoying it. I’m especially enjoying wrestling with a clue and then going back to it a couple of days later and immediately seeing the answer.

I’m finding it a lot easier to pull out the crossword book when I have a spare moment or two than I do to pull out the sketch book and try to draw something. So I’m going to give my morning “learning” time back to drawing and use spare moments that crop up during the day to work on my crosswords.

What I learned this week:

  • I need to get back into my evening routine and 10.00 bedtime.
  • I read a fascinating book called Untrain Your Brain by Mike Weeks. One line that stood out for me in the book was: “Even when we seemingly lose all choice over what life presents it’s crucial to remember that our internal response is and always will be ours to choose.”
  • Adélie is a species of penguin
  • If I sleep in and miss my morning routine yoga/meditate/walk/draw/me-time, my day doesn’t go as smoothly as normal.
  • When I’m cutting bread with a sharp knife, I shouldn’t take my eyes off what I’m doing (ouch).

And to round everything off, here’s my progress against my goals for this week:

Get a new yoga mat

  • I looked but I’m not sure exactly what I want, so this is on hold for now.

Get as far as I can on at least 6 more crossword puzzles

  • I’ve started four new puzzles and completed three (two of which I had already started).
Draw two faces
  • I drew one face and several eyes.
Complete steps 5-7 of Living With Intent
  • Completed and I did step 8 and started step 9.
Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge
  • It’s all in my head.
Write a blog post on what I learned this week
  • You’re reading it.

Goals for this week:

  1. Listen to the Asian Efficiency Podcast on creating a manifesto and start to write these 5 documents.
  2. Make a start on the last three “easy peasy” crosswords in my crossword book.
  3. Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge (i.e. actually do it this week).
  4. Write a blog post on what I learned this week.

Challenge 5: Overview

This challenge (30 Days of Fixing What Bugs You) hasn’t really been great in terms of things I’ve actually been able to write about. I haven’t kept much of a record of what I’ve done. I feel like maybe it was a bit abstract to take this on for 30 days, because doing something depended on something happening that I had to react to. So, with some notable exceptions, most things that have annoyed me have been little blips that I struggled to remember at the end of the day.

Having said that, I think “fix what bugs you” is a really great philosophy to subscribe to. It’s certainly better than complaining about something that either I can fix or I can’t do anything about (or I could fix with a bit of effort but can’t be bothered, so I’ll just sit here and whinge about it thank you very much).

I have taken some small proactive steps in one area of my life that I’m pleased with, and some of that has spilled a bit over into Challenge 6 (Clarity), so I might say more about that later on.

30 Days of No Complaining should have ended on about 14 September, so I could start challenge 7 on the 15th, but last week was a big week and I had other things that were more important. Challenge 7 will start tomorrow, and this will be something practical that I can do every day and measure.

Tonight we had our final yoga class for the term, and won’t be restarting until mid-October. Last term I had good intentions to do some yoga over the holidays, but we went away and it didn’t happen. When we went back to class this term, I really felt like I hadn’t done any yoga for three weeks. It wasn’t good. I want to keep it up this time, so I’ve decided to exchange my morning walks for morning yoga (and reduce my daily step goal to 12,000 during this time). This is something I’ll be much more able to keep track of, and it shouldn’t add any extra time requirement into my day, which means (in theory) I should be able to incorporate it into my morning routine fairly easily.

And finally, here’s something I learned last week. Remember when I wore the bright pink lacy leggings to work as “something I wouldn’t normally wear” as past of the #yearoffear challenge and no one noticed?20160912-yellow-leggings-attract-more-comments-ig Change “bright pink” for “yellow” and everyone notices!

Evening routines: day 29

The evening routine challenge is just about over. Here’s Day 5 of the Asian Efficiency evening routine challenge. It addresses a key issue that your routine needs to help you stick to it: Your why.

One of the reasons a lot of habits don’t stick is because you don’t have a clear reason for why you want to cultivate the habit, so there isn’t a real incentive to do it.

In the post Zachary asks:

Why is it so important that this evening ritual is strong? How does making the small, smart consistent choice to get the rest you need give you more of what you want out of life? More health. More abundance. More opportunity. More gratitude. More growth. More learning. More fun. More service. More romance.

More of you.

 

I realised that part of the reason I wasn’t very good at sticking to my evening routine and bedtime was that, along with it not being very structured, I wasn’t being very clear on why I needed to do it.

“I should go to bed earlier because I’ll be tired in the morning, oh but I can’t be bothered, screw it, I’ll have another glass of wine…. Oh shit it’s midnight and I’ve just sat on the couch all evening and done nothing.”

Very non-comittal.

This has gradually turned into an 11-step routine that starts at 9.20 and gets me into bed before 10.00pm.

But why?

Because I need to get enough sleep to function the next day, and I need to wake up early to get three of my most important things done before my day starts: meditate, move, create. I now look forward to getting up early to do these things, and most nights I look forward to going to bed several hours earlier than I used to.

On Tuesday night, I didn’t do the routine (mainly because I was filling in my paper Census form and watching the drama of #censusfail unfold on Twitter) and I felt very out of sorts as a result. I struggled getting to sleep that night, and I put this mostly down to the fact that I didn’t stick to my routine and specifically that I was on my devices right up to the time I went to bed. Either that or it’s a mighty big coincidence that it was the first time in ages I’ve had trouble sleeping.

So there’s my why; the final part of my evening routine, which ties it all together. In the Asian Efficency post, Zach suggests that once you’ve done this to:

“Set a calendar reminder to review what you wrote in a couple of weeks. Re-read and revise your “why” whenever you feel your motivation or execution slipping.

 

I think that’s a good idea.

Evening routines (Challenge 3): Day 24

The evening routine challenge is going well. Moving on with it, Day 4 of the Asian Efficiency Evening Routine Challenge is to make improvements to your sleep environment to help you get a better night’s sleep when you do get to bed.

There are a tonne of resources out there on how to get to sleep and stay asleep. I’ve had problems in the past, but right now I only rarely have trouble getting to sleep, so I’m very grateful for this.

Some of the common suggestions I’ve already written about in this series, such as having a set bedtime every night, putting a wind-down routine in place and dimming the lights around the house (easier said than done when you live with other people who stay up later than you do).

Other recommendations include:

Getting all devices out of your bedroom – including phones, TVs and e-readers, not only for the blue light that keeps your brain stimulated, but also because they are too easy to pick up and distract yourself with instead of going to sleep.

I once heard Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post, who has recently put out a book about sleep) say that when she’s getting ready for bed, she “escorts” her devices out of her bedroom, which I think is a nice way of putting it – she has 12 tips on her website for better sleep that you can download here.

I turn my phone to airplane mode when I shut down my other devices but I need the progressive alarm on the phone to wake me in the morning. This is a series of chimes that start off very quietly and get louder over the interval that I set (it’s about 6 minutes) – intended not to disturb anyone else, because I wake up before they get too loud and turn it off. I’ve tried to find something like a progressive alarm that’s a standalone clock but have had no luck, so until I can find something like that the phone has to stay!

Having a completely dark bedroom – which means blackout curtains and/or a sleep mask, and even going as far as no LED displays like clock-radios. We’re lucky to live in a relatively dark and quiet street, so haven’t needed blackout curtains, though they might come in handy in summer when it gets light earlier. It’s on the house improvement list.

Keeping the temperature relatively cool – apparently you need to drop your core body temperature slightly before you go to sleep; this is why a lot of people recommend a bath or a shower as part of their evening routine. There are several different recommendations out there as to what the optimal sleeproom temperature is, but I suppose it would vary between different people – they key is to having a lower temperature than your normal living environment.

The reason is apparently this (according to science):

Over a 24 hour period, our body temperatures naturally peak and decline. Our internal temperature is usually at its highest in the early afternoon and lowest around 5am. When we fall asleep, our bodies naturally cool off. Helping keep your body get to that lower temperature faster can encourage deeper sleep.

(http://www.simplemost.com/science-says-sleeping-cold-room-better-health-because-body-heat/)

I didn’t need to make a lot of changes to complete this challenge, but I’m still on the lookout for a progressive alarm clock that isn’t a phone app, so I can get the phone totally out of the bedroom. So if you know of such a thing, please let me know!

Challenge 3: Evening rituals – day 22

Day three of the Asian Efficiency Evening Rituals Challenge  is to track your rituals.

Gretchen Rubin discusses habit tracking in what she calls the Strategy of Monitoring  in her book Better than Before. She says: “Monitoring has an almost uncanny power. It doesn’t require change, but it often leads to change, because people who keep close track of just about anything tend to do a better job of managing it.” This can apply both to monitoring how well you’re doing something now, to see where you need to make changes (for example, tracking your sleep, or how much you eat or exercise will give you a better indication of your actual performance than just estimating it), and also when you start to make changes, to show you how well you’re doing.

One of the tools I’m using at the moment is a website and app called Ritualize, where you can list all the habits you want to do and how many times a week you want to do it. Each habit has a check box that you can check off when you’ve done it each day and you get points every times you check something off. When I first signed up it was through work, and people were able to join “tribes” to compete against each other – the idea being that if other people were doing the same thing you’d be encouraged to keep up your good habits too. I think this would work better if there were more people I knew that were using it regularly, but there is a nice little community of users that I connect with in my feed, which keeps it interesting. There’s heaps of other apps out there that do similar things, including Habitica, which is a habit tracking role playing game that I started to use but never really got into. I’m told it works really well.

Or you can use good old fashioned pen and paper, a calendar, an Excel spreadsheet or even a whiteboard and check things off when you do them.

Why would you do this?

According to Asian Efficiency, tracking your habits is important because:

  • First,  it holds you accountable. You only really know if you’ve been following through with your intentions if you have the data to back you up.
  • Second, it motivates. By drawing a fat X on a calendar, checking a box off of your paper tracker, clicking a button in your app, or entering another day in your Excel sheet, you make the invisible visible. You’ll see your progress. And that’s motivating.

I’ve decided, for a bit of extra encouragement, to track my evening routine on paper as well for a couple of weeks to try and get the routine ingrained, or see if anything needs to shift around, be dropped out or added in. That way if I have my notebook with me, not only do I have the routine somewhere I can see it, I can see how much progress I’m making.

20160806 Bedtime routine

Evening routines – Day 19/30

To make sure I get the right number of hours sleep, I really need to be in bed at 9.30 at the latest. Right now, I can’t quite get there. So I’m working with 10 pm for now.

For Day 1 of the Asian Efficiency Evening Routine Challenge,  I’ve set a “reverse alarm” for 8:30 pm that tells me I’m getting up in 8 hours. This is to remind me that I have an hour before I have to start getting ready for bed. I have another reminder to finish up what I’m doing at 9.20, and another one for screens off at 9.30, which is when my bedtime routine begins.

So what goes into a bedtime routine?

I really love the structure that Lisa Grace Byrne has put together for a bedtime routine in her book Replenish. She describes the bedtime routine as “a bridge from where you are at the end of the day to a place where your body and mind are ready to fall into a deeper level of rest”. Its purpose is to “slowly disengage you from the world and bring you back inward to yourself to ready your self for deep restorative sleep”.

Lisa outlines four basic steps. First you cut your connection to the world for the night, by finishing up the jobs you have to do and turning off your screens and devices. You should have a fixed time to do this. For me it’s 9.30.

Then you move a step inward and do something to calm your body – it might be having a bath or a shower, washing your face, doing some light stretches, something gentle like that. Another thing that many sleep experts suggest as you start your bedtime routine is to dim the lights around the house to make sure your melatonin (the sleep hormone) production isn’t disrupted by artificial light.

The next step inward is to calm and soothe your mind, so Lisa suggests things like inspirational reading, meditation, calm breathing or journalling can be good to get thoughts out of your head before you go to sleep. The final level of transition is to nurture your spirit. Lisa says that she loves “including something before bed that aligns with [her] spirit and symbolises what [she wants] to bring more of into [her] life”, so she might do some gratitude journalling or prayer.

Lisa shows it as going a bit like this: World >> Body >> Mind >> Spirit (but she has a pretty diagram rather than words).

At the moment I don’t do much of any of the last two steps, but I feel like it would be a nice way to close the evening. Maybe some simple breathing exercises, some light reading and thinking about what I’m grateful for and what I hope for tomorrow. I don’t want to be writing stuff down at bed time or I won’t stop, and I’ll stay awake all night!

To me there seems to be a bit of an overlap between the last two steps (mind and spirit), so I think it’s a matter of experimenting to see what I might like to do and the order I do it in.

That will be my main focus for the last 10 days of this challenge.

As I start to work out what I want to do, day 2 of the Asian Efficiency Challenge is to write your routine down and put it somewhere you’ll see it to make sure you follow it. I’ve done what I think might work, and the approximate times I should be doing the things that should make sure I’m in bed by 10.00 pm. Now I have 25 minutes before I have to shut everything down and get ready for bed….