30 days of evening routines – take 2/day 2

Before I launch into 30 days of trying to sort out my evening routine, I wanted to explain how I understand this is all supposed to work. The idea behind having a regular predictable routine is basically that, because you have everything lined up to do one after the other, you’ll do the first thing and go into autopilot, doing everything else in order and slide easily into bed at your pre-determined bedtime.

Obviously this takes some time to set up and get working smoothly, but the way I understand it is, if you have a fixed schedule that you repeat until it becomes ingrained, it takes having to make a decision about “what to do now” out of the picture, so that you do what you need to do rather than getting caught up in “bad” habits that keep you up too late.

There’s been a lot written about this, and some of the resources I’ve looked at include Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, James Clear’s website (jamesclear.com) and his (free) booklet Transform Your Habits, Dr BJ Fogg’s work, and Asian Efficiency’s posts, podcasts and webinars on rituals.

The first thing you need is a “trigger” or a marker that starts you off on the routine. This can be a time, something you do or something that happens.

For example, in the morning my alarm goes off, I get up, get dressed and drink water and so on through my morning routine. When my phone beeps, I pick it up and check it. When the pedestrian light goes green, I make sure the traffic has stopped and I start to cross the road. After I’ve finished a glass of water I do a shoulder stretch (this is one I’m working on) – you get the idea.

A trigger leads to an action, which can become quiet ingrained, sometimes very quickly (I walk past the bakery I go in and get a peppermint slice), sometimes very slowly (the shoulder stretch one). For some reason the habits that are quickest to become ingrained seem to be the ones I really don’t want. (Also I don’t do the bakery one any more. That was a while ago when I fell off the no-sugar bandwagon.)

I mentioned in my first post on evening routines that I have three routines I want to put in place:

1. Get home from work routine.

2. After dinner routine

3. Bedtime routine.

They’re all important for me to get right, because doing the things I want to do at the times I want to do them will make sure that I don’t have to do them later, which would stuff up the next routine. Getting my clothes out at night for the next day means I don’t have to stumble around in the dark looking for them when everyone else is asleep. Taking my contacts out early in the evening means I don’t use not wanting to do that as an excuse for not getting ready for bed.

If you read James Clear’s booklet, or BJ Fogg’s work (which James quotes in his book), you’ll find that the best way to “stack” a new habit onto the trigger is to make the habit so easy that you can’t say no to doing it. The classic example is BJ Fogg’s advice on if you want to build a habit of flossing your teeth. What you do first is commit to flossing just one tooth. As James explains it, what you do doesn’t matter. What actually matters is becoming the type of person who always sticks to the habit – and you “build up to the level of performance you want once the behaviour becomes consistent”.

Gretchen Rubin says a similar thing in her book Better than Before. You need to start as small as you need to, in order to actually start. “By doing so, [you] gain the habit of the habit and the feeling of mastery,” she says. But the key is to start.

The other important thing here is that the action must be specific. That is, I need to set out exactly what I’m going to do. At least at the start, when it’s all new. Right now, I know when I say “I will go for a walk” on a weekday morning means that I’ll go for a 20 minute/2 km walk over the same route I always go. But if I just said “I will exercise” that could mean anything. “Pack up” isn’t specific. “Back up my computer, put all loose papers away or in the bin, close all browser windows and shut the computer down” is. (That might be the end goal; it’s probably too big a habit to start with when it’s not something I’m currently doing consistently now.)

So putting these three things together, my plan is first to loosely sketch out what I need to do in the evening (not necessarily specific actions at this stage) and then to work out which of the routines each task would work best in. I don’t want to be washing the dishes right before I go to bed, so that’s probably best suited to the after dinner routine.

A lot of it I already do, but I want to use this month to make sure each action is part of the best routine, refine the action so I know exactly what I need to do (some of the things I try to do are fairly vague so I tend not to do them, or not finish them) and then put them into an order that works for me.

As I work my way through the plans, the second step will be for me to start to define actual actions I need to take, if I haven’t already done this. Because I already do a lot of this stuff, I don’t think I necessarily have to start small. In some cases that would be going backwards. “Wash one cup” would be silly, as I’m already in the habit of washing up after dinner. I’ll be using that strategy more for anything new that I want to introduce.

And the next step will be to identify the trigger.

I’m laughing at all this right now, because I used to resist planning and scheduling and routines of any sort. If you know anything about Myers Briggs, I was a very strong P-preference (the appearance to the outside world of having a preference for a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle). I don’t know if my transformation into someone with a J-preference (the appearance to the outside world of preferring a structured and ordered lifestyle) is my true self surfacing as I’ve got older, whether years of working in the public service has eliminated my spontaneity, or whether I truly am my father’s daughter.

Anyway I’m going to give this a go, to see if it will help me (a) get more sleep, (b) feel more in control of what I do during the evening and (c) give me a balance between relaxing and getting things that I have to do done.

I don’t know if it will work, or if my stomped-upon spontaneity will resist the control freak that has emerged. It’s all a big experiment!

Here’s another holiday photo while I’m thinking.

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Stepping on the cracks: Day 45

If you’ve been following my Travelpod blog, you’ll know that we’ve just got back from a family holiday in Victoria and South Australia.

As you might have suspected, my attempt to holiday-proof my routines and continue the Stepping on the Cracks project was a spectacular failure. I ate more, drank more, went to bed earlier and later, didn’t sleep well, woke up early, slept in, didn’t drink enough water, didn’t find opportunities to go for a walk – pretty much everything fell in a heap and it was a massive waste of space in my bag taking my walking shoes.

We were on the move every day, so there wasn’t really any time to settle into anywhere. I didn’t read much, didn’t think much, and spent most of my time taking in everything around me. Being in a different bed every night played havoc with my sleep, so I never felt especially rested.

I had a great time! We went to some lovely places, ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life and had some great experiences – but it simply wasn’t the sort of holiday where I could have bedded down routines and spent time thinking and learning.

So I’ve decided to draw a line through the first 15 days of the evening routine challenge and the last 15 days of the growth mindset challenge, and start them again now that we’re home. This just means that my “habit change” challenges will start on the 15th instead of the 1st of each month, and my more substantial challenges will start on the 1st instead of the 15th. So I still have 15 days to go of the growth mindset challenge, and there are at least a couple of exercises from Carol Dweck’s book I want to do in that time. I don’t want to finish this challenge without giving some thought to some of the ideas she discusses.

I think that makes sense, and I’m ok with doing this, because I think I would have had a miserable holiday if I’d spent the time beating myself up for not sticking to my original plan. And I still have three more days before I have to go back to work to resettle myself.

Here are some photos!

Challenge 3: 30 days of an evening routine

Since I started learning about habits, and about stitching habits together to form routines or rituals, I’ve been using a morning routine to start my days. I’ve found this is helpful in making sure I get important things done that I probably wouldn’t get around to doing if I left them until later in the day. This includes meditation, exercise, and the most recent addition to my routine, learning a new skill.

The idea behind routines is that if you consistently do the same things, in the same order at (more or less) the same time each day, the routine will become ingrained in your brain and you’ll do it on auto pilot, without having to think about what comes next. One of my favourite websites for information on setting up routines (and on why habits by themselves aren’t effective) is Asian Efficiency, which has heaps of advice on how to do this, as well as some paid programs if you want to explore further.

So after about six months of experimentation, I have a fairly effective morning routine (which falls apart slightly on weekends, but which is mostly successful in getting me out the door on time with everything done on weekdays), but I’ve struggled putting a doable routine for my evenings together and sticking to it.

I’m sure there are many reasons for this. Despite having an ideal bed time, my actual bed time is a lot more fluid than the time I have to leave in the morning. I’m tired at the end of the day and I don’t want to be doing stuff, I just want to fall into bed. I’d rather be checking my phone. I don’t see the end of the day things as essential as the things I do in the morning, and if I’ve had a couple of drinks it’s very easy to have a couple more and stay up until after midnight. (This is not a Good Idea when you’re getting up relatively early in the morning to undertake said morning routine – but the 30 days alcohol-free challenge has eliminated that excuse – at least for 30 days.)

When I’m tired it’s easier to flop on the couch and check my phone than it is to get up, brush my teeth and go to bed, so I tend to stay on the couch. And check my phone.

I’ve been gradually working on changing this, so Challenge #3 is to develop and stick to an evening routine that allows me to get everything done I want to during the evening and to go to bed at a sensible time. My goal is for a 10pm bedtime every night to try and at least approach the number of hours sleep I probably need.

There’s actually three subroutines involved that I think I need to do to achieve this.

  1. What I want to do when I get home from work (not crashing on the couch and vegging out on my phone).
  2. What I want to do after dinner (not crashing on the couch and vegging out on my phone).
  3. What I want to do before I go to bed (actually getting ready for bed instead of crashing on the couch and vegging out on my phone).

Part of this challenge will be working out the best subroutine to put each task into and I’ve already started work on this. For example, taking my contact lenses out is something I used to do before bed, and was one of those jobs I dreaded doing and put off for hours. I’d stay up late just because I couldn’t be bothered to get off the couch and do it. So one of my first changes will be to add “take out contact lenses” to subroutine #1 (when I get home) instead of having it in #3 (before bed).

What I’m hoping to have achieved by the end of the month is to have put in place a series of routines and habits that I can do every night that will make me feel properly ready for bed and that will make sure I’ve done the most important things I need to have done each evening.

I’m not sure how this will pan out over the first couple of weeks because I’ll be on holidays, so it will be a great opportunity to holiday-proof my routines. I’ll be interested to see how well I can maintain them and work out what are the main causes of me falling down. It will be a good learning experience.

Speaking of holidays, I’ll be blogging about our adventures on TravelPod (right here), so just watch me try to maintain two blogs while I’m travelling. Now taking bets as to how long this will last!

Book 12/24: 8 Minute Meditation

8 Minute Meditation, by Victor Davish appealed to me because of its cover, which claims that I could “develop mindfulness for greater clarity, lower stress, increased productivity and a happier life in just 8 minutes a day”. That seems like a pretty big claim.

Book 11 - 8 Minute Meditation

When I bought it I’d been trying to learn to meditate, but wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, or what it should feel like or how I should be doing it. It’s something I’ve tried to do on and off (like yoga) over the past 20+ years, but only recently incorporated it into a more structured morning routine.

I felt like I needed some help, and this book seemed like it might be the help I was looking for. I didn’t see the statement on the top of the book that it was the most American form of meditation yet, because if I had I suspect that might have put me off buying it.

I didn’t read the book all the way through to start with. I decided to go with the eight-week program and stick with it week by week, so I began by reading the introductory sections over a few days and then the instructions for week 1, and once I’d done that I started the 8-week program the next day.

In a nutshell, the book gives a basic overview of what meditation is and isn’t, and explains that it’s “the ‘portal’ to mindfulness”. It describes mindfulness as “. . . the action of allowing. Allowing what is to be just as it is. Moment by moment. Experience by experience. Breath by breath . . . Mindfulness is allowing what is.”

It then goes on to explain the practice of meditation, what the benefits are and how to follow the eight-week program. It specifically refers to “the roving mind”, which is what happens when you sit down and try to meditate, follow your breath, be in the moment, whatever you call it, and your mind just keeps on thinking, thinking thinking. I’ve found the maximum time I can concentrate on my breath before I start to follow a train of thought is three breaths, and without realising it I’ve gone away from the breath and I’m thinking. The idea in mindfulness meditation is that you notice you’re thinking, acknowledge it and take your awareness back to your breath. As often as it happens. Which in my case is all the time.

The bulk of the book sets out the eight-week program. Basically all you do is sit down and meditate for eight minutes a day, and each week there’s a new set of instructions to follow about what to focus your attention on. Each week talks about some of the things you might be feeling at that time, and answers some common questions. It’s not difficult, but the key is to do it every day.

As I went through the program I found some techniques easier than others. Some my mind completely resisted and others I was drawn to a lot more. The one where you have to bring up pictures in your mind was a complete blank to me because I just can’t draw a picture in my mind no matter how hard I try. The one where you focus on sounds was really interesting, but I think I was most drawn to the one where you just focus on your breath. This is what I’m familiar with and what I would see myself as doing moving forward.

Once you’ve finished the eight weeks you can move onto the “Upgrade” section, which gives you some ideas on how to “deepen your meditation practice and apply it to daily life”. This includes ideas on increasing your daily meditation time; a technique called Meditation In Action, where you do an everyday activity but focus on that activity and only that activity 100 per cent; and some ways to practise the Lovingkindness Meditation, which is introduced during the eight-week program. There are also some additional resources if you’re interested in exploring further.

I found this book to be a nice basic introduction to several different meditation practises, some of which worked for me and some of which didn’t. Mr Davich writes in a very conversational tone that is very gentle and reassuring. The key message is that there’s no “right way” to meditate, and that it’s something that anyone can do.

I still struggle with not engaging with my thoughts, but the key is to be aware of them and to let them go. Apparently my struggle is normal, and so I persist.

So does the book live up to its claim? I certainly think I’m benefiting from having incorporated a meditation practice into my day. I feel calmer most of the time, but I don’t know if I’m specifically happier or more productive, and if I was, whether it would be possible to attribute it to one thing I was doing differently. Let’s just say that this something I intend to continue doing.

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

12 of 12 March 2016 – Part 2

Part 1 of this post, in which I try to get into the habit of an earlier bedtime, is here.

The story continues . . .

I decided that, even though I wasn’t feeling so good, I’d get up and go for a walk this morning. Slabs suggested I sleep in and walk later in the day. While the idea sounded good, I didn’t think this was going to work because it’s cooler earlier in the day and walking in the heat* is likely to have tired me out more. And that’s assuming I’d be able to muster up the energy to get out of the house later. I find it much easier to get my walks out of the way first thing, before I get caught up in everything else I’m doing during the day.

2 of 12: I did sleep in. A bit. For me. By the time I got up and out of the house it was light, so I decided to wander along the walking track, which I can’t often do because it’s too dark most days when I get up.

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3 of 12: I took it easy. No 16 km walks this morning. 30 minutes was about 3000 steps, and I was grateful for the park benches dotted along the walking track, as I needed a rest by this point. This meant that I’d need to do seven lots of 30 minutes to reach my target. This sounded like a lot at 7am, but I was confident it was doable if I rested up in between.

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4 of 12: These signs are quite new. I can’t figure out if the council retro-fitted the dog poo stickers or if someone who was sick of stepping in poo go the shits and stuck the stickers onto the signs themselves.

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5 of 12: The river looking very peaceful this morning.

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I cut my normal route a bit short because I was getting tired and my walk was taking longer than normal. See! I’m not pushing myself.

6 of 12: I used some of my walking time to catch up on my French lessons on Duolingo, which I’d recently started again after a long absence. I followed the principle of making a new habit as easy as possible to do, so I reduced my daily goal to one lesson, which is possible to slot in almost anywhere in my day. I’ve generally tried to do it first thing after dropping Kramstable at school on my way to work. So if you see me walking along hunched over my phone in the morning I’m not on Twitter (probably). I’ll be learning French.

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After breakfast it was time to take Kramstable to swimming. An ideal opportunity to fit in two of those 30 minute walks I need to do. While it’s not the most pleasant and relaxing walk, as it’s mainly along main roads, it’s a good way to get us both moving.

The thing that struck me, as it did last week when we had to walk because Slabs needed the car, was how many cars went past and how few people were walking anywhere – I could count them on one hand each time. Most of the people that were walking were walking dogs rather than looking like they were walking to somewhere for a purpose.

As I watched the never-ending stream of cars go past, I wondered how many people were driving because it was quicker and easier than walking. After all, most people are busy, and taking an hour out of your day to walk to somewhere you could drive to and back in ten minutes is a big chunk of your day. Unless I’ve had no car, I’ve always jumped in the car and driven to swimming. It’s so much easier, I can leave a lot later and I have more time at home to do stuff like checking Twitter. I mean vacuuming the floors.

(What followed here was a ramble about the time needed to walk, slowing down, using the time as one-on-one time with Kramstable, environmental concerns about using the car for short trips. Followed by the eventual realisation that if I get up at the same time, walk for an hour less in the morning and walk to swimming instead I’ll still have the hour I would have saved by driving, plus all the other benefits. I’ll save all that for paspresentfuture: the director’s cut.)

8 of 12: Kramstable had a good swimming lesson.

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9 of 12: While we were up the street today we noticed someone had tried to set fire to the community notice board. Nice one.

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Also up the street, we learned some new roundabout etiquette where you indicate you’re going left before you even get onto the roundabout, and then go straight, confusing the hell out of people who are trying to cross the road. A change from the usual “indicate right when you’re going straight” crowd.

10 of 12: Washing day for the leggings!

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11 of 12: Today’s leggings. Today’s step count: 21,406. Two days to go. I might just make it.

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12 of 12: I made lasagna tonight. This is one of my favourite epic dishes that takes all afternoon to prepare. So you know that I’m not overdoing things, I had a rest first. And I went to bed early.

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* By heat I mean anything above about 18 degrees when the sun is shining. The sun here is burny and melty, and saps my energy every time I go outside, regardless of the actual temperature. I’m told the sun is more intense in Tasmania than in other places, and I find it to be really uncomfortable to be outside in. I hate walking in the sun.

12 of 12 March 2016 (Part 1) – all about sleep

Saturday 12 March 20126 – Day 5 of Walk in her Shoes.

**1 of 12:** According to my Fitbit I was only awake/restless for 18 minutes of the 8 hours I was in bed last night. I can assure it that its calculations are wildly inaccurate, as I was awake for most of the night. I just didn’t move enough for it to register.

20160312-01 Sleep time

I don’t know if my night time waking, which I rarely experience when I go to bed at midnight or later, is because I’m not well or because I’m going to bed before I feel fully tired.

Getting up earlier so I can walk in the mornings, which is a habit I had been working on even before Walk In Her Shoes, is something I want to keep doing. But to make sure I get enough sleep, I need to get myself to bed a lot earlier than midnight. Regularly, not just one or two days a week. Five hours a night really isn’t enough.

My past experience with going to bed earlier has been similar. I haven’t slept through the night and have ended up feeling worse than if I’d gone to bed later and slept through. I imagine that possibly my body has trained itself to go to bed at midnight and only get 5 hours sleep or thereabouts, and doesn’t know what to do when the opportunity is there for more sleep before midnight. (As opposed to more sleep after midnight, as it’s entirely possible for me to sleep in until 7 or 8 am with no problems.)

If that’s the case, then I have to unlearn it and learn a new pattern, where 10 pm (or whatever) is the new normal. I’ve read that adjusting your bedtime by 10 or 15 minutes a night helps you to do this. That makes sense, and maybe I’ve been trying for too big a change too soon. But being sick this week has meant I need more rest than normal, so the change has been forced, big and sudden rather than slowly introduced.

Having said that, one of the triggers to changing a habit that Gretchen Rubin writes about is the “lightning bolt”, where something happens that can kick start a new habit immediately. For example, when you get pregnant you might be able to kick unhealthy habits you’ve been trying to stop because there’s a sudden imperative to do so. So rather than go back to my late bedtime and wind them back gradually when I start to feel better, now might be a good time to start telling myself that the new earlier bedtime is my bedtime.

I have no idea if this will work. I hate waking in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. If that keeps happening I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it up. But . . . as I have an opportunity right now to try it out, I might as well use it.

I’ll be my own guinea pig!

(12 of 12 to be continued . . .)