Things that work :: Habit list

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'm a person who believes strongly in self-improvement... and, yeah, that includes the new age wonder that is self-help. I'm at a place where I fully own my issues, good and bad. And I am always, always trying to work on the ones that, I feel, hold me back from the life I want. I'm fully aware that I, nor the rest of the world, will ever be perfect and that's not my goal. My goal is too never fall into the opposite trap... the sarlacc pit that is "things never get better / why bother." I get pretty miserable at that thought. I know people who are stuck there and they are not happy people. And not being happy is another thought that makes me miserable.

So if I hear about something and it sounds like it might help me in some way, I will quickly read that book / try that workout / download that app / learn that technique. Sometimes the things help and sometimes, a lot of times even, they don't. When I find something especially useful or cool, I think I'll share it here. With the understanding, of course, that what works for me might not work for you. And, I won't think less of anyone who isn't into the same stuff I'm into* (that's one of the issues I've long ago kicked to the curb). Basically... I'm not the boss of you, you can go your own way, think for yourself, etc.

Creating new habits or dropping old ones is a tricky game... I can't tell you how many to-do list apps and habit apps I have downloaded. Most of them get used for about a week, then moved to a folder in case I magically think of a better way to use it, then finally get deleted in a random app purge. But I think I've finally found a good one in Habit List.

I've been using this app for a few weeks now and I love it. Things are getting done! New good habits are getting ingrained! Old bad habits are getting the boot! Take a look...

These are screen shots from my own Habit List. You can schedule habits all sorts of ways - daily, weekly, monthly, 3x a week, etc. Most of the items on my "today" list are daily habits, with the exception of a different room cleaning goal each day and a couple of monthly goals (like donating unwanted stuff). At the end of a day, it will show you how much of your list you completed as a percentage. I'm pretty obsessed with getting 100%, though I don't always.

You can also easily look at each habit and see how often you complete it. That is helpful if you, like me, often fall victim to 12 Cookie Syndrome. Now instead of, "I failed at this once, I suck, I give up," I can see the bigger picture...  "Yeah, I failed at that goal today, but look how often I've completed it in the past few weeks! It would be dumb to give up because of one bad day!" I'm being careful to slowly add new habits so I don't get overwhelmed and a few have already been delayed or deleted.

The different ways to look at the data can give you a good idea of what your priorities are. For me, my twice daily TM practice is my biggest daily priority and I've never even been tempted to skip it. One of the big effects TM has had on me is that I'm just naturally rejecting the crappity crap and craving (and acting towards) more goodness & order in my life. You might not think that doing the dishes everyday is a big deal... but my previous habit was to constantly fall behind on all the housework and then feel overwhelmed by it all and then ignore it longer and then finally do something about it. I have spent a good part of my adult life trying to figure out how other people manage the day-to-day basics and now, suddenly, it's all clicking with me. And I'm definitely giving my TM practice the props for that. I'm not sure I can explain how it works... it just does.

Oh, but I was talking about how cool this app is. This app is way cool and helping me reach some goals & create new habits. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some habits to tend to. :)

P.S. That sunscreen goal cracks me up because I'm so bad at this! How can a natural redhead be as bad as me at sunscreen? But, look! 10 days in a row I have slathered it on. Go me!

*unless maybe you don't like Star Wars or you like the wrong Star Wars... then I might think less of you. ;)

a (super long) story

Friday, April 4, 2014

(this picture really has nothing to do with this post)

You know that thing that happens sometimes? You know, where you’re listening to Alec Baldwin interview Jerry Seinfeld and then Jerry says something that piques your interest? And the next thing you know, its two months later and you’re at the house of a person you’ve met twice before, watching him do a fun little ceremony before he turns to you and tells you your mantra?

Wait… this didn’t happen to you too? ;)

I recently learned Transcendental Meditation. Or “TM” as it’s called these days. And yes, it really did start with something Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview with Alec Baldwin. You can listen to the interview here if you’d like, it’s really good & the TM part is only like 2 minutes.

First, let’s talk about stress: it’s a giant asshole, right? Right. There are a lot of ways to “deal” with it and I wish I could say that I’m one of the people who manage it well. HAHAHA. No. It mostly makes me want to hide under the covers, but because I don’t have the luxury of being an eccentric millionaire, I can’t do that. Instead it goes like this:
ugh! stress is miserable -> half-heartedly attempt change  -> give up 5 minutes later -> now I’m miserable  -> now I feel sorry for myself -> eat all the gross food  / drink all the wine  /  buy all the things / win all the bitch contests -> lather, rinse, repeat.
The cycle of suck. 

I am also a giant ball of anxiety most of the time and am finding that it gets worse as I get older. Stress + anxiety + bad habits = bad news bears for your health. 

When I turned 35, I figured I was running out of time. I needed to take charge and make changes or just give up and be OK with being dysfunctional & unhappy. Finally, my insanely stubborn personality comes in handy! No fucking way I’m going to settle!  This is not my beautiful life and I’m not giving up until it is!!!

And everything broken was fixed overnight! Haha! Nope, no, not at all. Real lasting change is, like, hard & stuff. It’s been 2 years and (I think) I’ve made some decent progress. But there have been some major setbacks and they are almost always preceded by some high stress times. 

Last summer & fall, I was rocking the healthy lifestyle… I felt like I’d finally figured out what worked for me & it was working well! This was going to be the year where I won at winter! Then some things happened… I slipped on some gravel while walking the dogs and SMASHED my knee into the sidewalk. And that sidetracked my “finally feel like I’m a runner” running habit and all exercise for awhile. Exercise being a major component in my ability to manage stress, this couldn't have happened at a worse time. Meanwhile, at work, I got a promotion! The kind of promotion where 2 full-time jobs are merged into 1 full-time job with a part-time person to help out and the last 2 people who had one of the jobs really didn’t bother doing that job so there’s about 10 years of mess to clean up and the first person I hired to be my assistant turned out to not be useful in any way and so now I have to replace her and I made a to-do list that took up every inch of 2 pieces of paper and it was just easier if I skipped going to lunch and by the time I’m done with my 12 hour day I’m just gonna grab some hot food and collapse on the couch and binge watch Netflix. With wine of course. And now it’s winter and it’s being super polar vortexy and I just give up. Welcome back, cycle of suck.

And so, I was in this familiar place when I was listening to the previously mentioned interview… and, there was just something about the way Jerry talked about TM that made me crazy curious. I had, of course, heard of TM… I mean, I’ve watched a million Beatles documentaries and everybody who knows anything about David Lynch knows that he is way into it. But I chronically turn my nose up at things that look even remotely like organized religion, especially if there is a fee involved. Plus there’s that whole scene in Annie Hall and no one wants to be the dippy Shelley Duvall character. ;) But… there was a realization that if I don’t figure out how to manage stress, all the awesome goals I have are going to be that much harder to reach. So I bought a book (this book) and did some internet sleuthing and requested some info and went to a lecture. And you know what? It seemed like this might really be a thing that works, at the very least, for basic stress management. 

As for my two main concerns: it is definitely not a religion. My TM teacher is a Protestant. And the cost? Well, a person who spent about $1300 buying “sugar milk w/splash of coffee” drinks in the past year can’t really use that excuse here. In all, I calculated that all my bad habits (usually justified in a bid to chill the stress) cost upwards of $5K per year. And they do nothing to relieve stress and, in fact, add to it by fueling the cycle of suck. So, two weeks ago, I went for it. 

And everything broken was fixed overnight! Ha, still no. But a few things have changed. Like? 
  • Mood - I have not been in a bad mood since my very first meditation. Seriously. When I mentioned this strange phenomenon to my teacher, he wanted to know what kind of mood I’m normally in - “Not a good one.”  Ha! I’m not walking around like an anger bear or anything, but grumpy comes easy to me and anything remotely frustrating (like 88% of life) tends to trigger it. I still notice the annoying and frustrating things but… they’re not latching on and pulling down my moods anymore.

  • Anxiety – Still there but the levels are dropping rapidly. I filed my taxes without having the usual week long full-blown anxiety attack (I’m irrationally terrified of fucking that up). I’m finding it easier to talk to people, even people I’ve just met (introvert-leaning + social anxiety = being an awkward weirdo). No more waking up in a panic because I maybe forgot to do something / maybe forgot to put the battery in the smoke detector / maybe left the stove on  (look, there’s just nothing rational about anxiety).
  • Energy – The funny (awesome) thing about TM is that it chills you out while simultaneously recharging you. It’s like a power nap w/out sleeping. A thing I can just do now? Wake up and feel like I actually slept. If you’re a chronically bad sleeper, that’s a big deal. I’m still not a great sleeper, but the two 20-minute daily meditations are helping me out big time.
  • Getting shit done – perhaps not being a grumpy, anxiety-ridden, sleepy girl has something to do with it, but I am definitely getting more stuff done, at work & at home. And in the way normal people do (start -> work on -> finish), instead of my usual way (start -> get distracted -> work on haphazardly -> get distracted -> finish 3 years later maybe)
There are other things, but those are the big things I’ve noticed. But those are BIG THINGS for me. And, I’ve only been practicing for 2 weeks! Even if it stays at this level of helpful, I will never regret spending the money to learn TM. I’m planning on keeping track of how it's working out here so expect to hear more about this. Or, if it doesn’t interest you, I’m also planning some house project posts soon. :D

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