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New Years Day
a post about habits, rituals, and the things I do regularly
We’re six weeks into the new year, and I’m guessing a billion people have slipped on their New Years resolutions. I, as usual, have not - but only because I don’t see a need to tie habit changes to a calendar date (or I’m lazy - you choose). Yet - as I sit on a couch with my dog curled up next to me for the 10th Saturday in a row, I’m reflecting on the habits and patterns (and tools) that provide some aspect of structure for the way I get shit done.
It Starts With a List
I’ve played with task management tools for …a very long time. I used a personal kanban board for many years (handy when my tasks were mostly large things), but about three years ago, I adopted ToDoist - and now it’s deeply integrated into my day. I use it for personal reminders (“buy lightbulbs”), (“take out garbage every wednesday”) - as well as work stuff (“prepare for week every sunday night”), or for follow up notes during meetings (“ask pointy-haired boss about budget changes”). It’s the way I make sure I take care of important things, remember to plan (a little), and to make sure little things don’t fall through the cracks of my not-always-so-great memory.
I also use it sometimes to help me with habits.
I have a ToDoist item called “Exercise” that shows up every day (until I check it off). Really, it should be more specific - or honestly, I could remove it since getting some exercise every day is so embedded in my routine that it’s redundant. I think I added it during the pandemic lockdown, but it still remains. The underlying habit goes beyond the checkbox. Except for an 18 month break during the aforementioned lockdown, I’ve been lifting weights pretty regularly for the past 6 years or so, and have been a pretty active walker for the the last five (coincidentally, Terra turned 5 last weekend).
I’m certainly not muscle bound and ripped - in fact, my weight lifting and walking pretty much loses out on my physique when balanced with my less healthy habits of fine dining and fine wine.
Despite the “bad” habits, SymmetricStrength says that I’m “Proficient” or “Intermediate” in my main lifts - but more importantly, I’ve found that doing the work to try and increase the weight has just the right balance of hard work and reward.
When I was stranded in the Buffalo blizzard back in December, I was bored, so I started re-learning French with DuoLingo. I have studied French off and on for many years, and spent two months near Aix back in 2014, where I got to a stage where I could sort of communicate and use proper verb tenses. Unfortunately, those skills have long since left me, so I’m re-learning again. I’m currently on a 55 day streak (reminded every day of course, by ToDoist). I’m still far behind where I’ve been in the past, and may never catch up, but the 15-20 minutes I spend every day are rewarding and fun.
In a former life, I was a bit of a musician. I loved my practice routine and habit, but somewhere I lost it. I haven’t played regularly in ~15 years. Anyone who’s played seriously knows the power of playing a little every day. The habit makes the performance.
Similarly, I used to write every day - whether it was morning pages, or simply a goal of writing 500 words every day, habits help us improve and are rewarding.
The Seinfeld Strategy (written about at least a million times on the internet) is a canonical example here. Pick something you want to get better at, and then visibly mark it as complete each day. Watching the streak continue is rewarding - but the real reward is in the improvement you see over time.
I guess the point is (and I never promised there would be a point) is simply that habits are good, and that habits can be reinforced by visualizing them. Checking off items in ToDoist is rewarding. Seeing a streak of consecutive days is rewarding. Find the things you want to improve - or the things you’re already doing that you want to be more consistent, and make them a habit.
If you read my todoist list above, you will have figured out that like a gazillion other people in the last few years, I have made a sourdough starter. I got lucky, and it’s alive and makes incredible sourdough bread. But it’s like a pet. It needs to be taken care of and nurtured (and fed) - and I know this because this is the second starter I’ve made.
Good news now is that I get to check off an item in ToDoist - and then I’m off to the gym to do another.