Habits, routines and apps, oh my!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how daily habits can really make or break you, so to speak. I have found that if I put off my top priorities for ‘later in the day’, they don’t always happen.   What I do first thing in the morning has everything to do with what kind of day follows. So I gave my routine a mini overhaul. Now I walk-jog before breakfast, and start in on my writing shortly afterwards.  No matter what takes place the rest of the day, if I’ve exercised and written, I am invincible.

I appreciate the words of fiction writer Anna Quindlen when she describes the importance of her own routine.  During her interview with Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project), Quindlen says: I have a picket fence of habits to keep me on track.  I neither like nor dislike them; I just need them to do my work. I really like how she compares her habits to a picket fence- keeping productivity in and wasted time and energy out.  Her habits include eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day so as not to spend brain power on such decisions. This sounded rigid to me, until I recalled the many times I floundered for breakfast. Oatmeal? An egg? No, yogurt with fruit. Hmm, but we have this new cereal…

I think the key to forming lasting habits is to know yourself and what will actually work for you. Then do it. The beauty of a well formed habit is that we no longer have to think about it. We can use our precious energy for other things- things that really matter to us. Although I am not one of them, I understand that many people thrive on finding and using more and better technology for their everyday needs. Therefore, I did a simple search on some top habit forming apps available on iTunes.  Here are a few:

Carrot– This one is definitely the most amusing. It’s introduction is “Don’t Suck at Life”.  This app is your tough love coach- oh and it has a gender- it’s a girl. She will reward you and punish you, depending on how you are doing. You can earn points or carrots, or whatever she calls them. Those familiar with video games will speak her language.  If you like competition, and do well with negative reinforcement, this one is for you. Also, I read that it does not overload you with options when you start, so you probably won’t spend more time figuring out the features than you will engaging in the desired habit.

The Way of Life- The Ultimate Habit Maker-This one sounds very basic, and is data driven. The free version limits you to three habits, and you simply type them in and check off boxes each time that you meet your goal. You will get a visual of how you are doing as you go along.

Lift– If you are looking for short term support, this one lasts for just seven days, and it somehow involves community support.

Whatever your habit-forming style is, there is a way to succeed.  The distance between feeling like you suck at life, and feeling on top of the world, may just be a few simple habits away!

 

 

Simplify: a discipline alternative

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most. anonymous

I recently had a revelation. I simplify because I lack discipline. It’s one of those facts that you’ve known all along but comes into focus one day. For me, simplifying takes the place of discipline, and then leads to happiness.

Looking back, I’ve never really been disciplined.  I can blame that on my temperament, my upbringing, or anything else I can come up with, but it just never came naturally to me.   I remember starting on a strict diet when I was a teen, and how my parents did not have to worry that it would get out of control.  My diet lasted three days. I got consistent exercise only in the fall, because that is when I played a sport. If I didn’t show up, there would be consequences, people mad at me. I required structure, demands, few choices.

Fortunately for our daughters, they seem to take after their father.  I’ve never had to remind them to do their homework, eat their veggies or get some exercise.  They dedicated themselves to rigorous ballet classes and AP courses. And they studied their way through freshman year of college.  I remember sitting through a preprofessional ballet class with one of my daughters when she was contemplating switching to a more serious and structured dance school. I thought the class seemed dreadful, confining, boring. When the long ninety minutes was over, we left and I thought well, that takes care of that. I thought of the time and money we would save by not ever coming back. Her response was just the opposite. “I have to have this”, she said, longing in her eyes.

I don’t like stagnation and I know that to move forward, to fulfill my goals, to be happy, demands commitment.  So I do some things that seem to require discipline and focus, like practicing yoga, for instance.  And simplifying in ways that make sense to me.  But I don’t do these things because I am disciplined.   I find discipline only because I do them.

Without simplifying, I don’t stand a chance. I know that if I have too many things in my own way- on my agenda, in my head, on my plate, I will never make it to that yoga class. I won’t sit down and write if I am distracted by all the things I have to do afterwards or did before that. If I am tripping over things on the way to my desk, I may never make it into the chair. Eliminating all that I can, except what matters the most to me, is how I actually stay consistent with those things that matter.  Like most people, when I’m overwhelmed or tired, I am at my weakest. So my method of finding- or rather replacing- discipline is to remove the things that I can which keep me from what I want most.  If I am clogged and cluttered with the extraneous, I can’t see the path I know I want to be on, let alone move forward on it.

I simplify my diet by organizing my pantry and fridge. I streamline my wardrobe by only keeping what I like. I unriddle my exercise routine by committing ahead of time to a workout or scheduled yoga class.  I focus on what I want by eliminating from my agenda that which I don’t, as far as it is in my control. And only then, when I have pared down as much as I am able to, will I make the choices that give my life a forward momentum. One good choice leads to the next, and good things happen. Dreams come true.