Green neon sign that reads: Habits to be made. Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Habits are the new resolutions

Every year we set resolutions and every year we forget them, often before the shine is off the New Year.

As we head into a new year—and a new decade!—maybe it’s time to approach this admirable but often fruitless activity and work on forming new habits.

Habits are the less flashy cousins of the showier resolutions. Resolutions are often BHAGs—big, hairy, audacious goals; they make a statement. They say to the world, “I can do something that matters.” Habits are smaller, quieter, more straightforward, and often far less grand. But behind their modest exterior, habits are extremely powerful. Habits can change our lives.

Depending on who you follow in the world of habits, you might learn that it’s impossible to stop bad habits—that our only real chance is to replace the patterns that no longer serve us with new ones. This makes sense; habits are a well-worn groove in our brains. Our best hope is to form a new groove.

And for real: who doesn’t love a new groove.

Five easy pieces to habit formation

The trick to habit formation is to use an approach like the one that James Clear outlines in his book Atomic Habits (one of my top three book picks from 2019). You can get a jump start with this guide from James Clear.

  1. Make it ridiculously easy to say yes.
  2. Start small. Really small.
  3. Make incremental improvements; break down big habits into smaller ones.
  4. Track your progress. Note that I said progress, not perfection. You are looking at the trend. If you miss a day, get back on track, and don’t look back.
  5. Be patient and kind to yourself. Change takes time. When we rush, we burn out, and that can throw us back to square one.

As with resolutions, it’s tempting to go waaaaay overboard and come up with audacious goals.

Stop right there.

I want you to think small. Habits are building blocks for other larger habits, so trust me when I say that little things pay off. For example, developing a habit of getting up on a schedule can facilitate a whole slew of other habits: reading, exercise, quality family time, and more. Some of these habits offer multiple benefits and enable other habits that lead to accomplishing big goals. Whether you want to create a painting, write a book, learn data science, run a marathon, become flexible, all of these goals start with small habits.

So, here are 10 examples of things that you can do to start small to go big:

  1. Read for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  2. Exercise for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  3. Always take the farthest parking spot to get more steps into your day
  4. Always return the kitchen to ready before you go to bed
  5. Never leave dishes in the sink
  6. Wash underwear and socks every Friday
  7. Change your sheets on Tuesday
  8. Walk your dog before or after every meal
  9. Write a one-line summary of your day (learn more from Austin Kleon)
  10. Make some quick art to explore your feelings (learn more from Sam Bennett)

Pick one habit and start with that.

When it becomes automatic or nearly so, pick something else and add it to the mix. Most people select too many things and make them too big and too complicated. RESIST that temptation. Cut it waaaaay down.

Last year I started with a ridiculous list of habits that I wanted to work on, 15-20! I started with 3×5 cards and then graduated to a spreadsheet. Don’t do this. Habit tracking became a part-time job. I realized pretty quickly that I could reliably keep track of three things in my head. (Three is a magic number, after all.) So, I focused on three things. Pretty soon, those things became a regular part of my day. I did them without thinking. They became habits. Honestly, I felt like I won the habit lottery! One of my goals was to read more, 50 books a year, or about one book a week. So, I started by switching on the light when the alarm went off every morning and grabbing a book off the nightstand and reading for about 30 minutes. Was it hard at first? Yeah, a little. But now the alarm cues the light and the light signals the reading, and I am happy and amazed to report that I have read more than 50 books this year, something I never thought I would do. We also make the bed almost every day, and I write in my journal regularly. The kitchen stays cleaner, I make and finish more quilts, and I exercise more. I get 10 thousand steps or more most days thanks to my workout Buddy.

Buddy, the Mountain Cur mix

Now I want to work on my creative habits: quilting, painting, and writing. I also want to create a yoga habit and exercise every day. I want to cook more and eat better. I want to tackle some hard subjects.

Plenty of habits to work on in the new year!

So how do we get off track?

This TEDx talk by Amanda Crowell provides some critical insights into why we don’t do what we say we are going to do. It comes down to identity. If we don’t see ourselves as yoga practitioners, or writers or artists or learners, we won’t be successful in making long-term change in these areas. Take some time to reflect on how you see yourself now and how that fits with your habit goals.

Ready to start fresh?

20/20 is the standard for good eyesight, and as the New Year approaches, let’s put down those resolutions and commit to seeing ourselves more clearly and practicing the habits that we need to accomplish our goals.

Habits are habit forming! 🙂

Wishing you many good habits in the New Year!

———-

You can learn more about developing habits from these great teachers:

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (I loved the book and recommend his emails, too)

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits (I recommend his emails)

Daily Stoic (I recommend the emails, and you can choose from daily or weekly formats)

2019: So Many Books

One of my goals this year was to read 50 books. I haven’t read that many books in a year since I was a kid. Most of the books that I read now are non-fiction which, for me, has always been a different kind of reading. With some help from one of my top recommendations of the year, Atomic Habits by James Clear, I developed a rock-solid reading habit.

The three books that I read this year that I would recommend in general:

  1. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  2. Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
  3. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

The three books I would recommend to artists:

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. Art Inc by Lisa Congdon
  3. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne OR Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

The three books I would recommend to people having an existential crisis:

  1. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
  2. What if this were enough? by Heather Havrilesky
  3. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

I also read:

  1. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
  2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  3. The Mastery of Self by don Miguel Ruiz Jr.
  4. The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker 
  5. The Education of Will by Patricia B. McConnell 
  6. Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud
  7. The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman
  8. Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson
  9. Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins
  10. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
  11. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  12. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher
  13. Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Miller and Michael B. Frisch
  14. The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
  15. The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
  16. Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland
  17. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  18. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  19. This is Marketing by Seth Godin
  20. The Next Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley Ph.D. and Sarah Stanley Fallaw Ph.D 
  21. Everybody, Always by Bob Goff
  22. Ransacker by Emmy Laybourne 
  23. Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  24. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  25. Choose Wonder Over Worry by Amber Rae
  26. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge 
  27. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 
  28. Job Joy: Your Guide to Success, Meaning and Happiness in Your Career
    by Kristen J. Zavo and Ellen Petry Leanse
  29. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  30. The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh and Lazlo Bock
  31. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  32. Worth It by Amanda Steinberg
  33. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by Dr. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger 
  34. Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, David Maxfield
  35. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson 
  36. Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, et al.
  37. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor 
  38. Get it Done by Sam Bennett
  39. Start Right Where You Are by Sam Bennett
  40. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark
  41. The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen
  42. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  43. The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

Coaching is my new jam, especially coaching for executives and creatives, so I read a lot of related books. I am also interested in how we can improve end-of-life care for ourselves and others so there are a few books on my list on that topic. And there’s still a little time left in 2019 for another book (or two!). Send me a note and tell me your favorite reads from the past year. I always appreciate a good book recommendation.


Header photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

Two friends contemplate the awe that is Mt. Hood

Space to breathe

I love the expression “breathing room.” It’s about making space for yourself expressed as a fundamental human need: breathing.

When we are overworked or overwhelmed, we instinctively try to create space in our lives to “catch our breath” (another great expression!) before we continue on.

I just finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by writer and therapist Lori Gottlieb. It’s a page-turning account of her life as a therapist and as a client. This is an excellent book for therapists, coaches, social workers, and all other humans.

I thought I knew what therapy was — just like I felt that I knew what coaching was before completing a coach training program. There’s a prevailing belief even among those in the know than therapy is about fixing you. But it’s not that at all.

Therapy and its cousin coaching are about giving you breathing room, the space to consider your life and the stories that you have created to make meaning of your existence. People seek therapy and coaching because they need to move to a new place in their lives, and they need a guide, someone familiar with the terrain who can support them on this journey to the unknown.

There’s a great piece by Heather Plett on “Holding Space,” a concept familiar to many coaches, but unfamiliar and downright foreign to others. The simplest explanation is to allow people to occupy a space without judgment or opinion. You just let them be who they are at that moment. This breathing room enables people to unlock everything that has been closed up tight, to relax, to consider other possibilities, to reconsider their stories, to accept their innate worth.

One of the most beautiful expressions of this is in Taylor Swift’s song Lover:

“And at every table, I’ll save you a seat.”

I tear up every time that I hear that line. It’s the ultimate expression of love and belonging. It’s holding space.

If you want to learn about therapy and how to create breathing room in your life, I encourage you to read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. To find a therapist in your area, visit the Psychology Today website.

If you want to learn about coaching, check out this article from Positive Psychology: 30 Proven Benefits of Life Coaching & Mentoring.

You can also reach out to me or any coach to learn more. There are multiple directories of coaching practitioners online, and most coaches offer a free 30-minute introductory or discovery call.

Take the next step. Let someone hold space for you and give you room to breathe.


Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

I’m not busy

I’m ashamed to think about the many times that when asked, “How are you?” I answered with some variation of “Busy, but good.” I know now that busy isn’t a feeling. And it’s not a virtue or an excuse. I wore it as a badge of honor for so long, and I took it as a sign that what I was doing was important–that I was important. I willingly and also, at times, unwittingly participated in zero-sum games of oneupmanship in the name of busy.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but I stopped being busy in the last two years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bored or lazy. My days are filled with lots of interesting activities and tasks that I am on the hook for, but busy has been banished. Instead, I have been learning to say precisely how I feel. I am learning to name my emotions.

It turns out that naming emotions puts us on the path to regulating them. And it lets us connect more fully with the people around us instead of erecting the police line do-not-cross-tape of “I’m just so busy.”

So, contact me, will you? I can’t wait to catch up. 

These boots are made for walking

Rebooting your life

In the land of computer support, when all else fails, you reboot and see if that fixes the problem. As you spend more and more time doing support, you get to the reboot step sooner. Pretty soon you begin all troubleshooting by starting with a reboot.

My troubleshooting skills are a little rusty, but they are coming back. (I did boost the Wi-Fi signal to a TV in a little sitting room at the far end of my house with this handy little gadget. Ha! I still have it.)

So the reboot is in process. It’s taking a while, like those old Macs and PCs that I used to support. But I see now it’s the right thing to try. My reboot started back in August when I read this article in the New York Times. It featured engineering professor Barbara Oakley, who is one of the co-teachers of the most popular online learning course of all time, Learning How to Learn.

It was one of those right things at the right time. Intrigued, I signed up. Coursera allows a free audit of classes so you can try before you buy. I checked Professor Oakley’s book, A Mind For Numbers, out of the library and I threw myself into my second online class and my first MOOC (massively open online course). I was blown away by the experience and what I learned. In the course of the next month, I started rewiring my brain. I changed my approach from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that yet.” 

I’ve also learned a lot about MOOCs by enrolling in them and it’s been eyeopening. I have turned into an online learning evangelist. Who knew? I think everyone should go to college, but what if you already have more degrees than you know what to do with? What if life or work makes a traditional classroom experience impossible? Or what if online learning is the way for you? I have three classes under my belt and I am enrolled in three more and I have learned a lot. I keep having these ah-ha moments to the point that I think there’s no end to the ah-ha moments.

In addition to throwing myself into learning the content of the courses, I find myself wanting to understand what works and what doesn’t in the world of online learning. I wanted to know why Learning How to Learn is so popular and to dissect why I found it to be so effective. (Professor Oakley also takes learners behind the scenes of the LHTL course in her book Mindshift and the companion online course of the same name.) I am particularly impressed that she “just did it” and learned whatever she needed to in order to make it happen. She used Google to figure out what video equipment to buy and how to setup and use the equipment and she used all her spare time to learn video editing. I am inspired by her grit and determination and have asked myself more than once, “What can I accomplish if I do the same?”

Reboot Virtual Book Club
I started this online reading list for anyone who wants to reboot their life. I think it will grow based on my ever-growing “To Read” Google Doc that is rivaled only by my “Classes to take” Google Doc. I have a lot to learn.

How about you? Who are your virtual mentors? Let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Who’s excited?

Sisyphus socks by BlueQ

The socks of Sisyphus

I love a little Greek mythology now and then, don’t you?

So my guy is Sisyphus. On more than one occasion, I have felt like my work is Sisyphean, or laborious and futile. I roll the boulder up the hill and  it rolls back down, hits me, and I need to start again. The new me is trying to think of these tasks not as a punishment but more of challenge. One that I can repeat à la Groundhog Day until one magical day I wake up and it’s not Groundhog Day anymore. In the GD scenario, it’s all about putting in effort and not worrying about the result. I can live with that.

But back to Sisyphus, my good friend Jane gifted me socks that rock, literally and figuratively, created by the magical people at Blue Q. Yes, I have Sisyphus socks. So perfect.

So if you see me smiling in a meeting, you’ll know why.