Can Tiny Habits Help Me Achieve My Goals?

I’ve done a lot of thinking today about achieving things and the potential power of tiny habits. Can they help me with a personality quirk that has seen so many of my goals incomplete?

tiny habits for successful living

I am great at starting projects. I love new ideas, new plans, and new goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down and planning out how it’s all going to be. And my enthusiasm at the beginning is always enormous. I’m not just going to learn a language, take photos, or get fit, I’m going to become fluent in ten languages, become a famous photographer, appear in the next Olympics!

Inevitably, as time passes, motivation dips. The main reason for this, as far as I can ascertain, is that life gets in the way. If I could lock myself in a room 24/7 and work on a single goal it’d be great, but I can’t. There is parenting to be done, I have to look after the house, deal with insurance and a bajillion other life admin tasks. There is work to worry about. I have other projects (too many), that I haven’t yet finished…

And slowly, the motivation drops off and my project languishes, and I get distracted. Often by a shiny new project.

And letting go of these projects is very hard for me. I like to finish things – I like to get things done. So I will pick up a project sometimes ten years later and then work on it some more before life gets in the way or something else exciting comes along.

The result of this is fairly obvious.

Lots of projects.

Lots and lots of projects.

And I think it is exactly this that has driven my love of minimalism. My brain LONGS to be free of the mental burden of all things that I have set myself to do.

Reducing physical clutter definitely helps with this, but as time has gone on I’ve noticed that digital clutter is  a problem for me also.

As you can imagine, this is not a constructive or particularly efficient way to live a life. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth and I really don’t want to die with a load of stuff half-finished.

It’s important, regarding any change I may make, that I accommodate my personality here. I am not the kind of person who is going to drop projects that I’ve had running in the background for years (like the family photobooks or the half finished novels (yep, plural). I need to get to the end of these. But I have got to change my way of working.

Consistency

Consistency is the key. I’ve known it for a while, but it’s becoming ever more apparent as I get older. I watch how others live their lives and I can see that consistency trumps talent and luck every time. Consistency is what gets results.

And yet, consistency is where I fall down, over and over again.

I work in big chunks, with big breaks in between (sometimes breaks of several years). In the breaks, I end up sliding back downwards. Sometimes, if it seems that I’ve gone too far downhill (business ideas, other mad plans), I will give up completely and write that project off. I don’t like doing this because it makes me feel like I have failed. I do understand the value of failure but it’s still not fun.

My business ideas, my writing, my freelance work, none of it seems to gain the momentum it should do. It’s almost as though as soon as it starts to move forward and look really promising, I step away and let it drop back to zero. Every time I write and get something published, I don’t write for ages. If I run a big race, I stop training completely. I won a dance competition and never danced again (I was 23).

I’m don’t think it’s subconscious self-sabotage, but I can’t be sure of that.

What I do know is that if I had been consistent with any/all of those things, I would certainly be a lot more successful now in any of those areas than I currently am.

The Cure

So what is the solution to a distracted mind? I think partly the problem is that I am genuinely interested in loads of different things. My brain that loves to suck up information and learn new stuff. I reach a basic level of competence in something pretty quickly, and I love it, but then as soon as it comes to moving into mastery of that subject, I get bored. Something else catches my attention.

I can’t remove this desire for learning, and I will always be the kind of person that stands in a bookshop and feels so giddy that she doesn’t know where to start.

But this trait is, to be honest, destroying my ability to really achieve anything remarkable.

Tiny Habits?

I first read about habit-stacking and tiny habits several years back, and of course Leo from Zen Habits attributes habits to all of the amazing life changes he has been able to implement. I am aware of the theory, but it’s only really now sinking in that this might be the way to change everything for the better.

A quick personal illustration of the power of habits:

The other morning I got a cup out of the cupboard to make a cup of tea. I boiled the kettle and then I went to the fridge and got out a small carton of nut milk I had bought. Nut milk isn’t very nice in tea, but I wanted to experiment and see if I could get used to drinking it that way. I put the little nut milk carton next to the mug, filled the mug with boiling water, swished the teabag around, and then, while I was talking to the kids… I went to the fridge, got the cows milk out, poured a bit in my mug, and put it back in the fridge.

Even though the nut milk had been right next to the mug, I’d still gone to the fridge and got the cows milk out and poured it into my tea. Because that’s how I’ve made tea for almost 30 years.

That is the power of habit.

The cows milk was further away, and required more energy to retrieve. But I did it without even thinking about it.

Imagine if I could do that for positive habits like writing and exercising and eating great food?

Getting Started With Tiny Habits

I’m wary of making some big commitment and then failing to follow up. However, I think that habits might be the key.

What if I could set in place a series of mini habits over time that transformed my morning from reactionary chaos in getting the kids to school into a calm, organised start to every day? (Well, let’s be realistic, I can’t control the tantrums and bickering, but I can at least be better prepared than I am – some mornings I don’t even shower or brush my hair before leaving the house with the three of them in tow.)

What if I could build a daily habit of working on things that I never seem to have time for? (Primarily exercise and writing spring to mind.)

Could I restructure my life by repeating small things every day until they become autopilot actions?

I have tried this before, but with hindsight I think my goals were too big. It’s the habit that matters, not the actual output. My first daily goal was writing 250 words. On some days it took forever to dredge those out of my brain and so eventually I stopped. I think a much, much smaller goal (say, 50 words), would have been better.

There is always the option to do more than the goal you set yourself, but that goal is the bottom line. It’s the worst you’re going to achieve in anything you set out to do. And writing 50 words a day is, over the last year,  18,250 words more than I have actually written.

I’m setting up a coach.me account. I used this for writing before, but this time I’m going SMALL.

Super small.

And I am going to PROMISE an update in a months time.

From Three Phones to One

One phone is enough
My phone with a new screen, yay!

I know that having three phones is not very efficient, or minimalist. Bear with me, here’s why:

  1. Phone One: an iPhone 5s, was my normal phone, but the screen got cracked and the battery life wasn’t great, so Steve gave me his old iPhone 5s to use. I really loved my old phone because it was white and gold and it was mine. However, it was quicker and cheaper and easier to just use Steve’s, so that’s what I did. This phone is not usually charged and has been on the shelf for the last few months.
  2. Phone Two: Steve’s old iPhone 5s. This is my everyday phone.
  3. Phone Three: an even older iPhone (4s), which I use for business calls. I hardly ever make business calls, but when I started freelancing I wanted a separate business line so I could keep work and home separate, so I dug out my old phone and got a PAYG SIM for it. However, it turned out that I primarily used email for work. I use the business line so little it wouldn’t really have mattered if I’d just used my normal number. Not only that, but mobile reception at our house is terrible, so I tend to use the landline for almost all calls anyway.

It was getting super annoying constantly having to charge two phones (plus – a waste of electricity). The boys had clocked that there were two devices with Angry Birds and other apps on that they liked to play so they were constantly pestering me to use them. I also kept thinking that if we ever got burgled the perpetrators would be so pleased about an iPhone haul, even if they are really out of date, so I decided to sort the whole mess out.

Multiple iPhones
Phones all over the house, constantly being charged up

Phone Three

To lose the business phone I firstly had to log on to all the directories and online locations that my business is listed under and update the phone number. I actually took this opportunity to delete as many directory listings as I could because I’ve never had a single business referral from directories like Scoot or Yell and they are super time consuming to update. Hurrah for simplifying that little area of my business also 🙂

Next I moved the work contacts in that phone over to my normal phone. Finally, I had £1.11 credit left on my SIM. I wondered who I could call, but the call quality is always terrible, so instead I thought I could donate it to charity via text. However when I tried to send a text donation to a charity, I received no confirmation and my balance went down by a random 13p to 98p. A bit annoying really. So I just threw the SIM card in the bin. Sometimes when you’re clearing things out, you just have to write things off. The phone itself I traded in for £18 via Carphone Warehouse 🙂

Phone One

On to the next phone. In order to return Steve’s phone (Phone Two) I needed to get my original phone fixed. I found a local place that did a screen repair with a 1 year guarantee for £49.99. With the traded in money that meant a new screen would cost me £31.99, which was pretty good.

When I took it in it turned out that my battery was also expanding inside the phone (and may have been the reason for the cracked screen, which just mysteriously happened without me noticing), so I paid an extra £20 for that to be replaced also. Total cost including the trade in of Phone Three was therefore £51.99.

It took them 60 minutes to do the repair, with a 12 month guarantee on screen and battery. I was so pleased to have my phone back!

Phone Two

Now my old phone was up and running, I had to backup everything and get it across to my new (old) phone. This was easy as I have everything in iCloud, so I just ran a backup on Phone Two, and then did a complete reset and set-up from backup on Phone One. Within about 15 minutes my original iPhone was all up to date. That meant I could wipe Steve’s phone and finally return it to him.

Hurrah!

It’s funny how little things like this can sap your mental energy when they are lying around the house. In my mind they seem to represent unfinished jobs and disorganisation.

Now I have one phone, and one charger, and hopefully that will last me for a good while.

Decluttering DVDs

Over the last few weeks I’ve sorted out the DVD shelves at home. To be fair, most of them were Steves and we finally got around to packing them up so he could take them to his house. From the remainder I committed a small pile to the charity shop. That left 6 films I like, 9 exercise DVDs, and 25 children’s DVDs.

I’d like to get to the point where we have none – then I could get rid of the DVD player!

We don’t have a microwave (got rid of that around 5 years ago I guess), a toaster (that went a couple of years back), or a stereo (yonks ago), so a DVD player is probably the next superfluous electronic item in the house. My computer plays DVDs if I really needed to access one.

Before and After Pics

Here’s a before pic – I didn’t take a proper before shot, so I dug out the most recent ones that had them in the background. That’s pretty much how they looked until I sorted them out. And that’s my smiley daughter in the foreground 🙂

declutter dads before and after

Declutter before and after

And here’s an after photo, all light and airy and lovely:

Declutter before and after

I’m thinking I might need to try out all the exercise DVDs and decide whether or not I really need them. I can’t even remember the last time I used one so I probably don’t. They are just more things sat on the shelf taking up mental and physical space.

Why I Left Instagram

A huge thank you to Francesca and Alisa for sending me this post after I managed to corrupt my entire database and the backup didn’t have my latest one saved!

I’m feeling so disillusioned with Instagram and social media in general at the moment. I’ve had an Instagram account since 2014, but I have never really used it a huge amount. I closed it off today for the following reasons:

1. Instagram is now owned by Facebook

Posts don’t appear in chronological order any longer. Facebook uses their “magical algorithm” to sort pictures in order of what you (supposedly) find important/interesting. This is probably the same algorithm they use on Facebook that meant I missed two pregnancy announcements and a mum I know going into hospital for breast surgery. Yeah, nice one, thanks Facebook! I have no control over whether they even show pictures to me from the friends I follow. This seems crazy to me.

2. Instagram is the worst place for comparison

If there is something that you like to do, there is someone out there doing it much better than you on Instagram. Whether it’s drawing, photography or fitness, instagram has hundreds of people creating stunning photos in your subject area that will make you feel like what you are doing is not worth it because it cannot compare. I don’t think this is healthy for creativity. Following experts can definitely be inspirational and motivating, but on instagram there are so many people to follow that it can begin to feel like there’s no point in even starting. Sometimes you need to just create, rather than consume. Sometimes you need to find your place in the world before you start checking out what everyone else is doing.

3. And again, there’s always comparison

Facebook is also guilty of this (and Facebook is something I plan to extricate myself from), but it can be quite demoralising when you’re having a shitty day and all you see from your friends are amazing holiday pictures, wonderful family meet-ups, and perfect family walks. Inevitably you are seeing other people’s highlight reel and comparing that to your ordinary day at home/work. Not fun. I love to see what my friends are up to, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it can seem that everyone is out doing something exciting apart from me, and as a mum of three I have enough guilt in my life without piling more on because I didn’t get my kids out in the rain or do an afternoon of inventive and original art and crafts.

4. You can’t keep Instagram and Facebook separate

This ties in with number one, but it is now impossible to have an Instagram account without all your facebook friends knowing about it. Maybe you want to document your weight loss journey and connect with like-minded people. Maybe you are gay and want to connect with others who haven’t come out yet. Well forget about using Instagram to build a separate virtual support network because Facebook sends everyone you know a notification that you are on Instagram as your-username. Even if you do not link to Facebook, it still knows. The apps seem to share data on your phone, so just having both installed gives you away. It’s creepy, but if you google it you will find the desperate measures people have gone to to have a secret account, to the point of having a separate phone and sim so they are not connected. Instagram and Facebook may as well be the same platform if they are going to operate this way.

5. It wastes time

Recently I have found myself indulging in social media far more often than I should be. I find that I just keep scrolling and scrolling and I’m not even really sure why I’m doing it. How much time, I wonder, does it really consume in our day and in our heads? What else could we be doing with that time and that mental capacity? Paying more attention to our kids, reading a book, or maybe even writing a book!

6. I quite like photography

I have a wonderful camera and I love to take photos. With Instagram it’s easy to snap a photo with an old iPhone, crop it, apply some filters and come up with something lovely. That’s great! But for me, I’d rather be taking photos and learning more about how to make images look pretty with my camera. I think using Instagram to make nice photos is all well and good, but it makes me lazy, when I could be developing my creativity in other ways.

7. Sponsored posts

So. Many. Adverts.

Annoying!

8. Am I providing anything of value?

This is probably my biggest reason at the moment. When I think about why I post pictures to Instagram, what is the answer? By adding my pictures to Instagram am I providing anything of any value to anyone else? My relatives don’t use it, so they can’t keep up with pictures of the kids. And as time goes on I’ve been more concerned about the fact that my children are growing up in a generation where everyone’s lives have been shared online since birth. Do I want that for my kids? But if I don’t post family pictures, why am I posting? To let people know what I’m doing? To showcase my skills? It isn’t really either of these. I suppose if I’m truly honest with myself it’s because I feel I need to join in the noise of sharing things. I’m doing it because everyone else is. That’s not what I want to be doing anything for.

I said goodbye to my Instagram accounts today, permanently deleted them, and deleted the app off my phone. I also deleted snapchat. It’s one less distraction in a life full of distractions that I am working to minimise, and it feels good to have made the decision to stay away. I feel lighter for it, even though there are some people I only keep up with through Instagram. Spreading my attention around so many different platforms doesn’t help me stay focused on my goals.

I want my focus to be mainly on blogging here, as a way of sharing. It’s always been my favourite way to share online and through blogging I have met some wonderful people. I find it more personal, more genuine, and my blog is totally under my control and doesn’t use some crazy algorithm to only show you the most “relevant” posts. I’ve blogged on and off for years, and I think I’d rather do this than use any other platform, so this is where you’ll find me 🙂

Filing Cabinet Clear Out

A little while back I cleared out the conservatory. I should have taken a before picture, but I didn’t think about it (I just got stuck-in on a whim one afternoon). Here’s some after pics, bearing in mind I have three lovely children, so nothing is ever spotless:

minimalist conservatory

I cleared out loads of boardgames that the children weren’t using and Steve took the bench that ran along one side that held all the games and toys. All the board games we use are now packed in the left hand cupboard of the cabinet and all the little pieces have been rescued from the floor, under the sofa and around the house.

I also convinced Steve to take a floor lamp and the TV that I won rather than buy a new one (we’re now a single TV household again which makes me happier anyway), so that cleared off the cabinet top too. The rest of the stuff just didn’t have an assigned home, so I either got rid of it or found a place for the things I wanted to keep. It looks much better and the children really like playing on the floor space in here.

minimalist conservatory

Just for fun, here’s a couple of pictures of how the conservatory used to look in the earlier days of my minimalist journey. The first one was when I had a 2 year old and baby:

messy house
The horror!

This one was when both boys were toddlers. Oh man:

messy house with kids
More horror!

Filing

Anyway, moving on from my trip down memory lane, and getting to the point of the post:

Behind the French door on the left as you go in is a large, four drawer filing cabinet, known as The Bisley. You can see it through the glass on the second picture down. Everything goes in The Bisley. All household paperwork, kids artwork, research, documentation, manuals, printer paper, envelopes, folders, the lot. I have a plan, at some point in the future to go completely paperless, but that’s still a way off.

However, The Bisley was in need of a clear-out, so this morning I ruthlessly went through my papers. Three of the drawers I had already tackled because they contained stationary-type things and kids artwork that I am in the process of scanning/photographing for our family photo books.

The final drawer is filed in alphabetical order and contains everything about everything about the house, finances, insurance, pensions, medical records, and everything else.

home filing system

I went through every single folder and I think I managed to recycle about 30% of it. I also tied up a couple of loose ends that were knocking around for household bills, banking and pension forms (I’ve been consolidating all my accounts down to one main one – this is a still a work in progress).

I’ve got a couple of outstanding things I’ve added to my master to-do list, but now the conservatory is officially TIDY – Marie Kondo tidy (well, apart from the fact that she throws all paperwork away, but ANYWAY).

recycling paperwork

home filing system

And it feels great!

I absolutely love a neat and tidy space. It makes that area feel so light and airy and pleasant to be in. Not to mention that paperwork is one of my pet hates and to have it all dealt with and filed away makes me almost as happy as inbox zero :-).