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 (I downsized my collection back in 2012), 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

The ones on the bottom are kids ones. I have 12 on the middle shelf: 6 films and 6 exercise DVDs.

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.

Mum Back in Hospital

I’d told Mum I’d take her to the hospital for a routine blood test on Wednesday because she’s a bit wobbly on her feet and is suffering from agoraphobia (she does’t want to go out).

The three kids and I drove down to her flat straight after we’d spent the morning walking around a woodland trail. When we got there however, she came to the door and told me that she had to go back onto the psychiatric ward. Apparently the crisis team had sent a doctor over for another evaluation and the doctor had decided she wasn’t fit to be at home. She really didn’t want to go back, and to be honest I’m not sure what the benefit was to her when she went in two weeks ago, so I called the crisis team to ask.

It turns out that Mum is not taking her medication as prescribed. I know she saves up her sleeping tablets – she skips a day and then takes two. It’s the only way she can sleep at all, and even though she’s done that for years the health team don’t like it. However, they also said that her behaviour was worrying them as she was sitting silently instead of answering the doctors questions. And apparently mid-conversation she was doing things like throwing herself down on the floor.

I have to say, I have never seen my mum throw herself around. She has told me all sorts of stuff that has gone on in her head that is clearly not true, but I’ve never, ever seen her physically act like some mentally disturbed patients do. Maybe she doesn’t do it around me, I don’t know.

Then they dropped the bombshell – the thing that I’ve suspected for a while, but was ignoring because it’s so upsetting to deal with. They said that her memory is really poor and they suspect it might be the early stages of dementia.

I have known for a long time that this would be the route we would go down. Her memory really has been terrible for ages and the doctors have flagged it in the past as an issue. Her physical health is not good, but her mental health has always been so poor. I feel very sad. I’ve read about and heard about what it is like dealing with dementia. There’s a lot of public awareness over the condition here, and the prevalence of dementia in over 65s is around 7%.

It’s going to be really, really tough. I know that if there are things I want to know or ask, I need to make sure I do that before in the years to come she forgets who I am. And that at some point she will no longer be able to live independently and I cannot care for her physically so she will have to go into a home. I will have to watch her deteriorate before my eyes, and worry about whether staff are treating her properly. The end will be slow and difficult and hard to predict.

I think back to when I was young and I remember that although I could always tell my Mum was an older person – her hands were dry and her body wobbled more than mine and my brothers – she was still healthy and living in a way that dries up and disappears as bodies get old.

Mum said many times that she didn’t want to be admitted. I talked to her and persuaded her to pack up some stuff. Then me and the children dropped her back at the psychiatric hospital.

I looked her in the eye and told her to get herself better and get out of there. I hugged her, and left.

Collating All My Blogs

In the interests of simplicity, completeness and just because I like things to be orderly, I’m currently in the process of migrating ALL my old blog posts, from the ALL the various blogs I’ve had over the years, to my online home here at St Francis Folly.

I am starting with my first ever WordPress blog from back in 2005. I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking into this, but the only way I can seem to get these very old posts into WordPress now is manually – I only have an old SQL database download of the site, so not even a WordPress file I could try and import. I did spend some time trying to resurrect an old WordPress install on my Mac so I could upgrade and then export the data, but none of the current webservers will let me use PHP 4.4 and my Mac won’t let me use an old webserver. I could use a virtual machine of some sort and use an old operating system, but we’re only talking tens hundreds of posts, not thousands, so I think manually adding them is going to be the easiest way, rather than getting stuck in a spiral of old dependencies that I cannot resolve (I knew should have done it the other way…).

This means I will be spamming you with new posts that are actually old posts – for that I apologise – please delete as necessary, or unfollow me! Once I get past 2006 I can import using the regular WordPress importer and it will all be less intrusive.

This will take a while. I’ve added an archive section to my sidebar (as well as tidying up the site a bit), so you can see the older posts there. I really can’t imagine there is much of interest to read, but for me personally this is my web space and I’d like to have it all together, finally.

I’m tired of wondering why I’m blogging, or thinking I should have a niche, or a specialism, or whatever. I’m just going to do what I want on here because I can, and because why not? I’ve been blogging on and off for 13 years – there must be something I can learn from that, so let’s put it all together and then see where we end up 🙂

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