Tiny Habits Update

It’s been over a month since I started my tiny habits experiment. Mum’s death has kind of thrown everything out a bit and life has been unsettled of late. However, I did keep up my tiny habit, and I’m ready to add a new one in.

First tiny habit

My first tiny habit was to stay awake after the alarm went off (note – I didn’t even make this about getting out of bed as that was too ambitious).

My previous routine was basically to wake up when one of the three kids woke me up. It’s very rare for all of us to sleep in, so this has been how I’ve managed since Steve moved out in January. Most mornings I felt pushed for time, and there were a few mornings where we woke up later than ideal and it was a mad rush to get lunches done and everyone dressed and out of the house. I hated the chaos of the start of the day, so that’s where I started my tiny habit.

How did it go?

Surprisingly well.

I don’t like the sound of alarms, so the first thing I did was decide what I wanted to wake up to. I thought birdsong would be great and found an app ¬†(Dawn Chorus) that did exactly that. Next I decided on a time – 6:45am seemed reasonable, as 7am (which we were often getting up at), was not quite early enough to get everything done. Finally I decided on the rules for what counted as success. As long as I didn’t go back to sleep and didn’t lounge in bed for ages, I would deem it a success.

I started my first tiny habit on 17th April 2018 and checked off each successful day in coach.me.

My longest streak was 26 days, and in total out of 36 days since I started I have completed my tiny habit 34 times. Yay!

What has changed?

My mornings are definitely better. I do think an extra 15 minutes on my work days (we have to leave a bit earlier then) would help, but at the moment it’s working and I don’t want to mess with it. I MUCH prefer waking up first than having one of the children wake me up which seems to put me on the back foot before I’ve even started.

I do the same at weekends, even though technically I don’t have to get up for any particular time. It seems to have reset my body clock into a regular routine and I get very tired at about the same time most nights (obviously there are some nights where I haven’t slept well at all recently, but generally I can sense that I need to be getting into bed soon after 9pm). It has swayed me away from late nights alone at home, when I might have just sat and watched half a movie, so my energy levels have been pretty consistent.

All in all, it’s been a great success.

What next?

Exercise was always the goal I wanted to work into my day, but I didn’t want to start with it as it seemed too difficult. However, I think it’s time to try it out and see if I can get it to work. I’m going to go with something like 1 push-up, because what I want to build first is the habit, and then I’ll work on the effort.

I need a trigger (something that reminds you to do the habit, and part of creating successful new habits). This is a struggle as my days do not all run the same. I toyed with the idea of doing it in the morning after waking, but I suffer from stiff joints first thing, so I wasn’t sure if it would put me off doing it. I’ve decided that my trigger/anchor point will be arriving home after the school run (as that’s the same 5/7 days). On the weekends I will do it as soon as I can after waking – we’ll have to see how it goes.

I can’t actually even do a single push-up, but I’m sure that will change soon enough.

Another update in a month’s time ūüôā

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 РI 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.

Day 11/90 Falling In LOVE With Exercise

Something has happened. In the space of a few short days I have gone from desperate irritability to sunshiney happiness.

Something else has happened. I am loving exercise. I am looking forward to it, enjoying it while I do it, feeling great afterwards and just loving that feeling that I am making my body stronger and healthier every time I move it. Glorious!

I did a yoga-based class at 8pm last night, and I had the creche booked for a 9am gym session this morning. I haven’t been able to exercise like this for years – literally years. The tiredness, the aching, the muscle-soreness – it all just added up and stopped me from doing anything of any real intensity for any duration.

But somehow, something about completely cutting out sugar (including fruit and grains) and eating a TON of protein and fat, has changed not only my energy levels to be more consistent, but it has allowed me to recover within hours of an exercise session.

Before now, every time I did anything, I would be wiped out for the rest of the day. Exhausted on the sofa. Too tired to do anything. The next two days I would mope about with sore muscles.

Now, when I exercise, I am fine. By bedtime,¬†I don’t feel any different to how¬†I do on a day where I don’t exercise. I am recovering incredibly well.

I wonder if perhaps all these body-builders with¬†their protein obsessions are actually spot-on, because I have run, weight-lifted, yoga-posed and swam from a cold start over the last 11 days and I haven’t had anything more than the mildest muscle soreness as a result. I feel so strong and healthy – and I’ve only just started! I have never felt like this when I’ve started exercising after a break.

I’m thinking about booking some one-to-one sessions so I can get to grips with the free weights. I am thinking I could actually, for the first time in my life, exercise 5+ times a week without having to give up from sheer exhaustion.

It is amazing.

And I am so excited to see where I’ll be in a month, or two months, and how my body will morph into something¬†leaner and stronger than it currently is.

Who would have thought that this would be a side effect of eating the way I am?

Exercise Gear Audit

workout dvds

I should probably make it clear that this wasn’t much of an audit.

I do genuinely love to exercise, I just don’t do it anywhere near as often as I should.

And I don’t have lots of bulky stuff lying around the house, so this is really just taking stock of what I own and hopefully the awareness of it all will get me using it more.

Exercise gear is notoriously expensive too, so it was hard for me to justify anything but the most basic of clear outs here.

OUT today went:

  • 1 digital watch
  • 1 pedometer
  • 1 teeny tiny speedo swimming costume I haven’t fitted in for years

Total out

3 items

Ongoing total

142 items!

And here’s my inventory:

Equipment (17)

  • 7 exercise DVDs
  • 1 exercise XBox game
  • 1 yoga mat
  • 3 pairs hand weights
  • 1 pair running headphones
  • 1 pull up bar
  • 1 polar heart rate monitor
  • 1 fitbit pedometer
  • 1 blood pressure gauge

Clothing (14)

  • 3 exercise tops
  • 4 exercise trousers
  • 1 running jacket
  • 1 summer cap for running
  • 1 winter beanie for running
  • 1 swimming costume
  • 2 sports bras

Shoes (1)

  • 1 (very old) pair trainers

The Convoluted Path To Healthy Eating – What Doesn’t Work

I’ve been interested in nutrition and its effect on your health since I was around 10 or 11.

26 years later and I’ve tried (and failed) countless times to have what I consider a good, healthy diet.

However, with 2 children to run around after, the hopes of creating a third, and the fact that I feel the beginning of old-age twinges in my joints, motivation to eat well is much higher now that it’s ever been.

I’ve had no sugar (save one breakfast style biscuit that I ate without thinking) for 7 whole days. Today is day 8 and I feel smaller – my jeans have a teeny bit of extra room over the hips. I feel happier – my mood and patience have levelled out and I am in control, even dealing with a vomiting baby and manic toddler. I feel calmer – the highs and lows have gone, and have been replaced with a more steady, measured approach to everything. I feel physically softer – my skin feels smoother and my joints are not aching as much as they usually do.

I’ve tried to cut out sugar so many times before, but this time I think I’ve finally got all the pieces of the puzzle in place to make it work.

Before I talk about how I’ve finally got everything to come together, I want to first run through all the things that have failed and my take on why.

1. Focusing on exercise, not food

I’ve tried this millions of times. I think: “I need to be healthy, I need to get fit!” so I plunge into a new regime, or join a gym, or buy a heart-rate monitor, or sign up to a new class, or buy a bike, or buy some exercise DVDs (notice how much buying takes place, compared to doing?).

Two, maybe three weeks in. It grinds to a halt. I make excuses. My muscles are sore. I’m more tired than when I started.

Why is this doomed to fail?

Someone wise once said “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”

If your intake isn’t what your body needs, you are never going to get decent performance out of it. Your muscles won’t be able to build strength, your body will protest with exhaustion because it doesn’t have the protein, the fuel, the vitamins and minerals to adjust to the increase in physical activity. Result? Failure.

2. Going cold turkey on everything

No caffeine. No sugar. No bread. No meat. No milk. Er… what the hell am I gonna eat?

I’ve cut out all sorts of things from my diet over the years, and a couple of times I have tried a full-on Gillian McKeith style detox. Oh. My. God. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about how shit you feel for the first three days? The headaches, the tiredness, the grumpiness. And then the cravings start – wine, chocolate, burgers, ANYTHING with some sustenance.

No – this is never gonna work. Yes, you can make changes, but 99% of us can’t do it overnight like that.

3. Trying a “diet”

This is something I’ve only really done since I’ve had children – the baby belly drives my purchases of diet books promising you’ll never need another diet plan again.

I’ve tried a couple but seriously – following someone else’s plan of what to eat? I can’t get past the first few days. Your shopping bill trebles and you end up throwing away half of everything because the recipes don’t account for all the leftovers. And then there’s cooking separately for me, the kids, the husband (or leaving him to fend for himself, which isn’t very sociable)… I end up in the kitchen all day long.

Nope – this isn’t gonna work because it’s not my eating plan, it’s theirs.

4. Meal planning a week’s worth of healthy meals you’ve never eaten before

I’m guilty of doing this a lot. Meal planning is great – it focuses your shopping, clears your mind of constantly thinking “what are we all gonna eat?” and helps prevent desperate takeaway dinners. However, the way to do meal planning is to plan to eat things you would normally eat.

Using it as a tool to improve your diet takes time.

By day four of a brand new menu plan, you’re sick of cooking and at least one meal was awful. Do you really want to plod through three more nights of cooking dinners you don’t know if you’re going to like? Nope. You order a takeaway pizza instead because you’ve used up your weeks worth of meal energy in four days.

I repeat – meal planning is great, and is something I really want to master (I’m working up to it).

But meal planning IS NOT healthy eating. They are two separate beings. Meal planning AND eating healthily is one change too many for most busy people to stick with.

So.

These are my big four – the things I have tried over and over, with tweaks and additions and alterations. But they haven’t really worked.

I just need to find what does.

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