In the hopes of developing better habits (both as a writer and a regular person), I decided to do a little self-improvement experiment during the month of July.
Mainly because I believed my habits were pretty terrible.
If this is something you can identify with, I’d love to hear what your habits are and how you go about changing them.
This is roughly how it went for me and why I wanted to change them in the first place.
I got the idea from a number of places: my older brother, Josh, who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to productivity, (he draws a lot from Brian Johnson) as well as Jerry Seinfeld, and authors such as Mur Lafferty and Joanna Penn who talk about their habits on Podcasts like I Should be Writing, and The Creative Penn, respectively.
The idea is that you pick one habit that you’d like to change or work on. Make it small and attainable. If you want to write more and you’re not writing anything at all at the moment, don’t set your goal to write 3,000 words a day. That is too big of a jump. Instead start small and try to accomplish the goals you set for yourself.
I had to get my tonsils out in June and would be taking two weeks off from work. I knew I would probably need all of that recovery time, but I thought once the pain and sleep inducing medications wore off, I’d at least be able to write a little bit. I kept looking forward to not being in pain because of my tonsils, but also because I’d have a large chunk of time off from work. Time. I was going to be blessed with it and I was so happy.
But time is a fickle beast. I found this out in the 17 days I was recovering. I kept counting down the days as though returning to school was the worst thing in the world. I wouldn’t have my time anymore. Or I’d go back to a regular working guy, teaching, going to the gym, and writing when I was able. The more I counted down and dreaded my return the more I lost time (obviously). And though its something I can’t really put into words here and now, I knew it wasn’t just about time but it was about the way I was viewing time, and I needed to make a change.
So I gave myself 4 goals to accomplish during the month of July after I was done with my surgery and back at work. The rules were this: put an X through each day of the calendar where you succeed in the goal/habit you set for yourself. Never miss a day. If you do, never miss 2 days in a row.
This is something Jerry Seinfeld did early in his career. He told himself he needed to write a joke every day. His goal was feasible and measurable. It began with a word and ended with some sort of punctuation.
My four goals were:
- Write at least 100 words a day (to keep up with the worlds inside my head and also because I SHOULD BE WRITING) – attainable and not such a big jump from my days of not writing anything. I always thought I’d need to sit down and pump out a chapter and because that was always such a discouraging thought I never got around to it at all! Sheesh!
- Meditate every day (headspace.com). That was the big one. I found I was spending so much of my days thinking, waking up tired and going to bed awake. I was on my phone a lot because I’d get messages right when I was about to go to bed (because of the time difference between Korea and most of my friends and family back home). I also am a little OCD and wanted to respond to messages as soon I got them so they would clear. Before I knew it I was spending large chunks of time on my phone and not really accomplishing anything. I wanted to start mediating to be more mindful of where I was at all times and also to have better piece of mind. My sleep patterns were affecting me.
- Do yoga every day (Yoga with Adriene) (I want to be more flexible and work on different breathing techniques)
- Read one chapter of a book every day. I needed to pair this with my writing so I could nourish my brain with more writing fuel. In general I need to read more.
I am not totally proud to say that I did miss 2 days in a row for some things 🙁 But it was a really fun exercise and I find myself more aware, more alert, on my phone less, and writing and reading more. I’d like to say the X trick had a lot to do with it. Getting myself to strike a line through a day does something for me, I think.
A breakdown of 31 days in July:
1. Write 100 words: 30/31 – Missed two days in a row? No.
2. Read one chapter: 27/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x1.
3. Yoga with Adriene: 24/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.
4. Meditate: 20/31 – Missed two days in a row? Yes, x2.
The biggest things I took away from this little experiment:
- Time is amorphous, but saying you don’t have enough time is just an excuse to yourself. If you want to do things, like write, and make time for important things, you will. Every great writer, artist, and athlete has.
- It’s not about being perfect. I did 30 days of yoga with Adriene, and I really loved her approach to yoga, that is: non-judgmental (because I’m pretty lousy at yoga), encouraging, and down-to-earth. Even though she could crush the forms and poses she didn’t pressure me to. It was okay to be imperfect and human.
- Breathing exercises can make you more mindful and connect you to things around you more intimately (not to mention make you a better writer). When I focused on my breath or got to a place where I just sat and observed things without trying to change them, I found myself more relaxed and almost all of my problems with falling asleep went away.
- Being on my phone is such a waste of time. I set aside times of the day where I would specifically be on my phone so I could respond to things and other times I just put it away and didn’t look at it. Still, I need to get better at this.
- There are so many little pieces of the day where you can get things done. Whether I was on the train, bus, on my lunch break, or waking up early before school, I could put an X through my calendar for one of the things, and free time up later in my day.
- It’s not always about the result. When I first started mediating using headspace.com I almost always immediately wanted to get something out of it. I automatically wanted answers or better sleeping habits or to be as calm and as wise as the Dalai Lama but it wasn’t at all reasonable. Instead, it was better to focus on the journey and unlock things day by day, rather than have them all at once.
- Being mindful and aware is not only for you. Another thing I picked up from meditating is that these practices aren’t only good for you, but for those around you. Being a whole person can have a positive effect for the people you interact with on a daily basis.
- Set not only a goal, but also a purpose. Why did you show up to yoga mat today? Why are you sitting on a couch for 20 minutes with your eyes closed focusing on your breathing? Find out your purpose by asking the important questions: what do I want out of this, how can this help me, how can this help those around me? It can something as simple as I want to smile more.
Having said all that, I think I’ve only scratched the surface. My habits are better because I have a regular schedule now, but they’ve still got a long way to go. Time to set some for August. I think I’m going to continue the meditation, read at least one chapter, and change my yoga slot to studying Korean for at least 15 minutes a day. As far as writing goes, I think its time to bump it up to 500 words since I was reaching that goal most days anyway. Though if I had started off with that goal I think I would have felt discouraged and not been able to achieve the goals I set for myself.
What would you say are your best and worst habits?
How do you go about developing better ones?
I’m always trying to learn more about this and change my ways.
Let me know in the comments!