Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My 100'th post, on habits

Do you think I've successfully made blogging a habit? I do believe so. There's a part of my nature that just quits..when something gets too boring, or the appreciation is just not there any more. I can tell myself to go on, but something inside my soul just digs in and refuses to budge. Perhaps it is my subconscious telling me to move on. On top of that I then get a little voice inside my head whispering, "quitter". The drive to avoid failure is so much less motivating than the drive to excellence. Think of the difference between a mule being driven by a stick and the same mule being tempted by a carrot.

I do hope I won't quit blogging. Writing is a drive deep in my soul. My instincts tell me to keep doing it, audience or not, as joyful work always pays off.

Anyways, my intent was to talk about habits today. I've thought long and hard about this; both good and bad habits. There's eating habits for instance; those that will help me be fitter and lose weight, and habits that will slowly kill. (I am diabetic). Why is it so hard to turn around old habits around food, and why do we turn it in to such a drama of abstension and a symbol of discipline (or lack thereof)?

I am reminded of a story dad told me of a surveyor was asking questions about nutrition and food habits. It became obvious that the author of the survey was seeking confirmation that improved education would improve society's food choices. Dad got mad, and asked to speak to the author. As he ranted to me afterwards, there is no lack of information in our society regarding nutrition. Food choices has to do with self-discipline.

Which led me to thinking (for years afterward), if self-discipline and choices is the problem, how do we teach self-discipline? Or, as I am pondering lately, maybe it is not a problem of self-discipine at all. Maybe we fight our basic nature when we turn around an old habit or start a new one.

What got me thinking along these lines is a proposed list of instincts in Stephen Pinker's book, "The Language Instinct", that may be hard wired in to every human being. The instincts of:

2. intuitive biology (understanding how plants and animals work)
4. Mental maps of large territories
7. Food: what is good to eat

These combined instincts gave me an image of prehistoric woman grazing along her habitual route, taking note of where food sources are, and checking them on a routine basis. As I've mentioned in the past few weeks, I've learned a bit about efficient grazing by watching the bee.

I note that if my body has become used to two pieces of toast for my breakfast, if I suddenly change that habit there is mild distress. Something is missing, and I become fiercly protective of my earned toast. Yet, if I am successful in transitioning to one piece of toast as the norm, I will feel overfull if I indulge in more.

The trick, it seems to me, is to avoid the whole abstention/indulgence cycle, which is too much like the ancient grazer's feast-and-famine, acknowledge our desire for routine, and slowly adjust our mind and body to new norms.

I am testing out another recommendation from a course instructor. He suggested a routine where days each week are dedicated to customer relationships, research, and so on. I was skeptical, as my week is a chaotic blend of meetings, working with employees, and pockets of sit-down time. Yet the new routine is working very well. My mind and body like routine. It is as if my body remembers that Thursday is sit-down day.

I discovered the same issues when I started working from home. My mind and body are geared to relax (thank God) the moment my toe hits the thresshold. How do I gear myself back in to work when I am sitting in my home office? I tricked myself back in to work by only taking materials home that I love to work on.

Now, of course, the problem is to switch myself "off" when I am at home.

I am using this same theory of routine to finish undone projects around home. I want to take up painting again. I want to blog. I want to remember my friends. Yet day after day goes by and these stated priorities remain undone. Blogging has been taken up again because I have successfully added "writing" to my lonely morning routine. Now I've designated days of the week to call friends and to paint. I've successfully called up two friends in the past month and reconnected, and it feels great.

As I've learned from Covey's book on the seven habits, how effective are we as human beings if we put off those activities that really matter? Adding these new routines is helping. Now, to add exercise to my daily routine.