Writing Habit

calvinnhobbes

It’s been a while since my last post. I do still post every two weeks on my other website wannabezen.com, but I haven’t written anything here for months.

Why?

I guess I lost the habit of writing. I got more things going on and just didn’t make time for it. Writing become less a priority on my list.

So it’s almost June, 5 months passed since my last blog post Bibliophile or Tsundoku (11 January 2016). After there were a few posts, two were recipes and the other was an event.

How to establish the writing habit again? One of the tips I found after googling about it is to find a topic that motivates you. I love writing about life, meditation and spirituality, and now it has a place at wannabezen.com. So I need to find other topics and inspiration for here.

Possibilities of topics:

  • Yoga
  • Health & wellness
  • Being introvert
  • Books

I will keep this topics in mind. I will try my best to stick to my original posting schedule here (every Mondays). Starting next week.

 

 

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Onwards to 2016

sunrise

I wrote a recap of 2015 in my previous post Adieu 2015, Hello 2016. This post is about things I did in 2015, what worked and what I will keep doing, and what didn’t work and what to change.

What worked

Using a calendar app to manage my schedule
I used to keep my schedule in an old fashioned way with a Moleskine weekly planner. One of the productivity tips I often read is keeping a “one calendar to rule them all” – and it was difficult to do it with pen and paper.

I started using the Google calendar app on my phone since October 2013. Along the way I experimented with several calendar apps and found one that worked really well called Business Calendar, I’ve been using it since then. Leaving a 9 to 5 job and switching to freelance yoga teaching made my schedule became more varied and flexible. Having a digital calendar on the phone means it’s always with me, can be quickly updated, and I can modify it from the computer as well if needed. I’ve been relying on it more and more. I will continue to use it, and I’m going to use it more by scheduling in my other activities too.

Cook more often
I’ve been cooking more last year, mainly because I’ve been at home more. I started to stock my fridge with relatively hardy vegetables like broccoli & zucchini, and started to stock aromatics like onions garlic & ginger as well. Prior to 2015 I hardly cook, and I rarely bought fresh vegetables as they tend to just wilt in the fridge drawer. When I did buy them, I bought those ready to cook portioned & packaged veggies, so I used everything up in one go. Now I’m comfortable with buying a whole head of cabbage as I’m cooking it up in a few days.

I think cooking is like a chicken & egg situation for me, I didn’t buy vegetables because I didn’t get to cook them and they just ended up in the trash. On the other hand I couldn’t cook because I didn’t have anything to cook with. Now as I always have something around to be cooked, I cook more. So I’m gonna keep the fridge stocked, not overwhelmingly ambitiously so, just enough to allow me to whip something up quickly.

Keeping a gratitude journal
For years I had journal that I write on, but I had never been able to consistently keep it. I wrote everyday for a few days or weeks the most, and somehow trailed off, not writing for weeks or months, and then came back to it, and same thing happened again, writing on it for a few days, and off again.

I stumbled upon this Five Minute Journal with this headline “The simplest, most effective thing you can do everyday to be happier”. I agree, I think journaling is one of the things we can do to improve our quality of life, if only I can do it everyday. The creator of Five Minute Journal, Alex Ikonn & UJ Ramdas, posted a digital version of the journal that I can flip through. Essentially it’s a journal with prompts, so one just need to write responses to that prompts. A set of prompts is for the morning before we start the day, and another set of prompts for the end of the day.

The journal ships internationally but I couldn’t wait that long – plus the shipping charges makes it very expensive. I decided to try creating my own, using a plain notebook and writing the prompts manually.  At the beginning I wrote the prompts at the same time as writing the answers. After a few days I tried writing the prompts ahead, and I found that having the prompts already there worked better. After a few more days I tried differentiating the color of the prompts and the color of the content – I use black for the prompts and blue for the answers. After a few more weeks I tried writing the prompts with capital letter. I’ve been keeping it that way since then.

How did I fare? I started the journal on 23 July 2015. Out of 162 days ( from 23 July to 31 Dec 2015) I wrote on the journal 94 times, that’s just slightly under 60%. There were two main reasons for not writing. First reason was I finished the first notebook, and I didn’t have a new notebook ready. I meant to immediately set up a new notebook, but it dragged on for more than a week. Lesson: prepare the new notebook  a few days in advance when the existing one is almost finished. Second reason was because I didn’t bring the journal with me when I was traveling, because the notebook is a bit thick and I wanted to travel light. Lesson: make a lighter, portable version to bring when traveling.

Did it work? Yes I think it worked. The journal made it really easy to write things – literally just five minutes a day – so easy that my success rate is close to 60%.  I think the journal helped setting up positive condition at the beginning of the day, and closing the day with a short reflection. I’ll keep at it hopefully with better percentage in 2016.

What didn’t work

Exercising regularly 
With a flexible work hours I should be able to find more time to exercise, yes? Well it didn’t work so well. When I was still working in an office, my weekdays schedule was rather predictable; I woke up at the same time everyday, did morning meditation, left the house around 5:40 am, arrived at the gym or track around 6:15, did my work out, and be at the office by 9. Now as I teach morning yoga classes, I couldn’t exercise in the morning. Theoretically I could use the time after teaching to exercise, but I didn’t, for various reasons, that boiled down to the failure of setting up a new exercising habit.

What will I change this year so I exercise regularly again?

  • I will try to actually schedule exercise time in my calendar, just like my teaching schedule
  • In the days where I’m not going to the gym, I can run around my neighborhood. Or I can do a functional type exercise at home with a youtube video

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So that’s three things that worked and I will keep doing and one thing that didn’t work and I will change in 2016. What about you? What worked, what didn’t work, and what will you change in 2016? 

Image: Sunrise over the mountains – November 2015, Dharamshala, India.

Actions to habits

habits

Back to the thought to destiny theme, this third installment of the series is about action to habits.

The previous posts about this topic:

Thought drives action.
Action forms habit.
Habit creates character.
Character becomes destiny.
~ Swami Dhanurdhara

When we repeatedly do an action again and again, it becomes a habit. A habit is like a freeway on the brain, an express route. When an action is not a habit yet, every time we want to do the action, the brain has to go through a few processes, just like going through normal road with red lights, speed bumps, intersections etc.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, and some also say it’s one month, 6 weeks, etc. I don’t believe in one magic number, it really depends on our own unique brain, mind, situation & condition. Consistent repetition is the key.

To help the consistency, it helps to tie the new action with an existing habits. Lets say we want to develop a new habit of drinking more water. Choose an established existing habit, ideally is related to the new habit we want to develop, and tie this new action to that existing habit. Example – drink a glass of water after brushing teeth in the morning. After doing that consistently for sometime, the brain will form association between morning teeth brushing and drinking a glass of water, and the action will become more like routine, which is in other word, a habit.

That sounds easy, yes? Then why is it so hard to start good habits and stick with it?

One problem I noticed is that often the new habit is too big, it’s not actually a single action. In other words the new habit is too ambitious. Or maybe not very well defined. Example of a non-effective habit statememt, still with the drinking water thing, is something like this “drink more water every day”. It’s not effective because it’s not measurable and not specific. We don’t know how much have we drank and how much more we have to drink. The previous example of drinking a glass of water after brushing teeth in the morning is measurable (1 glass), and time-specific (after brushing teeth in the morning).

Try breaking down that new habit into small chunks, to several single actions that we can actually act on one at a time. And then choose one action and start with that. When that one is established as a habit, choose another action, and so on. With the drink more water example, after the morning one is established, add another habit like drinking a glass of water after brushing teeth in the evening.

I learned a lot about habits & action from these two blogs:

Head there for a wealth of information about creating and sticking to good habits and letting go bad ones.

Do you have any tips for creating & sticking with good habits? Do share!

Thought to destiny

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This is something I heard in a lecture recently.

Thought drives action.
Action forms habit.
Habit creates character.
Character becomes destiny.
~ Swami Dhanurdhara

So the notion “Change your thoughts, change your destiny” is actually correct, because thought becomes action, action becomes habit, habit becomes character, and character determines destiny. The key here is the process in between thought and destiny: action, habit, and character.

Thoughts are the basic building blocks. Thoughts are always there – it’s as inseparable from the functioning living brain as heartbeats is inseparable from of a living heart. Can we control thoughts? Yes – it is actually one of the few things that we are in control. How to control it? This takes training and practice.

Untrained mind go all over the place and the resulting thoughts are very random. One of the mind’s main function is survival, and thus the untrained mind will go to the default survival mode, where it operates based on external stimuli, and react accordingly to the stimuli. Good stimuli – come closer. Bad stimuli – avoid. Example: apple pie (good) – come closer and eat it. Snake (bad) – avoid (fight or flight). This basic process is key to survival, and our ancestors who could come up with timely appropriate reaction were the ones who survived. This opportunistic and paranoid tendencies were present again in their offsprings (us) –  and the ones who weren’t opportunistic nor paranoid didn’t survive. So we all inherited this attributes. The untrained mind, operating on survival mode, works wonderfully when we were living out there in the wilderness where scarcity of food or becoming food to other animals were live or dead situation. In this modern world, this untrained mind doesn’t work so well.

Thoughts produced by the untrained mind revolves around pseudo-survival situation… and usually it’s in the form of worrying about the future, or evaluating and thinking about the past. Instead of being fully in the present moment, the untrained mind was busy with “What ifs” scenario and keep producing thoughts that are a few steps a head of the current situation.

Can we change how the mind works? Yes. How? We can train it, and we can make sure the mind only take in good stuff.

Just like the body can be trained by exercise, the mind can also be trained. One of the most effective way I know to train the mind is meditation. In meditation, the mind is trained to focus on one thing. The mind is like a projector – and thoughts are frame by frame pictures projected. Meditation is keeping the projected pictures stays the same. It is not about eliminating the picture – as long as the projector is on, there will be pictures; but we train it to project the same pictures again and again.

The projected picture itself is affected by what the mind consumes. If we let bad things come into the ears (eg gossip, negativity) – then the projected pictures could be affected by it. If we selectively only put positive things in, then the projected pictures tend to be more positive as well. So if we want good thoughts, surround ourself with good things. Good music, good books, good people, good art etc.

These two things – training the mind and making sure mind only consume good stuff, is absolutely within our control. We can’t control what happen outside, but we can control our mind, and thus we can control our action towards what happen outside.

Image: Close up of The Thinker by Todd Martin