Tag Archives: habits

How Was 2012 So Far?

[fr] 2012, année chaotique, mais qui se termine avec un retour vers la stabilité. 2013 s'annonce plutôt bien.

A conversation last night had me thinking back about the last few years. This morning, I stumbled upon this post that I wrote end 2009.

2009 was a good year. I felt like I was getting my act together. Everything came crumbling down in 2010, my “shit year“, and 2011 was largely a year of grieving. Healthy grieving, I’d like to add. Not easy to go through, but a hugely empowering life experience.

What about 2012? Well, it’s not quite finished, though I have two weeks of Lausanne life to go before heading off to India for my annual vacation. So I might as well look back now.

2012 has been chaotic. It’s been a year of changes and uncertainty, both personal and professional. You know how at times you feel like your life or a relationship has not reached its point of equilibrium? That it’s in flux, going somewhere, but not there yet? That’s what 2012 has felt like. On a very practical day-to-day level (the most important one, actually!) I adopted two cats, lost one two months later, and brought another one back from the UK just about a month and a half after that. It may seem like nothing, but for somebody who sometimes finds day-to-day life a bit of a challenge, it was quite a disruption in my life, and whatever was left of the routines and habits I’d formed the previous years kind of flew out the window. To give just one example, I climbed back on my exercise bike for what is possibly the first time in 2012… yesterday.

Tounsi & Quintus à l'eclau, proximité 3

In addition to that 2012 came with its lot of work changes and uncertainty: the end of a long-standing gig, two other important sources of work and revenue left hanging for quite a few months, growing dissatisfaction with the social media industry and figuring out where I want to go these next years…

All this shuffling around was taking me somewhere, and I think that with the year wrapping up, I’m pretty much there. Things are stabilizing. (Proof if needed: In addition to climbing back on my bike, I cleaned the dust webs off my ceiling again this week-end, something I’d been doing regularly in 2009 but that disappeared sometime between now and then.)

2013 is looking good — and exciting.

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Posted in Personal | Tagged 2012, bilan, cats, chaos, habits, life, routine, summary | Leave a comment

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Getting Thrown Off and Getting Unstuck

[fr] Je continue ma série d'articles sur mon voyage pour me libérer de la procrastination. Deux méchanismes importants que j'ai compris: premièrement, que j'ai tendance à me décourager dès que je fais une petite entorse à une "bonne résolution" ou une nouvelle "bonne habitude" que je me suis fixée. Du coup, je m'entraine à faire de petites entorses et à reprendre l'habitude en question, pour ne pas me retrouver démunie quand la vie me bombarde d'imprévus comme elle a tendance à le faire. Deuxièmement, j'ai identifié que quand je suis bloquée, c'est souvent que je suis stressée, et souvent par une chose précise que j'ai à faire. Identifier cette chose (et identifier que je suis bloquée parce que je suis stressée) suffit en général à me "débloquer" (quand je fais la chose en question).

In this third post about my journey out of procrastination (you might want to read part 1, “Five Principles” and part 2, “Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping”) I’m going to talk about two things that I noticed happened to me regularly, and which are clearly expressions of the perfectionism and starting/stopping components of procrastination discussed in my last post.

Both are pretty straightforward to understand but it’s worth keeping an eye open for them. I think change is a lot about paying attention to things that didn’t seem all that important in the first place.

When I was a teenager, I switched from using exercise books at school to individual sheets of paper. I did that because I had noticed that as soon as I had an “off” day and was a bit sloppy in my exercise book, I would lose all motivation to continue making the effort to take clean notes (I was a pretty sloppy kid in general). The link to perfectionism is obvious here, right?

Now, way past my teenager years, I still get thrown off easily when I’m on a roll. For example, if I decide to do something every day and I skip a day, I tend to give up. I try to keep my flat clean, but as soon as it starts becoming a little messy, I stop making any efforts. I keep track of what I spend, but if I forget for a few days, then it’s “not worth it” anymore. Perfectionism. All-or-nothing.

I hope you can see that this way of functioning is just not viable, as it puts a huge strain on never making any mistakes or skipping a class. You end up either not trying because you know you won’t be able to live up to the “no fault” standards, or trying and failing, which just proves once more how hopeless you are. And you procrastinate. You don’t put in place habits which will help you stop procrastinating the changes you want to make in your life.

One way I’ve found around this is to do things imperfectly on purpose. For example, I got an exercise bike this summer and I do 30 minutes on it every morning. “Every morning” is the rule, but in practice, I skip a day every now and again. Once a week, on average. Maybe twice. Sometimes I go for four days without touching the bike. I also have a little routine I’ve built up over time which I do after my cycling: sit-ups, stretching, etc. Most of the time I do it, but not always. Sometimes I only do part of it. Sometimes I skip it entirely and only do the bike.

The dangerous and difficult test was the first time I skipped a day. I’d been using the bike daily for 10 days and was very happy with myself. What would happen if I skipped a day? Would I never touch the bike again? Would I continue like before after my day off? Well, I continued. Then I went on vacation for a week. I didn’t use the bike on the first day (I was too tired), but I did on the second day.

Now, this might sound in contradiction with my enthusiasm about putting habits into place and having morning/evening routines that you stick to. But habits and routines, in my opinion, are fragile if they are not resilient to disruption. If you have an exercise habit that you stick to every day no matter what, what’s going to happen to it when you end up in bed with the flu, and it takes you two weeks to be functional again? Will you really pick it up again? Or will you drop it?

It’s not because I skip a day (or two, or three, or a week) that I’m going to give up.

I know that I’m not good at coping with unexpected stuff, and changes. I’ll be in a phase where I have a good life rythm, a good balance, and then something happens that stresses me out and forces me to change my schedule completely for two days, and it’ll take me weeks (if not months) to get back on my feet again to where I was before.

So I want to make sure that my life habits, my “processes”, those that keep me from accumulating a backlog of procrastination-friendly material, are disruption-proof. I think I first got this idea from Merlin Mann’s “Back to GTD” series: yes, you’ll fall off the wagon, but you can climb back on. It’s one of the things I like with GTD (and my partial implementation of it): it’s not very difficult to start doing it again once you’ve stopped.

Maybe exercising is not the best example to use, as nothing “piles up” (except guilt, breathlessness, and a waistline) if you don’t exercise — but it’s a very good case study for me of how, six months later, I am still doing something I decided to do regularly, even if I am prevented from doing so every now and again.

This is actually an excercise in starting and stopping. You learn to interrupt your habit, and pick it up again. Interrupt, start again. At first, you make the interruption easy: on purpose, just once. You become good at starting again. That means that if for some reason you have to stop, then you can start again. (Am I repeating myself?)

For example, I learned that with my exercise bike, if I’m feeling tired or haven’t done it for a few days, I just aim to pedal for 30 minutes. Never mind if I’m below my usual heart-rate. Never mind if I don’t perform well. I just spend 30 minutes on the bike, and I’m off the hook. And although I have now (gradually!) built this wonderful post-bike routine, well, I’m not going to let the size of it discourage me: if I feel a bit under the weather or lazy, I remember that the important thing here is the bike, and it’s ok if that’s all I do. The rest is optional.

The second thing I noticed I was often faced with was the fact that I fall into this “rut” of not-doing, and at some point “manage” to do something, and I become unstuck. Once that first thing was done, the rest followed. For a very long time the process seemed a little magical, because as you know if you suffer from procrastination, when you’re stuck in there, it can really seem (and be) impossible to simply do something. At some point I started figuring out how to get unstuck — and more importantly, how I got stuck.

One of the important things I understood was that when I’m stressed, I get depressed. When you’re depressed, by definition, you have no energy to do things. So, once I’d understood that, I very quickly started asking myself, when I felt in the rut, “what is stressing me?” — and often, the answer was “something I need to do”. One trick I sometimes use is the “cringe list”: write down a list of all the things that are on my conscience and that make me cringe so much when I think about them that I do everything I can not to think about them.

The next step, after identifying the source of my stress, is to actually do something about it, which in many cases (gasp!) means doing the thing I dread the most. But knowing it’s going to get me unstuck often helps — and if it’s not enough, I have a few tricks up my sleeve (like buddy-working or 15 minute timer dashes) to help me. Sometimes the “thing I need to do” seems unrelated to the other things stuck in the procrastination queue. For example, I have a whole lot of work to do, but what’s blocking me is that I need to clean the flat or go shopping before. You’ve probably been there already ;-) .

“How do I get stuck” is a trickier question. Usually, it’s because when things are going well, I relax, and stop paying as much attention to how I manage my life (and things, and todos). This allows weeds to start growing in the backyard. Put clearly, I start letting things slip a little, and only “do something about it” once it gets bad enough and I’m stuck. This means that when things are going well, I still need to stay focused on keeping up with what I need to do: it doesn’t work magically, it requires effort all the time.

I have noticed that taking a moment at the beginning of each day to look at what I need to do and make sure I can do the most urgent things helps me not have these “OMG I’d forgotten this really important thing I must do!” moments. Weekly planning helps even more, and my ambition for 2010 is to go beyond that: less fire fighting, being more proactive. I’m aware we’re soaring above simple procrastination issues here, but it’s important to see all the ramifications and how “procrastination” as an identified problem sits with all sorts of other “life organisation” topics.

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Posted in Life Improvement, Personal | Tagged 6changes, depression, disruption, firefighting, gtd, habits, organisation, perfectionism, procrastination, productivity, stress | 4 Comments

Triggers and Dopamine

[fr] Deux idées importantes concernant la façon dont on fonctionne, particulièrement pour ce qui est de nos habitudes: les déclencheurs, qui appellent un comportement stéréotypé ou enregistré (une bonne ou mauvaise habitude), et la dopamine, qui lance plutôt l'appel du "reviens-y" que du plaisir, et qui s'active face à la nouveauté (ce qui explique que nos comportements un peu obsessionnels ou addictifs ne se soldent pas forcément par plus de plaisir).

As I have slowed down my work life for the end-of-year celebrations, I’m taking more time to read and write, something I want to keep going throughout 2010 and beyond.

These last days I’ve stumbled upon two interesting ideas that I’m adding to my understanding of how we change and why we do what we do — a subject of endless fascination for me.

The first is triggers and their importance in forming habits. I had never really thought of this until I looked at the new website 6 Changes. The idea here is that a habit is linked to something that triggers it. For example, feeling down and reaching for the fridge or the remote. Or putting your pyjamas on and brushing your teeth. Or getting up from a meal and doing the dishes.

In a way, this is something that FlyLady teaches you to put in practice by establishing morning and evening routines. (See the “Baby Steps” page on FlyLady for more similarity with what Leo explains in 6 Changes.) Creating routines is a way to have a series of habits where each one triggers the next.

I’m now keeping an eye open for triggers (think “API hooks” or “CSS classes” for the geeks out there) that I can build on to put in place new habits or replace undesirable ones.

I have a (minor) problem when I watch TV series, for example: I tend to watch one episode after the next more or less until I drop — I find it very hard to just watch one or two and be done with it. So I thought: “what could be the trigger here?” Obviously, the end credits of an episode. So, what I’ve decided to do now is pause the DVD, remove my headphones, get up and go to the kitchen or the bathroom when the end credits roll. Then I can go and watch the next episode if I want. See the idea? Clearly, I’m not building a new daily habit here, but using the idea of the trigger, a small first step, and incremental change to modify an undesired behaviour. Next step will be adding something more to “pause the DVD, remove headphones, get up” once that habit is established, which goes in the direction of helping me not dive mechanically back into my season, however fascinating it may be.

The second is the role of dopamine in relation to novelty. Dopamine is in fact not the “pleasure” drug, but more the “gimme more” one — it’s activated when we’re faced with novelty, and encourages us to come seeking it again. I’m not sure how I’m going to apply this to my daily life, but for me it’s important to understand that craving for something is not necessarily linked to pleasure in getting the something in question. In my opinion it explains why we can get stuck in compulsive behaviours (checking e-mail or iPhone being the most obvious) which do not make us really happy when we indulge in them — on the contrary, I know that I often end up feeling a bit empty when I’m stuck in a compulsion circle.

I find the last paragraph of the HuffPost article linked above very wise:

Given all of this, what can we do to prevent ourselves from becoming novelty-seeking zombies? The first thing is to simply become mindful of one’s use of media and devices. I find that one of the best things to do is to institute regular vacations from email. It usually takes a couple of days for the itch to check my email every five minutes to go away, and watching it happen reminds me just how obsessed I can become, but it also shows that it’s possible to lead a perfectly normal and fulfilling life without constant email access. Once we see that we can live without constant access to our devices, we can start trying to exert some control over device use in our daily lives. Evolution gave us the ability to overcome our urges, but we have to have the will to employ this control. One bit of good news is that we can improve our self-control with practice [...].

Russell Poldrack

I think the most important thing that Russell says here is that technology is basically putting us in a position where we have to grow as human beings if we do not want to be slaves to our impulses. This is true in general, but once more, technology is magnifying and making apparent issues which are already there, but which might not have been that visible until now.

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Posted in Life Improvement, Psychology | Tagged 6 Changes, addiction, addictive, change, compulsive, dopamine, flylady, habits, triggers | Leave a comment

The Wisdom of Small Changes: Incrementally Reclaiming My Flat

[fr] Reprendre contrôle de mon appartement, un petit pas à la fois. Chaque jour, ajouter un nouvel élément à garder sous contrôle. Aujourd'hui, c'est nettoyer la baignoire.

Aussi, diviser l'appartement en zones, et travailler chaque semaine sur une zone, 15 minutes par jour.

Inspiration: toute une longue histoire personnelle, et le site FlyLady.

I’m going to tell you about my plan to reclaim my living space, little by little, over the next weeks and months. However, you know me — I’m first going to get sidetracked a little ;-) and tell you how I got where I am, and how the plan was born.

I have lived in clutter my whole life. Both my parents were pretty active clutterers too, so I guess part of the reason is “in the genes” (we recently cleared out the family home to rent it — oh, boy). Other reasons include the fact that there are much more fun things to do in life than clean/tidy (though annoyingly, each time I actually start doing these things I really enjoy them), and my natural tendency to “not do things” rather than “do things”.

I love living in a reasonably tidy place. It makes me less stressed. It makes me less depressed. It makes me happy to spend my days in an environment which is under my control, rather than a sprawling monster of Things. How to tidy my flat and keep it tidy is something that is always on my mental to-do list.

I’ve lived in my flat since I came back from India, over eight years ago. It has been cleaned more or less from top to bottom a few times since I moved on (in 2007, for example — check the “myflat” tag to see more pictures of my living space and its transformations through the years). Over the years, I’ve become quite good at keeping clutter off the floor, but that’s about it. Clearly, I lack a process to keep My Stuff under control. I have lots of stuff.

The importance of having processes in life was driven home by my foray into the GTD (Getting Things Done) method. So far, I have not succeeded in implementing GTD completely (I particularly suck at weekly reviews, I think I haven’t ever managed to do one). I do, however, use quite a lot of elements from this method:

  • ensure I have a system in which I can capture all the stuff that’s on my mind
  • have an inbox (though I don’t empty it very often, but at least it keeps all the stuff to be dealt with in one place
  • think in terms of “next actions” and “projects”
  • know that when I’m procrastinating, either I have too much stuff sitting in my head, or my next action is not clearly defined
  • use an A-Z classification system, with printed labels on folders, for all my paperwork.

The idea of having a process is underlying in two previous “housecleaning” articles: Taming the Dirty Dishes, way back in 2002, and Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface, in 2003. But it’s not quite there yet, or expressed clearly.

Two years, ago, I had a groundbreaking conversation about my diet with my Doctor. I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle (even without smoking or drinking) and knew it, but I was so wracked with guilt and discouraged by the amount of changes I had to make to my life that I just didn’t do anything. He showed me how important it was to not disrupt my life and diet completely, but to make small easy changes like prepare a few leaves of lettuce while my pizza was warming in the oven, or cut up an apple before the meal so that I’d eat it for dessert.

A year ago, I officially rediscovered the importance of morning rituals. I’ve also come to accept that having some things under control is better than none, even if all the rest is going to the dogs. Last autumn, for example, I decided that even if my kitchen was a mess, I would at least keep the table clean and void of any clutter, so that I would have a nice place to eat.

Recently, I started cleaning my bathroom sink (almost) every morning. I don’t use soap or anything fancy, but I have a sponge I keep on the sink and I give it a quick wipe whenever I use it. Looking into a clean sink in the morning is clearly nicer than when it’s dirty.

Now that I’m in the habit of (#1) washing my bathroom sink (it doesn’t require any cognitive effort for me to do it, it’s just part of the things I do like brush my teeth or use my neti pot), I’ve started thinking about other small changes I could make. And I’ve already made some:

Last week-end, I decided that if I wanted to tackle this flat, I had to do it little by little. So, on Saturday a week ago, I did two things in that department: caught up with the kitchen dishes (they were running away again) and put the laundry away (I live out of the clean laundry basket). Oh yeah, and I got Roomba to work.

Cleaning my bathroom sink each morning has reminded me of FlyLady. I first heard about it when Florence Devouard mentioned it at Going Solo Lausanne. I didn’t really investigate it then, but filed it away somewhere under “system/community which starts with cleaning your sink, and then you add extra stuff to do each day”.

I looked it up this afternoon and spent a couple of hours reading through it. FlyLady is a system/community designed for stay-at-home moms, or “Sidetracked Home Executives“. It is e-mail based, and indeed, does start with getting you to shine your kitchen sink (read why) and get dressed to the shoes.

Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too. Step through the door and follow FlyLady as she weaves her way through housecleaning and organizing tips with homespun humor, daily musings about life and love, the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) system, and anything else that is on her mind.

The whole tone of the site is very caring and motherly, with a lot of educational redundancies and extremely detailed instructions. The system actually instructs you to stop and rest for 15 minutes doing something you like, or to only declutter for 15 minutes at a time. Some of it might make you cringe, or laugh a bit if you’re a computer geek, but I really think they’re onto something and it’s well worthwhile spending some time reading the various pages on the FlyLady website.

Obviously, I’m not a stay-at-home mum and I don’t own a house, so I’ll be taking a shot at my personal interpretation of the programme. Here are the ideas I like:

This “slow but steady” system reminds me a bit of dieting strategies. You’re better off with a diet that makes you lose weight slowly, and is in fact a lasting change to your lifestyle, than with a crash diet that makes you lose loads of weight but will see you put it all on again as soon as you stop.

Same with clutter: if you stop everything for three days to clean the house top to bottom, you haven’t in fact made any changes in the lifestyle that caused you to accumulate so much clutter in the first place. By changing things slowly, you’re actually making modifications to your lifestyle which will allow you to keep the clutter under control, rather than clean everything and end up knee-deep in clutter two months later.

As FlyLady says somewhere on her site (quoting from memory): “Your house didn’t get cluttered in a day, and it won’t become uncluttered in a day either!”

Browsing as I was writing this article has brought me over to SHE forums, a community which functions on “challenges” and peer support to deal with household tasks. Remember Website Pro Day and WoWiPAD? :-)

The FlyLady website method is actually based on a book, Sidetracked Home Executives(TM): From Pigpen to Paradise, and one of the co-authors has a site called The Brat Factor, which is all about taming your inner brat (there’s a CD and DVD involved, of course) — but it looks fun (that’s how you tame brats). Your inner brat is the part of you that procrastinates, leaves the dishes in the sink, doesn’t put the clean laundry away& know him/her?

So, I’m going to set my timer to do 15 minutes of decluttering in my hallway (zone 1, I’ll consider it’s already Feb. 1st). Each day, I’ll add a baby step to the ones I’m already doing. I’ll post each new baby step on my Digital Crumble.

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Posted in Life Improvement | Tagged changes, cleaning, clutter, control, flat, flylady, gtd, habits, home, life, life improvement, lifehacks, lifestyle, mess, Pieces of Me, Practical, Psychology / Sociology, routine, system, user/07467067922840649993/state/com.google/read | 6 Comments

De la lecture des blogs

[en] I'm not a regular blog reader. I check a small handful of blogs religiously, and that's (with one or two exceptions) because they belong to close friends. I go on blog-reading binges, either person-centred ("well, I wonder what such-and-such has written about lately, or how she is doing") or topic-centred (digging deeper into an issue, or trying to solve a problem I'm facing).

Do you find it paradoxical for a blogger to not have a "blog subscriber" profile?

Ça m’embarrasse parfois un peu qu’à cause de ma réputation en tant que blogueuse, on parte du principe que je suis une lectrice de blogs assidue.

Bien sûr, je lis des blogs. Mais pas comme certains.

Je n’ai pas une liste de blogs que je lis religieusement. J’ai un lecteur RSS (j’aime Google Reader, et encore mieux, feedly) mais depuis six à huit mois, j’avoue que je l’ai à peine ouvert.

Il y a une poignée de blogs appartenant à des amis proches que je lis régulièrement. Ce sera peut-être vexant pour certains, mais les blogs que je lis, je les lis plus parce que j’ai une relation personnelle avec leur auteur, que parce que leur contenu me faisait revenir (quelques exceptions notables: Kathy Sierra, Zeldman, Tom Reynolds).

Pourtant, je lis des blogs. Mais comment?

De temps en temps je fais une crise de lecture. Il y en a deux sortes:

  • les thématiques
  • les personnelles.

Les crises de lectures “personnelles” (ou centrées sur la personne) sont de l’ordre de “oh, je me demande ce que devient tel et tel, ou ce qu’il a écrit récemment, hop, un petit tour sur son blog”.

Le problème avec les blogs (enfin, je dis ça, mais c’est une de leurs qualités) c’est qu’une fois qu’on commence à lire, on n’en finit pas. On suit un lien qui nous emmène ailleurs, on plonge dans les archives, bref, parfois, une heure plus tard, je lis encore.

Ou bien du coup, je me mets à rédiger un billet sur un sujet qui m’aura interpellé.

Quant aux crises de lecture “thématiques”, je pars sur un sujet qui m’intéresse (souvent lié à un problème à résoudre ou un enjeu concret dans mon présent, mais pas forcément), et je fais du blog-hopping pour en faire le tour. Google, Technorati, articles en rapport, tout y passe.

En résumé, je n’ai pas le profil “abonné” ou “lecteur fidèle”, mais plutôt “butineuse” voire “boulimique”. Twitter a en grande partie remplacé mon lecteur RSS, même si celui-ci n’est pas mort.

Et vous, comment lisez-vous les blogs? Trouvez-vous paradoxal qu’on soit blogueur mais non lecteur régulier d’autres blogs? A plus forte raison si l’on prêche, comme c’est mon cas, que la lecture de blogs est indispensable à leur écriture? Est-ce que je nage en plein paradoxe?

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Posted in Connected Life, Social Media and the Web | Tagged blogging, Blogosphere Interest, blogs, habits, habitude, lecture, Online Culture, reading, rss, Social Software, subscription, user/07467067922840649993/state/com.google/read | 4 Comments