It’s been a while since I posted about Atomic Habits by James Clear. Amid house shopping, an insane new work schedule and a number of other unexpected surprises, my reading routine went on the back burner. Atomic Habits is still sitting on my coffee table partially finished. However, for what feels like the first time in a month, I finally found a moment to sit down and catch by breath. Here are my favorite bits from chapter 7 of Atomic Habits.
“Disciplined people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.”
“It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often.”
“Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself.”
“You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it.”
“Self-control is a short term strategy.”
“It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.”
Of course, sometimes this all feels far easier said than done but that doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t think there’s a single person in my life who hasn’t experienced the intense frustration of mustering enough energy to face the new day at some point. It’s exhausting and does seem to demand a heroic effort far too often. I want to be a disciplined person, one with enough self-control to avoid unproductive situations instead of simply muscling through them.
“Well… That wasn’t part of the plan.” I’ve been saying that a lot lately. I feel like the comedic relief in a Star Trek episode. There’s always something else that I did not see coming. But that’s life. It’s messy and complicated and no matter how you try, if the timing is off, things will undoubtedly go sideways. We like to walk around like we know what we’re doing but most of the time, we’re just as clueless as everyone else.
It’s okay. Sometimes the best things in life are the ones we didn’t plan for. Maybe some crisis at work turns out to be a blessing in disguise or a daunting task like buying a house becomes your new sanity project. Seeing the silver lining takes a little work but it’s usually there if you look closely.
Well, this week did not go according to plan. It certainly had its ups and downs but one thing’s for sure, I need a break! For the first time in over a year, my brain was so overloaded that I completely forgot to write a blog post for Friday, hence this Saturday update. In fairness, it wasn’t entirely due to my own failure to plan. Sometimes things happen, things that you could not possibly foresee or prepare for. Today’s post is a recap of all the madness that ensued since my last post and a reminder to everyone else feeling a little flustered that it’s okay to cut yourself some slack.
The first situational curveball was the emotional kind. A friend of mine had a date and, being a little inexperienced in the dating game, she’d been sending me regular updates leading up to the evening. She was clearly nervous and skeptical but willing to investigate a potential romance with a first date. However, 45 minutes after they were scheduled to meet she texted to inform me that the guy still hadn’t arrived.
A word of advice gentlemen, barring serious physical injury, don’t EVER leave a girl waiting for you in a crowded restaurant for longer than a half hour. We’re all human and sometimes tardiness is unavoidable but 45 minutes is unacceptable. Needless to say, I dropped my plans for the evening and hopped in my car to meet her after hearing this. We enjoyed sampling the local flavors at Aftermath Cidery and Winery and spent the entire night chatting about all sorts of things.
The next day I arrived to work a little bleary eyed but happy that I was able to help turn my friends’ night around. After the usual morning meetings a couple of my coworkers popped their heads into my office with news that they’d soon be moving to other companies, leaving me, the associate, as one of the most senior people in the department. Of course, life happens and situations change. I’m immensely happy for both of them but can’t help feeling woefully underqualified for my newfound responsibilities.
I know I’m not the only person to be thrown into a scenario like this and in another two years I’ll probably be looking back on this day fondly as the huge learning opportunity that it was. Over the coming months I will grow in skill, knowledge and confidence because I have to. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself standing on the edge of major life changes, utterly terrified. Each and every one of those instances shaped me into the person I needed to be. When duty calls, you figure it out.
Despite appreciating the eventual silver lining of my soon to be understaffed office, my brain was in overdrive by the time I left for the day. However, the excitement was far from over. Instead of heading for home I plugged an address into Google Maps that my realtor had sent me that afternoon. After weeks of price checking, house tours and a couple of lost bidding wars, my realtor was excited about this one. Google Maps failed me at several points during the drive over so I was tired and frazzled by the time I pulled into the driveway. But I slapped on my game face as my realtor walked me through the house and soon found myself beaming with excitement of my own. It was everything she’d promised and more and I even had a chance to chat briefly with the sellers during my visit. I’m thrilled to say that after a long and tedious search I think we have finally found a winner. Although becoming a homeowner is terrifying in its own right, it was a much needed upturn to an otherwise stress filled day.
It’s these moments, when you find yourself petrified on the brink of life altering change that things get interesting. There are but two choices; step up and become the person you need to be or don’t. Playing it safe might seem like a good short term solution but always be wary of regret which comes from passing up the chances you should have taken.
What chances are you taking today? How are you becoming the person you need to be? Share in the comments.
I think I’ve just realized one of the reasons why I feel like I’m running on empty so often these days. One of the most wonderful and frustrating things about time is that it is constant and finite. Everyone on Earth receives the same, non-negotiable, non-refundable 24 hour daily allowance to do with as they please. Well, I’ve looked at the numbers and I’m 6 hours over budget. Below are all the hours I would spend everyday if I had all the time in the world.
8 hours of restful sleep – I used to be so disciplined in my sleep schedule before moving off to college. There was still the odd late night when I was up finishing a school project but I was always able to drag myself out of bed in the morning at the sound of my first alarm. In fact I was so good at it that I once rose bright and early, got dressed, ate breakfast, packed my school things and was halfway out the door before my mom reminded me that it was Sunday. Now, it blows my mind that anyone could find time for a full 8 hours of sleep every night.
9 hours of dedicated work – This was so much easier before stay at home orders which blurred the lines between work and play. Of course, there are perks to the home office; no depressing sack lunch, no groggy commute, no one poking their head into your office to dump some new crisis onto your already full plate (now they do it via conference call). But despite all of that, office time was work time and the drive home after a busy day was a necessary 20 minutes that I relished for recharging my mental batteries.
1 hour of exercise – I’m no fitness guru and you won’t catch me dieting. I just want my jeans to fit right. There’s also something incredibly revitalizing about strenuous physical activity which reassures you that you’re doing something really good for yourself. It’s easy to get bogged down with all the daily mental and emotional clutter and sometimes it seems like progress comes slowly if at all. At the end of the day, it feels so good to work hard.
4 hours of creative writing – At the moment, this is an incredibly ambitious and idealistic writing goal set to address my blogging and novel writing needs. I’d love to post quality content on this blog every day while also having enough creative juice to finally get a novel on paper. The random snippets of time stolen from my 8 hours of sleep every night are never quite enough to really dig into the ideas that are rattling around in my brain.
1 hour for communicating with friends and family – Phone calls with my parents, plans with work and church friends and texts to old high school buddies are all included in this. I’ve never figured out how best to keep up with all of them, especially in a world of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and every other app that people use these days. When did we all stop talking to each other?
1 hour given to God through dedicated prayer – My faith formation is still in its infancy. I’m learning how to ask God to intercede in my life and sometimes I forget to altogether. I want to strengthen my relationship with him and attune my eyes and ears to his work, even on the bad days. It’s amazing how your life can change when you take time to say ‘thank you’ every single day.
1 hour of reading – There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book. I’m a firm believer that great readers make great writers. It’s how they learn.
1 hour of music practice – I’ve always loved playing music whether it be in a piano recital, high school concert band, community symphony, the school musical orchestra pit or the college football halftime show. Over the years, my skill and enthusiasm has been subject to the eb and flow of a busy school (and now work) schedule but I was always good enough to know that I could be much better if I set myself to the task.
1 hour for meal preparation – In fairness, I try to complete the majority of my meal prep on Sunday afternoons. When cooking for one, leftovers are a must. Experimenting with new recipes is a little easier when you know you’d get a day off from master chef duties tomorrow.
1 hour for cleaning and managing logistical tasks – If turned into a daily task, there’s a good chance this would never actually require a full hour. Tidying as you go is much better than the weekend pileup. There are so many better ways to spend your weekend.
1 hour spent immersing myself in nature – Depending on the day, this could easily be lumped into the exercise hour. I love to hit the trails for a refreshing jog through the thick Indiana air. As much as I love reading, writing, talking with my family, making plans, playing music, at some point, I need to get away from all of that. I need to just be with myself in nature.
1 hour to unwind, relax and recharge – After attempting to finish all that, I’m lucky if my brain hasn’t turned to utter mush while still reeling at one hundred miles per minute.
I’d love to be the kind of person that can do all of this and still have a little time leftover. However, There are only so many hours in the day. What are you doing with yours?
Have you been feeling drained lately for no reason at all? You haven’t gone anywhere or done anything particularly trying. Yet, somehow it still feels like you’re running on empty. There are so many things that need doing and you can’t seem to work up enough energy to lift a finger for a single one of them.
It’s days like these when I most loudly proclaim my detestation for the rise and continuation of COVID fear and isolation. I feel like a child who’s been sent to her room for the last year. Having your own place is fantastic but even before social distancing, there was always a danger of overdosing on ‘me time.’ Now, it’s practically guaranteed. This has been the longest timeout of all time and occasionally, it’s impossible not to feel like my motivation to do anything worthwhile has been completely zapped.
Thank goodness for people like my parents. Despite going totally insane at being ordered to stay in my room (a lovely, comfortable one bedroom apartment but still) until further notice, my mom is constantly making suggestions to keep me moving forward. Everything from scheduling a massage to starting to shop for my first house is fair game in her eyes. Here are a few of my favorite momisms that have come in handy recently and which she is constantly reminding me.
“Go big or go home.” – Whether you’re picking out an outfit for Saturday brunch or deciding to become a homeowner, go all in and make some noise. If you only ever do something halfway, you might as well have not done it at all.
“Don’t let the grass grow under your feet.” – Most opportunities will not fall into your lap. If you sit around waiting for things to happen for you, yours will be a very empty life. You have to chase what you want. In life there are two choices; stand still or move forward.
“You can do hard things.” – I have to actively remind myself of this every single day. I can do hard things. I’ve already proven that to myself time and time again. It’s why anything less than my best simply doesn’t cut it.
“Life is short. Buy the shoes.” – My mom has never said this as encouragement to become a shopaholic or to fill the voids in my life with meaningless keepsakes. It’s about pulling the trigger on the choices that will make you happy. Stop wasting time with indecision. Pursue your passions, however strange, far fetched and fantastical they may seem to others. Obviously be smart about it. You don’t want to break your bank but if you can afford it, buy all means, buy the shoes!
Welcome to a new day, full of fresh sights, fresh ideas, and a fresh outlook on the same old situations. Today, as chilly spring winds howl past my third floor apartment window, I can’t help feeling a spark of renewed energy. I still don’t sleep enough or tidy as I go or keep to a concrete routine. My life is no different than it was yesterday. The same stresses loom a bit more imminently and I still wonder at all the questions I had before.
But today, for some reason, I feel revitalized. I can do hard things. I can be brave and loud and confident. I can be organized and motivated and I’m capable of making solid adult decisions, even if they do still terrify me. Today I refuse to be stuck.
“When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.” – Atomic Habits, Chapter 5 by James Clear
I think this is my problem. In order to get what you want, you must first know what you want and be willing to work day in and day out to achieve that end. On a good day I’m capable of being highly motivated but my efforts always seem to crumble, whether it be in a single afternoon or gradually over the course of several weeks. Each new self-improvement kick lasts for a couple weeks until my work schedule changes and newly developed habits inevitably go by the wayside.
Growing up, I was always a little envious of the dreamers, those people who seemed to know exactly where they were going from the very beginning. The focus, clarity and defiant determination with which these individuals pursue their dreams is staggering and something I’m constantly trying to imitate. For them, there is always a vision, a guiding light and a next step to take, however difficult that step might be. Life rarely goes according to plan and detours are inevitable but, when you know where you want to end up, decisions become far less complicated. While never easy, they will at the very least adhere to certain guidelines which can be considered by answering the following question.
Will this action bring me closer to my goal?
It’s a very simple question and yet impossible to answer without a highly specific and concrete goal in mind. The dreams you leave for someday will always stay there like the distant horizon, tragically out of reach no matter how many mountains you summit. You can’t go to the horizon but you can journey to a point on a map. X marks the spot. What are you doing today?
I’ve spent months brainstorming ways to improve my productivity, especially when working from home, and I think I may have finally cracked the code on how to live a happy and fulfilled life. Hobbits have the right idea with their seven daily meals, little celebrations throughout the day to encourage a job well done. Here are my ideas for embracing the Hobbit lifestyle.
Breakfast – 7am
Start the morning off on the right foot. Let in the sunshine, make the bed, get dressed and enjoy a morning coffee before greeting the new day.
Second Breakfast – 9am
By this time everyday I like to have at least two things checked off the To Do list. During the work week this might include following up with work emails or minor projects. On the weekends I prefer to start the day with a morning run and one chapter from my book.
Elevenses – 11am
This is the soup or salad meal. Enjoy something healthy and refreshing. Even on busy days it’s important to walk away from the computer, if only for 15 minutes. Working from home, I like to break up the work day by getting off the screens to accomplish one productive, non-work related task to make full use of the daylight hours. Sometimes that task is as simple as taking a quick nap. Make sure to save a few minutes everyday to do something that’s good for you.
Luncheon – 1pm
After some food and relaxation it’s important to refocus and hit it hard. This is when work is in full swing. There are meetings to attend and larger group projects to get moving on. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by social media or the Youtube rabbit hole. You can do this.
Afternoon Tea – 3pm
Finish strong! Have a designated tea time and actually drink tea (not coffee). The moment I discovered the fresh perspective that a steaming cup of spice tea can bring to even the dullest of days was a huge turning point in my home office experience. This is a highly underrated way to stay focused as the day winds down and coworkers begin to sign off for the evening. I like to follow my work day with a little exercise, whether it be an hour of yoga or a light jog around the block.
Dinner – 6pm
This is the time to celebrate a job well done. Don’t ever skimp on dinner. After all that focused productivity you deserve to treat yourself with a meal fit for a Hobbit. Make something delicious and leave plenty of time to savor it with a pint of ale.
Supper – 9pm
At this point in the evening, the devices should be closed and tucked away. This is a time for reading a book or knitting a sweater or playing the piano all while sipping a glass of your favorite port. Make sure to enjoy and get to bed by 10:30pm so that you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed to do it all over again tomorrow.
January is well under way. The chaos of catching up from a long Christmas vacation is winding down and life is beginning to resume its usual rhythm (albeit a slower one since COVID measures were first put in place). It’s high time I renewed a few promises to myself and started making good on them. I think my previous struggles in this area stem from a combination of poor planning, a lack of discipline and a tendency to be overly optimistic about what I can reasonably accomplish in a day. There just aren’t enough hours to do everything everyday. However, there are some things that I’m confident I can achieve this week.
Read – Whether it be to finish the Mistborn Trilogy or to start Atomic Habits, even if it’s just a few pages between now and Sunday.
Write – Before midnight. Write during daylight hours when the creative juices are still flowing and there’s sun filtering through the windows.
Knit – That striped sweater won’t finish itself. Wouldn’t it be nice to add it to the rotation of warm woolen handknits next winter?
Be tidy – Dirty dishes and a greasy stove top can not be allowed to dominate the kitchen for more than 24 hours after cooking.
Exercise – Yoga, hiking, running, it doesn’t matter. Just do something!
SLEEP!!! – So many problems would be solved with a few more hours of regularly scheduled rest. Break the college habit and get a good night’s sleep.
“Don’t let great be the enemy of good.” – Kelly Williams Brown
Everyone wants to be great at something. Being solidly middle of the pack just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Number One. Everyone has dreams of someday becoming the best at whatever it is that they do. Looking ahead, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. Greatness is rarely something that is handed to you and each little step you take today will determine your greatness tomorrow. What steps will you take today?