Random Notes and Recent Thoughts #3

I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here are some short ideas I have yet to fully flesh out but are complete enough to share right now anyway. Perhaps in doing so they will drive a discussion that will lead to a longer post.

  • When “No” is your default, the things that fight their way to “Yes” have a deeper value and meaning. They not only have to earn their place, they have to maintain their worth to keep it. “Yes” is important. “Yes” means that something really matters to me. But, this is only the case — and I would argue only can be the case — when “Yes” is not easy and “No” is the default.

  • It is not enough to simply accept, put-up-with, or ignore those things that might drive us nuts about our partners in a relationship. We must learn to appreciate them. Find the ways in which those things might, in fact, be a part of what makes the other person so great. Unless we do, we risk it becoming the chink that becomes a hole that, under pressure, breaks the dam.

  • Like wide margins in a book makes it easier and more pleasurable to read, leaving wide margins in your life makes it easier and more pleasurable to live. Also, having margins in a book leaves lots of room to make notes, observations, doodle, and offer your thoughts. So goes margins in life, too.

  • The reason for quantifying your commitments, and making the time and space for them on a calendar, is as much about committing to your tasks and projects as it is to committing to the margins.

  • The gulf between irresponsibility and opportunity is bridged by intention.

  • Kindness is a habit. One that is strengthened and improved the more you are so.

  • Always get the best paint you can buy. The difference between the good stuff and everything else is measured in decades and, in some cases, centuries.

  • Just a little bit more effort goes such a long way because so many do so much less than the minimum required.

Make It Real

When I come up with a new idea or a new project, I find that simply writing it down amongst the daily scribbling in my journal is nice but no guarantee of it ever becoming anything more than that. Instead, I find that if it is something I’m really serious about, I need to take a small step towards making that idea real.

For instance, Twyla Tharp notes in her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, that every new project for her starts with a box. She notes:

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

As you can see, it’s nothing big. It’s just some words on a box. But it is about everything that box now represents. It is a simple start, a promise to fill it, and a goal to finish the project. The box is a commitment.

It doesn’t have to be anything special — or even a box. Make a folder for your idea or write the project name and date at the top of a fresh notebook page. The point is to do something. To take the first step. To own it.

Building Routines (or, How I Became A Daily Journal Writer)

The following was written for my subscription newsletter, This Could Help. I’m posting it here, as well, because I wanted to give a sense of the sorts of things that go out to my newsletter subscribers on an “irregular but with impact” basis. Hopefully after reading you will consider signing up. Also, this particular idea was a revelation and a huge success for me so, I hope it can help many others as well. Enjoy!

I have always had mixed success with keeping a journal. I could probably build a small shelter with all of the half finished notebooks that contain those fits and starts. It is also the case that I have tried many software solutions as well. Part of the problem, certainly, is that I have not been able to form the proper habit of, each day, writing the significant things down. But, counterintuitively, I have found that another big part of the problem is the amount of guilt I feel when I try for a few weeks and then fail. That guilt keeps me from giving it another go. I tell myself that, if I try again, I’m only going to fail so why bother trying at all.

Not to jinx it (knocks on wood furiously), but I have now managed to keep not only one, but TWO journals going simultaneously and without missing a day since December 16th, 2013. That is longer than I have kept any one journal continuously and daily in my whole life! (Does little happy touch down dance).

So, what made the difference for me? Well, a combination of things as I think back on it.

  • I did it intentionally for long enough that eventually it became involuntary. In other words, habits take a while to forge but, once you forge them, then it becomes involuntary in the way that blinking and breathing are involuntary. It’s just that thing you do semiconsciously just the same as the many other things you do semiconsciously.

  • I built the routine on top of other routines. Like I said, I keep two journals. The first one I use as sort of a daily log — tasks I completed, meetings I’ve had, things I’ve done, etc. So, for instance, I already had a routine when I completed a task — I marked it done on my task list. “Great.”, I thought, ”A good place to install a new routine”. So, I made a new step when I completed a task — I marked it done AND I wrote it down in my log. When I had that simple routine down I installed others one by one. When I have a meeting or appointment, I mark it down in the log before starting my car to drive away. I write down ideas right away before I lose them, etc. In other words, I broke down the big routine into a series of smaller routines which I then added bit by bit until I had a completely new routine.

  • I realized that any routine, even unrelated, was appropriate to build on. For instance, my second journal is a Levenger 5 Year Journal. It gives you a few lines for each day over five years. I use this for recording my feelings at the end of my day. This was not a task or a meeting so I had to find another routine to build on. After a short thought session I found it — brushing my teeth. See, I brush my teeth every night before going to bed. Therefore, I built the new routine on that. Now, I write in my journal and then brush my teeth. Thus, writing in the journal became a subroutine of my existing pre-bed routine.

  • I used tools that were a pleasure to use but also perfect for the purpose of the routine I wanted to install. I’ve mentioned it before but, for my Daily Log journal I use a Hobonichi Techo. Not only is it a beauty and joy to use, the perfect size for my small handwriting writing, but since it is designed as a planner it becomes an automatic “Seinfeld Calendar”. Don’t miss a day and break the chain! And, if for some very unusual reason I miss a day, I go back the next day and put something on that page — anything — to keep the routine going. In the log, there are some whirlwind days in the past few months I just did not take the time to log anything. So, the next day, I made sure to go back to the previous one and write down as much as I can remember.

  • Per the above, I allow anything to “count”. There are, at least, 5 entires as I flipped back through the ones in my 5 Year Journal that are a single word. There is one that is just a doodle. Guess what? Yep, that counts. That is how I felt that day. I didn’t feel like writing more than that and the fact that I didn’t communicates that feeling too. There are no rules. Rules stifle routines. The only rule is to put something on that page.

But, as the title of this letter suggests, this is about more than my (finally) keeping a daily journal (Two. Did I mention TWO???). I now know that many of these techniques would work with any routine/habit I wish to form. And, now that I have added these new routines to existing routines, I’m going to see what other routines I can add on top of these and what other existing routines are available for me to build on. For instance, my pre-bed routine would be the perfect place to add another subroutine — perhaps, ten minutes of meditation before I write in my journal and brush my teeth.

See what I mean?

The fact is, we all have existing routines. We all have a set of steps we do every morning, just before bed, or otherwise in our day. These are all opportunities to build in another step and form a new habit. So, if there is something you’ve wanted to do regularly for a long time but have yet to achieve it, this could help.

Take care, until next time…

Sincerely, me.

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