While driving home from visiting family on Sunday, I finally finished a book I’ve been reading on and off for a while called, “The Power of Habit.” I heard the author of the book speak at the Catalyst conference, and I’ve been intrigued with it ever since. It is jammed full of stories and research about how we create habits, how to replace bad habits with good habits and how much of the routines that guide our daily lives are really habits.
I’ve been working hard this year on creating better habits in my life. For the first six months of the year, I quit drinking all forms of caffeinated beverages. I made it six weeks this spring without eating any sugar or sweeteners of any kind, including artificial sweetener. This fall, I went 45 days without checking Facebook (except posting updates for my job).
The annoying thing is that even after quitting these bad habits for what was a substantial amount of time, I am now back to enjoying all of my vices. It’s not even like I added just a small amount of caffeine or a tiny serving of sugar to my diet. I am back to pretty much the exact same habits that I had before I went through the painful process of conquering my bad habits.
As I finished reading the book, I came across some info that I thought might help me establish better habits. The basic process for creating a new habit is to have a cue, which is your signal to start your new habit. So for example, set a timer for 3 p.m. each day. When the timer goes off, that is your cue to drink a glass of water (if that’s the new habit you want to create). Then you need a reward once you’re finished. The reward could be spending time checking e-mail, calling a friend or even something as simple as checking it off your list.
During our long car ride, I also was catching up on my blog reading and found this post about apps that can help you achieve your goals. I decided to download one of the apps (irunurun) because I liked the idea that I could get my family involved, and we could work together as a team to create some good habits.
Another thing I learned in the book is that usually when I’m trying to create a new habit, my end goal is basically eternity. (I’m going to drink seven glass of water every day for the rest of my life!) Instead, it’s better to set milestones so you can celebrate your successes along the way.
I decided I would enter seven daily tasks into the app for each of us, and then our whole family would celebrate at the end of the week if we all met our goals. Now, I am talking about simple goals like, “Make your bed.” These are basic things that many people probably are able to do everyday without having an app to tell them what to do. But what can I say? My husband and I are both the youngest child in our families and we would rather tell each other jokes or play a board game or go for a walk, rather than doing housework.
However, according to “The Power of Habit” people who have good habits in one area of their lives tend to naturally have better habits in other areas, too. The book specifically mentioned that people who make their bed everyday are better at other things, like exercising, sticking to a budget and eating healthy food. So, making my bed seemed like a good place to start.
I have to say that I literally couldn’t wait to jump out of bed this morning and make my bed for the mere fact that I wanted to check the little box on my app to let everyone know I had completed this task. After I made my bed, I read my Bible, and then checked the little box to record my success. I drank a glass of water: Check!
I ran around to each of my kids and announced to them, “I need to see your iPod. I’m going to download an app that is going to help us all create better habits.”
The middle two kids handed over their iPods without any question. I suppose the fact that Mom was actually encouraging them to use their iPods was so amazing that they didn’t bother to protest.
I thought my 14-year-old would be an even easier sell, so I gave him my little speech.
“Why would I need that?” he asked. “I don’t have any bad habits.”
Strangely enough, this is mostly true. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only first-born among the six of us. He keeps his room neat and tidy every single day. He puts his backpack away after school. His shoes are never in the middle of the floor. He hangs up his towel. He brushes his teeth without ever being reminded. The dentist even told him lately that his teeth were remarkably clean for a teenager. He is devoted to working on his basketball skills. He helps out around the house.
He definitely has flaws, but he does seem to have some really good habits, especially for a 14-year-old.
I haven’t downloaded the app for him yet. But after dinner, I thought I had my chance to prove to him he does have some bad habits. We were all eating on the run, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye leave the table without cleaning up his dishes.
“Could you please come back and put your dishes in the dishwasher?”
“I don’t have any dishes,” he responded. I had made chicken strips with some pasta, so I couldn’t imagine how he didn’t have any dishes.
“I had a sandwich,” he explained. “I put the chicken between two pieces of bread so I wouldn’t need a plate.”
There you have it. Sandwiches. That kid is always one step ahead of me.
I think I’m going to let him continue on his path of good habits without downloading the new app. But for the rest of us, we will be marking our little check boxes each time we do something good!
What about the rest of you? Do good habits come naturally to you? Do you have some bad habits you want to break?
During the last few months, I have been on a Netflix binge, watching the TV show, “House.” If you aren’t familiar with this show, it’s a medical drama about a cynical, sarcastic, cranky doctor, Greg House, who is a genius at diagnosing medical cases that other doctors can’t figure out.
One of the benefits of watching hundreds of hours of this TV show within a period of just a few months is that it has made me aware of many rare, unheard-of, and even imaginary illnesses that I might unknowingly have. Many of these diseases can go without symptoms for months or even years, so there’s no way to tell what illness might be lurking without detection. I’m kind of surprised that so far I haven’t started bleeding out of my eyes, become paralyzed in half of my body or suddenly gone into anaphylactic shock, like many of the patients on TV.
However, I have successfully diagnosed myself with one illness that has been plaguing me this winter. Around our house, we refer to it as CSATCTTSOTS.
In medical terms, it’s known as “Cold Sensors Are Too Close To The Surface Of The Skin.”
Because of this condition, I am cold. All of the time. In fact, I’m freezing. I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of differentials and medical terminology, but the reason for my extreme coldness is that my cold sensors are too close to the surface of my skin. In other words, when other people are warm, I’m cold.
It’s very difficult, and even painful, to go outside when you have this ailment. Therefore, this condition is highly exacerbated by living in a climate where it’s winter three-fourths of the year. Some of the symptoms are:
- When you wake up in the morning, you don’t want to get out of bed because it’s freezing.
- You have a need to drink hot drinks constantly.
- And by the end of the day, you are so cold that even your bones are frozen. You feel like you might actually shatter if you fall down.
- You also are subject to panic attacks when you realize how long winter is. For example, in the area where I live, we are only in the first winter season. It’s not even Dec. 20 yet, when we enter “Harsh Winter.” After that we still have to deal with “Never Ending Winter” before we make it to the actual Most Wonderful Time of the Year, “Sprinsummerfall.” (Also known as “Ahhhhhh.”)
To help other people suffering from CSATCTTSOTS, I have put together some items from my Christmas list that might be helpful. Let’s face it. There will be times when you HAVE to go outside, and this is pretty much going to be the key to survival.
1. The No. 1 item on my Christmas list is the complete fleece bodysuit. It comes in a variety of colors and has zippers to allow you to still use various body parts while staying warm.
2. The second item on my list is a battery-powered electric blanket. I haven’t actually found one of these yet, so I’m not sure it’s invented. This would allow me to walk around the house and even drive in my car while still wrapped in an electric blanket.
3. This third item might shock many of you. After years of being a hater, I have finally gotten so cold that I would like a pair of Ugg boots. I was thinking that these might look great paired with some stylish snow pants.
Given my extreme disdain for Ugg boots in the past, I thought it might be good for me to document this change here on my blog. Dr. House often notes such changes as possible side-effects to some of the rare illnesses that he finds. If I were to suddenly fall into a coma, I would want the doctors to know about this, just in case it’s neurological.
So, if I show up to the next holiday party in a pair of Ugg boots, I want people to know it’s not my fault.
It’s a symptom.
When we were considering where to move earlier this year and we would mention the name of our new town, we would often get the same response: “People there are so nice.”
“Really?” we would ask ourselves. How could it be possible that people living in a slightly smaller town, just 12 miles away could really be THAT much nicer than anywhere else? I was skeptical. I didn’t see how a community could be comprised of only nice people.
Once we decided to move, I spent lots of time on the phone setting up utilities and taking care of the logistics of moving. Without fail, I would get off the phone with someone in our new community dumbfounded by their niceness. “You won’t believe this,” I told my husband. “I called to ask about the garbage service, and the lady went on and on explaining the different types of garbage cans and where to place them on the curb. She was SO NICE!”
After we moved in, the niceness continued. The neighbors were nice. The park district people were nice. The teachers at the junior high were nice. I went to Meijer and cracked up when a guy went out of his way to help a pregnant woman out the door with her groceries. Even when I let my library fines pile up to such an embarrassing level that I was “blocked” from the library, the librarian kindly helped me restore my account.
After five months of living here, the niceness has continued. I know it’s not possibly for everyone to be nice so I’m waiting for someone to let down their guard. Do something mean. I sometimes like to play little games with those in my new community to test their niceness. This involves striking up conversations with strangers, asking random questions of public officials and asking for help finding things in stores.
A few weeks ago, I had the perfect opportunity to test the niceness of the park district. As you know by now, our house backs up to a prairie wetland. Since we moved in, we have heard that once a year, the park district does a controlled burn of the prairie. We have been anxiously awaiting this spectacle. So I can’t even tell you how happy I was to receive a postcard in the mail, alerting residents near the prairie that the controlled burn would be happening soon.
I would look out my windows each morning, hoping to spy a blazing fire behind my house. Being slightly obsessed with fire, I was afraid to be away from home for too long because I might miss it. After a week of looking out the window, I decided I needed more info. I found the postcard and noticed that the person in charge of the burns ended the postcard with these words. “Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.” Oh, yeah.
I sat down and wrote him an e-mail explaining my enthusiasm about the controlled burn, while trying not to sound too much like a pyromaniac. I asked if he could tell me when he planned to do the burn because I wanted to be sure to be home to watch. I hit send, fulling expecting that there was no way he would actually respond.
A few hours later, I got his reply. He apologized that they would not be able to do a burn of the particular prairie behind our house because it is full of peat soil. They have burned the area in the past and found that when the peat catches fire, it can burn for months or even a year. They realized their mistake in setting it on fire, and now they are working to restore the ecosystem to its original state, he explained.
In his detailed e-mail, he told me about some of the other prairie areas near our house and offered to call me to let me know when they would be doing a burn nearby. He even offered to meet me at the site to give a more detailed explanation. In a word, his response was: NICE.
Of course, I couldn’t just drop it there. I wrote back thanking him for his explanation and telling him of our family’s love for the prairie and interest in the ecosystem.
He wrote back again, this time offering to come to our house to meet us and answer our questions. (Seriously? Does that even happen?)
I sent a text to my husband telling him I was going to invite the guy to our house for Christmas dinner just to see what he would say! (Insert sarcasm)
Well, I didn’t go so far as to give the guy my phone number. So imagine my surprise this morning when my phone rang at 8 a.m.
“This is the park district calling. We have a note to call you to let you know when we are doing a controlled burn in your area.” The message included details of the time and locations of the burns that would take place today. I took a break around lunch and got to the site just as a bunch of guys in yellow fire suits were getting ready to start the first fire. My daughter and I sat in the minivan watching them do their work.
I took a few photos out the window. I was too shy to walk right up to them because I was afraid that they might have received a memo letting them know my name and my interest in the burn. I guess I’m just not used to this level of niceness just yet. I’m hoping that one day, I will be less of a skeptic. But I have to say, we are really enjoying life here in our new community. It’s… well,… NICE!