Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Motivation, Organisation

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

In the book “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear talks about the compound effects and benefits of making positive small decisions.

It’s the hundreds of small choices we make each and every day that influence our habits and identity. So if we are able to manipulate those choices for the better, pretty soon those choices will snowball into changing our lives for the better.

It’s an incredible book, marked with interesting anecdotes and life stories, designed to motivate and show you how to break down your behaviours and the choices behind them. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from reading this book is just how much your environment impacts your decision making. I always knew that visual cues were important influences on my behaviour. They’re essentially why I always feel hungry after a fast food ad. But it never occurred to me to harness this link for my own benefit.

Vision is the most powerful of all human sensory abilities according to Clear. Which means that visual cues are the biggest influence on human behaviour. So if you want to change your habits, you have to design your environment for success. “Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out.”

This concept really echoes the famous proverb “out of sight, out of mind”. If you want to avoid a bad habit, like say eating an entire block of chocolate, hide the chocolate or don’t have any in your home. Conversely if you want to encourage a good habit, like going for a walk every day, it’s a good idea to keep the cues for this action in your line of sight.

In our current “convenience is king” environment, by making your good habits more convenient than your bad ones, you will be more likely to follow through on the good. And that all starts with making them more obvious.

As of last year I have been trying to learn to play the guitar. It hasn’t been going super well. Although my guitar sits in the corner of my bedroom, a place where I can regularly see it, it still gets little to no use on a day to day basis.

With the help of this book, I’ve been giving more thought as to why this potential habit just isn’t sticking. A few things have occurred to me:

1. Even though my guitar is visible, I have no comfortable spot in which to sit and play it.
2. It’s constantly getting out of tune and I have no easy way to fix that.
3. I have exercise equipment in front of it, making the area look messy.

It’s funny how when you start to break down the visual cues in your environment, you begin to see all the obstacles you have inadvertently put in your way. It also becomes extremely obvious how lazy you have become.

My plan therefore is to remove as many obstacles as I can. So my first step will be to install a guitar tuner app on my phone and to actually tune my guitar. Next I’m moving the guitar to my living room. Specifically to the right side of my armchair. This chair is comfortable and offers the back support needed for good guitar playing posture. It’s also my favourite chair and one that I sit in regularly to watch TV.

I’m hoping that by changing the location of my guitar and guitar stand, I will make it easier to form the habit of practicing my playing each evening. Even if it’s just for a few minutes during commercial breaks, the goal is to start forming the habit. I can always build on that habit later.

Overall I adore this book and would recommend it to pretty much everyone I know, even my super organized friends. There is something new to learn for everyone. Remember it’s the hundreds of small steps that lead to great strides in behaviour.

Adulting, Books, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Borrow Before You Buy

When it comes to minimalism there seems to be many variants of the popular less is more philosophy. It’s one of the wonderful things about it, it’s such a flexible ideology that it can apply to anyone.

There are also many resources available to guide you on your minimalism journey, with what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming amount of advice. Having read my fair share of books on minimalism, I’ve come across many techniques to assist me in maintaining my minimalist lifestyle. I want to share one with you today that I find to be particularly useful.

The technique is called: Borrow before you buy. This can essentially be boiled down to a try before you buy philosophy.

A big part of minimalism is figuring out what brings you joy and thereby brings value to your life. It involves setting priorities in terms of where you spend your time, energy and money. But for many people, myself included, this presents a dilemma. How do I know what will bring joy or value to my life? How do I figure out what my priorities are without investing in the clutter often associated with them?

The trick is to borrow the item instead of purchasing it.

Whether you’ve decided to take up woodwork, playing guitar or have simply heard great things about a new book… See if you can borrow that item before investing in it.

After borrowing a friends old guitar for a few weeks you may find you really aren’t that musically inclined, or after borrowing that literary classic from the library you may admit that it is a highly over-rated read. The point is you are free from the commitment of owning that item. Or any feelings of regret at purchasing it. You can just return it to your friend or the library and be done with it.

Another version of this try before you buy, is rent before you buy. Want to start a DIY project but don’t have the power tools to do it? Well if asking a friend or neighbour isn’t an option, you can always rent the equipment instead. It will be more cost effective in the majority of cases, and if you find your dream hasn’t quite translated into reality you are not burdened with the task of selling or storing the unwanted items.

For me the borrow before you buy technique has been really helpful in turning what could typically be referred to as consumption into experience. When I borrow a DVD from the library for example, I have a limited amount of time to watch it. This means that I have to make time to watch it. It becomes an experience instead of just a way to pass time.

When I decided to try boxing classes, I asked a friend if I could tag along to one of her classes. Not only did I get to try the class for free under their bring a friend along free program, but I was able to borrow her spare set of wraps and rent out the gloves from the boxing studio. It was a great experience with zero up front commitment.

While this may not apply to everything, you would be surprised how many things you can borrow or rent. It’s definitely worth a try.

Adulting, Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Motivation, Organisation, Relationships

Breaking Through The Struggle

The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday is a book that makes reference to various tactics in overcoming obstacles. It does so by applying the stoic philosophy of Roman legend Marcus Aurelius to real world examples of amazing individuals who triumphed over adversity. It is very inspiring and exceptionally useful, as it focuses largely on changing your perceptions of challenges and failures.

One example is a chapter titled: “Using obstacles against themselves”. It posits that sometimes staying silent or simply remaining calm in the face of adversity is the best option. When I was in high school and had just started my first part-time job as a receptionist, my boss gave me an excellent piece of advice. He told me that the best tactic in dealing with upset people was to lower your voice. If they are raising their voice and demanding their way, lower your voice and calmly respond. They will have to do the same, if for no other reason than to actually be able to hear your responses.

This little nugget of wisdom stayed with me through my many years working in retail. It proved to be useful time and time again. I also believe that most people tend to mimic the behaviour of those around them, therefore by remaining calm and keeping my voice at a steady pace I found myself with customers who would also begin to do the same.

Sometimes reacting is just useless. Why not let the person that is getting in your way, get in their own way instead? The book suggests that instead of attacking, sometimes all we need to do is take a stand or even stand back. Let the obstacle tire itself out. Patience is a virtue after all, even if it’s one many of us might feel uncomfortable with when we are trying to achieve our goals.

Ultimately I have to say this is a brilliant book. Every person should read it as it will open your mind to the many different ways you can approach the difficulties in your life.

Books

The Checklist

The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande is an incredible read for anyone who loves to listen to incredible emergency room stories. The anecdotes of a surgeon are always interesting to hear, but Gawande uses these tales to demonstrate how a seemingly simple solution can make a gargantuan difference in not just the medical world, but in many other industries as well.

The basic premise of this book is that as humans we are fallible. In part this is due to ignorance, but more and more it’s becoming an issue of ineptitude. We have a lot of knowledge and resources, yet we do not necessarily have the ability to organise and use them well. While powerful our brains sometimes forget things or miss steps. This is why checklists can become powerful tools, when applied consistently.

Many examples are provided, giving evidence to the effectiveness of checklists, for all sorts of problems. Despite their different functions, each checklist is composed of simple and straightforward steps. They break down the essentials of a task, and provide an order in which to complete them.

While reading, I considered engineering my own every day checklists. What they would look like and how I could use them. Maybe with a checklist in tow I wouldn’t forget to take the trash out every Sunday night, or I’d avoid sunburn by remembering to apply and reapply my sunscreen throughout the day.

In some respects a checklist is kind of like having a routine or ritual. The only difference is that it’s on paper. I’ve been finding a lot of joy and calm in my mornings by engaging in a morning ritual, so the notion of adding a few checklists into my weekly planner seems useful rather than tedious.

My plan is to develop checklists for three different routine tasks and to see if or how well they assist me in completing them:

1. Grocery shopping
2. Attending a child’s birthday party
3. Going to the gym and exercising

I just have to remember to keep it simple and essential. Wish me luck!

Adulting, Books, Motivation

Me-Time

Life can be so strange sometimes. What was a seemingly mundane evening, somehow delivered a rare moment of clarity. A reminder of who I really am, or what I’m actually like… something along those lines anyway.

I went to see the film “Juliet, Naked” another brilliant film adaption of another brilliant Nick Hornby book. The movie was wonderful, which was fortunate because due to its limited release I had to drive thirty five minutes away just to see it. But it made me feel nostalgic. Not for any specific era, but for a type of film which rarely gets made anymore. A type of film that in all honesty most of my friends would never bother to watch, but I adore and get so excited about… maybe even too excited about. The book is amazing too, and while the film differs in certain aspects and plot points, the overall feeling remains the same.

So I went to see the film, dragged my poor old mum along under the pretense of mother-daughter bonding, and we had a lovely time. I actually had a rather pleasant evening, and it made me realize how few of those I have had in the last few months.

The thing is, I’ve been out to dinners and concerts and to the movies with friends, but there has always been some sort of compromise involved. I’ve attended these events, even suggested them in some cases, because I know everyone will enjoy them. Even I more or less enjoyed them. And although I’m very grateful for all of those experiences and relationships, somehow they all fall short when compared to this evening. Because this evening was for me. It was true to me.

Countless self help books talk about this concept of “me-time”. The importance of taking some time for yourself to rest and recharge. But as an added inducement, me-time can also give you the space to get back to yourself. To clear your head of all the expectations and influences of the outside world, and reconnect with the things that bring you personal joy! The personal tastes which inform your identity, and which are too easily surrendered in an attempt to fit in.

After this epiphany of sorts, I’ve become determined to get to know myself again. To do more of the things that I truly love, in order to have a more meaningful life.

Anxiety, Books, Motivation

Grateful For Coffee

I’ve been reading up on the power of gratefulness and have become quite aware of its positive effects through my own personal use. I practice gratefulness by filling out a page in my gratitude journal each morning while I drink my coffee. I prefer to use a guided journal such as “100 Days Of Gratefulness: A Gratitude Journal” by Amy J. Blake, as each page has a pre written prompt to help me get started. Often it’s worded as a question, like “Who do i appreciate and why?”

Being grateful for the people and things you have, is in a sense a surrender of your percieved control of the world around you. I’m grateful for the sun shining, for my loved ones, for the coffee I drink each morning. But that is because I ultimately do not have control over these things. Not really, even my morning cup of coffee is subject to the possibility of a discontinuation of that product.

So I must be grateful, for “…what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”

Anxiety, Books

Hygge Emergency!

Hygge and emergency are two words which probably seem at odds with one another.

One brings to mind thoughts of warm fluffy blankets, decadent hot chocolate and reading by a cosy fireplace.

The other… let’s just say that it’s somewhat less relaxing. The combination seems strange, unless you consider the former to be the solution to the latter.

Such is the case in Miek Wikings’ “The Little Book of Hygge”, in the chapter titled: Hygge Emergency Kit. Here Wikings outlines a thoughtful list of hygge essentials that one may keep on hand for emergency situations (although I think it’s fair to say that the term emergency is used somewhat loosely in this scenario).

Some highlights include: candles, warm socks, tea, books and high quality chocolate. It’s basically everything you need for a cosy night in. It’s also basically everything you already have at home. And in my case, it’s basically my usual Friday night plans.

Which leads me to ask why does this chapter exist? The rest of the book is an interesting exploration of this Danish ideology. It’s informative and fascinating in regards to its sociological roots, but this chapter seems unnecessary. The very idea of a hygge emergency is ridiculous. Any issue that can be resolved with high quality chocolate, does not constitute an emergency.

Overall it’s a great read, I’m just getting a little tired of self help books stating the obvious.