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, 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.

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 …”

Adulting, Anxiety, Books, Mindfulness, Motivation

Fail Safe

Challenges are supposed to make you happy. The novelty alone should stimulate your mind in a positive way. However failure is often an inevitable part of this process. To at last succeed after various unsuccessful attempts can bring about deep feelings of satisfaction. I think that’s why people often highlight the importance of failure. I’ve often heard the phrase “anything worth doing is worth doing badly” thrown around in relation to this.
That all may be well and good for those seemingly self motivated, glass half full kindof people. But for some of us, even after we finally overcome the hurdle, satisfaction is not the feeling which we experience. Instead we look to the ground in shame wondering why it took us so long, when everyone else seems to fly through life with ease and control.
I’ve been reading “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success” by author Megan McArdle. It’s good. It’s very good. I suggest you read it.

According to McArdle, failure will occur because the universe is uncertain. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of preparation or perfunctory attempts. Success isn’t something you are, it’s something you develop and failure is necessary for this process. In learning to make mistakes, we also learn to understand them and thus how to correct them.
The truth about failure is that it’s hard. It’s extremely difficult in fact, to pick yourself up and start all over again. To stare down whatever it was that knocked you on your ass, take a deep breath and charge in to battle it once more. The book argues that much of this struggle is due to an ingrained fear of failure. It’s something that our parents and school (or really any early validation system) is responsible for. It occurs because we are taught to focus on the final product and ignore the earlier drafts. In fact quite often we never even get to see the earlier drafts.

While some mistakes deserve punishment, most are those we make as we learn. When we begin to do something we’ve never done before. When we write the first chapter, when we edit it, when we re-write it, and even when we edit the revision.

Maybe the reason it’s so hard is that failure is essentially forcing you to change. It’s basically telling you that whatever you are doing doesn’t work. Try again, but try something else. It forces you to grow and realize that there is more than one way to approach a situation, and that some methods are more effective than others. The worst thing you can do is get yourself into a position where you cannot fail. If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

So instead of avoiding failure, we must train ourselves to be more resilient. Take small calculated risks, so it’s easier to stand up after you topple over. Don’t place blame, not on other people and not on yourself. There are a multitude of reasons something you were striving for failed. Don’t be conceded and assume it was all because of you.

Adulting, Books, Motivation, Organisation

The Organizer

I’m not a naturally organised person, it’s something I have to work on each day. It’s not so much the organising that I find a challenge either, it’s maintaining the organisational system I’ve set in place. Somehow there’s always something more important to do than taking out the trash or unloading the dishwasher, and I fall into that “I’ll do it later” habit. In short it never gets done and I find myself using my dishwasher as a cupboard.

This is why I’m always on the lookout for a great home organisation book. The one I’m reading at the moment is “The 8 Minute Organizer” by Regina Leeds. It’s premise in a nutshell, is that you can organise your home and keep it nice and tidy by tackling each room with short 8 minute tasks.

As someone with roommates, attempting to take stock of the shared areas of the house is a futile endeavour. So I decided to attempt the bedroom list of 8 minute tasks to see if her system would work for me. These tasks included activities such as: speed elimination, line up your handbags and shelve books. One I found to be quite beneficial was to gather stray garments. As I have a tendency to simply deposit clothes onto my bed (instead of in my closet) and then move the eventual pile up of garments to the floor (beds are for sleeping after all), taking the time to hang things up and put them away did wonders to the look of my room.

All in all her suggestions were easy to complete, made a visible impact and most importantly let me feel as though I had some semblance of control over my belongings. She ended the chapter with some daily 2 minute tasks to assist in maintaining the serenity that now is my bedroom. (Making the bed, throwing clothes into the hamper, return items from other rooms back to where they belong etc.) Maintenance rituals such as these are key in keeping your space organised.

The final chapter discusses maintenance in depth and how you can turn it into a ritual. Bad habits can totally derail any intention you have for a tidy space, so it becomes necessary to schedule in cleaning time. It also becomes extremely necessary to reward yourself after completing each task or ritual, just think of yourself as Pavlov’s dog and give yourself a little treat for being such a good boy. Leeds says you have to keep at it and practice for ultimate success, and all I can promise is that I will try…

It’s only 8 minutes after all.

Adulting, Books, Motivation, Relationships

Break Up Guide Book

All relationships have expiration dates (read: your eventual death), how you choose to deal with such endings is what the book “How To Break Up With Anyone” by Jamye Waxman is all about. A break up is the process of letting go, often it’s one that serves your best interest. So remember you are not a bad person for wanting to break up, you are simply looking after yourself.

Another thing to note is that no two break ups will ever be the same… I’m sure that seems pretty obvious to most, consider it a disclaimer. Along the same vein of pretty obvious but needs to be mentioned anyway: Don’t break up spontaneously. Relationships don’t really end in an instant, although sometimes they feel like they do. And always remember that avoidance is not the same as a break up. While it may seem easier at first, it’s harder and much more complicated in the long run.

With that out of the way, I present to you the seven steps to breaking up:

1. Be mentally prepared. A breakup requires confidence, clarity and in some instances steely determination. Be honest and ask yourself what does this break up really mean? What does ending things actually look like? What will you lose?

2. Be detail orientated. Decide the where, when and length of the interaction. Figure out what issues need to be addressed, how you will cope with the things that still bind you such as shared social circles, parents, belongings etc.

3. Leave the blame at home. It takes two to tango as they say, and you need to acknowledge the part you played in this situation. It will never be 100% your fault or theirs, and revisiting the past in an attempt to figure things out is a futile effort. The past is over an done with, so why not instead try to make the end as comfortable as possible?

4. Stay motivated and think positive. See this ending as the start of a new beginning and be excited for it. Once this painful part is out of the way, you get to move on to better things.

5. Don’t get trapped. Physically or emotionally. Create boundaries and learn to say no. If necessary play the song “New Rules” by Dua Lipa on repeat until the message sinks in.

6. Feel. It’s okay to feel hurt, nervous, angry, sad, disheartened etc. Make time to face it head on, this isn’t going to be a fun process (unless you’re a sociopath).

7. Get a mantra. Pretty self explanatory.

The book goes into much more detail on each of these steps. It also looks at different types of toxic relationships and how to identify them. There are entire chapters dedicated to different types of break ups, from breaking up with a friend, family, career or community. Everything is presented in great detail with real life examples. So if you need to break up with someone, anyone… This should be your go to book.