One Month of Building Good Habits

I wrote last month how January wasn’t too kind to me, or perhaps more accurately, I wasn’t very kind to myself. I set out to accomplish a lot this year, and I spent those first 31 days failing as hard as possible. In short, I tried to do too much, and that’s a recipe for disaster in just about every area of life. I then vowed for February to better, and by the Goddess it has.  Somewhat oddly, it’s all thanks to Thrive, a GymnasticsBodies nutrition course.

Let’s be honest, we all want to look like that, at least a little. Well, guys at least. Girls might prefer something different.

It’s a behaviour-based nutrition course, which may not sound very intelligible at first glance. It’s founded on the principle that trying to do too much leads to disaster. Gee, that sounds familiar. Most diets fail because people try to make rapid, wholesale changes in eating habits, and after a week or so all your willpower is used up and you fall right back into your old eating habits.

Thrive takes a different approach. Each week, it gives you one or two ‘nutritional habits’ to start implementing. That’s all you have to worry about. You don’t have to get everything right; you just need to do these two little things. If you can do that, you get more habits next week, so on and so forth, until at the end you’ve got a solid nutritional foundation.

The approach is simple, and so far it is working. Famously, the course says it only focuses on what you do eat. It doesn’t tell you what not to eat. You can eat whatever you want, so long as you get all your daily habits done as well. Amazingly, this actually helps in avoiding the food you don’t want to eat (or, more accurately, you know you shouldn’t eat but tastes so delicious you eat anyway).

Take this (made up) example: eating a salad with every dinner. If you always make room for a salad, then you will eat less of other things, such as pasta or dessert, almost by default. If you are full, you are full, and if you eat the salad first, then you get all that good nutrients right there. You are also far less likely to get ‘snacky’ afterwards, as the fibre makes you feel full longer. You can still eat snacks and desserts under the program, but you will naturally feel less compulsion to do so.

If you eat this with dinner, it becomes really hard to eat a whole bag of chips later. Not impossible, as I’ve proved, but harder.

I’m only four weeks in of the estimated 12-weeks it takes to complete it, so I’ll give a full review of Thrive at that point. I originally said I would wait to start, but considering one of my 2016 goals is to eat better, why not start now? More to the point, the idea of adding in one good habit each week seems universal. It should work for any area of life, not just nutrition, right? That’s what I’ve started in February, and holy moly, it’s working.

There are some things I already do daily or near-daily, such as writing or my workouts, but those are huge lifestyle choices. I want to focus on smaller habits, the more foundational habits. If you’ve lived a life of sloth, you don’t try to become an athlete overnight. You make little change, whether it’s taking the stairs or going for a walk during lunch, then you build up slowly from there: light workout twice a week, then three times, then harder workouts, etc. That’s how you build your foundation for fitness. I need to do that, but for life as a whole.

I started small. When I wake up, before I do anything else, I make my bed. Boom, takes less than five minutes, it’s easy, and it starts my day off right. Practically, I tell myself I can’t use my computer until I make my bed, so using the computer is my reward so to speak. Of course, the real reward is going to sleep that night in a perfectly made bed. Also, I eat by my computer, so I get to eat breakfast.

This was my only habit for a full week. It took two mornings to get in the habit. I had to leave a note on my computer to remind me, and I thought, ‘Gee this is stupid,’ the first few times, but then it became automatic. I don’t even think about it anymore. I just do it.

I resented doing this as a child, but I can’t deny the appeal of coming home to a made bed.

This is great, because I’m not a morning person. It takes me forever to fully wake up, and I like nothing better than making automatic habits. If I can do something in my dawn daze, specifically something productive, that is absolutely golden. Moreover, I’m the least alert five minutes after waking, so doing anything in that time is a big win.

I did that for a full week, no problem, and so I made my second habit: practice poi before playing videogames. I love videogames, but they can be a real time-sink. Hours can pass by in a blur, and the next thing you know you’ve wasted your entire day. I don’t want to give up gaming, but I also want to do more with my life than just hold a controller. Playing a game all day often makes me feel guilty.

Spinning fire, by contrast, never feels guilty. Note that I’ve never in fact actually spun fire.

Hence, I would do something before I start playing. That way, even if I get wrapped up and play for four hours, I know I did something productive as well. I chose poi, my current object manipulation prop of choice. It’s basically a ball on a string, and you spin it, and it’s amazing. It can be a game, a test of skill, moving meditation or all these things at once and so much more.

I’m not very good at it yet, but daily practice should help. Even just five minutes here or there a few time throughout the day can have a big impact. I can do it just about anywhere, though with how cold it is I need to be inside right now. Anyway, I have to spend at least a few minutes practicing before I play a game, and it is working beautifully.

More than once, I have started a practice session and then got completely lost in in. On Monday I started, not thinking much of it, and I spent over an hour playing around. I simply had a blast, and that hour that would have been for videogames was instead spent on skill development. That’s the best case scenario right there. I didn’t give up gaming, but I chose to do something else, something more productive.

The nice thing about these habits, so far, has been how they direct my morning. I make my bed first thing, and I try to practice poi in the morning as well. If I poi in the morning, I know I can play videogames at any time later in the day. If I don’t poi, then I have to poi before I play, and that might feel like a drag after a long day at work. By getting the habit out of the way early, I free up the rest of my time, and I feel good knowing I’ve done everything I need to before noon.

That brings us to the third week, where I tried to start a chess habit. I love chess and want to study it more, but it didn’t work. Part of it was a crazy week work-wise, but I also felt somewhat drained; I had less energy than usual. I couldn’t add in this habit, or do it effectively, so I put it off. I just focused on the first two habits, making sure they were rock solid.

This week, I felt better and successfully added the chess habit. I’m studying GM Smirnov’s courses, and so I do one task or exercise each day. My current approach isn’t ideal, as I don’t have the before-after approach of the other habits. That is, I make my bed before using my computer, and I poi before playing games. Currently, I just study chess whenever. That seems a weakness, but I’m not sure what else to do.

For some reason, every image I found today has either a candle or fire in it.

More to the point, my current chess study isn’t ideal either. It’s currently just 10-15min or so, where I would like at least 30min, and an hour would be ideal. That’s a lot harder to program, and I would need to actively schedule that into my day to make time. I’m thinking I’ll slowly build this up, so my next habit can be studying longer, or making two 15min sessions and then combining them. Slow and steady should win the race eventually.

I have lots of ideas for future habits as well. I can add small habits for reading more, blogging more, doing laundry, cleaning up, shaving, meditating and so much more. Adding in little things that, individually, don’t make much of a difference, but taken as a whole would greatly improve my efficiency each day. The possibilities appear endless, and I’m pretty darn excited about where it might lead. That said, take it one week, one habit at a time. Build that foundation first, and all the rest will follow.

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