The Flow of Our Habits

The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.

This quote comes from an essay by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New York Times titled: How Not to Be Alone (published 8 June 2013). The essay is about technology eroding human connection, but this one sentence is what I want to focus on.

The nature of habits is that they are shortcuts around the hard work of thinking consciously about every little thing we do, how we act, the expressions we use, how we speak, even how we think (see Unhelpful Thinking Styles). In many ways we are, to other people at least, the sum of our habits.

Initially, to form a habit we shape our behaviour, consciously choosing certain actions and thoughts over others. With sufficient repetition a habit forms, a preference is established of resorting to the habit rather than the hard work of something that is new or different to us. Each habit we have causes slight changes to our brain, reinforcing the neurological pathways which cause the habit to occur and reducing the threshold to trigger the habit so it runs efficiently given the appropriate circumstances.

The sum of hundreds of habits we all perform every single day wears a groove in the matrix of society. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of people each running in their habitual groove and social norms arise, trends occur such as the generally bad attitudes of Dunedin drivers, the laid-back nature of most Polynesians, the brashness of Americans.

Because our habits wear a groove through our lives, they are very difficult to change. Obstructions can be ground down by the persistence of following a habitual track which requires less energy than altering course. This is most obvious in older people who have deeply ingrained habits that they are not even aware of. But it is not impossible to change habits, it does take great persistence and determination to make any changes stick

My typical approach is to go through each day without giving much thought to my habits. But if I consider the effect my habits could be having on the person I will be in ten years time, I need to decide what aspects of me now I want to nurture and what needs to be deleted. Then I need to look at which habits cause the attribute I don’t like and how I could change my habits to support better attributes. (There is a good bit of unfinished thinking here!)

100 Day Project

As I dug through my notes in Evernote yesterday I found one about the 100 Day Project. The basic idea is to commit to creating something new everyday for 100 days. The website recommends choosing an object (or objects) you already have as the material for your project and then an action to do with that object.

What Is the 100-Day Project? It’s a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making. The great surrender is the process; showing up day after day is the goal. For the 100-Day Project, it’s not about fetishizing finished products—it’s about the process.

I was mulling this idea over while considering what to delete from my vast collection of unread pdfs (see yesterday’s post). Then I realised I can combine my goal of writing 365 blog posts in 2018 with all these pdf articles by using an article a day as a writing prompt. This gives me incentive to read all this stuff and also daily inspiration to write about.

Many of the articles I’ve saved are quite technical but there is lighter stuff in amongst it so you will get some variety. This will also give you some insight into my eclectic interests. I’m excited about this project as it will be fun to read these articles and to do something useful with them.

More books and writing

Swapping blogs for books

In 2017 I did a lot of reading. Some of that was books, but a large amount was articles and blog posts on the internet. As a result of consuming an estimated 3,650 written articles from the web last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time could be better spent reading books instead.

Some of the reasons for this conclusion are:

  • Many blog posts end up repeating much the same information as others (especially anything about how to do something with WordPress).
  • Due to the shorter format of even a long web article, reading off the internet is wide but shallow. Good books enable a deeper exploration of a topic.
  •  Most web articles are not particularly well researched (there are exceptions and I love those).
  • Reading from a computer screen in the evening is detrimental to good sleep, something that is becoming more important to me as I get older.
  • I have a massive list of books I want to read!

Therefore, in 2018 one of my goals is to devote my evening reading time to books rather than web articles. In theory this should result in a jump in the number of books I read, and maybe even see me knock off some heavy duty tomes which I keep putting off diving into despite knowing that I will gain much from digesting them.

More writing

A sort-of related goal for this year is that I want to do much more writing. Last year I spent a lot of time tinkering around with websites. I consider this to have been valuable learning experience and don’t regret the time invested but have realised that I’m unlikely to become a full web developer and want to improve my writing skills in 2018 rather than continuing to focus on web development.

The obvious way to improve my writing is to write more, so expect to see much more published on this blog in 2018 than over the last few years. Not all of what I write will end up here (be glad for that), some will be junk, some will be purely practise and some won’t be stuff I want to publish on the internet.

I do see the potential hypocrisy in wanting to read less from blogs yet intending to publish more on my own blog. However, nobody is forcing you to read my blog and it hurts no-one for posts to sit here lonesome and unread. In the long run if my writing improves any lonely unread posts will have been worth the effort.

101 goals

In a fit of wanting to get out of a rut and stop wasting my life in 2013, I stumbled across this challenge:

The 101 Things in 1001 Days Challenge

The Challenge:
Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria: Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on your part).

Why 1001 Days? Many people create lists such as New Year’s resolutions or a ‘Bucket List’. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organizing and timing some tasks such as overseas trips, study semesters, or outdoor activities.

The end date of my self-challenge is 16 July 2016.

So, here is my list of tasks to achieve (those in bold green text have been completed):

1) Read through the Bible in a year

2) Read 1001 poems (22% complete)

3) Listen to the entire Bible in audiobook

4) Read 30 books that I own, but haven’t read

5) List another 1000 gifts

6) Preach 15 sermons (20% complete)

7) Create a budget and stick to it for 12 weeks

8) Find 20 ways to save $10

9) Catch tadpoles with the kids

10) Get rid of 100 things (35% done)

Stuff I have got rid of: books, clothes, shoes, old music cassette tapes,

11) Pass the grade 3 flute exam

12) Clean the oven every 6 months (16% complete)

This is one of the tasks my wife hates most, so a good way to show my love for her is to do nasty jobs such as this when I am able to. There are 5.5 periods of 6 months in 1001 days so a generous husband would round it up to 6 oven cleanings to meet this goal.

13) Take a pilates class

14) Make something out of wood

15) Shave with a straight razor

16) Make elderflower cordial

17) See penguins in their natural habitat

18) Go to 5 different museums

19) Buy only Fair-Trade chocolate

I am convinced that the capitalist system of economics is extremely unfair to those who have very little. However, like democracy it is probably the best system humans have come up with so far. Even within a system which favours the wealthy, it is possible to counter the injustices by being purposeful in how we spend out money. One way to achieve this is buying Fair-Trade certified goods.

A particularly good item to purchase only if Fair-Trade certified is chocolate because it is a treat anyway and if I am not prepared to pay extra for Fair-Trade chocolate, I really should not be eating lots of cheap chocolate anyway!

20) Buy only Fair-Trade coffee

My rationale for this goal is the same as above for chocolate.

The way I am measuring progress for these two goals is the % of 1001 days that I have gone without breaking my ‘Fair-Trade only’ rule.

21) Complete Udemy iOS7 online course

22) Get away with just my wife and I for a whole weekend

23) Create my own iPhone app

24) Learn a poem by heart

25) Cook sausages on a beach with my kids

26) Build a campfire and roast marshmallows with the kids

27) Keep a journal for 6 months

28) Take our family to Milford Sound

29) Take our family to Te Anau

30) See ‘Sirocco’ the Kakapo

31) Take our family to Orana park

32) Make homemade ice cream with the kids

33) Cook dinner one evening each week for a month

34) Renovate the woodshed

35) Write 100 blog posts

36) Plant a garden full of flowers

37) Take my son on a train

38) Wash the floors every week for a month

39) Go a day without coffee

40) Drink only one cup of caffeinated coffee per day for a month

41) Go a month without drinking coffee

42) Attend a weekend prayer retreat

43) Finish and stain all our fences

44) Do 100 pushups

45) Do 200 sit-ups

46) Go a day without chocolate

47) Go a week without chocolate

48) Go a month without chocolate

49) Set up a reliable backup for my home computer

50) Create an ebook

51) Write a poem

52) Walk the Routeburn track with Iona

53) Take my kids fishing

54) Learn to identify 10 constellations

55) Cycle the Otago Rail Trail

56) Go fly fishing

57) Plant a tree

58) Learn to reliably identify 10 native plants I didn’t already know

59) Lose 5kg

60) Find 500 geocaches

61) Hide a geocache

62) Fill the kids’ sandpit with sand

63) Grow vegetables at home

64) Regularly donate to Partners

65) Save $500 in an emergency fund

66) Learn to touch type

67) Landscape and plant our front garden

68) Empty my inboxes

69) Take a photo of the same place every week for year

70) Complete a home renovation project

71) Donate blood

72) Give $5 to a busker

73) Fix all the cupboard door handles

I’m a rather poor home handyman and the handles on our kitchen cupboards were fastened using cheap bolts that were too short for the job so have been falling off. It generally takes me about 6 months to get around to cutting a bolt to the correct size and re-attaching the handle. Finally, in November 2013 they were all fixed!

74) Learn new ways to relax

75) Write a list of things that people in my life have taught me

76) Write a letter to myself to be opened when another 1001 days is over

77) Slow down and live more intentionally

78) Watch the sunrise and sunset in the same day

79) choose another 20 goals!

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101) Donate $50 to charity for each task I don’t complete