Streaks App

Earlier today I downloaded Streaks, an app to track habits you want to keep.

My habit-keeping habit has been abysmal this year, and I needed a fresh approach.

I have used Habit List to good effect in the past, but I’m thinking a shiny new tool might rejuvenate my commitment to routines that make my life better. 

John Gruber of Daring Fireball recommended Streaks recently. I took a look, and it looks ideal for what I want to do—track my follow through on just a few key daily habits. It has a gorgeous and simple design and looks like a fun app to use. 

Not an hour after I purchased Streaks, I saw on Twitter that the app just won a design award from Apple today as one of the best apps of the year. 

I’ll give Streaks a go and try to revitalize some habits and revitalize my commitment to living a more excellent life. 

New Year’s Eve is 11 weeks from today

Holy smokes, right?

We are 41 weeks into 2015. There are only ten weeks till Christmas Eve.

This year is showing its age. But what do I have to show for this year?

There’s still time to make a dent in 2015, to do something worth remembering the year for.

“2015 was the year I __________________________!”

Our days are numbered. We’ve got 77 days left to make something remarkable happen before 2016 begins.

Here’s a chance to establish—or resuscitate—some habits and craft systems that make a difference. 

How do I want to feel about this year as I’m counting down the seconds on New Year’s Eve?

Beat the rush on new year resolutions and get busy making some end-of-year magic instead. Finish strong. 

The formula for greatness

I found this 2006 article, What it takes to be great, in Fortune.com’s archives.

It covers much of the same ground as Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code.

In short, the key to greatness is… wait for it… practice—diligent, consistent, focused, challenging practice.

From the article:

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

Most of us just go through the motions and simply repeat what we are good at already. It’s easy and feels good. But that kind of practice does nothing to propel you forward.

Masters, however, repeatedly push themselves to failure and focus on steady, incremental improvements.

Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.

Consistency is crucial. As Ericsson notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”

Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It’s the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.

What’s encouraging about all this is that greatness isn’t the domain of those born with extraordinary gifts. They may have an advantage, but ultimately it comes down to factors you can control—the quality and quantity of your effort, your willingness to build effective habits and put in the kind of practice that leads to steady but sure improvement.

Determine what you want to be great at, come up with a plan to get there, and then do the work.

Walking man

Imagine being offered a pill that promised you seven extra years of life if you took it daily. There are no negative side effects. And it’s completely free. 

The only catch is that it takes 25 minutes each day to take this pill.

A daily 25-minute walk could add seven years to your life.

That’s the headline that got me out the door with my dog after dinner tonight. The summer heat has been my excuse for being less consistent about my daily walk. 

But even on a warm evening, I come back from a walk feeling better physically and emotionally. 

We are walking animals. It’s what we are wired to do. Our ability to stand upright and walk and run was key to becoming who we are.

But our modern culture is making us into sitting animals. Our prosperity and comfort, relative to almost all of our ancestors, is also making us weaker in many ways. 

I’m using modern technology, though, to motivate me to get off my butt more often. I use the Pedometer++ app to track my steps, and I aim for the green confetti that erupts on my phone screen when I cross the 10,000 step threshold each day. It’s silly that this motivates me, but it’s effective.

Our lives could be so much better engineered for walking. If we lived in walking distance of our work and shopping and leisure we would naturally be so much more active.

Urban life offers this advantage. I walked so much more when I lived in Washington, D.C. There was too much friction involved in driving.

If you can’t place yourself in a more walkable place, you can at least build walking into your daily habits.

Take your dog, your friend, your kids, your spouse. Or load up a podcast to listen to or some favorite music or just enjoy a quiet stroll. 

But if you walked a little more than a mile each day, you would not only add years to your life, you might add more life to your years.

Back to awesome

I’ve been slacking. (Not slack-lining. That would be cool.)

This is not cool. I put my good habits aside for a minute, which is perfectly okay in moderation. But that minute turned into weeks.

I’ve not been diligent with what I eat and how I move. Too much sitting. Way too many food-like substances. (Curse you, Ben… and Jerry.)

Not focused enough when I work. Not present enough with my family.

Just not aiming for awesome often enough.

No one seems to have noticed. But I have. And I want to rededicate myself to habits and systems that lead to excellence, for the sake of those I love and those who expect the best from me and for my own self-respect.

“Get it together, man.” Indeed.

Awesome doesn’t happen in an instant. But deciding to be more awesome does.

Just start

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“JUST DO IT” is a compellingly catchy slogan, but it’s a bit overwhelming and slightly frightening for some of us.

“Really? I don’t think I can do it. So, I just won’t even try.”

But, just starting, that’s not so risky or intimidating.

Just attempt one push-up. Just take a short, easy walk. Just start writing something, even just a sentence, that you don’t have to share with anyone if you don’t want to. Just say “Hello” to that person. Just try that new habit for a week or two and see what happens. Just begin that hard thing you don’t feel confident about or eager to do.

Don’t even think about the entirety of the project or the goal. Most goals are arbitrary anyway. And imagining the steps down the road can take your focus off the one step right in front of you now. And that step is not so hard.

Thinking about starting is not the same as starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or getting it just right. The audacity of beginning something that could end up being awesome might give you enough oomph to get over the hump of meh.

Meh is a good place to begin, actually. You can trick yourself by saying, “Let me start with this awful, unimpressive, tentative first step or first draft.” Intend to be mediocre if you have to to take the pressure off. And then you can’t help but get better if you keep going.

But you can’t keep going if you don’t get going.

Just start.

 

Last day of 2014: A strong finish

december-31st

Ten weeks ago I decided to go for a strong finish to 2014. Too often the end of the year gets muddled through and written off with all the distractions of the holidays. So, I made a commitment to focus on getting better as the year wound down instead of slacking off.

I established new habits and stuck with them. I am physically stronger than I was ten weeks ago. I’ve walked at least a mile every day for the last two months. I can do significantly more push-ups now than at any point in the past two years.

I’ve kept to my writing routine. I’ve started meditating. I’m sold on the power of intentional habits, of building systems around my priorities, not just aiming at arbitrary goals.

Act like you are who you want to be. Do those things the ideal version of yourself would do. Take action. Don’t wait for inspiration or until it “feels” right. Doing the thing you know you need to do is likely to summon the feeling you want. Even if you’re not ready. Especially if you’re not ready.

I want to live an excellent life. The basic building blocks of an excellent life are excellent days. It is in my power to craft my days around actions and habits that are most likely to make me a better person. We all have this power and the freedom to choose how we want to live and who we want to be.

Every morning promises a fresh start, another chance to make a day worth talking about, that marks your life with some bit of honor in living well and nobly. And tomorrow morning, though just another morning, is a chance to view the much larger canvas of an entire year of days.

I feel good about the finish to this year. Now, I want to start strong and string together some great days in 2015.

How we spend our days is, of course, how spend our lives. –Annie Dillard