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

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 4.14.45 PM

“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

One week left in 2014: Finish strong

december-31st

I’ve been counting down the weeks in 2014, aiming to finish strong with new habits and some momentum for the beginning of the new year. Rather than goals, I’ve been focusing on habits and routines because systems are more powerful than goals.

What kind of person do I want to be? How does that person spend his days? What would be the habits and routines of my ideal self? These are the questions that are guiding my pursuit of a more excellent life. If I can craft my days so that I go to bed satisfied more nights than not, laying my head on my pillow without regret for how I’d spent my day, I will be on the right path.

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

These past nine weeks have been focused on wellness. The habits I’ve been locking in are a daily mile walk, daily meditation, a pushups routine three times a week, and posting on this site daily. The hardest one to keep by far has been meditation. It’s easier to put on my shoes and head out the door on a cold night at 10:30 p.m. to get my mile in than it is to sit quietly for twenty minutes. But meditation is proving to be the habit with the most transformational potential. I can see where sticking with it can begin to train the mind and build mental and emotional strength that will be foundational to an excellent life.

With one week left in this year I can already say I’ve finished this year stronger than any year in recent memory. I’ve stuck with new habits for a couple of months, habits that I plan to continue indefinitely. Habits that will make my days better and more meaningful.

I’m looking forward to this holiday week and the final week of 2014. Let’s celebrate how we’ve grown this year and use the next few days to imagine bold new possibilities for the year ahead.

 

Merry freaking Christmas!

praying

One Thanksgiving morning years ago when our oldest child was a newborn, my wife and I were struggling to get our act together and get out the door for a drive across the state to a family gathering. We were late. Really late. And figuring out how to get things done with a baby in our life complicated everything.

As we finally got in the car and started down the driveway, my wife, with her frustration finally spilling out at the end our frantic scrambling, looked at me and said, with some intensity: “Happy FREAKING Thanksgiving!” She wasn’t smiling.

I didn’t laugh. On the outside. Until about an hour into the drive.

And then, after a safe time for cooling off had passed, we had a good laugh together. Yes, we were really late to the family Thanksgiving gathering. But the dinner ended up being delayed by a faulty oven (for a very long time, actually), so we didn’t miss anything.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of love and joy and peace on Earth. A time for family and friends to reconnect and annoy each other. And spend money. And travel and decorate and undecorate and toil in the kitchen and spend more money on things that often bring little delight to the recipient or the giver.

Humbug, you say?

No. Me, neither. I mostly love this time of year. But as I count down the final weeks of the year I’ve come to the point where plans for Christmas have swallowed almost everything else in our lives. There is little down time without a to-do list occupying actual attention or tugging subconsciously and invisibly leaking life energy drip by drip.

I will end up loving the season, though the only holiday music I’m tuning in willingly at the moment is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a delight no matter the season.

The year ends in a rush of activity and distraction unlike any period in the previous eleven months. It takes some effort to maintain discipline and stick with your habits. But I’ve been keeping at it. So far. (I’m about to go take a 10 p.m. walk just to check off my daily mile habit. I don’t want to break the string.)

What if we embraced the chaos of the season, the good and bad deviations from routine, and found opportunities to grow and get stronger. Sticking to a habit when you’re tempted to use the excuse of the busyness of the season to ditch it will give you greater strength for the rest of the year when routines are more consistent.

This holiday season, why not face your family and friends as you never have before? Be as present as you can. Engage in meaningful conversations. Sit at the kids’ table. Ask great questions of the often ignored senior citizens in the family. Try to get the hipster teenager to crack a smile.

Stress will come. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Just try to observe and notice it and bring yourself back to the present moment, to some perspective about the stillness of the enduring now, where all is always merry and bright.

Stay strong in these final two weeks of the year. Stick to your good habits. Keep bringing your focus back to how you want to finish this year.

And if you’re on the verge of a George Bailey-esque meltdown. Don’t even think about jumping off a bridge.

“Merry freaking Christmas!” to you all.

december-31st

Less, but better

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.22.39 PM

“Less, but better” was the design philosophy of the iconic Dieter Rams, whose work has inspired some of our greatest creators, including, and especially, Apple.

Focus on the essential. Eliminate the inessential. In your work, in your relationships, in your life. Go for quality over quantity. (Of course, quantity can lead to quality.)

Emptiness has energy. Clutter sucks energy.

Simplify. Hone. Get rid of what doesn’t add value.

We are living in a time of sensory overload. Harmony lies beyond the overwhelming complexity and distraction of too much. Instead of trying to do it all and have it all, do less, better.

Three weeks left in 2014: Incremental change you can believe in

december-31stThere are only three weeks left in 2014. (By the way, I say “twenty-fourteen”. You? It’s saving just a single syllable, I know, but it feels less unwieldy than saying “two-thousand-fourteen”. And no one ever said “Let’s party like it’s one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine”.)

I’ve been counting down to the end of the year in an attempt to finish strong, to end the year with momentum rather than in a carb-fueled haze of regret. I’ve been grooving some new habits into my daily routine and building my days around them. I wake up and check my Habit List app first thing and know I’ve got to check off those habits I’ve chosen for the day. And it’s been a success so far. I’ve transformed my mornings by rising early and meditating daily. (This habit is the one that has the potential for the greatest impact over the long term. I’m starting to get what a game-changer meditation can be.) I’m walking at least a mile every day. I’ve stuck to my push-ups routine. And here I am posting every day.

Granted, this is over a fairly short period of time. But as the new year approaches, I’m now excited about the possibility of building habits and routines to stick with over an entire year and seeing where that gets me. I can see the power of just plugging away at a habit or a simple routine without worrying about some distant, possibly arbitrary, goal. And then I imagine looking up months from now and being surprised at the transformation.

Doing a small thing consistently over a long period of time can lead to a big change in a way that trying to cram big things into a short time never will.

20140421-204913.jpg

 

Four weeks left in 2014: Meditation

december-31st

December 31 is four weeks from today. I’ve been counting down toward a strong finish to the year. I was tired of writing off the last weeks of the year and digging myself into a hole that I then need to New-Years-resolution my way out off.

I’ve been establishing some habits, because, of course, systems are better than goals. The Habit List app has played a big role in my commitment to these new habits. It’s compelling me to not break the string. I get out of bed early and start my day checking the list and making sure I can check off each habit – push-ups, walking a mile, writing, and meditation – before the day is done.

The newest habit I added is daily meditation. I’m using the Headspace app, which guides your meditation and makes it easy for a beginner to get going. It’s been a delight, and I’ve moved past the ten free sessions and subscribed for the year. It costs a little more than $6 per month to have access to the full program. The first ten days sold me, and I’m counting on sticking with it.

With just four weeks left in the year, I’m feeling both physically and emotionally stronger than I did at the beginning of the year. And that’s with me just getting started a few weeks ago.

Leverage these last few weeks of 2014 to get better at something. Don’t muddle through the holiday season postponing your attempt at awesomeness till January.

Five weeks left in 2014: Don’t break the string

december-31st

Today is the halfway point of my ten-week countdown to the end of the year. There are now only five weeks left till December 31. I’ve not missed on any of my chosen habits. I’m keeping the string unbroken, and I’m finding it satisfying to check off each habit in the Habit List app each day.

My ten-year-old committed herself to playing guitar every day with the goal of being able to play “Here Comes The Sun” by New Year’s Eve. She was eager to use the Habit List app on her device, and she has now got a 7-day string going. This is the most consistently she’s ever played the guitar since starting lessons more than a year ago. It seems more like a game to not break the string. Sticking with a habit just feels easier when it’s monitored this way, with the pressure to keep the streak alive.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 3.00.50 PM

While consistency is key, those sessions still need to be high quality to bring about real improvement. They need to involve deep practice, the kind of effort that keeps bumping up against limits and stretching and refining skills. If I just do enough push-ups to check the box without actually feeling any pain, I won’t get stronger. The key is to go to failure and then try to go a bit further; that’s what leads to progress and makes the difference.

But first you’ve got to just show up, get the quantity in so you can eventually get to quality.

What habit can you lock in in the next five weeks to finish the year on a roll?

 

 

 

End-of-year resolutions and a report from the 4th-grade

I’ve been advocating end-of-year resolutions lately. The New Year’s resolution bandwagon is always too crowded, right? Why not beat the goal-setting rush and finish the year with momentum instead of letting it fizzle in a haze of holiday distraction and carb overload.

So, I was invited to talk with my daughter’s 4th-grade class yesterday morning to discuss their goals for the end of the year. I was delighted by these kids and their genuine interest in coming up with worthwhile personal goals and plans to make them happen.

I told the students this story about Herschel Walker, the greatest college football player ever, and how the habits he developed as a kid transformed his life:

He says that he was an overweight kid who got bullied by others and was just an afterthought on his school team. When he asked his coach how to get better, the coach said, “Do pushups and sit-ups and sprints.” So, Herschel did just that. And then some. 

He loved watching TV, and every time a commercial came on he would do pushups until the show came back on. The next commercials would have him switch to sit-ups. He would do thousands of reps every night, and he would go in his yard and race his sister, who went on to be a track star at UGA. 

And that’s all he did. He didn’t lift weights and work with a trainer. Just pushups, sit-ups, and sprints. Over and over and over. And he became the athlete we now know.

While his goal was to get strong and become a better football player, it was his obsession with his daily push-ups and sit-ups and sprinting habit that made the difference and transformed him into maximizing his physical potential. Even today, at 50+-years-old, Herschel continues to do thousands of push-ups and sit-ups each day.

So, after sharing Herschel’s story with my 10-year-old friends yesterday, we talked about the importance of building habits and routines in order to reach their goals.

I was not expecting these 4th-graders to be so interested in this discussion, but they came strong with a variety of ideas and genuine enthusiasm for accomplishing something meaningful by the end of this year. They were not shy about raising their hands and sharing the goals that got them excited. From learning to play “Here Comes The Sun” on the guitar to a plan to high-five everyone in the school, our conversation yesterday yielded a wide array of December 31 goals.

I told them about Jerry Seinfeld marking out days on a calendar to motivate him to stick to his routine. Their teacher, Ms. Davis, distributed index cards for the kids to write their goals, and she’s giving them each a calendar to track their habits and routines over the next six weeks. Our neighbor let my wife know that her daughter came home yesterday committed to doing push-ups now. And my daughter asked me to load the Habit List app on her device so she could keep track of the habits she wants maintain to reach her goal. So proud.

I promised to come back to visit the class in January so everyone could report back on how it went. Now I’ve got a class full of 4th-graders holding me accountable. Stick with it, man. Finish strong.

Six weeks left in 2014: 4th-graders showing the way

december-31st

I’ve been invited to speak to my daughter’s 4th-grade-class this morning. One of her teachers reads this site and was inspired by my countdown of the remaining weeks in the year. She’s been talking with her students about finishing strong this year and having them come up with some goals and habits for themselves.

Fourth-graders are not my typical audience, except for my daughter who hears me way too much. (I think she still thinks I’m pretty cool for now, though. Don’t know how much longer that will last.) Maybe there’s not too much difference between college students and 4th-graders. Both groups seem to have an eager, appealing, puppy-like quality about them that gets hidden by some of them in the early teen years. And both 10-year-olds and 20-year-olds seem open to new possibilities in a way that people my age rarely are.

I’ll be curious to hear what goals these 9- and 10-year-olds have come up with for the last few weeks of the year. I’ve not got any prepared presentation or slides to show. I plan to hear what’s on their minds and talk through the process of creating routines and building habits to craft their lives into becoming who they want to be.

And I’m drafting this in order to help me think through what exactly I want to say. I’ve been stuck trying to think of how to approach these kids, and the best way I know of getting unstuck is to just write, to get moving in some direction even if it’s a wrong one.

I want to leave their classroom today with these kids having a clearer understanding of their own power to shape their lives and some strategies to take action right away. And I hope we have some fun talking about possibilities and new ideas and how to be more awesome.

I’ll report back on how it goes and what these kids are dreaming of to finish the year strong. Counting today there are only 43 days left in 2014. Let’s make these last six weeks the best weeks of the year.

Seven weeks left in 2014: Habit List app

december-31st

I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the seven week mark today.

I’ve been diligent with most of my finish-the-year-strong habits – getting in my mile walk every day, sticking with the hundred push-ups plan, and posting to this site daily. (Not so solid with my reading habit, though. Commit to a book, man!)

I remembered a habit tracking app I used last year, Habit List, and re-downloaded it. I was delighted to find a new and better design than when I last used it. I’ve tried the very popular Lift app, but I’m not interested in the social component, and the app is just not focused enough for what I want in a habit tracker.

Jerry Seinfeld apparently kept a big calendar on his office wall and crossed off each day on the calendar when he wrote, a daily habit that was a high priority for his work. And he was obsessive enough to not want to break the streak, so the calendar with the red “X”s compelled him to write every day if only to keep the streak alive.

Habit List is that calendar, but on your phone, in your pocket. You load in the habits you want to keep consistently and how often you want to do them. Then you can easily track how you’re doing. I get a small but satisfying boost whenever I tap that I’ve completed that habit for the day and keep the streak going.

And I feel a little tug of uneasiness as long as a habit remains unchecked for the day. I came in from a trip late Sunday night and was tired. But I didn’t want to break my “mile walk” streak, so I put on a jacket and grabbed the leash and took Mosley on a brisk walk through the neighborhood, going just far enough to check off the mile habit for the day.

Remember, systems are better than goals. Do what it takes to consistently put your priorities in front of you, to shame yourself if you have to, in order to act like and become the person you want to be.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.53.44 AM

Habit List app

Eight weeks left in 2014: Walk on

december-31st

I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the eight week mark today.

I’ve been consistent with the hundred pushups challenge, but not so much with my reading habits. Get on that, man. Wake up earlier. Stop getting lost in internet mazes. What if I read eight more books before New Year’s Day? Compiling my list tonight.

I’m adding a new habit this week: walk a mile every day. It’s an easy, quick distance to cover. The dog needs the exercise and the attention, and I need to get moving more often.

Walking is a simple, primal activity that is good for body and mind. Mark Sisson published a post recently detailing the prolific walking habits of some great thinkers – Aristotle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Dickens, and Beethoven among others.

Sisson quotes this from Soren Kierkegaard:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

The author of my favorite book, Brenda Ueland, wrote about the therapeutic benefits of leisurely, meandering walks. She went on a solitary, five to six mile walk every day to tend to her creative spirit. Harry Truman was famous for his daily, brisk walks and lived a long and interesting life.

Few things refresh and recharge like a walk. And sitting for a living as most of us do necessitates some intentional movement for a healthier life. Setting a goal of just one mile each day, which takes twenty minutes or less, makes this so doable. I could do this at lunch or early in the morning or include the whole family in the evening. I’m using the Runkeeper app to track my distance traveled.

I want to be stronger and healthier and building my day around healthy routines and productive habits will make a bigger impact than setting random goals.

Wake up knowing you’ve got to get your mile in each day. Walk on.