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Why I don’t do things every day

It seems that reading and listening to so much of Gretchen Rubin‘s work is starting to have an impact on me. The other day I had a personal revelation about something that is true for me:

I can’t commit to doing something every day.

As soon as it occurred to me, it became so obvious. There’s something about a “streak” that for some reason makes me feel too much pressure. When I break the streak (because life happens and I often work 12-14 hour days), it feels like failure and I’ll go from doing something every day to dropping it cold turkey.

This has happened several times that I can recall:

  • exercise/going to the gym (the cycle has repeated more than once)
  • practicing French on Duolingo
  • pushup challenge (as soon as the challenge was over I stopped)
  • gratitude journalling
  • logging my water consumption in my Fitbit app
  • reading, even books that I like
  • listening to podcasts

I’m sure it’s happened other times too, but these are first ones that come to mind.

My solution to the pressure of continuing the streak

When I realized this (two weeks ago), I’d developed a new habit of flossing my teeth, and hadn’t missed a single day in 2018. But at some point, I suspected, I would accidentally fall asleep or forget to pack floss, and miss a day. If/when that happened, I didn’t want to drop the habit.

My theory was that I was putting too much pressure on not breaking the chain. So, what if I deliberately built in a break? What if, approximately once per month, I deliberately did not floss my teeth? (This may seem ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t have the same trouble with chains, but I figured if I’d already missed a few days in the year, then one accident doesn’t carry the same weight.)

I tested my theory and deliberately missed two nights of flossing. I planned for it and did it on purpose, and then when the weekend was over, I RESUMED MY HABIT! (Don’t mind the yelling. This is pretty thrilling for me.) So far, I haven’t missed another day – but I will be scheduling days to miss on purpose.

The importance of knowing yourself

If I hadn’t heard Gretchen Rubin say so many times that what works for one person may not work for another, or you have to know yourself, or that one solution doesn’t work for everyone, I may not have ever considered this solution. I might have thought I just wasn’t good at building habits, or that it’s because I’m an Obliger. But it seems like neither of these is the full answer. I think it could have something to do with Obliger Rebellion as a defence of committing to too many things on a daily basis, but I’m not sure.

This solution definitely needs more testing, but if it keeps working, I’m very optimistic. And I’ll continue my new habit of approaching universal advice with caution. “5 things everyone must do for a productive morning” might work for some, but who knows? It might not work for me. And I’m the one who’s responsible to figure that out.



The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: round 2 (time for action)

I read Marie Kondo’s book last year (and wrote about it here), and wasn’t intending to read it again so soon. But I’m currently wanting to clear my space, and really feeling uncertain about where to start, so once again I ordered it from the library and happily picked it up.

A light read, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is both whimsical and practical. Kondo takes possessions seriously, along with the relationship people have with them. I still find some of her views a little “out there,” but again I found a lot of the information and instructions make sense.

Some of the highlights of this reading round include:

  • If you don’t really love something, what is the point of keeping it?
  • Sometimes an item has fulfilled its purpose with you already, and you don’t need to feel bad about it. For example, a gift someone gave you was a thrill and informed you of their caring and affection. If you don’t love the item, its job with you is done and you can get rid of it without any regrets.
  • Even if you get rid of something you later wish you hadn’t, having a tidy home will save you all the trouble and stress of searching for it. You’ll quickly realize you don’t have it and can then find the information or replace the item.
  • Have a purpose for tidying: imagine what you want your life to look like, think about why, and keep that firmly focused in your mind.
  • Tidying up your house can be really fun! And it’s all about examining your inner self.
  • The right time to read books is when you first encounter them. I think this could be applied to other stuff too – the right time to use them is when you first encounter them. Otherwise they’re not just right for you and you should let them go.
  • Allow yourself a personal book hall of fame of your favourite titles.
  • The point isn’t to get rid of everything or to only keep useful items. The point is to love everything you have, and avoid wasting time on anything else.

Last time I read her book, its purpose was information. I considered the principles and ideas she put forth but didn’t do much about it. This time around, I want to use the inspiration from reading the book to actually go through my things and tidy my life up!

Will keep you posted as I go. Step one is clothing, and I’m a little scared because I think it’ll mean I have to go shopping once I’m done.

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Why Better Than Before changed my life

For most of my life, I’ve felt like a failure.

If I stopped to think about it (a sad task I try to avoid), I could list dozens of things that I’ve thought about and planned, but never came about: gifts I meant to give, projects I wanted to create, letters I wanted to write, meals I wanted to make, tasks I should have completed, and exercise I wanted to challenge my body with. DOZENS.

When thoughts of these failed projects, these things I could have, should have done but didn’t, I feel really unhappy. When I can’t get them out of my head, I feel sick and I can’t sleep. All those missed opportunities to better myself, bring creativity into the world, to make someone else feel loved. All things I failed to do.

“What is wrong with me?” I’ve always wondered (and still do sometimes, in spite of myself). I figured I must be lazy, or a terrible procrastinator – probably both.

Reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before completely changed the way I see myself in this area, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s going to change my life. As I briefly mentioned in my review, her book identifies what she’s named the Four Tendencies – a framework of organizing people by the way they respond to expectations.

According to this framework, there are four types of people, based on how we respond to both internal and external expectations. Very briefly, the four types are:

Rebel – resists inner expectations, resists outer expectations
Questioner – meets inner expectations, resists outer expectations
Obliger – resists inner expectations, meets outer expectations
Upholder – meets inner expectations, meets outer expectations

As I read her description of Obligers, who struggle with inner expectations, I felt some important puzzle pieces falling into place. The description matched me completely, and I realized: this is what’s ‘wrong’ with me.

I’m not saying I’m never lazy and I never procrastinate. I am, and I do. But they don’t touch every aspect of what I want to do. This, my Obliger nature, is much larger.

Rubin encourages readers, rather than fight their nature, to learn how to help themselves and work with their own strengths. For Obligers, this means building external accountability into our own personal goals. It’ll be different for each person (one person might go to the gym on behalf of their future self, another might need to pay for classes, and still another might need to meet a friend or have a personal trainer), but we all need an external system.

As frustrating as it is to feel like I can’t just do all the things I want to do on my own merit, it’s incredibly liberating to have a solution. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.

I could be wrong, but I feel like this Tendency knowledge is most valuable and enlightening to Obligers. I think we tend to be the hardest on ourselves in terms of our own expectations. Not to say that the other three types don’t have their own challenges, but understanding how to finally begin doing what we’ve wanted to do for so long is incredible.

Better Than Before is the first place I learned about the Tendencies. I’d recommend starting there, but I might be biased. Rubin has also published a new book entitled The Four Tendencies which goes into much more depth, and she discusses the Tendencies often on her podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I’m also a minor expert on the topic by now and I’m always happy to talk!

I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still trying to figure out how to build external accountability into something like a personal project. Maybe for a birthday card I’ll have to abandon the surprise and say something like “I’m dropping something in the mail for you this weekend!” to ensure it actually gets done. We’ll see how it goes.

But for now, I have hope that things can change, and that is enough.