January 20th 2022 (Stoic Boot Camp challenge version)

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Habit Forming

Okay, I know I have fallen behind. Very far behind. In reality, what does that mean? Have I fallen off the wagon? Am I just not a daily blogging kind of guy? Is journaling a habit I can never really get into? Do I ask rhetorical questions to sound smart? Why is the search bar in Google a much better spell checker than any word processing software I have ever bought?

Okay, that last question is a post for another time (But seriously try using Google search, you will find this really is true.) So the Daily Stoic New Year New You challenge is to start a new habit. Ryan lists the following suggestions.

  • Journaling: As we can see, I am having issues with this one.
  • Read 1 book each month: I am already doing this. Reading before bed is a new habit I have embraced recently as it leads to a better sleep. Plus, I get my reading in. Currently, I am reading Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I am enjoying it. Yes, that is the book the Penelope Ann Miller 1997 film is based on. I understand that reading for pleasure is frowned upon by many in the Stoic community who read with note cards and highlighters in hand. And to them I have a simple point to make. Fuck Off. I enjoy reading for pleasure and for all the talk of memento mori, the idea that life is too short to read boring books seems lost on more than a few of them.
  • Drink a healthy smoothie every morning: Is that the same as a healthy cup of coffee? Cause that I will do. Heck, I will put some butter in it if it makes you feel better and increases my cred. But no, I am not going the smoothie route.
  • Always make your bed. Yes… eventually… before noon, certainly.
  • Take a daily walk. I am going to talk about this more down below but I had this habit for a while. I may take it up again as I tend to cycle between habits.
  • Prepare tonight for tomorrow (put your clothes out, pack your lunch, etc.): I prepare the coffee machine so I only have to “push the button Frank” to get my morning started. Outside of that, I close up the house (Check doors, make sure cats are where they are supposed to be.) Much as I open the house up in the morning.
  • Put 10% of every paycheck into your emergency fund. As I pointed out in a previous post, my emergency fund is a bit too flush right now. (Though I lost a tooth this morning so I will need to get an implant. And I spent another $1000 on things I didn’t need the first three weeks of this month. So being frugal at least is in front of the steering committee.)
  • Phone-free mornings and evenings. I have made a conscious effort to stay away from the news. I have failed so far. But I am conscious that I have failed. This really is a hard habit to break, and it I know it is not good for me. Turning off my computer and reading before bed has helped considerably towards this goal (See above).
  • Drink 2 liters of water each day: I make my own chilled green tea, which is basically water and I certainly consume more than two liters.
  • Check-in daily with a friend or family member: Since Brooke and I are no longer on speaking terms (as of this writing and yes that is partially the reason I have not journaled in the past week) I confess my daily check in person is gone. I check in with Lee, but she is not as active (Though she is proving me a liar this morning). I have a good relationship with my family. Part of that is probably because I don’t speak to them every day. That said, I see the wisdom in this.
  • Evening review (we will talk more about this on day 21): I will wait for further instructions from Ryan. But I am struggling to journal once a day.

And the winner is?

So I am going to do myself a favor and choose a habit I already have adopted, albeit recently. Reading before bed. I have a plenty of books I own that I have not read as well as a Kindle bursting to the seams with various free books of dubious quality that at the least might be fun for a lark. (I get free book notifications from Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches Trashy Books so as a result I have a lot of dubious romances. I really need to find the equivalent in the horror, fantasy, non-fiction and science fiction genres).

Now, as I previously pointed out, I read for pleasure. That doesn’t mean I only read well worn airport paperbacks. I read a lot of philosophy books and enjoy some good non-fiction. In fact, much like my other media consumption (Movies, music, video games) my taste is fairly wide. I enjoy trying out different things. What I don’t enjoy is turning a pleasurable activity into a chore. So no notecards or highlighters for me.

The eight-hour morning routine.

One of my pet peeves with the entire self-help movement is the morning routine creep. Let me show a couple of perfectly fine motivational videos.

I purposely reach out beyond the Stoic mindset for two of the videos above to prove a point. This is not an issue with Stoicism, this is an issue with self help in general. All the advice above is good. Take care of yourself, eat healthy, early to bed and early to rise, go for walks, journal, mediate, read, learn new skills, join a program I could go on. Keep in mind this is only three videos and they are all good ones I recommend. There are hundreds of such videos. So what is the problem?

Well, my primary concern is what kind of time management wizards are these people? I have few responsibilities. My spouse is dead, I am childless and the cats need about half an hour of feeding and litter box duties a day maximum. My job is a work from home job and I tend to shy away from overtime. And yet there is simply no way I could possibly fit anything close to all these routines into my daily schedule.

There is a fine line between having a few good habits and having a structure like you are in a prison camp. I used to walk every day and listen to podcasts. It took an hour and change. I stopped simply because the of the time commitment. Now I am trying to blog an hour each day. In theory, I should have plenty of time. But the reality is that even with my limited responsibilities, I still have a living to make, a household to run and the occasional emergencies to tend to.

Excuses Excuses Excuses.

Which brings us to what exactly are you doing with your time? And here I am, not an innocent in the woods. I nap (um I mean meditate), daydream, talk to myself. Occasionally, I dance to music on Spotify. Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit. So yes, I am not go go go all the time.

Plus, I have projects. Decluttering the house for one. I have a lawn that needs to be mowed. (In Florida we mow the lawn in January. Well, not mow exactly since the grass doesn’t grow in the dry season. More vacuum up the leaves from my neighbor’s tree.) My garden is at least a two weekend project, There is no shortage of projects around here. And god forbid if I want to carve out a few hours for a movie or a video game.

I came across this piece of decidedly non-stoic advice on my journeys.

I really like this. Now CGP Grey is going all in on journaling with this theme for a season. (He has a special journal you don’t have to buy for $25 is you are so inclined.) but I like the idea of the theme. I was wondering what should be my theme for the season and then as I was typing this I realised I had already picked one thanks to Ryan and the New Year, New You. Action. So my theme is action. So I will lean into taking action when in doubt or given a branching path. That resonates with me.

So what are the habits we have currently?

Well, too many to list, but as a sample. Daily journalling (Watch this space). Decluttering. Diet while at home. Read before bed. Avoid news.

What I am missing is daily walks/exercise (I do some light weightlifting every day and some dancing.) Also, daily socialization (I can only use the pandemic as an excuse for so long.). I would like to start reintroducing these into my life. Maybe once I get the decluttering project done (or at least mostly done) I will carve out the time.

There is something to be said for being laser focused on a goal. Even one as simple as well, making your life a little more simple.

An observation

One of the best things you can do is make a habit feel good. At that point, it is barely a habit. Or maybe it is a bad habit. Few people have bad habits that don’t give out some kind of award.

Ryan misses the forest for the trees in his pitch regarding this however. “Notice how we framed the reward. It’s well understood now that more important than willpower or discipline is associating the habit with something you genuinely want or enjoy. Duhigg says when we think about habits, we tend to think only about the behavior itself. But really, the reward is what makes a habit. Most people don’t like smoking; they like the buzz from smoking. Most people don’t like lifting weights; they like the endorphins from exercising.

People still smoke Ryan, not for the buzz but to avoid the withdrawals. And honestly, I don’t think you get that many endorphins from lifting weights. (Running I will give you) the motivation is how you look if you have been lifting regularly.

That said, I can think of at least one pleasurable habit I started in my early teens: that I am still doing well into my fifties. Interestingly enough, I don’t need any motivation to do it. (Though sometimes, in all fairness, videos are involved.)

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