New Beginnings #3: New habits and routines

Oh boy, this was the hardest part in the series to write. I'm still trying to figure what I'm doing and it helped me realize I have a lot of walking on the road to being productive.

I'm in a transition period, I recently left my job in Ireland and moved back with my family in Israel. I covered this in parts 1 and 2 of the series. Today we'll go through trying to build a new routine and pickup some new habits along the way.

On taking habits

I've been trying to pick up three new habits:

  • Running
  • Meditating
  • Learning Japanese

All three require some amount of planning and preparation and getting some basic gear to support the habit.

Running

Exercise has been a long neglected habit of mine. I used to attend the gym religiously and for a few years at university I felt fantastic. I was making progress, putting on muscle, and had a ton of energy. As it always happens priorities shift and I neglected to work on my body for more than 2 years.

I bought some snazzy new running shoes that match my foot type and running clothes. Thanks to my brother I've discovered I'm flat-footed, so I bought a pair of Asics Kayano's in neon orange and blue. The idea of the costume as an aid for habit building has been mentioned by a few experts. David Allen himself talked about getting his mind into "exercise-mode" by putting on the "costume" of a runner.

It's crucial to have a goal and a plan. The goal has to be clear and specific, and the plan builds towards that goal. My goal is to be able to run 5 km without stopping at 8'00" pace within 3 months. I'm using a Couch to 5K plan which is recommended by running coaches and health organizations as an effective and safe way to work towards 5k. I'm on day 3 of week 2 of the program and feeling good. I've been steadily improving my pace while still finishing the run feeling good.

Meditation

Meditating is a strange beast. The benefits of a long-term meditation habit have been documented in many studies, and include better mood control, improved focus, and increased empathy and improved interpersonal relations. Who knew something you can do for free on the floor with just your body could be so beneficial?

The problem to start with is that it's hard to know if you're doing it right and there's different disciplines to the seemingly simple activity of sitting and thinking.

There are many resources on meditation and things can get confusing. I've read a long book on meditation before which focused a lot on the philosophical aspects of the practice. While this was interesting in an academic sense, it wasn't helping me with the physical act of meditation.

Based on the recommendation on the You Are Not So Smart podcast, I picked up a book called The Mindful Geek and an app called Headspace. I've been making my way through the book while starting the practice with the Headspace app.

The app includes a free starter pack of ten 10 minute-long guided meditation sessions. Thereafter you have to subscribe to continue with the program, and you also get single sessions targeted at specific issues, and longer programs designed to help with sleeping, stress, etc...

The reason why I picked up The Mindful Geek is because it takes a pragmatic approach to the practice, while not disparaging the philosophical and religious roots of the practice. The author also included a bunch of scientific studies to highlight the positive effects of a long-term meditation habit, and even tweaked parts of the program based on the results of those studies.

Today marked the twelfth day of consecutive meditation. Unlike running, It's more difficult to quantify the positive effects of meditation. The act itself can be difficult even painful at times or really nice and relaxing. Regardless, after each session I have a sense of calm focus, so I'm gonna say that is good. I'll let you know how I get on.

Learning Japanese

This habit is by far the hardest. There are many moving parts and at the beginning you don't know how much you don't know, which makes it harder to know what to you need to learn to know (You know?).

I got the most popular book for learning Japanese, Genki I, and started going through the exercises. My plan for now is to learn enough to find a tutor and start practicing speech. I'm going for practical approach, being able to converse with people will help me 80%, so I'm hitting that hard first.

Habit tracking

To help me build the habit, I got the recent Apple Design Award-winning habit tracker app Streaks. It's got a simple interface, reminder support, Health app support, and custom habit scheduling. You can set habits for a number of times a week or for specific days and Streaks will remind you. I use my Fitbit for this, but Streaks can also write into your Health data for nutrition and fitness-related habits.

One feature that seems to be missing from the trackers I've tried is support for habits that require more than one action in a day to complete like drinking water. My workaround has been to add 4 separate reminders to Due, which is not an ideal solution.

Building a routine

Oh boy I am struggling with this one. I can make excuses all day long about having to go to bed late to speak to my partner in Japan, or how I'm at home all day with no external force giving me structure, or maybe it's being at home with distracting things around. The truth is I'm being real lazy and that needs to stop. After a (really) long morning routine the rest of the day is kind of a mess.

I've never been great at managing my time when I'm at home. It feels like I have too much of it, so I try to fit too much work and then fail to finish everything. From now on I'm gonna reduce the number of projects I work on in a day, add more relaxation time, and focus on getting everything done.

Don't overload on tasks. Focus on completing things.

Beyond that I'm gonna try to setup a consistent sleeping schedule. Having my Fitbit record the amount of time I sleep has been really useful. Looking at the results after a few weeks was a little shocking, I go to bed and wake up at different times every day. This is not good.

Setup a sleeping schedule and then stick to it.

Because I don't have a 9 to 5 job, weekdays and weekends melt together. That doesn't mean that I can do focused work every day. I need to start taking weekends to relax and run errands just like I would if I had a regular job.

Take weekends off.

Planning every day hour by hour was very beneficial. Even if I missed my target or had to push something back. At least I knew that something was being delayed. On top of that, it helps with not overloading yourself. Once you start putting time towards specific tasks it becomes really clear there are not enough times in the day.

With those principles in mind I think I'm well on my way to rebuilding my routine while incorporating some healthy new habits into the mix. I'll let you know what happens.

Until next Time. Have a great one.

-- Jay Blanco