On habits

This entry is part of my year-end, month-long Reverb 11 blogging project, where I reflect on my year in a series of daily blog posts.

What is that saying I hear all the time? Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny? Something like that? I’m not going to go so far to say that having some bad habits leads to a bad character and then lo and behold, your life sucks — but I do think there’s something to be said about habitual, positive action; little things done everyday do add up, as anyone who’s ever written and finished a novel knows.

I’m a believer that it’s much easier to inculcate a positive habit than it is to stop and weed out bad ones. I don’t know, fixating on “bad” habits is sometimes a breeding ground for self-loathing and discouragement. But when you’re building positive ones, there’s much more opportunity for spark and all-around yayness…and if you build in enough positive habits, I’m of the theory that they start to crowd out the bad ones. (A few years ago, for example, I decided to focus more on getting 5-7 servings of veggies and fruits a day, instead of berating myself for my fondness for fries and chips. I have to say that while I do enjoy my salty potatoes still, eating more green and colorful things has “reset” my appetite, and now I crave salads and greens and other yummy things more…and therefore eat less crap. Though let’s be real, I still LOVE salty potatoes like something fierce.)

All that said, this year I started doing a few new things on a regular basis. Some are so boring and quotidian that it seems silly to mention, but they had such resonance in life that I can’t discount their impact. First: I wrote down every single freaking cent I spent. I actually started doing this in the fall of 2010, thinking I’d do it for a few months to get a sense of what I was spending — but then I kept doing it. I am not sure why. I liked that it made me aware of the small, tiny things that added up: coffee, candy, a random geegaw here or there. I liked that it made me think about what value and quality really means. It was kind of the foundation for a whole wave of progress when it came to prosperity, finance and money this year.

Second: Turning off all devices at least an hour before bed. I am a recovering insomniac, and it requires constant vigilance not to lapse into my former demonic habits. (As I get older, losing sleep or sleeping irregularly feels much more insidious and toxic.) One of the biggest things I did this year to ward off the demon of sleeplessness was power off devices and generally do no work or stimulating mental activity before sleeping. It made a big difference in my life. I spent time instead being mellow, listening to music, talking with dear ones, or just sitting and writing in a paper journal. It ended being one of my favorite hours of the day.

Third: This was a writing thing, but I started at the end of the year mandating rests and breaks and dalliances from my main writing projects. It made writing seem a lot more fun.

I am always fascinated by habits, because they are such an interesting mixture of inclination, circumstance and sometimes unconscious intention. I haven’t quite thought about what habits to inculcate for 2012, thinking the need for them will emerge organically in reaction to the currents of life. Sometimes I see habits and practices of everyday life like stones in the river, things we can hop and skip on as we go on our way. They can keep us from being tossed to and fro, but eventually, with enough time, they get worn away or dislodged like everything else in the river.

2 thoughts on “On habits

  1. (A few years ago, for example, I decided to focus more on getting 5-7 servings of veggies and fruits a day, instead of berating myself for my fondness for fries and chips. I have to say that while I do enjoy my salty potatoes still, eating more green and colorful things has “reset” my appetite, and now I crave salads and greens and other yummy things more…and therefore eat less crap. Though let’s be real, I still LOVE salty potatoes like something fierce.)

    See, it’s stuff like this that makes me go, “are you really me?” Everything in these parentheses is true of me as well.

    I tried that write-down-everything-you-spend thing once, but it paradoxically made my spending habits worse. I felt guilty and harassed whenever I spent money so I would rebel against myself and say “fuck it, this snack is off the books” and spent more money than I would have.

    However, I’ve got to try the turn-everything-off-before-bed thing. This year has been the worst I can remember for sleep, and I’m a chronic insomniac too. New Year’s resolution!

    1. glad to know there’s another salty potatoes fan around here 🙂

      i’m not as much of an insomniac anymore, but that was a long, huge battle for me to fight, i have to say, and it’s really hard for me to maintain good sleep habits. it’s so easy to fall off the wagon! but turning electronic stuff off well before bedtime really helped me a lot, as doing stuff like taking out my contacts and brushing my teeth earlier than right before bed, i.e. when i wasn’t bone-tired. (i don’t know how much time i wasted arguing with myself when i was tired about brushing my teeth vs. not brushing my teeth before passing out for sleep…stupid but true. too tired to go brush my teeth but too guilty to just let myself fall asleep!)

      happy new year!
      xo k.

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