Habit Tracking October: Injured and Distracted

Following my new system for tracking habits I have again kept track of various habits I try to follow. Here the overview for October.

Habit Tracking October

Overall, I didn’t do very well, just like in September. Here my notes on the individual habits:

  • Exercise and Stretching: Since I injured my rib at the end of September, I was not able to do much exercise. The two times I managed to do so I went on strenuous walks, first to the Werribee Gorge and then to the 1000 Steps.

  • Emails: I have adopted a new habit where I aim to have less than five emails in my personal inbox (certainly not possible with my work one). I managed to do so quite consistently. I think it stresses me when too many emails pile up in my personal inbox so I think keeping things managed day by day is a good habit to adopt.

  • Meditation: While I was not being very good at meditating regularly in October, I improved somewhat from September. I also developed for myself a little meditation map that I followed:

Meditation Map
  • Learn: For the latter half of the month I was not very diligent in continuing my touch typing practice. I think this was due to me being involved in a small programming project; I taught myself how to develop 3D graphics using JavaScript. So, in a way I did some learning during most of these days just not the kind I planned for.
3D Application
  • Posture: I was able to use my Upright go for around half of the days in the months. Should definitely try to do better.

For the next month my main goal will definitely be to pick up exercising again. For me, it is the most important habit but one I often fail to adhere to.

Identity, Habits and Enlightenment

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. One of the interesting ideas presented in this book was that in order to bring about personal change, we need to start with our identity, then change our practices and processes and thus achieve better outcomes; as in, I am a health conscious person, therefore I will change my habit of eating fast food for lunch and thus eat healthy food for lunch. This is presented as being in contrast to our usual way of trying to facilitate change, which would be to start with outcomes; as in, I will eat healthy food for lunch, thus changing my habit of eating fast food and ultimately become a healthy person.

I thought this is a rather useful way to think about facilitating change, even though we need to take into account that it will usually be a two way process; what I do makes me what I am, but also what I am makes me do what I do. I am also still reading the book Happiness by Matthieu Ricard and today I came across a passage in there which I think brings an additional perspective on this.

Specifically Ricard discusses the Buddhist desire to become self-less. This is grounded in the belief that having a strong sense of self makes us liable to suffer. For instance, if I see myself as a formidable athlete and I get a permanent injury, it might bring me great unhappiness. Likewise, if I attach great importance to my self and my well-being, I am prone to develop thoughts that I am disadvantaged or easily become angry when thinking I have been wronged.

This line of thinking made me consider if building habits around a strong sense of identity might be as dangerous a path to follow as building habits around a desire to achieve a specific outcome. For instance, if I am developing a new habit because I want to loose weight, I might be disappointed when I do not succeed. However if I am developing the identity of myself as a slim person, it might bring me even greater unhappiness if I am not able to accomplish this. I think this very unhappiness might be the driver which makes using an identity based approach more likely to succeed; but it likewise makes it more dangerous for our general well-being.

I think it is quite important to develop an identity and have a life purpose. These should, however, be very carefully chosen. In choosing an identity, we should choose something which is helping us towards a path of greater happiness and enlightenment, rather than something which helps us achieve a lesser goal. Also our identity and purpose should not be dependent on external factors but only on things completely under our control. In the book Eternal Dharma, some possible life goals were discussed which I think were quite interesting. They centred around bringing love and kindness into the world. Here some further examples of identities/purposes which might be safe to adapt:

Having a strong identity is critical in finding success and happiness. However, as said, we must also keep in mind that an identity can do as much harm as it can do good. If I believe I am a person who loves shopping or going out above all, I am unlikely to bring much good into the world or for myself. But if I believe that I am kind and hard-working, I can be of great benefit to others and myself.

Habit Tracking September: Technological Enhancement

As written before, I have adopted a new system for tracking my habits. This primarily involves keeping track of whether or not I am getting to do certain activities in a day or not and recording this in a simple table. I have already reported my success in tracking my habits for July and August.

While things were going very well in July, August saw me struggling to stick to any of the habits; chiefly I think, since I struggled with a winter cold (living in Australia, yes, we have winter in August).

Here the overview for September:

Habit Tracking September

Overall I did not very terribly, and here my notes for the individual habits:

  • Exercise & Stretching: While I only managed to exercise (and stretch four times in August), I increased this to six times in September. I think I could have done even better if I hadn’t been very busy at work at the end of September and thus wasn’t able to come back home in time to exercise in the evening. Also I had a little accident on my scooter on the 26th of September where I injured my rib. I can still barely walk without pain, so I don’t think I will be able to exercise until this is healed.
  • Wake Up: We changed our morning routine to wake up a bit later and thus the 5:30 am wake up time wasn’t really practical to pursue.
  • Meditation: No excuse why I didn’t do my meditation. Have to do better next month.
  • Learn: I was able to practice touch typing quite consistently. I am still learning to type special characters such as []{}()=><. Also, my wife gave me the book Visual Thinking as a birthday present and I have been practising to draw with the help of this book.
  • Posture: Finally coming to the subtitle of the book, I have at long last found a way to work on my posture in an effective way. As another birthday present from my wife I received an Upright Go, that I have been using to train my posture. Unfortunately this is also at present hindered by my injury.

For the next month, I will try to continue working on the same habits but will replace Wake Up with Emails, where I set myself the goal to have less than five emails in my personal inbox at any point in the day.

Habit Tracking August: A Complete Failure

I have previously posted about a new system I have adopted for tracking my habits. In the month of July, I think I did reasonably well in sticking to the habits I have set out to adopt. My system is designed to make it easy to enter data (simply use a marker pen) and to provide an immediate visual overview of how well things are going.

For July, it is easy to see that there is a lot more green than there is red or yellow. I didn’t do perfectly but I managed to exercise, mediate and learn quite regularly as can be seen in the below image.

Alas in the last month, things seemed to have gone horribly wrong:

  • I only managed to exercise four times in the entire month
  • I didn’t manage to wake up at my desired time (5:30 am) even once
  • I only meditated five times and not at all in the second half of the months
  • I didn’t follow through with my learning (a small touch typing exercise) in the last 1.5 weeks of the months.

I think the success in sticking to my habits is a good reflection of how well I felt in the past month. I was struggling with a cold for most of the month and for the past week my wife and I went to New Zealand for business travel which complicated realising my habits.

I think it is very interesting that my ability to stick to habits correlates with my well-being. I wonder what is the cause and effect relationship here; I would assume that it would go both ways; that I am better at sticking to my habits when I am feeling well but also that sticking to the particular habits I choose makes me feel better.

I think I especially need to find a better way for struggling with a cold; maybe do some very light exercise rather than none at all. But I am also conscious that, when feeling unwell, one of the best things to do is to rest and not to stress out about all the things we ought to do.

Interestingly I think I also gained some weight in the past month. I weighed myself at the gym of the hotel were we were staying and I weighed 76 kg, which is I think a few kilograms more than I usually weigh. I am thinking if I should start tracking my weight as well as an additional metric to track how well I am doing overall.

Image credit: The Digital Artist

Simple Habit Tracking System

I have long been looking for a system that helps me stick to good habits. I used a time tracking application on my iPhone and also created various spreadsheets. Unfortunately the solutions I found so far turned out to be too cumbersome to enter data (spreadsheets) or too difficult to run reports on (time tracking apps).

I’ve recently read the book Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan and one of the interesting points discussed was that the profiled company uses pen, paper and cardboard cards to plan, design and track their work. This gave me the idea that I could try to create a paper-based system to track my success in sticking to a number of habits.

This is the system that I came up with:

  • Create a table where the columns are the days in a month and the rows represent different habits
  • If a habit was successfully practised in a day, mark the corresponding cell as green.
  • If a habit has not been practised in three days, mark the cell corresponding to the third day yellow.
  • If a habit has not been practices for four days or longer, mark all days after the third as red.

For the first month, July 2019, I decided to track the following habits:

  • Exercise: Any form of exercise done during the day (just being active, such as walking or taking the bike does not count)
  • Stretching: Any form of stretching
  • Posture: Any attempt made by me during the day to correct and improve my posture
  • Meditation: Mediate for at least five minutes
  • Create: Work on some form of artifact, such as a piece of writing or code
  • Learn: Spend some time learning to touch type and/or to draw

This is how I tracked for each one of them:

It seems that I have some way to go until I practise all the habits I have set out to do daily. However I have also not completely failed at any of the habits and were able to practice them in 30-50% of the days of the last month. I am particularly pleased at my progress for the Learn habit. I was able to improve my proficiency for typing some tricky constructs required for programming quite significantly. Unfortunately I don’t think I have gotten any better at drawing.

Overall I quite liked this system, it was easy to follow and provided me with a good overview of how I was tracking day by day as well as for the month overall. For the next month, I will follow a slightly modified version with a changed set of habits.

Picture credit: Free-Photos

Practices for Enlightenment

I believe we all have moments in which we become the best versions of ourselves; moments in which we are ever so slightly closer to true and deep enlightenment.

Unfortunately, these moments are rare and we digress from whatever insights we have gained easily. For instance, we might realise that binge watching television brings little happiness into our lives but comes with significant costs such as less time to spent with family and friends or for our health. We might then decide to spent less time watching television and more time on more meaningful endeavours.

This decision alone, however, is not sufficient for the outcome we decide upon to manifest. Often, we will try for a few days but then the hustle and bustle of life engulfs us and we quickly forget what we have set out to do.

I believe that to attain wisdom and foster goodness in our lives, we need to constantly remind ourselves of what is most important to us. So that, once we have decided to be good and happy, we can stand a chance against the demands of everyday life. One of the ways to do that is by following a set of practices: sequences of steps we do regularly and with a spiritual purpose.

This has motivated me to design the following simple practices, which may help in achieving a more balanced, meaningful and enlightened life:

I believe these practices can enable us to be stronger and wiser. Of course, we need to find a way to embed them into our lives in a regular manner, for instance every morning or every evening; since a practice can only unfold its power when practised repeatedly.

Featured Image: Source