The power of habits

For better or worse, my reading list these days has been focused on the self-help variety. The latest has been “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

Though I have not finished the book, there are a few good ideas that I’ve picked up. One of them is something he calls “habit stacking,” which is essentially adding something you want to start doing regularly into an already established routine. For instance, my normal routine in the morning looks something like this: get up, make coffee, look at my email, scan the news online and then do the crossword.

So, if I wanted to add in a regular blogging, breakfast and weighing-in habit (more on the latter two in a moment) in the morning, I might adjust my routine to look something like this: get up, weigh in, make coffee, make breakfast, look at emails, write blog post, scan news and do the crossword. Now, sometimes all of these items might take more time than I might have on any given morning. This means I will need to start to get up earlier, which is unlikely, or the items at the end of the list might fall off the list or be done later.

Scanning the news and doing the crossword are at the bottom of the priority list for a couple reasons. First, I read news throughout the day — sorta a professional requirement — so doing it last in the morning, if at all, doesn’t really affect me much. Second, the crossword can take up to 45 minutes, and though it is fun, that might not be the best use of my precious early am.

But frankly, checking my emails so early on in the day can be a problem as well. The great majority of the time, my inbox in the morning is filled with what I imagine most people’s are: spam, low-level work announcements, useful newsletters, useless newsletters, and the “IRS” letting me know my social security number has been hacked. Only rarely do I wake up to a work email of a medium to high priority or urgency. After all, if it was urgent, someone would call or text. But on the occasions that I do receive such an email, it disrupts everything else, regardless of whether the issue truly deserves that level of attention.

Given the above, it might be better to have a routine that looked more like this: get up, weigh in, make coffee, make breakfast, write blog post, look at emails, scan news and do the crossword.

The weigh-in

Should you be wondering about all this weighing in stuff, let me explain. Since the beginning of the year, I have embarked on trying to be more healthy and have focused on creating a regular exercise program. Part of this was ego — I wanted to look and feel better — part of it was health — I want to reduce my dependance on as many medications as possible — and part of it was not letting down my dragon boat team.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, these teams compete in 10 or 20-person boats, each paddling furiously, in races normally between 250 and 500 meters. It is, to say the least, a challenging and exhausting enterprise. My team, the Miami Dragon Slayers, recently signed up for an unusually long race, 26 kilometers, that will be held in France in late September. Competing in a race that is more than 50 times longer than the usual one, frankly, scares the crap out of me, as it will demand that I be in top shape by that time.

And so I started an exercise program. The first part was to do 44 moderate to intense workouts by my 44th birthday in late March. Having completed that goal, I decided that I would set a “personal freedom” goal by getting to 100 workouts by July 4. This goal was also completed, and though I can say I am in considerably better shape than I was on Jan. 1, my weight has stubbornly stayed at the same level. And no, I haven’t gained 20 pounds of muscle, though that would be nice.

I needed to do something different. As they say, sustained weight loss and increased health are based on two simple things: eating better and exercising more. I have the latter nailed down, and so it time to do something about the former. My hour time limit for writing is almost up, so I may need to put out the finer points until tomorrow, but for now: the program I’m trying out involves weighing in each morning and paying close attention to what I put in my body.

That’s it for today. Have a wonderful Monday and a lovely week!

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