• Better Than Before: LOOPHOLES!

    Habits can be both surprisingly tough and yet, very fragile. There are habits that, once cemented, would take great difficulty to break, and others that require our concentration long after the "magic" 21 day mark. (By the way, 21 days is actually not the magic number. It varies greatly by person, by habit, and how that person forms habits. It's not a bad marker, it just doesn't tell the whole story.) 

    Safeguards help us to aniticipate and minimize temptation. It can keep a lapse from turning into a full relapse. 

    How do we put safeguards into place? Implement "if-then" statements. Put the energy into planning up front - IF they want to go out for coffee, I'll get a small. IF they want to go to a movie, I'll bow out because I need sleep. IF I get a milkshake tonight, then I'll skip dessert tomorrow. Putting energy in up front means that we don't need to think on our feet later. 

    Research shows that when people are forming habits, the earlier repetitions help most to establish it. Start your habit strong, and protect your habit the most right in the beginning, and it will pay off later.

    You can also use planned exceptions. The key word here is planned. Exceptions are best made for something memorable. Skipping the gym to watch tv may not make you feel great later, but skipping the gym to go to a once-in-a-lifetime concert is another story. Think about how you'll feel about the exception later. Will you say "it was worth it!" or not? If it isn't worth it, you may want to reconsider.

    Now, I'm going to run through loopholes. The strategy of loophole spotting can be useful, because for most of us, we will come back to some of the same loopholes over and over. Knowing what we're doing can help us either close the loopholes, or at least make a mindful decision. 

    Moral licensing - Permission to be "bad", because we've been good. "I went to the gym last night, so I can totally have an egg mcmuffin for breakfast" (Note: You can just have the egg mcmuffin without justifying it. It's okay.) 

    Tomorrow - Now doesn't matter, because we're going to do it tomorrow. "I'll eat well tomorrow."

    False choice - Thinking that two activities are in opposition to one another when they aren't necessarily. "I'm too busy to make dinner. Better eat out." 

    Lack of Control - Feeling like we can't control things when we can. "I can't possibly resist buying this book."

    Arranging to fail - A chain of seemingly harmless decisions that allow us to engineer circumstances that we can't resist. "Oops, I forgot to eat breakfast this morning, and I'm right by this bakery." or "I watched too much tv and now I can't do the dishes."

    This doesn't count - Self explanatory. "I can eat whatever I want because I'm on vacation."

    Questionable Assumption -  Weird mental blocks that may or may not be true. "I can't exercise now, I've already showered today."

    Concern for others - Acting out of consideration for others or to fit in socially, whether or not it's warranted. "I have to eat this cake, because aunt Edna would be upset if I didn't."

    Fake self-actualization - Disguised as an embrace of life or acceptance of self. "YOLO!"

    One coin -  The idea that "just one" doesn't matter, whether it's one good deed or one bad. Not realizing that things do, in fact, add up over time. "Why bother working out tonight?"

    Whew. There are a lot of loopholes that we can invoke! What do you find that you fall prey to most often? 

    Next week, we'll look at the strategies of distraction and reward. See you then!

  • Pinterecipes: Parsley Scallion Hummus Pasta

    Pinterecipes: Parsley Scallion Hummus Pasta

    I haven't done a lot of interesting cooking lately. 

    Part of it is because it's summer. No one wants to cook and heat up the house in 90+ degree weather. It's also been busy around here - or, maybe better put, my priorities haven't been cooking. Beans and rice have been a staple around here. Cook up rice in the rice cooker, dump a can of beans on when it's done. Add a little butter and generous portions of a flavor gods seasoning. 

    I know I've said it before, but flavor gods seasonings are AH-MAZING. They're low/no sodium, freshly made, no artificial ingredients, and they taste great. They're a great punch of flavor that isn't bad for you. 

    But I digress. We're here for the pasta. I wasn't sure whether this would be any good. I've made hummus exactly once, and while I've eaten it many times, never have I thought, "you know, we should put this on pasta." But the parsley and the green onion make it magical. YUM. Really. It's a little bit creamy, tastes really indulgent, easy to make, and it's more of a healthy recipe than not. I mean, I used regular ol pasta, but if you really wanted to, you could use rice pasta or veggie pasta, or ... I guess you could try zucchini noodles, but I really think the 'chew' of the pasta is part of the charm.

    If you have a food processor, this one is a winner. Try it out. Let me know what you think.

    Parsley Scallion Hummus Pasta

  • Better Than Before: To do, or not to do?

    Today, we're going to cover the topics of abstaining and convenience. 

    There are people who can have just one cookie and be done. Then there are the people who can't have cookies within a five mile vicinity, or they will eat every. single. one. There's nothing wrong with either, but it's good to know which temperament you fall into. 

    For some people, moderation - drinking, eating, spending - just doesn't work. It's easier for them to resist temptations by just never giving in. To people who prefer to moderate, it may sound crazy, but they actually feel less deprivation when they never indulge than if they do it sometimes. 

    The reason is that abstainers can exhaust themselves asking questions like, "How much? Does this count?" Not indulging removes the need for these questions, which strengthens self control. 

    On the other hand, moderators can get panicky or feel rebellious if they think of never having or doing something. 

    I am very much a moderator. On the whole, I find that I would rather have something really good once in a while than never. Once I find something - say, really good chocolate - it's easier for me to say no to stuff like Hershey's. 
    I'm not so sure about Matt. If we have sweets in the house, he has a hard time staying away from them. I wonder if it'd be easier for him to just abstain entirely, but I don't know.

    Now, as far as making habits goes, we are very influenced by convenience. The amount of effort, time or decision making required, all plays a part on whether a habit is likely to stick for us. This is why, the further away the gym is from either home or work, the less likely we are to go there. It raises too many mental questions: when do I go? should I go first thing in the morning or on the way home from work? do I feel like going? should I pack up clothes to take with me? what's traffic going to be like? 

    So figure out why something feels inconvenient to you. Make it easy to do right, and hard to go wrong.

    On the flip side, you can make bad habits less convenient. Do your dinner plans go out the window when you drive by McDonalds? Take a different way home. Do you eat seven oreos every time you pass by the box? Put them in the cupboard. Do you have the night munchies? Delay gratification by just fifteen minutes, most of your cravings will diminish. 

    We are suckers for convenience. If you want to help bolster a good habit, figure out how to make it as convenient as possible. If you want to get rid of bad habits, make it more difficult. 

    Next week, we'll take a look at safeguards and, one of my favorites - loopholes! See you then. :)

  • Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 4

    Weird Ways I've Woken Up, Part 4

    This is, "So you've had a rough night".

    Mikenna goes through periods where she's really hit or miss for sleep. Eventually we find some underlying cause (usually? mostly?) but until then, it's just a mystery. Because the worst thing about Mikenna not wanting to sleep is that she just sits at the end of the bed and whines off into the night. Like, she doesn't even know what she wants, but she thinks we're going to know what she wants somehow.

    The first things I always try are taking her out and feeding her. If one of those is the answer, it's the easiest and fastest way to get everybody back in bed. If that doesn't work, I end up laying at the foot of the bed and gently rubbing her until she falls asleep. This works about half the time.

    So there are some mornings I wake up at the foot of the bed (practice has given me enough foresight to bring a pillow with me and untuck the blanket from the end of the bed) and everyone else is sound asleep like it's the most natural thing in the world.

    I'm glad they're getting sleep anyway, because they aren't necessarily letting me get much shut eye!

  • Crafts for Koo

    Crafts for Koo

    I'm trying to defray some of Koo's vet and medicine costs, and part of that is getting crafty. It's a two birds/one stone thing for me - it gives me a positive way to try and help out, and it gives me something to occupy my brain. 

    Since we're already a little over $1000 in on Koo's heart failure, I can assure you, that any little bit helps. I'll be posting cards, paintings, maybe other things on my facebook page here and there. If you want something, scoop it up. Most things I can make more of, so if you see something that you really want but has already been claimed, just let me know. 

    So if you're interested in some neato crafty stuff, check out my facebook page. I may put the stuff on etsy eventually, but putting them up on facebook is cheaper for all involved. :) 

  • Better Than Before: First Steps

    Today, in our series on Better Than Before, we're going to take a look at the strategy at first steps. Because, inevitably, in order to form a habit, you have to start.

    Every action has an ignition cost. This is why good habits are helpful, because they make the starting process automatic. 

    Often times, we want to wait for the perfect conditions to pick up a habit. A monday, where there's good weather, when we're feeling rested, when we have enough money, when there's a break in the schedule, after we lose ten pounds. But the truth is, the conditions will never be perfect and neither will you - just start now.

    Tomorrow logic wastes time, and also it may allow us to deny that our current actions clash with our intentions.

    Many people form habits better when they take smaller steps, because they feel like they master the habit better. Feeling like we've conquered something is a real boost, and can encourage us to keep going. 
    Others work better with a blast start - a period of high commitment. With a blast start, it's important to note that this period cannot be maintained forever, and you have to plan for this. But, it can give you real momentum to forming a habit. If this is appealing for you, plan in advance how to shift the intensity of your blast start into a sustainable habit, otherwise, it will backfire. Ultimately, however, there is no right or wrong way.

    We have to be careful about stopping habits. When we stop a habit, it halts our momentum, breeds guilt, and breaks the habit such that we have to make decisions all over again. Some habits are sturdy, and they'll easily pick back up - but some are fragile, even after years. I think we all have at least one of those fragile habits. They're the ones that, if we didn't work diligently at it, we'd drop, like a precariously balanced ball. It's not that we don't value the habit, but some habits just have trouble sticking. Knowing which habits these are means that we can guard against things that would weaken a valuable, yet precarious, habit. 

    But what do you do when you're faced with an unavoidable stopping point - like vacation?
    Figure out in advance when you can pick the habit back up, and commit to it. Write it down, tell someone, whatever you need to do in order to make sure you get back on track as soon as possible. 

    Another critical reason to avoid stopping habits: Starting again is often harder than the first time. Retreading old ground feels boring. It can be hard to go through something all over again when we know what progress we had made. It's super discouraging, and we should avoid it. 

    But when do we start a habit? (Aside from the answer NOW)

    Any beginning is a good time for habit creation. I'm talking birthdays, marriages, new year, moving, even re-arranging furniture. If it feels like a clean slate, it's a great time to take advantage and create new habits.

    We should start habits the way we want to continue them. 

    What we assume will be temporary often becomes permanent; what we assume is permanent often proves temporary.

    Invoking the strategy of monitoring, which we talked about a couple weeks ago, can make sure that good habits don't get disrupted by change, which can be an unintentional consequence of the clean slate - it can wipe away the good habits as well as the bad. Habits are a mindful thing!

    Next week, we'll take a look at the strategies of abstaining and convenience. See you then!

  • This is Where I Leave You and storytelling

    Matt and I have a terrible backlog of movies. We'll buy a movie, or have a movie given to us, and I kid you not, there's a 50/50 chance that it will sit on our shelves for a year before we get around to watching it. I don't know why, exactly. It's not that we don't like movies. We're just really bad at watching movies. 

    Not that you care about that.

    Anyway, I finally got around to watching This is Where I Leave You a couple weeks ago. I wasn't expecting much, because I got the dvd from my parents, who were both very meh about it. 

    But much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Then again, I really like movies that are snapshots of a character's life over a short period of time. Movies that have comedic moments, but on the whole aren't slapstick comedies. So this fit the bill for me.

    What really impressed me about this movie though (and has made me really eager to read the book at some point) is how the characters were handled. See, a while back, I had an epiphany of sorts, that we think of ourselves as the main characters in our story, and everyone else is a side character. But everyone has their own stories, their own problems, that we are often completely unaware of. 

    While Judd (Jason Bateman) is certainly the focal point of the movie, and the character that everyone else revolves around, each character has a pretty well thought out story arc. No one is a throwaway character in the move - something is happening to everyone. They may be all brought together by their father/husband's death, but Judd just split up from his cheating wife, Paul and his wife are trying (and struggling) to have a baby, Wendy is not only raising two kids with a man she is kind of apathetic about, but she has to deal with the regret of leaving an early love. 

    There's a lot going on. The movie gives touchstones where the characters come together to deal with one crisis or another, but everyone has their own problems to deal with. I love when a movie (or book) does this. Even side characters need backstories and problems. Too often they get swept under the rug for the sole purpose of being a plot point or sidekick to the main character's story. When it's clear that even the side characters have their own lives, I am impressed. 

    Another thing to note, is that the characters' personal baggage also affects how they interact with each other. Philip, the youngest, may be a charming playboy, but when it comes to his siblings, he is almost begging for their approval. There's a scene where Philip tells Wendy that she, not either of their parents, is the voice he hears in his head, because he feels that she raised him. It's a moment of vulnerability that wouldn't have played out between him and another character. Judd's desire for privacy keeps him from telling his family about his martial issues, keeping him aloof from the family for a good part of the movie. 

    Characters that are well fleshed out and interact with each other in a way that reflects their own neuroses and baggage is great to see. This movie is a wonderful example of that, so if you're looking for an example for your own work (or just something to appreciate), I recommend checking it out. Bonus: It took me so long to see this movie that no doubt the dvd is cheaper than it would have been a year and a half ago. 

  • Better Than Before: Scheduling and Accountability

    Today we're going to talk about scheduling and accountability, and how they can be used to bolster your habits!

    Setting a specific, regular time for an activty to recur is one of the most familiar and powerful strategies of habit formation. It makes us (except for rebels) much more likely to convert an activity into a habit.

    Habits grow strongest and fastest when they're repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.

    Scheduling forces choices, and makes us confront the fact that we can't do everything, that there are limits on our time, energy and resources. Scheduling one activity means that we can't possibly do another at the same time. Keeping to a schedule makes activities automatic, which helps build habits. (Because remember, having to think about things over and over again is draining!)

    Upholders are particularly attracted to scheduling, because they love how predictable schedules are and they find satisfaction in crossing off to-do lists. 

    In order to utilize scheduling, we must decie when and how often a habit should occur. Mornings? Every day? Once a week? At night? What works best for you, and fits the flow of your life?
    The best way to avoid having to think about your habits and make choices over and over again is to do something every day. It avoids having to think "is this the right day? if I don't do it today, can I make up tomorrow?"

    As far as times go, mornings are good because they're predictable, and self-control is strongest. But while that may be an ideal for those reasons - if mornings just don't work for you, don't try to force it. 

    What scheduling helps with is consistency. It forces repetition and takes away decision. 

    Scheduling can also help us to do things that we want to do, but won't otherwise make time for. Sometimes, we get buried under our to-do lists, feeling like we might never catch up, and it's easy to shove personal projects out of the way. But when we pencil these things - exercise, reading, art time - they're on our list and just as important as the other things.

    Scheduling is an invaluable tool for habit formation; it helps to eliminate decision making; it helps us make the most of our limited self-command, it helps us fight procrastination. Most important, perhaps, the strategy of scheduling helps us make time for the things that are most important to us. How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives.

    Now, to be really effective, scheduling must be paired with a form of accountability. I'ts not enough to schedule a habit, have to follow that habit. 

    Accountability means that we face consequences for what we're doing - even if that consequence is merely the fact that someone else is monitoring us. 

    We behave differently if we believe someone is watching - we show more self command.

    Obligers in particular need external accountability - this would be a good place to invest! They may find an accountability partner useful. But some people - obligers or not - may not take it seriously if it's a peer that is keeping them accountable. In this case, it's in your best interest to plunk down the money for a coach, a trainer, a class, whatever it is that will help you take it serously and stay on track. 

    You can create accountability by going public with your intentions. But, for some people, this undermines the ability to actually stick to a goal. As with everything else, know yourself, and make the choice that best suits your personality.

    But in the end, accountability is helpful for everyone.

    Next week, we will look at the strategy of first steps and how a clean slate can help form habits. See you then!

  • Koo's Future

    Koo's Future

    We've been to the vet twice since Koo's initial diagnosis for follow up appointments. I'm happy to say that the medicine is working wonders for her. On the xrays we had taken Friday, her heart and lungs were clear. It was much easier to see her organs on the xray than it had been previously. 

    Side note, I find it both amazing and cool that I've seen inside my dog. I know not everyone would, but I find this stuff fascinating. 

    I had strongly suspected that the medicine was working because of how Koo was acting. It's strange - when a dog gets to a certain age, you (or at least I) write off things as "getting old". Oh, she's laying around all the time and has kinda lost interest in her toys. Must be she's getting old. 
    It's the little things. When she lays on the bed, if you walk by, she'll immediately sit up and watch you. She's more bossy about her food. More eager to ask us to go outside. Wants to wander the yard. More playful. Extremely cuddly. Sleeping through the night like a boss. Giving me kisses. Chasing Aeris around.

    When things don't degrade overnight, you can see why losing these things can look like old age. Getting them back has been a pleasant surprise. I love seeing her so happy and content. 

    So the vet thinks that, based on her rapid improvement, and how her xrays looked on Friday, that we caught her heart failure early on. This is great news, because that means medicine has a good shot at being effective for her. The longer we can keep her symptoms at bay, the happier she will be, and the longer she'll live. 

    She's on lasix to keep fluid off of her heart and lungs, as well as an ace inhibitor to help thin out the blood, so her heart doesn't have to work as hard. We've also added Vetmedin, which dialates the arteries, also making the heart's job easier. Vetmedin came on the market in the US less than ten years ago, which makes it a relatively new treatment. But the trio of medicine has quickly become the "standard" in heart treatment. I've read cases where dogs have lived 4 years after diagnosis with this combination. Based on Koo's age and breed life expectancy (12-15 years) I don't expect we'll see that kind of result. If we get a year and a half to two years on this course of treatment, I will consider it a roaring success. 

    Overall, I just want Koo to be happy and comfortable for as long as possible. I'll do what I can to keep her that way. While I'm cautiously optimistic that we may yet have some time with her, I do recognize that every day is a gift. I'll do the best I can to take advantage of this time, whether we get one more day, or 730.

  • With Apologies

    With Apologies

    As most of you who follow this blog know, Mikenna was diagnosed with heart failure on Friday. Right now, she's doing really well. The medicines showed pretty good improvement in getting some fluid off of her chest in the first night, so that's good. Once we got the fluid off, we were able to see that her heart isn't -as-bad as initially thought. 

    That said, my baby girl is still dying. We go back to the vet on Friday to see how much a week's worth of medicine has done for her. If it continues to work well for her, we may very well get more good time with her - and right now, we're cautiously opimistic that this is the case. But still, heart failure is heart failure. We could get two years if we're extremely lucky. A year would be phenomenal. Six months is the average, but dogs who respond to ace inhibitors tend to do better. You just don't know.

    So all that to say, I'm not going to worry about blogging this week. I'm going to use the posts I had to buffer my queue a little bit, and let myself work on taking care of myself and my Koo. 

    Regular posts will resume July 6th, barring further complications. :)