Tracking One Habit at a Time
A while back, I wrote about my struggle with my weight, and I'm still working on it! I have a trip coming up in a couple of months which is a great motivator for me to set a goal and crush it! I've been trying to figure out how to keep track of my progress and while also setting myself up for success.
Research says habits are broken down into three parts:
Identifying triggers can help us to avoid them or come up with strategies to cope with them. I've always thought my triggers were stress and free food, but what I've been noticing is that the lack of a plan or accountability seems to be what really gets me in trouble.
I don't know about you, but I'm really good at rewarding myself, but I struggle to find a reward that is appropriate and doesn't undermine my intended outcome. For example, I often feel like when I've lost some weight, I "deserve" a milk shake or a candy bar or some jalapeno poppers! I think the reason I feel like I've earned some "bad" food is because I've felt deprived during the short stint of weight loss.
I've been brainstorming a way to help address my triggers and my feelings of deprivation. I ran across James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, who says that the first step to successfully developing a habit is to make one so small it's almost impossible fail. I like the idea of not failing, so I decided to give this miniature habit thing a try. I chose just one thing to focus on for a very short time period of time.
I saw an intriguing idea on Pinterest about tracking habits with a very simple chart with dates for an entire month listed down the left side of the paper and habits across the top. This would create squares that could be colored in to indicate completion of a task. Using different colors to indicate different actions gives a quick visual representation of your actions. I decided to create my own chart, and even though I fantasize about producing a beautiful bullet journal (and maintain a Pinterest board about it), I took a shortcut and created a printable that I could just color in. My chart is a little different, and instead of various habits across the top, I listed the hours in the day to help me see patterns in my eating throughout the day.
I wanted to track one goal at a time, every day and see my progress in small increments - as small as every hour. Each hour, I can color in the corresponding box with either green (I did good), red (I did bad) or blank (I didn't do anything related to my goal.) Then over just a few days, I can quickly see how I'm doing and if there are any particular days or times of days that are tripping me up. By focusing only on one goal, I am much more likely to be successful, and then I can eventually add additional goals after my first one has become a true habit.
My first goal was to avoid white flour. I tracked my progress for the last few days of February, and the picture above is how I did. What I noticed was that by focusing only on one goal, I didn't feel deprived and thus didn't feel the need to reward myself with food for a job well done nearly as much as I had during previous weight loss efforts. I also noticed that even though I was focusing on only one goal, it made me very conscious of my other food choices, and I ate better overall than I normally did. I love being able to look at my chart and immediately be able to tell that I have a good breakfast and morning snack routine going, but I eat lunch at all sorts of different times, and my problem time is evening and late nights! The jury is still out if this plan will work for me long term, but I'm excited to give it a try. Who knows, maybe this will work so well I'll eventually add in some exercise to the mix!
Check out the free Habit Tracker printable, and give it a try! You can come up with your own color system and make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like. Print out just one or use multiples as you add to your goals and habits. I will be reporting back before my trip in May to let you know how this system is working for me. I'd love to hear from you if you test out this system and would especially like to see pictures if you draw a really pretty one in your bullet journal!
Quora. “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/13/the-science-behind-adopting-new-habits-and-making-them-stick/#4f1430e843c7.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. Cornerstone, 2019.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash
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Tips to Avoid a Mad Rush Morning
I want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
3. Time yourself
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
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Ask my husband, and he’ll tell you Valentine’s Day isn’t a “real” holiday. Mail is delivered, school is in session so he says it’s not official. I don’t care what he says, this minor holiday is one I love to celebrate! I don’t care much about romantic gestures, flowers, or chocolates (ok, I would never turn down chocolate!) but I do embrace the chance to show my sappy, mama love to my kids!
About 6 years ago, I decided to be my kindergartner son's secret admirer, and I covertly gave him gifts and notes for the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. When little treats started showing up around our house, my son did have a bit of concern that our home had been breached by this admirer! On Valentine’s morning, I revealed that it was indeed me, his mommy, who was his secret admirer. I've done some version of this for both of my kids every Valentine's Day since, and I was even able to pull off the surprise most years.
Now that my youngest is in 2nd grade, I think this year will be the first where neither kid has any doubt that their admirer is their mom, but I don't care, I'm still going all out! If you want to do something similar for your kids (or friend or significant other) here are the basics:
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash