My daily three

I want to drink more wine. I want to de-clog my friends’ timelines of my incessant updates. I want to check email for just thirty minutes a day. These are the sorts of goals I’m setting myself on my self-imposed self-improvement plan. According to the framework I just cobbled together, I’ve grouped the habits I want to change into three strengths that I am going to work on each day. I’m also going to do stuff with the other six strengths, but let’s save that for another post.

Here’s how I figured out what the daily three would be .

First clump of habits:

  • I rely too much on meat. I can’t ever imagine never eating steak again, but I think it would be interesting to try going veggie for a bit. Although, confession: I am such a meat-head, this would not have ever occurred to me had it not been for my husband and his intellectual forays into the psycho-biology of animals. 
  • I eat well in the day and then snack like a crazy snack monster at night. I need to quit that. So I’m going to quit eating anything past 9pm. Well, my secret goal is past 8pm, but that makes me sound 90, because then I have to confess to eating supper at around 6:30 most nights.
  • As far as empty calories go, I spend most of mine on chocolate. These days I barely drink, but I like drinking (within moderation, blah blah) and I should drink more. I mean, I barely drink. I haven’t had a full glass of wine in months. I appreciate this is not the sort of goal many people would have. It might even be morally dubious. But I’m into it.

snacksThis lot is obviously all about food and nutrition. But how to tie it back to one of the nine strengths? Well it’s going to take a will of steel to stick to this stuff, so I’m plumping for mettle as the first of my daily three.

Second up… lots of stuff around spending better quality time with people, especially family and friends who have gotten real short shrift from me recently. As in, hardly a word, most of the time my face in one or more screens, looking Important.

  • I need to do more offline interacting. As in, maybe talking to my kid and playing with him a bit instead of him knowing the Cbeebies schedule off by heart. As in, having supper with people without checking my phone to see whose avatar is saying what to me. So the rule: no screens when there are other humans in the room. Exception to the rule: reading the newspaper on the iPad on the train or using laptop etc in other public places. Also, no screens at all before 9am or after 6pm. None. Need to work more? Hello pen, hello paper.
  • I also need to speak more. Both in person and on the phone. A disproportionate amount of my communication is done though my fingertips. That is crazy *typed with extra vigour* emoticon crazy face hashtag I’m for real. I am really good at not answering my phone. So I am now going to answer my phone every time. EVERY time. No exceptions, except when I am actually speaking to someone in the offline world, face to face. That’s the hierarchy: real life talking, then phone talking, then screen talking. Boom.
  • Social media is great! I am all OVER it. But I need to cut back the social side of social and socialise with people I love in the real world (see the theme? There’s a theme). That means: no more than five mins of Facebook scanning in a day, and only updates that are of professional value. Ditto Twitter, except I’m allowed to scan it more. As in, an hour total.

So those three are easy to attribute to the positive relationships strength.

Finally, there was a cluster of habits around general day-to-day functioning. I would use the word efficiency, but that might be a stretch, even after these 40 days.

  • First up, I need to track where my money goes. I just found £40 lying around this evening that I had no idea I had. Quesadillas on me, folks. Which makes me wonder how much money I have spent in the last week that I have no idea about. I want to be able to account for every penny over the next six weeks. So I maybe need to buy an app for that.
  • About once every five months I have an admin bonanza. I become the most efficient, well-organised human and I remain smug about it for the next twenty weeks, while my inbox piles high with pizza delivery adverts and unbelievably rubbish toddler art and I keep shoving things into my Drawer of Shame. Instead, every day for the next 40 days, I am going to have an admin hour. A whole hour. All the “must dos” and “been meaning to dos” are gonna get done. Included within that is correspondence time. That means email gets, at most, thirty minutes. This is revolutionary for little miss email junky me. But phonecalls are not included here. These are to be encouraged and elongated.
  • I’m much better at having really big ideas and thoughts. But I’m not very good at capturing them and following them through. So to counter the tedium of admin hour, I’m going to instigate a What’s the Big Idea hour, when I get to have big thoughts. But I have to write them down and follow them up. Otherwise I lose. 

These things are all so basic, and so much a part of what being a grown up is all about. This stuff and learning not to have tantrums. I equate this all with a sense of agency or self-determination: the ability to have control over my life, both now and in the future.

So thats the daily three: mettle, positive relationships and agency. The aim is to have a Clean Sheet, each week, over the next six weeks. The rule is that I note down any time I fail any one of these any day. Right now I am thirty minutes off the start of day one, and I’m on a screen, so I’m outta here.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Mettle Eat all veggie, no meat
No food past 9pm rule
Let wine win over chocolate
Positive relationships No screens near humans, pre 9am, post 6pm
Answer every phonecall
Soc media social crackdown
Agency Track all money spent
Correspondence & admin hour
What’s the big idea hour
Bacon bagel

The #Flourish40 framework

Bust pancakeYou’d think with a shake’n’bake pancake mix from Betty Crocker, things couldn’t go wrong on Pancake Day. But, oh. Oh, they did. Flapped and scrapped and scraggy and squashy. Ah well. Not the greatest of starts to my last day of languishing for the next forty. Goodbye bacon! Goodbye mindless browsing of Facebook! Goodbye Cbeebies! I’ll see you on the flipside of this, my little 40-day attempt at ultra-flourishing.

Quick recap: a number of little things recently inspired me to supercharge my flourishing. So I’ve set about developing a non-mind-numbing, hot-paced self-improvement programme for the next six weeks. In other words, it’s money-mouth time.

Yesterday evening, alone and a little cold (our heater had broken and I didn’t bother to fix it, it seemed fitting), I drew up a list of habits I wanted to change and activities I wanted to do. Yup, it was kinda a bummer. But I’ve also been a bit smug recently about some of the good stuff I’ve been doing (like lots of running, which for a non-runner is fairly impressive, well done me), so it was good to humble myself a little.

Bad habits list

Instead of mulling on the fact that I’m a bit crap about quite a few things, I spent a long time figuring out how to create a beneficial, achievable habit-busting and habit-boosting framework for the next forty days. I wanted to gamify my life a bit, but not too much that it would feel contrived. That’s a tricky balance to strike. And I wanted, more than anything, not to turn into a psycho, zealous, holier-than-thou bore. Goodness knows if I’ll manage that. But I’ve come up with some sort of plan, including my daily three strengths I want to focus on. And I’m here sharing it with you, so you can get involved too, should you so wish. Download the aptly-titled Flourish40 pack (either as a Word doc or a PDF) and see what you reckon.

The framework

  1. I write down a list of habits I’d like to change. I try to frame them all positively, and for each one I try to think to myself why I want to make those changes. For example, “I’d like to spend less time looking at screens, especially when my kid is about because it would be better for both of us if we interacted more.” I also note down a number of activities I’d like to do that I currently don’t. Such as, “I’d like to read more than two books a year.”
  2. I review my list of habits and activities and try to group them.  I decide to focus on improving three of Spark+Mettle’s strengths each day, and then to have a weekly strength theme too.
  3. For me, my habits break down into things around food and nutrition, things around spending quality time with others, and things around getting my life in order. I attributed ‘mettle’ to the first (food and nutrition) because I need a whole lot of grit not to eat meat for 40 days. The second one was more obvious, it was all about positive relationships. And the third I labeled ‘agency’ as getting my stuff in order will help me stay in control of where I’m heading.
  4. I break these habit-busters down into three achievable goals, and note down each day if I haven’t reached them. The aim is to get a clean sheet each week, for six weeks. Here are my daily three.
  5. With the activities, I whittle them down to a list of ten things I would like to do each week, that I currently don’t. I decide over the course of each week how I’ll go about doing them, and how to tie them back to the week’s theme. For example, my first week’s strength theme is ‘spark’, so I figure my book for the week will be Ken Robinson’s “The Element”.
  6. An alternative way to go about the activities is to write down each new activity on a piece of card, and then pick one at random each day. Some might take a few days or hours to complete, some might be really quick, so I could note that down too. But with a kid, spontaneity needs a little more planning. So this isn’t going to be how I roll. But it would be a lot of fun. Especially if you got other people to come up with activities for you.

For me, it all kicks off tomorrow. Right now I’m off to scoff my bacon bagel and watch the Simpsons and ignore my dogs.

photo 2

Noah's ark

40 days and 40 nights

I have no idea what your own cultural connotation of the blog post title might be, but on the Noah—Josh Hartnett spectrum, I’m veering a bit closer to the ark. Just a little expectation-management, on my part, for yous.

Noah's ark

Hi! What’s up? How you doing? I’ve feeling pretty good. Yup. I’ve just had a brainwave. Not a momentous one. It’s more moment-ful. Oh man, I hate me. The point is: it’s pretty ordinary. It’s hard to unpick the order of events that led up to the ‘Ting!’ moment in my head, but I’m an historian‘s daughter so I still feel as though I should try.

I can’t do chronological, so I am just going to list various things that have happened in the last few days that all led into the Ting. I might ambitiously refer to it as a Causal List:

  1. William P. Teasley, III (aka Bud, aka my husband) does a lot of reading and thinking about what we should do with uncomfortable knowledge we acquire, and writes a brilliant and funny blog post about vegan shoes.
  2. I drum up a list of things in my head that I do that I probably shouldn’t and make excuses about why I do them. I also think about No Impact Man and how earnest he seemed and I worry that I won’t ever be allowed to buy a dress from Primark again.
  3. I read a Guardian article about the Sunday Assembly in London, and get totally inspired by the idea of an event that lifts all the good, community, uplifting bits of church and religion, and leaves out all of the dogma. A “godless congregation”. Awesome.
  4. I remember that next Tuesday is pancake day and I get excited. A while later I realise that pancake day is not just about batter, but also about Lent.
  5. I go to my first ever Zumba class at my gym. We warm up in silence. The instructor sips coffee in between fervently shaking his ass at a motley group of women. The group’s response is lacklustre, coordination abominable. I wonder if I have ever felt so depressed in my life. Then I remember the strip club I visited in Sydney on my 19th birthday, and I get some perspective. As I shuffle-shuffle-cha-cha-cha, I keep thinking about Good Gym, and the value of expending my energy in productive, life-affirming ways. I slip out of the class after 35 cold, dispassionate minutes.  I run a fast 5k on the treadmill, go to the front desk and cancel my gym subscription.
  6. At home, I leave my kid upstairs while I go downstairs to make a sandwich. He turns on the TV using the remote control and watches Cbeebies. He’s two.
  7. I speak to one of my best friends whom I haven’t spoken to in two months, and haven’t seen in three. I joke to her about only reading two books in the last twelve months and she jokes to me about books being more decorative than devoured. As we talk, I realise that I have read no novels since the summer of 2011, but I have colour-coded them on our bookshelves. And they really bring such brightness and pep into the living room.
  8. I buy a copy of Grazia. I hide it in the laundry room out of shame, but then decide to sod it and read it in full view at breakfast the following morning.
  9. I give some money to The Women’s Room on a crowdfunding platform, and it reminds me of what good can be done in a short, pre-determined amount of time.
  10. Someone asks me to define ‘flourishing’ and I talk, yet again, about the nine flourishing features or strengths at the core of Spark+Mettle’s work. And I say, again, that it’s about becoming the best version of you. I mention Plato’s horse theory, again, and Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues and self-improvement programme, again.
  11. The omnipresent Alain de Boton says goodbye to new bezzie mate Harry Styles and comes up with his own list of ten commandments for atheists.
  12. I remember that I once read somewhere that it’s meant to take six weeks to make or break a habit. I google it but to no avail, then I come across Charles Duhigg again, the habit maestro, and am happy.

So here’s the brainwave:

For 40 days and 40 nights, I’m going to greenhouse/road-test/hot-box a number of things with the aim of bringing out the best version of me, while also having a positive impact on the people and the world around me. The sorts of things that I might be terrified to say that I am going to do forever—such as not eat steak or watch any more television—but that for 40 days seem manageable. I’m going to come up with a manifesto that is based on the nine flourishing features we use within Spark+Mettle, and create opportunities both to act and reflect on them all. I’m hoping it might mean that I kick some bad habits and kickstart some good ones in the process. The only rule I have so far is: I don’t want to end up being earnest, or smug, or preachy, or boring—if that’s what the best version of me entails then I’ll be pegging it back to mediocre, quick sharp. 

I’ve got a week to get it all figured out. Bud is up for the experiment, and the kid will be a part of it too, whether he likes it or not. So now we’ve just got to figure out what it’s going to be, what it’s going to look like. I’m excited. It’s going to make me look at my values in a way that I haven’t done since my teenager years and all their D’n’M conversations. In between now and then, there’s a lot of meat in the fridge that needs to be eaten, and the end of Breaking Bad Series 5 to be watched.