One Habit at a Time

I’ve had some problems with habits over the years. I seem to have plenty of the bad ones and not a whole lot of the good ones. You, of course, don’t know what I’m talking about. You, of course, floss your teeth regularly, get to bed at a ‘decent’ hour (and what, pray tell, is a decent hour versus an indecent one? As far as I can tell, hours are pretty much all alike, although about half are in daylight and half aren’t – maybe the indecent ones are the ones I’m going to finally go to sleep in), and eat moderately, exercise regularly, pick up your clothes, never smoke, drink or take drugs, and stay away from crazy-making people. And you, for sure, aren’t one of those crazy makers yourself.

But in my case . . . well, let’s just say that I’ve had issues with habits. I’m basically rebellious and like any bratty kid with a tantrum bursting inside her, I can yell and scream with the best of them, especially if you tell me I have to do the same ‘good’ thing or refrain from the same ‘bad’ thing – for the rest of my life. That just seems so . . . I don’t know . . . boring. And I am not boring. Or rather, I hope I’m not boring. I pray I’m not boring.

As I’ve grown, though, I actually have come to see that developing a few good habits could actually allow me to be more creative (and, therefore in my twisted mind, less boring) and in the bargain, maybe I’d lose some weight, have less to clean up, and hey, keep my teeth.

So I got convinced somewhere along the line that maybe, just maybe, developing some habits would be good for me. And then I started immediately messing that up big time. First, I tried to tackle almost everything at once. I figured – if I’m going to make these changes, better to do it all at once – which somehow seemed less painful. As you might guess, this is the classic mindset of a compulsive, all or nothing type. I don’t really need to add, “like myself” to that one, do I?

Well, doing everything all at once failed spectacularly. Wow. I lasted about 2 days with all my ‘good habit’ goals. They didn’t drop off all at once, but I’d floss my teeth for a couple of days and then ‘forget’ although I was still drinking those eight glasses of water, which hung on for a few more days, but I’d have some dumb reason why I couldn’t log in to the weight watchers site and record what I’d eaten, and then I was too busy at the office to finish my daily timesheet (note the term ‘daily’ which I have generally taken to mean they needed to be done by the end of the month), and of course that pile of clothes seemed to miraculously NOT put itself on hangers, and I was still finding plenty to do at two in the morning when I knew I had to be up at seven the next morning. *Yawn*

Along with all this, I wasn’t entirely clear on how many days or nights I needed to actually make a habit stick. I might do some of the above for three or even ten or fifteen days in a row, but then flub up for the next two months or so.

Finally I realized a very important point that I had tried extremely hard to ignore. I needed to concentrate on just one, or at most, two . . . okay, okay, just one habit at a time.

And I needed to concentrate on this one habit for much longer than I thought, before I could even consider that I’d made it a second-nature, don’t-have-to-think-about-it-every-time habit. For me, the magic number was 30. I needed 30 days (or 30 times) of doing the habit before I trusted that it was really ingrained on the psychic grooves to not have to be tracked or thought about on a regular basis.

I chalk up needing longer to being naturally harder headed. Well . . . another way of putting this is that whenever I’m tested on a Meyers-Brigg scale, I’m either an INFJ or INFP. If you don’t know what all that means, the part of the scale that’s important for this discussion is the “N” which stands for intuition versus “S” for sensing. Those of us “N”, or intuitive types (the scale used the “I” for introvert, so intuitive got “N”) are fairly creative, but we also can get easily sidetracked. Kindof like this blog.

From the Meyers-Brigg perspective, us N’s just are all over the place – if we pick up a piece of paper, we don’t file it like we’re supposed to, we read it and pretty soon, before we know it, we’re googling New Zealand wool factories for organic yarn and then we’re off to somewhere else, like researching the best place to get lemongrass in LA. Staying ‘on task’ is not our strong suit.

So, in review and to get back on the rail, here are the things I think that can really help in developing good habits:

  1. Concentrate on only ONE habit at a time;
  2. Find out, through trial and error, the requisite number of days you need to do this before it really becomes second nature; and
  3. Figure out a way to track your progress.

Oh yeah, item three. I’m generally in favor of the simplest methods of tracking and if it works for you, your planner or calendar are just fine to note down or put a check mark or other squiggly thing that indicates that you did it! Yay to you!

I also found a wonderful little online help that is completely free and extremely easy to use which I’m going to share with all two of you. This is not the only goal tracker available online, but of the other one’s I’ve looked at to date, this one seems the simplest – Joe’s Goals. Some of the things you can do are track positive and negative goals and assign them a weight for prioritizing; you can also list them in any way that makes sense to you. You can also decide what and how to track – for example, which days of the week you want to track the goal (just weekdays? or everyday?) and whether you want to track the days in between – for example, it’s been 10 days since you checked off that goal/habit.

It’s pretty cool. Using Joe, I’ve actually established the following habits:

  • Flossing my teeth daily;
  • Drinking at least 5 glasses of water daily;
  • Picking up my clothes before I go to bed (instead of letting them lie about being lazy); and
  • Taking all of my supplements in the morning

Other habits are underway. I’m now working on doing daily recording on the weight watchers site (doing journaling helps me immensely to keep within my points limit – d’oh!) and yes, turning in those dreaded ‘daily’ timesheets on a daily basis. Seriously, what a concept! I will report back my progress (because god knows, I won’t be perfect.)

I don’t expect my inner brat will be departing the scene soon and frankly, I really wouldn’t want her to go. She gives me an edge and a helpful barometer to remind myself to not be too overscheduled and over-organized (in other words, be boring). As if. My little list of habits is prety modest, but even so, these have made my life better. Even my dentist is happier!

The Five A’s of Relationship and the Frasier Chair

Easy chair
Originally uploaded by Dan Phiffer

Well, once again – it’s “Significant Other Sunday” and I’m doing something a bit different. I thought I’d highlight a book that I love that has the rather portentous title of “How to be an Adult in Relationships – The Five Keys to Mindful Loving” by David Richo. If you decide you want to read it, it’s listed in my store. Yes, if you order it through there, I get like 10 cents or something.

Richo’s book lists the five A’s of loving – being Attentive, Accepting, Appreciative, Affectionate and Allowing. I’m writing about being Accepting and to tell this in my own inimitable way, I give you the story of “The Frasier Chair.”

So when The ‘Publican and I were beginning dating, he was just getting divorced from his first wife and like many newish bachelors, his surroundings were made up of hand-me-downs and things his ex-wife didn’t want from their house. The things she really wanted, she got.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited his townhouse – although I was pretty crazy about him, his decor left a lot to be desired. Mis-matched, cheap and broken – you name it, he had it. Of course some of this was due to raising boys and not having a huge amount to spend on furnishings and that was to be expected. In his bedroom, he had a new bed (thankfully – I think I would have hated to ever sleep on or, quelle horror! have S-E-X on the bed he’d shared with his ex-wife!) and some antique dressers from his grandparents and then there was the “Frasier Chair”.

You know the one I’m talking about – Martin Crane parked his derriere in it in complete defiance to Frasier Crane’s cool furniture mandate in his fancy-shmancy Seattle high-rise condo. It had that wild green and yellow plaid, duct tape had repaired a few tears in it over the years and, although it was incredibly comfy, it was just butt ugly.

So here was the ‘Publican’s Frasier Chair. It was a hand-me-down from his Uncle Tom and was given to him by his Aunt Loreida after Tom died. Yep, it’s a comfy Lazy Boy but good looking, it ain’t. But hey, it was in the bedroom, so at least it wasn’t on display for everybody to see.

Then we bought the house we now live in and the master bedroom couldn’t accommodate the chair so, along with getting a beautiful new couch and ottoman, guess where the Frasier Chair got moved to? Along with some mid-century Formica end tables (yes, they were made by another uncle or cousin or uncle’s cousin – did I mention the ‘Publican has a large contingent of Estonian relatives on his mother’s side?) that we just couldn’t quite afford to replace.

And years later, it’s still in my front room. As Richo says,

In Buddhism there is a phrase, ‘the glance of mercy,’ which refers to looking at other human beings with acceptance and understanding. Acceptance means we are received with all our feelings, choices, and personal traits and supported through them. (p. 31).

So I sigh and glance with as much mercy as I can muster at the chair. I really don’t like it and I’ve made that clear. I’ve tried to get rid of it (I almost had that covered when a friend offered me her leather chair with ottoman, which deal fell through), and yet it remains.

Everytime I mention this chair to the ‘Publican he reminds me that this was Tom’s (a beloved Uncle to be sure – although I never met him) which is a very sentimental reason, and he also reminds me of the practicality of keeping it until we can afford to replace it. But I think there’s another reason it’s with us still. And I’m trying hard to accept it. And yes, I’ve actually slept in it when I was sick – yes, it was comfortable – and in fact, it’s a lot more comfy than the couch.

Okay I know some of you are thinking, “Well, just re-upholster the thing!” And I’ve thought of that, but the cost to do that is really about what it costs to just replace it.

The bottom line – it’s still sitting in my front room. *Sigh.*

I think the real issue, of course, is that this darn chair doesn’t comport with MY fantasy of MY perfect house. I watch a fair amount of HGTV and get some design magazines and have gone to plenty of local open houses (even went to one today). Yes, I have a wish to live in a completely unreasonable version of the Pottery Barn catalogue. It’s unreasonable because we still have spawn at home (two of my step-spawn who are 20-year-old twins, but they are boys), four cats, and a pretty casual lifestyle. And really, we don’t have the money to do this – that Pottery Barn stuff is really expensive!

Letting go of the fantasy is hard. I want what I want! Waaaaaah! Boy that childish ego really hangs on. I don’t really like this about myself, but for now I can accept this. And yes, *big sigh*, for today, I accept my Frasier Chair.

But here’s the thing about the “Frasier Chairs” in our lives. They’re warm and comfortable and remind us that human beings live here, that they spill here and they get old and tattered and eventually end up on the curb – all in all, they’re pretty darn real. And that’s Martin Crane – he’s not a prig like Niles or Frasier (in fact, sometimes we wonder how he ever had those sons), and refuses to be other than he is. He and his chair demand they accept him as he accepts his sons, for exactly who they are. Now, that’s love.

I thought I’d wrap this up with a quick Martin Crane retrospective – it’s pretty quick and funny – but the music is loud, so be warned!

S.O. Sunday – Nobody Should Have to be Alone

Hi Everybody:

I wanted to wait until I’d had a chance to review the California Supreme Court’s ruling re Gay Marriage before posting. If you’re interested, you too can find the ruling here . It’s 172 pages long, though, so it’s a bit of a slog.

But you don’t even have to read every word to know that the California Supreme Court has, in their “activist justice” way, declared the prior law unconstitutional based on a few underlying premises: (1) Being gay or lesbian is not a choice; which means, then, that (2) discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal on its face (like discrimination based on race or gender would be – again, these are facts that can’t be chosen – for the most part (don’t start me on the road to transgender arguments – I know transgendered individuals have their point!)). So if 1 and 2 are the case, then the fundamental right to form a family cannot be denied to two otherwise competent adult individuals, just based on their sexual orientation.

This leaves out the old slippery slope arguments like, “But . . . if gays can marry, what’s going to stop someone from wanting to marry his goat (sister, canasta club)?” Civilly, marriage is a contract. A contract is void or voidable if entered into by someone who is considered legally incompetent to enter into that contract (e.g., a child, a person who due to severe mental defect may not understand the contract [although, for example, mild retardation is no barrier to marriage], a non-human, and we aren’t up to groups of people marrying, either!) The issue of close blood relatives marrying is still one where the state has an interest, especially if children may be born. The incest taboo is there for a reason, kids.

It’s not enough to say that domestic partnership is, essentially, the same as marriage. That’s the old “separate but equal” argument which has not held up with the US Supreme Court (remember Brown v Board of Education?). Even if you think this is more about symbolism than reality, especially here in California where domestic partnerships have been legal for some time now, “marriage” is a word with meaning. As I told the ‘Publican today, “I don’t think what WE have is a ‘domestic partnership’ – it’s a marriage. Frankly, had the court decided to eliminate the word marriage and civilly decide that all marriages were, in fact, domestic partnershps, I wouldn’t be very happy.” (By the way, that is something the court thought about.)

So, all in all, a good day for humanity, in my book. If you’re gay, you get to make the same damn mistakes as the rest of us less than perfect straight folks – you get to spend too much money on a wedding, you get to decide on a pre-nup, you get real in-laws who will love you or hate you based on who you are (not just because you’re gay), you get to wish you’d never gotten married in the first place, and to sit in the therapist’s waiting room when there are problems, and you get to get divorced and fight about the kids and property and knick knacks built up over a lifetime.

But you ALSO get to realize that society dignifies and honors your relationship, and you never have to be removed from a hospital room or be shunned from your beloved’s insurance, and you certainly get to say, “I’m married!” with all the joy, pain, and annoyance that these words imply. Now you get to have a cultural experience equal to straight society’s – no better, no worse, just the same. You get to decide whether or not you even want to get married, because we all know when we’re not allowed to do something, we want it all the more, and now each gay person will have to face the same fears, doubts and questions that straight men and women have faced around whether to marry or not – that person at this time, or even at all?

I’m reminded about something my Jungian analyst once said, “Marriage involves different archetypes” when talking about relationship. I was single but dated and had boyfriends for several decades between my marriages and I couldn’t agree more. I had to work through all my ideas about what it would be like to be married again – before I could actually decide if it was something I even wanted. I had a lot of negative stuff on being a “wife”. I’m glad I did that work because now I can really enjoy being married. And I think this is what gay men and women will learn, too. Marriage is, in essence, different. I don’t know why it is, I just know that it is.

Now I know some of you reading this will definitely not agree with me on it – and that’s fine. And I’m sure a few of you have already signed a petition to put this back on the ballot to change the California Constitution – and that’s fine, too! But I think even a lot of folks who are definitely against gay marriage won’t go farther than this because it’s one thing to have a law on the books, and it’s another thing to change the constitution. I think that is reserved for the big guns, frankly, and you know what? Society and culture have changed enough that (a) most people in the US know at least one person who’s gay or lesbian and doesn’t have horns; and (b) more and more people are taking the position of “live and let live” and meaning it. Even the ‘Publican who definitely is no fan of gay marriage feels this way (and so does Ahnold . . .)

I took the title of my post from something a friend of mine, a very nice “church lady” type (a true Christian, in other words) said to me, “Nobody should have to be alone.” That expresses my gut feeling about gay marriage. I’m just glad the California Supreme Court, mostly composed of Republican-appointed Justices by the way, found the legal basis to make this a dignified and honored right for all.

P.S. – I wanted to leave you with something a bit lighter – a bit more humorous – about gay marriage and some of the reasons why someone might be against it – enjoy!