October Reading List

Hi again. More books.

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few months have been fiction. As you can probably guess from my previous lists, I read a lot of non-fiction. I enjoy it but haven’t lost myself in a lot of good stories for a while.

Naturally, during the last few months, nearly all of my books have been fiction.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday 

A book about the problems our ego presents to us.

An easy way to explain this is like so: our ego makes us extremely interested and concerned about our personal image and how we’re viewed to others. As a result, we tend to focus less on the important tasks we have to focus on and more on how to protect the image we’ve built of ourselves.

It took me a while to get round to this book. I didn’t agree with a lot of it at first because I felt that he argued ego causes more problems than it actually does. However, after re-reading sections, I came to understand the book better and thought his argument was interesting.

It is when we care less for ego and more for the important things in life that we produce valuable work. Instead of always thinking about how feel. How can improve the lives of others?

Amazon.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Brilliant.

I’m very late to get to this book but damn. I loved all of it.

Towards the end of Stalin’s regime, there is a killer who targets children and murders them in horrific ways. Leo, a secret police officer, changes his ways completely in search for this person and risks his career, his life and his wife in the process.

I suck at describing books but read it. Please? Thanks.

Amazon.

One by One by Chris Carter 

Another thriller. Another great ride.

A man calls Detective Robert Hunter’s desk and asks him to go to a website. He sees a man in a glass box, restrained against a chair. The caller asks Hunter, “Fire or water? How do you want him to die?”

The whole book had me on edge and the ending was… interesting.

I also love Robert Hunter now. He’s one of those Jason Bourne type guys. Chris Carter can write a damn good crime thriller. I’ll definitely read more (thankfully, there are about 7 in the series).

Amazon.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth’s work has been getting a lot of praise among the self-improvement sphere for a while now. And for very good reason.

She studies grit. The combination of passion and perseverance. Continuing with tasks even if they get difficult or boring. In the book, she wants to understand why certain people are more ‘successful’ than others in a variety of tasks ranging from completing the brutal Beast Barracks training in the United States Military Academy to university students getting top grades. It’s not intelligence, wealth, height or any physical attribute that is the best predictor of success. It’s grit.

Her work is entertaining to read and every point she makes is well supported. However, I also admire that she’s open to admitting the shortcomings of her research and questions that can be explored further.

There’s a lot of valuable information to gain from it. Including why perseverance with goals is very helpful but less common than you’d imagine and how to foster grit in other people. I want to explore it in more detail as I think the ideas are worthy of much more consideration.

And Emilia Lahti is her student and she’s the nicest person ever.

Amazon. 


As always, thanks for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and like my Facebook page: Improving Slowly!

Advertisements

Don’t Break the Chain

One of the most helpful ideas in habit creation is making and keeping streaks.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Start something, do it every day and you’ll see the benefits.

I’ve tried holding a number streaks and there are a few I’ve kept for a very long time. They’ve ended up becoming quite special because they literally happen every day. Here are some of my most significant streaks:

  1. Written at least 750 words every day for 561 days.
  2. Meditated for 303 days.

These streaks might look difficult to keep up but it becomes automatic and turns into a normal part of the day that doesn’t feel like a significant effort. How so?

For three reasons.

  1. They’re easy to start
  2. It’s done daily
  3. They’re important

I’ll discuss them separately.

They’re easy to start

Changing behaviour big steps at a time is difficult because comfort zones are really easy to stay in.

Right now, your bed is a comfort zone because it’s warm and …for lack of a better word, comfortable.  It’s even more comfortable when it’s cold and raining. The cold wind is meant to represent new behaviours like going to the gym or writing in a journal every day.

Hopefully you see what I’m going for here. In order to make leaving your bed easier, you need to start with a small step instead of jumping out and dancing in the rain.

Writing every day actually started with jotting a few sentences down in a paper journal. I later started writing on 750words which might have taken me 30 minutes to write. After a year, I now average over 1000 words a day.

Meditating every day started with 1 minute every day. Then 2. Then 3 and so on. It capped at around 20 but I’ve settled down to 5 to 10 minutes every day.

Some other examples:

If you want to start exercising, commit to running for one minute.

If you want to eat healthy, commit to buying apples instead of chocolate bars.

It you want to meditate, meditate for one minute.

You might think that these are too easy and they should be more significant. What’s the point in running for one minute? They’re meant to be easy to start and keep up. A big mistake is to overestimate what we can maintain over a few days and weeks. Lifestyle changes never happen overnight.

It’s done every day

A habit is essentially a behaviour that’s near enough automatic. Like brushing your teeth or checking Twitter in the morning.

Doing something every day is more likely to change an occasional action to a habit because you’re used to doing it and being a part of a positive feedback loop more often. If you choose to do something once a week and miss it, it’s very easy to dismiss it and say you’ll do it the next week. If you choose to do it every day, it’s always on the list of things to do and harder to ignore. If you do manage to miss it, to get back on the routine, you pick it up the next day. It stops you from losing track of your habits due to a simple mistake.

If you want to write, try to write a small amount every day instead of a big amount at the end of the week.

If you’re starting the gym, go every day instead of twice a week. [1]

If you want to wake up earlier, commit to it every day including the weekends.

It’s important

In the beginning stages of habit creation, we need reminders before they become more automatic and easier to do. This is why importance helps.

I’ve experimented with waking up at 6:30 every morning and realised I didn’t care about it. I didn’t do it so I could meditate for longer or write more. I tried to wake up at that time simply because I read that successful people did it. That justification ignored why it was done and the need to continue disappeared.

The value of the tasks will grow and change the longer you do them but the initial desire to start a new habit should be found through research rather than doing something without understanding the potential benefits. Meditating is important to me because it helps me find peace during my day and has made me more mindful. Waking up early just to wake up early (and spend the extra hours doing nothing at all) is a much more likely to end in failure and feel like a waste of time.

With this being said, feel free to experiment with different habits. If you don’t want to keep one up, don’t. Sometimes the benefit of the task takes a while to be realised but research helps with picking some habits you might want to start with. I can recommend reading for 10 minutes and meditating for 2 minutes a day.

Keeping streaks going is great. They’re an interesting test of dedication as you begin to make time for them rather than find time. All to continue a streak you created for yourself.

I’m a space bird and I’m going to graduate to a space monkey eventually.

If you have any streaks going, what are they? Is there anything you’d like to start?

***

If you found the post helpful/amazing/super amazing or any other adjective, use the links at the end to share it with the whole world (or a few friends. That’s cool too.)

Some stuff to read:

  1. One step at a time
  2. Stop doing so much
  3. 5 Reasons to start meditating
  4. A Very Short Guide to Meditation

[1] I mentioned going to the gym every day and can already hear the cries of ‘but rest days!!1!’

In the initial stages, going to the gym every day isn’t a bad thing. You don’t need to do an intense workout daily since it can vary from heavy weights one day to mobility work the next.

You can still measure streaks without making them daily. Count towards the streak on dedicated days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and if you miss those it’s broken. I advocate working on the habit every day because it makes it automatic quicker.

Writing every day for a year

On January 29th 2014, I decided to start a journal. My main motivation at the time was to get better at writing. To get better, I’d need to practise regularly. I’m not sure how much improved over that time but I feel that I’ve learned a lot about habits, writing and myself.

1. Consistency is incredibly important

At the moment, I’ve written over 380,000 words. A year ago, that would have sounded like an impossible task. “380,000 words of what? That’s over 1000 words a day!” Thankfully, I’ve shown myself it isn’t impossible. In fact, it wasn’t very difficult.

I’ve only managed this because of consistency. Every day, I sat down and had the goal of writing 750 words. It was a fairly small starting point that could be spread over the day so I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the idea. Then the next day would come and I’d do the same thing again. At the end of the month, I had written over 20,000 words.

When you start something, every step forward brings you closer to your goal. Even if the step is extremely small. At times, the end might seem extremely far away. But after a while, you’ll be a quarter of the way there. Then halfway. Then you’ll have reached it.

Keep walking forward and eventually you’ll get to the finish line.

2. Habits will get easier

Nowadays, not writing every day feels extremely weird. It’s become a normal part of my life.

However, I remember the first weeks when I found writing daily difficult and exhausting. There were days when I wouldn’t want to do anything let alone write. It was out of the ordinary and required a lot of energy.

This process is the same for many lifestyle changes. When you’re trying to lose weight, junk food has an almost seductive pull on us. When you’re trying to read regularly, watching TV feels like an ice cold drink on a hot day.

Falling back into previous habits at the beginning is really easy to do because we’re so used to them. We aren’t used to the challenge.

Getting past the initial challenge of any lifestyle change can be difficult. The first month of a habit change are the days where people give up. Making it your goal to get past the first week and month will mean the remainder gets steadily easier. You’ll get used to the habit and it’ll no longer feel like a chore. You’ll probably begin to enjoy it.

That isn’t to say every day will be easy after a month. There will be some days where you’ll find the habit difficult or even frustrating. You won’t regret pushing past that difficulty as you’ll keep your streak going and later feel empowered by the fact. If you do slip up, that is no reason to quit completely. Just dust yourself off and get back on it the next day. You’ve shown yourself you can make some progress, so set yourself the challenge of doing even better.

The knowledge that habits get easier is helpful when we decide to start other habits. If we’ve experienced making one habit a regular thing, that transfers to other areas of our lives. Going to the gym regularly might actually happen!

3. You can be proud of something

Perhaps one of the most satisfying takeaways from keeping this habit going for so long is that I’m proud of what I’ve done. I can say to myself “I’ve written every day for a year without fail!” 

The old adage “The best time to get started was 20 years ago. The second best time is now” holds some truth. Keeping a positive habit going for an extended time is something only you can do. Other people can’t do the habit for you. That’s what makes it so wonderful. It’s a demonstration of concentrated effort and persistence.

Take any goal or project you want to make progress towards. Now imagine you’ve been working on it for a year already.

That’s a lot of progress right? Especially in comparison to doing nothing at all. You’re capable of working on something for a sustained period of time if we start small and take small steps forward. Always keeping the big goal in mind need not be overwhelming if we just focus on what we’re doing at the current moment. Writing 750 words a day is far less daunting than writing half a million words in two years.

4. Writing is human

Spending so much time journalling has granted me the opportunity to make some observations about it. Writing is one of the most beautiful yet difficult ways for us to express our thoughts and emotions.

It’s extremely unlikely we’re going to feel exactly the same throughout the whole year. Spending some time writing every day is an implicit log of how you might feel during that day. Even if you’re not writing about yourself. I’ve observed a lot of change this year with how I approach myself, other people and my days.

I’ve felt extremely happy. I’ve felt at peace. I’ve felt just ok. I’ve been so sad I can barely concentrate on anything I’m writing. I’ve felt a lot of things. You probably do too. Being able to witness that change is interesting and somewhat humbling. At the moment, my health isn’t too great and my feelings of despair has frequently shown itself in my journal. However, the fact that I’m still writing through difficult times shows that I’m able to have a conversation with myself. The habit of writing has continued in the background and is not too dissimilar to the teddy bear we had when we were younger.

Writing is so very human. I recommend regular journalling to everyone. 

***

I journalled on 750words.com. It’s a simple and useful site that logs things like how many words you’ve written and how fast it was done. Unfortunately, it’s limited to 30 days of writing and you have to pay for a membership if you want to continue. If you want any alternatives, just let me know. But, you can start journalling with a pen and paper! That’s how I started :)

I wrote a post on my thoughts of writing every day after a month so if you want to know what I thought at the very beginning, you can read it here.

I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts about habits, writing or this post in general. Do you write regularly? Do you have a habit you’re proud of?

5 short lessons learned from 750 words

Over the past month I’ve been pretty busy with work and recovering from an operation. However, I’ve managed to keep a daily journal going for 30 days and I’d like to share a few things I think I’ve learned from it.

1. I have something to say

This might be an odd one but when I started writing I thought I’d never be able to reach 750 words or more without really struggling. As I continued, it didn’t feel like I was straining myself to write a lot. Even if a lot of what I wrote wasn’t great, it was still something that could be improved if I wanted to.

2. Writing daily is relaxing

In addition to daily meditation, just sitting down and writing about whatever I want is relaxing. It gives me the chance to slow down my day and just think about what’s happened throughout the day or work on an idea I have. It isn’t demanding and lets me spend time with myself and my thoughts.

3. It helps create ideas 

Since the 750 words are just a brief platform for me to write about anything, it gives me the chance to write about any ideas that I have written down or thought about. When I was writing essays, I would often just think about any arguments I could use and expand on them. Or I would think about general articles that I want to write. Writing my thoughts out makes them a bit clearer and much more likely to actually write about them in full!

4. We can make boring things interesting 

I’ve written about why slippers are interesting. They aren’t. But I made sure they were for my daily words.

5. I can create a habit

This is probably the most important. I managed to stick to something for 30 days and I feel like continuing. It wasn’t that difficult. I realised that I was probably just fearing a situation that didn’t exist. That being: ‘Writing daily would be really difficult and there’s no way I’d have time to keep it up.’

That wasn’t true in the slightest. When you get started, it doesn’t need to be extremely grand. Start small and you’ll find the process much easier.

I’d recommend starting a daily journal. It can be done on 750words but you can use the traditional pen and paper or just a word document. The word count isn’t the main focus. It’s the act of spending time with yourself and writing.

Plus, it’s pretty fun!

Do you keep a journal?