Keep that Streak Going: #30DaysOf Something that Matters to You

All my life I've tried various approaches to "becoming a better person." "Better" defined, of course, as something I wanted to change about myself. This might even include "be better at accepting myself as I am." You may have a list that looks something like mine with its hits and misses.
Bit my nails as a kid -- haven't done that in a long time (although I'm bothered by my cuticles and have a weird fascination with having unattainably perfect nails).

Used to be messy -- I'd let my room go completely, then go into a frenzied whirlwind of reorganizing everything down to the contents of various boxes in my closet. Now I'm reasonably tidy all the time. It's easier and I like the way our house feels with bare surfaces. (They may be in need of dusting but they're not piled high with random things.)

Tried meditating for a while -- Turns out I like reading books about meditating more than I do actual meditation. For a while I had a really faithful yoga habit that served me as moving meditation, centering my mind on my mat pretty successfully. I now have an app touted as meditation for impatient people so maybe this will do the trick. If I use it.

My journal is pretty sporadic -- And that's okay with me. I kept diaries as a kid (those little square ones that locked with a key even though you could probably jam the book open with a toothpick). I've been keeping a journal for years now as an adult. I sometimes wish I had a slightly more regular habit, as it feels kind of funny to do a "catch-up" entry because I want to record something significant that happened two months ago but the feelings have shifted with time. But it's there and I do keep coming back to it.

That monthly breast self-exam you're supposed to do -- Yeah, full disclosure/TMI, not at all good about this despite having had really frightening bouts of cysts in the past that I thought might be cancer, and having had a maternal grandmother with breast cancer (late onset) and dear friends who have battled it (successfully, thank heavens).

With no scientific basis whatsoever I figure I'm kind of in the middle of the bell curve on habit formation. I succeed at some things, perform somewhat half-assedly at others, have given up on some things. I read Zero Waste Home a while back and made a few changes in addition to some pretty good existing practices, but there's no way I'd ever consider making my own mascara/eyeliner out of burned almonds. Waste of good almonds, I say.

A while back I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Jeez, talk about tackling every facet of your life. Obsessive with the charts much? She's someone who responds to the visual cues of seeing whether or not she has performed up to expectations so she has a whole system.

I've done this chart business once quite successfully so I get it. I grew up with a mom who had been a schoolteacher so we had chore charts with gold stars and the whole business, which may explain why this worked for me.

The bad habit at that point that I really needed to do something about: the consumption of giant snickerdoodles purchased at the coffee stand in my building back when I worked at WSU Spokane. My office was on the fifth floor so I usually walked down the stairs for the cookie (and companion latte) and back up, but that certainly didn't burn enough calories to eliminate the cookie effects entirely.

I started this sign in my office modeled on the workplace safety signs you see about how many days they've gone without an incident, or the signs you'll see on a city street telling you how many fatal crashes they've had in the year and asking you to slow down. (If only people would actually do this.)

I wish I had a picture of this sign. At the top of a whiteboard I wrote Number of Days without a Snickerdoodle Incident. Every day I increased the number by one. I started the sign after a week off at Christmas during which I had consumed homemade treats but officially had not eaten any giant snickerdoodles so I got off to a nice start writing a big "9".

When I left my job roughly 18 months later I had not eaten a single giant snickerdoodle. From that particular coffee stand, at least.... And in all seriousness, very few purchased anywhere else. They were the good, bendy-in-the-middle-the-way-snickerdoodles-are-supposed-to-be ones too. It was very satisfying to update the number by one each day, and after a while I couldn't stand the thought of resetting to zero and having to look at the evidence that I had slipped.

We don't all have the same bad habits. For example, Gretchen Rubin is apparently a yeller and a criticizer. I am not. I'm generally a pretty sunny optimist, take things in stride, and didn't grow up in a family of people who yelled -- nothing I want to change about that. Everyone's list is unique, but I'm betting everyone outside of people living in Buddhist monasteries has a list of things in their lives they'd like to change in some specific direction.

The part that made the most sense to me in The Happiness Project was the notion that you shouldn't try to improve everything about yourself at once. This is why the whole New Year's resolution business is doomed to failure. Who among us -- be honest now -- can really go from zero exercise to 60 minutes five days a week and cut out some food you love that's bad for you and keep your house super clean and start an organic herb garden in your windowsill and and and -- you see what I mean. There's a reason gyms are reliably full the first couple of weeks in January, then start emptying out.

So I don't make resolutions. Best friend Betz gave me her eminently reasonable thoughts on them: If you see something you want to change why would you wait until an artificially created date that has been equally artificially designated as a date to start doing something you think represents positive change? Why not start when you think of it?

I also have a lovely inspiring example in Second Daughter. She's very self-aware (one of those people who writes in her journal every day) and takes on different 30-day challenges , although sometimes just as a reset, not as something she necessarily intends to keep doing.

Right now, for example, she's in the midst of a no-added-sugar 30-day run. Good way to find out how often sugar (or "evaporated cane juice") is a hidden ingredient. Telling yourself you're doing something for just 30 days makes it a bit more attainable, and at the same time that's enough repetition for the formation of new habits. Hence the abundance of #30DaysOf hashtags on Twitter.

There's one habit I have truly, sincerely meant to get fixed in place for years and years and years. A habit I think about in exactly the same way every time I'm in a particular setting. You know this one: the habit you wish you had when you're reclined in the dentist's chair and they're looking at your gums.

"How often do you floss?" they ask, quite reasonably.

My usual answers are along the lines of "I have really good intentions...." or "Faithfully for about three days after every dental visit."

In the last two years I've changed dentists twice thanks to changes in work and insurance. And quite shamefully I had not been to the dentist in a really long time -- as in years -- when I went to the first one. I kept meaning to get around to making the appointment and then would get really busy. Again. So that dentist had to give me shots and only clean a part of my mouth at a time so my gums wouldn't be so loose my teeth fell out, or something like that.

Then I changed to Dentist #2. Same flippant answer on the flossing when they asked. Have I learned nothing? Apparently.

But I flossed when I went home that night. And the next morning I tweeted out facetiously -- oh, I'm the funny one, I am --

So humorous, that @barbchamberlain. But here's the thing. When I tweeted that out, I had just flossed.

I've done #30daysof biking and have often succeeded in riding my bike every day for a whole month. Five years out of the past seven, in fact. I've completed other bike challenges too, from coffeeneuring to errandonnee. I do especially well in years when I tell people, thus setting myself up for some (ahem) feedback if I fail. Mind you, I've made other public statements about bike challenges I haven't finished successfully, but still.

No, I didn't start tweeting out my daily "Look, I flossed!" report. But I kept flossing, sometimes twice a day. Today is Day 60 of #30DaysOfFlossing.

I didn't start another commitment precisely on Day 31, but I am moving on to another one.

Your Turn
Working on any personal commitment you want to share here for some external accountability?

Related Reading
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Yoga of Biking. Or, the Biking of Yoga.
5 Behavior and Culture Hacks to Get People Walking and Biking
Set Down that Heavy Load: The Things We Carry
SISO Method for Life Management
It is Always Better to Ride than Not to Ride
An Easy New Year's Resolution: Write It Down


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