Happy Poetry Friday! I share a found poem I created at the end of this post.
As Mary Ann mentioned last week, we've kicked off this year with the topic "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021." As frustrating as 2020 was, I learned some things about myself that are helping me create a happier, healthier, more productive life.
It all started with one new habit. To cope with the stress brought on by events of 2020, I decided to start meditating regularly. I have meditated off and on for years. In April 2020, I committed to making it a regular habit, initially, for just 8 minutes a day--up from the 5 minutes/day I'd dabbled in earlier in the year. And I decided to motivate myself by using the "Don't break the chain" strategy. The strategy involves using a calendar to cross off each day when you accomplish your goal. After a few days, you have a chain of successes, and the idea is to keep up the habit so you don't break the chain. You can read how this approach helped Jerry Seinfeld's career here.
When I meditate, I use the free version of the Insight Timer app to sound a chime at the beginning and end of my meditation time. The math geek in me loves graphs, so I really appreciate the app's graphs and charts representing meditation activity. The app also rewards you with "stars" for accomplishing certain milestones, such as meditating for ten consecutive days. So, instead of using a physical calendar for the "Don't break the chain" strategy, I used the app. Before April 2020, the longest meditation streak I had was ten days. That changed on April 27. I watched the chain grow to 20, 30, 40, 50 straight days, and beyond. I also gradually increased my time to 10, 12, and 15 minutes a day. Early this month, I revised my goal to 20 minutes per day. As of this morning, I've meditated 288 straight days--something I wouldn't have imagined possible a year ago. My goals is to hit 365 days!
Interestingly, this new habit did more than simply ease my stress. It also proved to me that I am capable of real habit change. I began to think about how I can create new habits in other areas of my life, especially my writing. In particular, I wanted to find a way to overcome distractions. Recently, I'd been struggling more and more with the urge to read email or check social media during my designated writing time. Then I read about the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Benbella Books) by Nir Eyal.
I learned of Eyal's book when I came across Gretchen Rubin's 2019 interview with him. In it, he says:
Truly, distraction starts from within and it is our never ending search for an escape from psychological discomfort that is the root cause of distraction. We check Facebook because we’re lonely, email because we’re stressed, Google because we’re uncertain, and Instagram because we’re bored. We like to blame the technology, but these companies are powerless to change our habits if we don’t give them an emotional trigger to latch onto.
If you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, these words may sound familiar, since I shared them in my December 2020 issue. But the idea that psychological discomfort causes distraction feels important enough to discuss here, too. The emotional triggers that distract me from my writing aren't typically loneliness or boredom. Instead, my discomfort is triggered by anxiety and self-doubt--the internal critic whispering in my ear that I'm not a good-enough writer or my idea isn't marketable enough.
One strategy Eyal recommends for overcoming distraction is "time-boxing," something I've been doing for years, though I'd never heard of this term for it. I set aside specific time for writing, usually first thing in the morning. But I often found myself "taking a quick break" to check email or social media during that time, only to have that "quick" break stretch to an hour or more. So I decided to combine Eyal's time-boxing idea with the "Don't break the chain" strategy. I created a schedule for checking email and social media and committed to only doing it at those times.
To track this chain, I'm using a physical calendar, marking off each day I stick with my goal. Below is a picture of my results through yesterday. (The box for Sunday, 1/24, looks odd because the same square also holds Sunday, 1/31.)
The Strategy of Monitoring
I believe this success is tied to an idea I learned from Gretchen Rubin: The Strategy of Monitoring. (I've mentioned here before how I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books.) One of my goals for 2021 is to write more poetry. To be more specific: my goal is to draft at least one new poem a week, and I'm keeping a record of my results. (So far, so good.) This week, I've drafted a found poem* from Rubin's blog post summarizing the Strategy of Monitoring:
You Manage What You Measure
To get more of something good
or less of something bad,
figure out a concrete way
to measure and track it.
By counting the things that count,
you make sure
they’re part of your life.
Found poem by Carmela Martino taken from Gretchen Rubin blog post of April 22, 2013.Rubin shared on Instagram the same picture she included in that blog post, which I've copied above.
*To create the found poem, I applied these three rules to the text of the original blog post: Words could be subtracted, but not added. Words must be kept in their original order. Tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization could be changed as needed.
For more poetry, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jan at Book Seed Studio.