Did I mention I've been reading a lot? I've read somewhere around 30 books since the beginning of June. (If you're on Goodreads,...

Keystone Habits

Did I mention I've been reading a lot? I've read somewhere around 30 books since the beginning of June. (If you're on Goodreads, find me here.) And I'm learning so much.

I had been doing a lot of thinking over the past few years about the kind of person I wanted to be, the things I wanted to support, how I hoped to act and more. When I read these books, it's like somebody just polished my own thoughts. My brain is becoming so much more useful as I read and start to use it better. It's been great.

My most recent read was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I'd seen the author give an interview and heard a lot of good stuff about the book. I walked into the library last week and the first book that caught my eye was the bright yellow Power of Habit, so I grabbed it and brought it home. It felt like reading Harry Potter for the first time: I was up well past midnight, unable to put the book down.

The book is very fun, light and easy to read, but also just brimming with information. It's not prescriptive, just descriptive, until the very last chapter. Nonetheless, there are a lot of important pieces of information.

The one that struck me most was the idea of a keystone habit: a small habit that helped create reinforce other good habits. For example, making the bed in the morning can be a keystone habit that leads to more general tidiness. Likewise, writing down your food intake once a week can be a keystone habit for a whole host of healthy living changes.

The hard part, I think, is identifying those keystone habits. I've recently gotten in the habit of checking Facebook and Twitter more often than necessary (or even pleasurable), in lieu of getting things done (like donating our old clothing). I'm also trying to redevelop healthy eating and double workout days into habits. I'm starting my quest by making the bed every morning. Even if it's not a keystone habit, it's a good habit to acquire.

Other things I'd like to try: brushing my teeth after breakfast, putting on my workout clothes before breakfast, keeping a workout log, meditating and stretching, drinking green tea.

Who knows which one of these will lead to the others. Or perhaps all of these habits need individual cultivation. Only time will tell, but at least I now feel I have the tools to create those good habits.

One concern: losing mindfulness and presence by cultivating too many habits. I read an article about US Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin in which she describes how training mindfully instead of on automatic made a huge difference in her ability to improve quickly. There are certainly advantages to habits: they save your willpower for training rather than using it up getting you to the training session.

Still, by cultivating too many habits, I think we risk going through life on automatic. According to Duhigg, the more you repeat a habitual action, the less brain power it takes to complete it. I think that is why, if you let a habit loop take over, filing paper, making coffee, weeding the garden or waiting in traffic can all be mind-numbing.

Mindfulness is the art of breaking habits, which is why mindful eating helps people lose weight. Instead of automatically eating the whole donut without noticing, you become aware of eating and can choose to stop. I really enjoy being mindful. It's a skill I've developed a lot in my training and key to my improvements. So while I'm hoping to develop a number of good habits, I also want to maintain my presence--like a constant battle between The Power of Now and The Power of Habit.

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