Friday, January 4, 2013

This Moment - and now for something completely different

{this moment} - A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama.  A single photo capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  If you feel so inspired, please share your moment here, too!

Here's to combining something that I love to do with something that I want to love doing!

"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading.  I will say rather more necessary because health is worth more than learning."  ~Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Power of Habit

Over the course of the past week I've been reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life And Business by Charles Duhigg, a book for which I heard a favorable review by a friend not long after it was published in 2012.  As with many good intentions that I hold - in this case the idea that I should read this book - I thought about it, but didn't actually do anything about it until I saw the book in the "new release" section of my local library while I was looking for something to read over the holidays.  I decided on a bit of a whim to check it out and I'm so glad that I did.

The author, in an easy to understand way, shares scientific research about the neurology of habit formation and the habit loop.  He also shares some surprisingly interesting case studies of how the existence of habits - even if we don't recognize them as such - can impact individuals, companies, and even communities.  Duhigg states that "habits are created by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop." Although we never truly eradicate a habit (even if we no longer manifest it with our actions, the habit pathway lives on in our brains), we can cultivate new habits to replace those we deem undesirable by working within the framework of the existing loop.  By identifying the cue that triggers a habit, the craving that drives us, and the reward that we desire - something that sounds easy in theory but can be quite difficult to actually accomplish - we can create new routines that help us build desirable habits.  In fact, the author offers a real life example of how he did just that with a habit he wished to change in his appendix titled "A Reader's Guide to Using These Ideas."

This book also examines the concepts of keystone habits and willpower.  Duhigg has this to say about keystone habits.  "Some habits...matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives.  These are 'keystone habits,' and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate.  Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.  Keystone habits say that success doesn't depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into power levers...where should a would-be habit master start?  Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns."  He goes on to present some compelling examples of the impact of mindfully cultivating strong keystone habits or changing those that need to be changed.

As with the chapter on keystone habits, I likewise found the chapter on willpower to be surprisingly fascinating.  Case Western Reserve University researcher Mark Muraven found through a variety of studies that "willpower isn't just a skill. It's a muscle, like the muscles in your arms and legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there's less power left over for other things."  He went on to say that "if you want to do something that requires willpower - like going for a run after work - you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.  If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails or filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home."  The take away for me is that it is possible to strengthen my willpower muscle and that I can approach new endeavors in a way that recognizes the role of a limited cache of willpower.

This copy was checked out from my local library, but I found it to be sufficiently interesting - and reading it led to so much personal reflection - that I might buy a copy for ongoing use at home.  At the very least, I'll be keeping my eye open at the thrifts for a copy to pick up.

Duhigg states in the last chapter of his book that the "way we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhabit."  This resonated with me and drew a connection in my mind to the Buddhist theory of karma as I understand it, not as a practitioner, but as an interested seeker.  This isn't quite the same as the western pop culture notion of karma that if you do good things, good things will happen to you and if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you.  Rather than dealing with actions, it deals with intention. According to this Wikipedia post (not a very spiritual source, I know, but it provided one of the easiest to digest explanations that I was able to find), "every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines the effect."  The point of these two ideas, for me, is to reinforce the notion that I have the power to influence the very fabric of my daily life with the way that I think about it.

Part of why I enjoyed this book so much, and why I am sharing it here, is the personal revelation that there are many elements of having good intentions but not following through that may be attributable to my current habits (despite never having thought of them in this way before).  Duhigg reports that William James devoted an entire chapter in his book The Principles of Psychology to the topic of habits and their role in creating happiness and success.  James declared that water is the most apt analogy for how a habit works.  Water "hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before."  What if I can not only cultivate new habits that help me live more intentionally, but also recognize some of my less desirable habits for what they are - habits that I can change with intention, planning, and discipline?  What are my keystone habits that serve me well and what are those that don't?

The author posits that "almost all...patterns that exist in most people's lives - how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money - those are habits that we know exist.  And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom - and the responsibility - to remake them.  Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, he power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work."  That's some pretty heady - and exciting - stuff.

Happy Wednesday, friends!

"Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time."  ~Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New what?

Despite the fact that I hardly wrote in this space at all during 2012, this blog and my reasons for starting it have been on my mind over the course of the past year. I've been asking myself whether or not I want to continue writing here and I've even toyed with the idea of taking down the blog entirely.  That being said, I have been reflecting quite deeply over the past few weeks and months about what I want and need to let go of in my life and what I want to invite in.  I think that this blog can still help me on my path towards more intentional living, but I think that it might mean something different in the upcoming year than it has meant in the past. What does all of that mean for me and My (Un)Intentional Life?  I don't know yet, but I look forward to figuring that out as we settle into 2013.

Whatever else 2013 brings, I did manage to get off on the right foot by running in a "1st Day 5K" this morning with Princess Wonder - it was her first 5K and she was an excellent running partner.  Seriously, I've run with some great ladies but none of them have skipped to the starting line before.

I found this great quote attributed to Ellen Goodman earlier today and I like the change in perspective she offers for this process of taking stock that many of us undertake as our Mother Earth completes another trip around the sun.  "We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential."  There is much room for potential in my life - and in yours - and it is exciting to think about what the next year can bring for me and for each of you.

Happy Tuesday, friends, and a very happy new year to you!  May 2013 be filled with good health, good friends, and much joy.

"Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us."  ~Hal Borland