Free Up Space for 2017

My vision of peace and quiet in 2016: my son at Angkor Wat

I am going through all of my files–paper and computer–to clean out those that no longer matter to make room for new ideas and projects in 2017.  My pile of ideas for blogs or new projects had become a disorganized mess. It is easy to throw out the article on how to bake a perfect cake. In the short-days of winter I am willing to admit that I am not going to start making cakes. I am a pie baker.

Although I am not ready to throw out the article about keeping bees. It may be as far fetched as cake baking, but I am not ready to let the idea of beekeeping go yet. Such is the process of making room. Books and clothes are donated, papers are recycled. Assessments are made.

I am also making space for quiet. Unlike silence, which is impossible to find, quiet is attainable. The tapping of my fingers on computer keys, a car passing on the street below, an airplane flying overhead, Lulu’s whine at a dog walking by with owner across the street. It still allows room for contemplation and rest from the bombardment of noisy modern life. Funny that it took a podcast to remind me of the power of quiet. (On Being: Gordon Hempton “Silence and the Presence of Everything”)

Wishing you peace and quiet in 2017. Happy New Year.


Habits Help You Become Better Than Before

The author Gretchen Rubin writes about happiness and she asked questions like “How can I make myself happier?” She realized that certain actions increased her happiness, so by making these actions a habit and removing the decision-making, she could greatly increase her happiness. She began reviewing the habit-making literature and discovered that she has a relatively easy time making and keeping habits but that most people do not.

Better than Before

Rubin sees a strong connection between a person’s tendency toward dealing with expectations and their ability to establish and maintain good habits. This helps to explain why some habit strategies work really well for some people and fail others’ depending on the person’s tendencies. These concepts are helpful to understand ourselves and to more effectively manage others.

The author is an Upholder, which makes it much easier to keep habits, because she is motivated to meet external expectations as well as her own internal expectations. Rubin is likely to meet a deadline from her publisher and keep a personal commitment to work out at the gym twice a week. Upholders are a small part of the population, hence the popularity of books on habits.

Rubin's tendencies

Most of the population is either a Questioner or an Obliger. I reared a Questioner daughter and I could try to assert a good habit in her life—like brushing her teeth every morning and evening—and she would ask questions about why she should. I learned that if I didn’t lose my patience and say “because I said so,” she would usually establish some internal reasons that benefitted her and happily settle into the habit.

Obligers are also good at making habits with the help of outward accountability. They can be terrific employees if managed with clear expectations and regular reporting. Since a large part of the population are Obligers, it is very important to have clear accountability. These same people can also be taken advantage of because they will overextend themselves to meet others’ expectations.

Other types also benefit from accountability; however, you have to include other processes to engage them in the habits. Questioners and Rebels both need to be engaged in establishing the standards, such as everyday we will have a safety meeting before starting work, and then the habit is more likely to be supported.

As a manager, Rebel employees sound like a bad employee. Rebels like choice and freedom and resist internal and external expectations. This does not mean they cannot establish habits, but they are likely to have fewer regular habits and prefer to find their own way of doing things. True confessions: I am a Rebel. I highly value keeping commitments so I am able to get along in the workplace. To get the most from a Rebel employee you have to provide some flexibility in how tasks get accomplished.


Rubin has developed a short quiz to help figure out your tendency.

Better Than Before is organized around the pillars of habit: monitoring, scheduling, accountability and habit foundations. The latter consists of sleep, move, eat & drink, and unclutter.

There are other tendencies that need consideration when forming good habits or breaking bad habits:

  • Are you a Lark (early bird) or a (night) Owl?
  • Are you a marathoner or a sprinter?
  • Do you tend to overbuy or underbuy? (love to spend vs. hate to spend)
  • Do you love simplicity or prefer abundance?
  • Do you finishing projects or opening/starting projects?
  • Do you prefer familiarity or novelty?
  • Do you take small steps or big steps to reach a goal?
  • Do you find it easier to abstain altogether or does moderation work for you?

Rubin includes observations and strategies for habit-forming depending on your tendencies.

As we consider our workplace environment, it is easier to change our surroundings than ourselves. Rubin questions free snacks at work and promotes the treadmill desk. Essentially, we do better when we make good behavior convenient and bad behavior inconvenient. And everything is more fun when we make it a game.

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making an Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project, co-host of Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, and a blog at

Begin Again, Again

The last post I wrote was so hopeful. I really thought I would be able to jump start some better habits with a blitz and a better understanding of my own story around habits. I went for a bike ride and I felt great, so I went for a slightly longer one two days later. Later that same day I felt like I had the flu–my body ached in my joints and lower back. My fuzzy thinking also came back with a vengeance. I felt betrayed by my body.

slack_imgs.com_670Then the world went nuts: two police shootings and a sniper killing police. I knew my resilience was low when I over reacted while watching the Stage 12 of the Tour de France. The ASO (Tour de France organizer) did not move the barriers lower on the slopes of Mt Ventoux when they shortened the race and, not surprisingly, spectators interfered in the race and caused a crash. I stewed about it all day. Then tragedy struck Nice and I really had something to be upset about.

All these days I continued to experience pain, long after my more vigorous bike ride. I continued to ride my cruiser bike around town. But now even long walks or a lot of standing leaves my back so stiff I cannot sleep comfortably. I finally broke down and make a doctor’s appointment. I had low expectations though, for sometime now every symptom I have is attributed to menopause, followed by “there’s no treatment”.

I had two days before my doctor’s appointment and no pain relief. I began imagining all kinds of crazy, life threatening circumstances. Fortunately my Kaiser doctor had reviewed my chart before our appointment and when I told her what I was experiencing, she said “menopause can reactivate your fibromyalgia.” And just making sense of what was going on made all the difference. She gave me some ideas of things I could do to manage the pain, continue to exercise and be able to manage the symptoms.

Today I begin again, again. With less pressure and with renewed energy. With all the crazy stuff happening in the USA and the world, I want to use this space to emanate light in the darkness.

Habits for Happiness

This morning on the American River Parkway in Sacramento.

I am reading Gretchen Rubin‘s book, Better Than Before, to share strategies for making and keeping good habits and break bad habits. She find making and keeping habits easier than most people. She is among the small percentage of people who are “upholders”. These are people who are motivated by both internal and external expectations. Thankfully she is empathetic to the ways different people approach habits and she provides a multitude of strategies that make success more likely.

Reading this book is giving me an opportunity to rewrite my story around habits. I woke up this morning and thought about what I have to do today and for the holiday weekend. I realized that I have about six super flexible days. I can make it an at-home writer’s retreat. I am calling it my Freedom Writing Retreat.

The Tour de France also begins on Saturday and this is the first time since 2013 that I will be home and able to watch on television for the entire race (July 2-24). This is exciting because I will be able to immerse myself in an event I truly love. I will also be able to frequently hit the open bike trail and enjoy cycling, which reinforces how much I enjoy watching the professionals ride.

These are not habits that I am trying to form for life. I am just focusing on a blitz of behaviors that will make me happy for the next six days, and some other behaviors that will also make me happy through July 24. My questions include: will this increase my overall happiness and energy for daily life, will these habits be easier to uphold because I have reframed them based on my own tendencies and personalities? I will let you know.