Every day things

I’ve been trying to start a daily habit – to get out the door first thing every morning and say hello to the lake.

The morning is my favourite time – the light is beautiful, the day just beginning, and there is hardly anyone around except the geese, the gulls, the ducks, and the diving cormorants

The few people who are out are doing inspiring things like yoga, or jogging, or even finishing up that report from a beautiful spot.

All in all, you would think this new habit would be a) easy enough, not overly ambitious, not going from sedentary to marathon in a week kind of thing and b) highly pleasurable – it is, as they suggest, a small enough habit to start with, and it is a blessing on my day every time I do it.

James Clear describes his atomic habits as:

…a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.

…the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.

~ James Clear

I’d started thinking hard about habits a couple of months ago, when, up in the night with insomnia, I did some deep bio reading about Manda Scott, whose workshop I went to last year, and whose fascinating and refreshingly optimistic podcast I’ve been following since back in January when she launched it.

On her About Manda page, written in a unique tense, she describes the period of her life when she wrote a seriously ambitious historical fiction series:

Six years of Boudica dreaming. Throw out the TV. Throw out the sound systems. Light the fire every night and let it teach me. By the end, have lost all touch with consensus reality.

~Manda Scott

The television bit and the fire every night bit I’d heard before, but the sound system??? She says: “recorded music is one of our strongest addictions”.

This is deeply radical. This blows my mind. I’d discovered the enormity of music in my life during one of my current habit experiments, which is to make the studio a wifi free zone. Not having a phone to reach for is the key piece – I have to deliberately leave my phone at home and walk over to the studio without anything that connects to the internet. The idea is that, distraction free, I will spend more time in deep thinking, or at least deep being, if there is nothing to plug into.

And the first thing I discovered was how much I missed playing music.

The phone and Facebook and whatever I can live without for a few hours, even for the day… but no music…??? I am deeply deeply hooked into music as a kind of mood designer.

So, thinking about just how deep one could conceivably go with lifestyle changes (can’t light a fire every night in downtown Toronto, but maybe there are other things…) I’ve tried to change up even the tiniest of habits, to experiment and try new things. You know, just those deeply engrained little things like brushing your teeth with the other hand.

Or, the other afternoon, on my way to a backyard BBQ with friends, rather than take the obvious bike route along King, across the bridge over the Don and along Queen East into Leslieville, I got out the map and explored some twisty bike lanes that take you over little hidden bridges and under underpasses and down onto the Lakeshore bike path. It’s still kind of unfamiliar territory for me, but shucks, there was dozens and dozens of folks out there with some serious looking biking habits.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger… The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

~ James Clear

Meanwhile, with some BC friends we’ve begun a daily drawing challenge – each evening one of us sends a prompt to the others, and the next day we each respond to that prompt with a drawing. Some days have produced some pretty terrible drawings, but by coming back to it (almost) each and every day, there are some drawings where I can really see my skills developing –

And my morning lake-visiting habit???

At the moment I’m averaging about every other day.

There are still days when, distracted by the inviting option of coffee on the balcony, watching the skies and scanning the construction site below, searching for the resident bunnies and foxes who can occasionally be spotted darting out from underneath sheds and pipes, I indulge in that strangely sweet uber-urban homey feeling.

So, for now, on those days I don’t make it to the lake first thing, I’ve been making sure to do it at some point during the day. This is not the ultimate goal but is a temporary compromise, and it has reminded me of how fun it is to see the same body of water at different times of day.

The glaring sun and choppy waters of a mid-day, can turn into a magical evening in exactly the same spot.

And in the evenings, turns out people are bringing boom boxes and coolers of beer and skateboards and portable disco balls, and setting up sweet mini parties and dancing underneath the trees by Sugar Beach. Small groups, as is proper during a pandemic, but such creative and romantic ways to enjoy our tiny sliver of city lake front.

Lens Artists – Everyday Objects

Tiny Steps

tiny-clouds-can-flagIs it the dark of November, that flu I just couldn’t kick, or the malignant gloom of the American election?
There are days when it feels like nothing gets done.
Days when doing the laundry is a big accomplishment.
Days when I think it’s the perfect day, free of obligations, to go down to the studio and paint – smudging and scribbling and sharpening the image, listening to music for hours – and yet somehow I never get there.
Days when I get up with last night’s promise of a morning run ringing in my ears and I flop on the couch and flake out on facebook on my phone.
Days when I’ve told myself it’s really time to finally sit down at my little corner writing desk and enter the zone – the zone of happy struggles, of exploring interior worlds, scaling memories and imaginings and sensations and the secrets of the human heart, searching for all the right words… and instead I spend hours glumly in front of the computer catching up on email.

Do you know these kind of days?
Switch out the particulars for your own personal Important Goals list that never quite happens?

Well, I’ve been pushing against the dark slide of lethargy with some new tools…
Chief among them the concept of Tiny Steps.

kaizen-book

Tiny Steps comes from the Japanese tradition of Kaizen, elaborated on in this book by Robert Maurer: One Small Step Can Change Your Life.
He says,

Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constand demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.

The key is to start small.
The key is to make it SO small you can’t NOT do it.
Reading some of the bios and creative practices of the greats can be totally intimidating – they seem to be on their game ALL the time, productive all the time – so much so that it’s a world away, unreachable.
Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit describes her mornings –

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes…walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab.

Well, this is amazing, I love the sound of it, can just see the dark of the Manhattan morning and the surliness of the cab driver and the sweaty two hours at the gym, and gosh I sure wish that were my life too, but ummmmmmmm…
I can tell you right now I’m not gonna be doing that tomorrow morning. And not just cause I don’t live in Manhattan.
I mean even just thinking about how far all of that is from my life brings up all kinds of neurotic garbage and the harpies of self-flagellation begin to loom and the whole thing makes me feel like, well, if I can’t be like that, then I might as well just give up now.
But…
This is precisely where the small steps of Kaizen come in.
Maurer says –

Don’t let these common roadblocks to change make you feel so guilty or frustrated that you give up your attempts to improve.
Instead, use times of difficulty to remember that fear is the body’s gift, alerting us to a challenge. The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.
During the rough patches, understanding that fear is normal, and a natural sign of ambition, makes us more likely to hold onto hope and optimism – qualities that increase our willingness to take the kinds of small steps that slip right past the fear.

Did you get that last bit?
…small steps that slip right past the fear.
Okay! Now we’re talking!
A step that is so tiny it will neatly sidestep the harpies in my head. Perfect.
So, for me, a small step would be NOT to say I’m going to write a novel before the end of 2016, but to say I’m going to write for 10 minutes each morning.
10 minutes of sitting down to write is something small enough that it’s really really really easy to do.
(and if there’s a morning when even so, even though it’s a tiny step, if it doesn’t happen and I don’t show up, I’m going to remind myself that FEAR IS NORMAL, and try again the next morning)

Going back to Twyla Tharp’s story about the cab – the point that she’s making and the point that really speaks to me is the idea of creating a Ritual.
Creating a Ritual sounds to me partly like a way to make the whole thing more FUN.
But Twyla takes it even further –

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed…
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.

So for me, for my 10 minutes of writing, I’ve found this one piece of ritual I can bring in to the goal of sitting down at the little writing desk in the corner…
I light a candle.
The beautiful little glass candle holder makes me happy. The action of striking the match marks the beginning, the dancing of the flame keeps me company, and the whole thing signals to my brain that a hallowed space has been created to sit down and hold a tiny 10 minutes of writing.
corner-desk

And you, Dear Reader? Are there Rituals, Practices, Habits, Methods that have worked for you?

Please Note: All this comes from a training program I’m doing currently, called Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. You might want to check it out. 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge – Tiny