2015 – Done and Undone

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I organised myself to do some additional regular stuff in 2015, as is my wont. I also stopped doing a couple of things in 2015, as is also my wont.

I carried on using the Seinfeld/Chain method for habit-forming to drive the sort of repetitive behaviours I want to have. Here’s what.

Things I did, every day…

As throughout 2014, I wrote for at least 15 minutes of every day of 2015. Sometimes there were prolonged periods of working on one thing, sometimes it felt very scrappy as I scratched around for something I felt like writing. One way or another the words piled up. I wish I’d been a little more focused with some of it but, to give an example of how much is reasonably possible with a little commitment, amongst dozens of blog posts, scraps, poems, bits and bobs, I also wrote 36,000 words of a novel that I had not even conceived this time last year, almost all of it done in sessions of only 15 minutes at a time. I make no claims for the text (seriously, none at all) but at the very least, and possibly the very most, it’s close to half the length of a credible novel and if I keep that up for another year then, sitting amongst the pile of other words may be something that resembles a shoddy first draft of something none of you will ever read, but that I think I may be pleased at least to have written.

I also did 15 minutes of chores of one description or another every day this year. I don’t have a record of what I did, but it feels as if I did much less housework and much more admin. Not sure that’s the balance I’m after, but either way it’s kept things ticking along and kept that nagging swarm of ‘things to do’ mostly shooed away.

Stuff that was different, or new

I switched ‘daily exercise’ for ‘daily exercise OR guitar practice’. Not sure quite how that has worked out. My guitar playing has got better, but is still essentially hopeless. I’ve done enough to realise that just working through Russ Shipton’s books and trying to find easy things to play from Ultimate-Guitar.com does not a virtuoso make. I probably need lessons and if I can ever get organised to do that then the discipline to give 15 minutes practice each day will presumably be just what I need.

Exercise has been fine, but introducing the musical joker card has probably meant I did less cardio work this year than any of the preceding 20. Would like to do more in 2016.

I read every day, which was great. The pile of books I finished isn’t that high, partly because fully 3 months of the year were devoted to chipping away at the 700 pages of ‘The Magic Mountain’, but just doing it was, of course, pleasurable and sustaining, encouraging the sense that I was keeping a flame alive and adding just a little bit more to my life every day.

I drank a litre of tap water every day. This presented more of a physical challenge than I had expected. Without wishing to go into too many of the details, it took me 6-9 months to adapt to be able to handle this sort of increased input and even now, unpredictably, some days I am able to absorb it much better than others…

I’m glad I did it and I’m going to carry on, but I can’t honestly say I’ve noticed any great health benefits. I felt sick as a dog for most of the first 5 or 6 months of the year, which may have obscured any water-related gains, but generally I think I feel the same as before. Just a little moister inside, I guess.

Managing

Overall it became easier to discharge these duties. Now, two years into using this approach it rarely takes a lot of mental effort to remember that I have these fixed things to do. Certainly during the last half of this year the nagging sense that there are things left undone in any given day has started to recede. Getting the five ticked off each day has become much more natural, much less forced. That, I hope, is the feeling of something becoming an ingrained habit, rather than an externally imposed requirement.

Stuff I didn’t do

I like to stop doing things almost as much as I like to do things in the first place. This year my aim was to go through the entire year without buying a single drink in a disposable cup or bottle. I almost achieved it.

Not buying bottled water was pretty easy, although this was largely due to my decision to drink a litre of water each day, which meant I carried a drinking bottle with me almost everywhere I went. If you can get into that habit, then it’s a cinch to take the extra step and just not buy plastic bottles just to recycle of landfill them. As soon as you begin you’ll realise just how many of these pointless, wasteful things you can churn through in a day or week without even thinking about it. So, a whole year went by and I didn’t buy, or have bought for me, a single disposable bottle.

Disposable coffee cups are, somehow, even more annoying. In practice, many are now compostable or recyclable, but I think there’s still something distasteful about them. It has to do with the way they are carried as a soggy status symbol declaring, essentially, ‘look at me, I’ve bought some big brand coffee, and now I have a big cardboard cup, a plastic lid, a corrugated cardboard sleeve and also a couple of napkins and I’m going to bin the whole lot somewhere after ten minutes’ use’. Hurray for you.

So, this year I bought a Joco cup and kept it in my work bag. It’s slightly more onerous to remember than the water bottle, and quite a few times I’ve found myself sitting among other people drinking coffee, unable to join them because I forgot to bring it along, but ultimately that’s no great hardship.

I slipped up three times across the year. Firstly in a sports centre cafe in Plymouth where I ordered a coffee and instead of serving it in one of the china cups they had stacked behind the counter, they brought it out in a paper cup, which is stupid. Secondly when a colleague bought me a coffee for a meeting and I forgot to specify not to get a paper cup, which is my fault. Thirdly when buying a coffee for another colleague and tea for me I got distracted thinking about how crap the coffee there was and forgot to think about what they were making it in.

So, could do better, but by trying I reckon I saved around 50-100 cups from the bin, which sounds like not very much. However, doing this and thinking about the consumption of coffee as I went, really sensitised to how much we waste, to the point where I began to have unkind, santimonious thoughts when I saw passers-by brandishing their big label brew in compressed paper pulp containers.

It does seem to me like disposable cups and bottles are so easily avoided that it’s almost criminal not to do so. A quick google suggests that in the US they use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Here’s the other thing: water is better for you than almost anything else you’re going to be able to buy in a plastic bottle, and buying water when you can get it for free from the tap is just stupid. I drank 1 litre of water every day this year. Another google tells me that this would have cost me 65p per day if I’d bought Evian from Tesco. Over the course of the year that would have cost me £237.25 and left 365 bottles for recycling or landfill.

I’m not one for proselytising, but come on, buy a reusable bottle and a reusable cup and save a bunch of money and waste.

2016

I’m pretty happy with where I am in terms of these habits, so I’m going to stick with them for the next year. I’d like to focus my writing a little more, so we’ll see how that goes.

There’s only one new thing I’d like to try to introduce and that’s mindfulness meditation. I’ve been meaning to give it a proper sustained go for a couple of years. It does seem as if there’s quite a lot of evidence for it as a stress-reducer, and that’s something I could benefit from. I’m really not sure where I can fit this into my day, particularly not in the ways I squeeze the others in during snatched 15 minutes in the midst of the hurly burly, but I’m going to start by trying to get up 15 minutes earlier and to begin working through the sessions in the Headspace app and see where that gets me.

So that’s me. I hope you have a rewarding 2016 and that you help someone else to have one too.

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