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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Seven Habits of Cranky Old Biddies

I'm thinking a lot about habits now, and how to establish good ones so that I can save my willpower/motivation for more interesting things. I used to just power through and willpower it all the way, or go all honey badger and not give a fuck. My current targets are my diet and keeping my kitchen clean. When I master these I will take on some more interesting goals.
You've heard about my diet. Basically, I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for me to eat fairly healthy food in small-medium portions because in the end, laziness often wins out, provided that I'm not too hungry. Keeping myself from getting too hungry, especially in the late afternoon/early evening has provided the biggest payoff for me. I've taken some inspiration from the graduate students and have started storing lots of food at work. I keep my office stocked with healthy snacks - fruit, string cheese, cans of V8, Rye-crisp crackers, peanut butter, yogurt, and Zone bars. I eat them when I am hungry, in larger quantities than you might expect. On weekends, I cook large quantities of main dishes/veggies so that I usually have something ready to eat on weeknights, and I portion it into tupperware containers with about 1 1/2 -2 servings/container. That way, I usually end up eating about half of it at lunch. Depending on what I'm doing, I may eat the other half for dinner or leave it at work for lunch for the next day. I've stopped keeping really tempting snacks, like ice cream, salted nuts, potato chips, gummi bears, etc at home.
I then pondered my kitchen, and why it gets so messy so quickly. I have a big kitchen, with lots of counter space, but it gets cluttered in no time flat. I'm one of those people who can't keep too much on the counter, because clutter breeds clutter. Nonetheless it was a perpetual mess of drying tupperware, handwashed dishes and pans, mail, etc. I didn't have this problem back in CA, though. I mostly just assumed it was because I'm getting lazier in my old age, but a few weeks ago I realized it was due to my dishwasher not working very well. (Once again, my first instinct is to be too hard on myself.) I spent lots of time pre-washing the dishes before they went in, or bypassing the dishwasher altogether and handwashing. The dishwasher didn't actually dry very well either, so that meant that all the tupperware and mugs then ended up on the counter drying, along with the stuff I handwashed. I was using up my limited supply of cleaning motivation on the dishes, and all of the stuff drying was breeding additional clutter. I treated myself to a new dishwasher - nothing too fancy, just one that actually cleans dirty dishes and gets them dry. It's only been a few days but I notice a difference already. The other thing I did was get a bigger container for the recycling - the other main contributor to the clutter was paper/cans/cardboard that were waiting to be taken out to the garage.
There was an interesting article in the the New York Times about how companies track your spending habits and try to catch you at transitional times to get you in the habit of spending more money at their stores. During transitional times, people pick up new habits. Examples of transitional times include when you move or have a baby. Anyway, the article talked about habits, and why we develop them. It turns out that in the absence of ingrained experience, the brain is working hard at every stage of a process, but as we pick up habits the brain can bundle things into stuff it's done before, and not work as hard. You may not think about it in your daily life, but this covers most everything you do. Try moving across country to a town where you've never lived before and a new job. I've only done this three times - to grad school, to North Carolina, and to Ithaca. (Moving back to California doesn't count - I knew my way around since I lived there before.) The first two times weren't so bad - perhaps my brain picked up new habits more quickly when I was young, and I had fewer grownup responsibilities to keep track of then. The move to Ithaca really made me realize how much my brain goes on autopilot during my daily activities - it was exhausting having to be 'on' pretty much every waking hour figuring out my new surroundings and developing my Ithaca habits. Meanwhile, I think my energy levels are the same as in CA, but there are a lot more demands on my energy/willpower. As my recent experiences have showed me, some of the habits I picked up weren't great ones, so part of this exercise is to pick up some habits that work better for my life here (e.g. my new dietary habits), and part of it is to identify little ways to make my life easier (e.g. the parking pass, new washing machine) so I can use my energy/motivation/willpower for more interesting things.

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