Rediscovering Motivation: Restarting My Routines

April 26, 2020

I don’t know about you folks, but I am really feeling the quarantine blues. I know Social Distancing is something to take seriously, which I am, but DAMN my routine and my willpower is way out of wack. I feel out of sorts and really lacking the motivation to do the things that are important to me. So I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on that and perhaps even offer some encouragement to you as well (if you find yourself in a similar state). After all, we are all in this together. I mean truly, whether we like it or not, this is happening to all of us and it is affecting all of us.

Before we were in this situation, I found myself getting up at five minutes to five in the morning. This gave me time to have some coffee, maybe even meditate, read a book, stretch and then head off to the gym before going to work. I found this routine got me pumped up and ready to go. I attribute much of this to not only going to bed at a reasonable time before but to getting some exercise before starting my day. Right there we got two major things that fuel a healthy mindset: sleep and exercise. Since quarantine, gyms have closed and I find myself working from home.

I am very thankful to be working. Unfortunately, many of us may not be as fortunate. While some of us are receiving financial support- there are others who are living under extremely stressful financial situations. My heart goes out to these individuals and their families. This is but one more major difficulty during a tumultuous time. I do wish to acknowledge these individuals. My thoughts are with you and your families at this time. I can not speak for you but my only hope is that this article may provide something useful to you.

Working from home is more difficult than I had anticipated. Not that the work itself is more difficult but rather the ability to remain focused is. At work, I find myself coming to a place where I am given a specific task: to do my job. When you are working from home, there is much more you have to do- especially if you have children. At the time of writing this, my daughter is seven months old. It is wonderful to be able to experience being around her during the day. Seeing her trying to figure out the world more than I was ever able to when I worked. However, it can make focusing on work and staying on task for extended periods of time very difficult. I can only imagine what this is like for parents of older children who are much more mobile and active.

That said, If I am being honest with myself: I am hiding my lack of productivity behind my daughter. Behind my spouse. Behind my dog. Behind my chores. All of which is rather unfair. The real reason my level of effort has decreased is because of me. I have fallen into a slump and I have chosen to use our current situation as an excuse. Yes, the gym is closed. Yes, I am not able to switch up my scenery and put myself in a “productive” environment. Yes, I can’t see friends. But these are all reasons to hide behind my lack of productivity. I can still get up early in the morning. I can still go to bed at a reasonable time. But I find myself not doing these things. Why? Because I am looking for a good reason not to. For me, blaming it on something out of my control is a great excuse. The problem: it is still an excuse and the only person who is really stopping me from accessing my potential is myself.  

Sometimes it helps to pull back the layers and look at things from a distance. Detaching yourself from the immediate experience. So if I am to do that and stop and assess things, I will see that there is a habit loop starting to cultivate itself. I tell myself: “Okay, I am going to get up early tomorrow and start my day like I used to.” But I find myself staying up way passed my intended bedtime binge watching shows about a gun trotting madman with a penchant for killer cats. The result: I go to bed later and can’t get myself up in the morning. Almost always, we do things because there is a reward.

Think about your worst vice: typically you do it because you get something out of it. If you didn’t you probably wouldn’t do it. Take for example alcohol. If you have a couple drinks, you start to feel good. It relaxes you. Have to many, you feel like you were hit by a truck the next day. But often times we forgot about how bad our hangovers are and only remember the good feelings, so we find ourselves doing the same thing only a few days later. My point is that our memory and our minds are programmed to these feedback loops especially if what we get out of it is a good feeling which over time become habits. This is explained originally (and far more clearly) in Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book The Power of Habit.[1]

Picture 1: The Habit Loop as explained in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg picture retrieved from: https://medium.com/@laxmena/the-habit-loop-book-review-the-power-of-habit-303dc690825d on April 26, 2020.

So for me, staying up late with mindless entertainment was becoming a habit. Watching tv or playing video games felt good but then I would have a hard time getting up. This did not feel good. It made me feel unaccomplished and that in turn was failing my goals. This would derail my day and my mood because I felt unsuccessful which would manifest itself in, you guessed, staying up late to ward off those bad feelings. Before all this, I would get up in the morning and go to the gym. The reward was that I felt great after and in turn mentally set me up for a successful day. The problem is that the system of delivering that reward: the gym, is no longer available. So what do I need to do to get back on track and reclaim my routine? Like most things, the answer is deceivingly simple: I need to change right now. I need to stop hiding behind people and events believing they are “obstacles”. I am my only obstacle. I am the one responsible for where I am and the choices I make. So, I need to start making better ones.

The best way to get out of a slump is to acknowledge that you are in one. For me, my slump is not being productive and in not setting up some rigidity in my day. We all need this in our lives, we function best in the presence of a schedule not the absence of one. Therefore, I need to develop and stick to a routine. So starting today I will give myself a weekly schedule. If I slip up, rather than beat myself up, I will do everything to get back on that schedule. For example: if I don’t get up at 4:55, I will get up at the closest interval to that on my schedule. Most importantly, I will set an alarm at the end of the day to go to bed. This will help remind me that I have got to get up early tomorrow. Remembering that the biggest thing in aiding a positive and strong mindset is sleep! If you get a good night sleep, you will simply be more ready for whatever comes your way in the morning.[2]

Picture 2: A rough copy of my proposed routine.

I have included a scanned copy of my schedule above. You will notice the emphasis is on the morning having a strict routine and there being a set time for bed. This leaves plenty of room for figuring out the rest of the day. To me having a regulated morning is necessary for having a productive and positive day. Maybe it is similar to yours? Or perhaps you too could benefit from having a schedule. Feel free to share your thoughts and let me know what you think. I will be posting next weekend with results in how I did with my schedule and areas for improvement. This will help keep me accountable and honest. Human beings are creatures of habit and having a routine can help promote our maximum potential. My goal is to get back to achieving just that! I would be honored if you joined me (or perhaps for me to join you)!

Thank you for reading,


R. Grant


[1] Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Canada: Random House, 2013.

[2] Walker, Matthew, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, New York: Scribner, 2018.

Your Choice/Getting Reps In

February 18, 2020

I started writing these articles or excerpts- whatever you would like to call them, as a way of positively relaxing, reflecting and growing. You see the old method I previously employed, that of getting all pent up during the week and then getting smashed up with my friends, is extremely counter-intuitive to being a successful new parent. Hangovers and screaming children are a fatal cocktail. I also realized that I didn’t want to follow some of the similar missteps of others by self-medicating with alcohol as a method of stress management. The interesting thing is that alcohol increases stress levels rather than inhibits them. Therefore, I needed to find something different and fast. My relationship with my partner and my child depended on it.

Throughout my twenties, I thought it was meaningful to lose yourself in parties and the drink. To forget your values and act like an absolute idiot to attain laughs, attention and even popularity. But that was all incredibly misplaced. While I made lots of great friends throughout my travels, many of whom are still in my life, quite a few of them have subsided and gone elsewhere. The reality is that this was all very much a mask to hide my true self. I am a hurt person. A lot has happened in my life that has negatively impacted me. A lot of it was my own fault. Some of it wasn’t. Regardless, I had an option: to change my values and my lifestyle or slowly destroy my life because of my unhealthy habits. The choice was mine and no one else.

 So, like any human with half a brain and a kernel of dignity, I chose to get better. To spend more time with my family and do more productive things. I chose to change. I had the humility to realize that the way I was living was not positive but rather destructive. I almost lost a great relationship and everything that came with it because I was too stubborn to get some help. Life is not easy. For anyone. And if it is easy, then who can you really relate to (it’s hard not relating to anyone)? We all experience pain and we will all at some point or another, if not already, experience immense loss. Loss and pain is part of existence. Death is what makes living real. Time is the only universal currency in all living things. Money doesn’t mean shit when you die, only what you did with the time that you were given does. So start using your time wisely. Which is precisely what I started doing: using my time wisely.

I started going to bed and getting up earlier. I spent more time with my family. I developed a bond with my baby daughter. I played less video games. I put my phone on silent and didn’t respond to people right away. I avoided group chats like the plague. I stopped caring what most people think (after all, if they didn’t respect my new way of life- why bother having them around?) I limited time spent around negative people and energy vampires. I drank less booze and ate much healthier. I mediated. I took cold showers. I journaled (kind of doing that right now). I drank more water. I went to the gym almost every morning. You get the idea: I changed my habits. I changed my life style.

Change is a choice. A choice you make daily. It is not about being perfect. It is about doing your best. Every day. That is how you fall asleep quickly and soundly every night. Knowing you did your best. So that is what I decided to do: my best. I realized that when I was partying, drinking beers, eating garbage food and feeling terrible for the next two and a half days. I was not doing my best. It was evident. I need not ask anyone for a second opinion- the proof was in how I felt: like shit. Not only did I feel gross in terms of physical body- but I also felt like garbage inside my mind. My mental wellness was getting thrashed around like a headbanger at a Slayer concert and not in a good way. The irony is that I partook in these activities because I wasn’t feeling very good about myself but it was also through these activities that continued to make myself feel worse. The fact is that I simply was not doing a very good job of being a partner, a parent and a professional (my productivity at work was struggling too). I simply had no passion. No drive. I had a house. An education. A family. But something was missing.

A passion.

When I was eleven years old, I wrote a book. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t very good. The plot was the same consistency as a Michael Bay film and featured characters that didn’t really develop. I used my grade seven classmates because I really couldn’t come up with interesting characters and didn’t want to. I was more interested in telling an action packed story where me and my friends took on a demon infested island. I wrote this book in one day. I was so excited. I was having so much fun. I didn’t care about the quality of it. I just loved creating this juvenile adventure that was overflowing with gore yet lacking in philosophical exposition. I wrote it while laying in bed and when I finished, I could hardly sleep. I couldn’t wait to show it to my friends the next morning. When I got to school, I felt like I carried a treasure inside that Garfield notebook. Before I knew it, everyone was reading it. They loved it. It was such a great feeling for I had finally found something I was good at. I was terrible at sports, music or most anything that required a level of skill. But for the first time I was getting honest praise for something I accomplished.

For a long time, I forgot that feeling. Instead, I turned to a plethora of other hobbies. I reserved writing for when I would become ‘inspired’. But that never seemed to happen. I just kept putting it off. Occasionally, I would start a project but then get distracted by a friend, a girl, booze, or all of the above. I went through my undergrad and finished my masters. Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do during this time was write. But really, it probably should have been the first thing. You see, for me, writing is part of my self-care plan. When I actually do it, it really doesn’t require that much energy. Behavioral psychologists call this a flow state, when you do something that seems to escape the parameters of time and you get lost in the act of doing it. Finding something that puts you in this state can help in combating mental health disorders[1]. Writing helped do this for me, so why did I stop.

I probably stopped because I lacked consistency. I lacked having a plan. I lacked holding myself accountable. I lacked courage. I simply wasn’t getting any reps. I kept putting it off, thinking that tomorrow would bring the inspiration I needed. Well, you probably don’t need me to tell you that tomorrow never came. If you want to see change, you need to start right now. Not tomorrow. Not on New Years. Today. This very second. Now. So think of a goal. Maybe you want to get in better shape. Then stop reading this and do as many push-ups as you can do. Or do squats while you read it. Start right now. If you want to drink less booze, go buy a six pack of kombucha instead (it tastes like beer). Whatever it is that you want to change or get better at, you need to get repetitions in (I call them reps). The more daily reps you get in, the higher your chances of success. So make it something you can do relatively easily (ex. Mountaineering is not a good daily goal unless you live in Switzerland or a mountainous region; however, if you want to read more, then have books near you that you can pick up). Also, remember, you are not perfect. If you miss a day, shake it off, start again tomorrow. Do your best.

Remember, in the end, it is what we do with the time that we are given. Make the gift that is this time worth while and do what you want to do. Nobody else is going to do it for you. So go out there and get those reps!

(Semi)Pro-tip: If you want to see lasting change, make it a change that you can accomplish daily. For example: if you want to eat healthier, go to the store and buy some veggies! Then put them in your lunch and eat them. Feel good about eating them. Say: I just ate veggies. Go me! Or whatever mantra is going to make you feel good about your choice and insodoing is going to keep you making positive choices. It all comes down to you making a conscious choice. No one can make it for you. If you want change, you need to be that change.      

-RG


[1] Google it if you don’t believe me.

The Problem With No Excuses

The Problem With Zero Excuses – February 12, 2020

I was thinking the other day about how much my life has changed since having a child. Shockingly, I have realized how much it has changed for the better. Before I had my daughter, I was what you would call a procrastinator. I like how the word ‘pro-’ is in this word. I definitely was good at it. I’m really not sure what ‘-crastinator’ means. It is probably Latin for time waster or time fool or something like that. I’ll look it up later; however, if my definition is correct, then I was a pro time waster. Which is absolutely true. I abused my time. That’s because I had so much of it. Once I finished work, I was free for the day, free for the week. I could meet with friends (which I did) and just completely waste weekends having fun and not being very productive. Now, I’m not saying I regret doing this, in fact quite the contrary, I am glad I did. I think I was able to get a lot of it out of my system and with the proper amount of reflection realize that it wasn’t the best usage of my time. And I know this isn’t a shocker but: time is a non-renewable resource. When our time is up. That’s it. It is up. You can’t put more coins into the arcade machine of existence. Therefore, you need to use your time wisely and constructively.

Which brings me to my point, having no excuses is sometimes the worst excuse. I view excuses as another term for resistance. Resistance from doing whatever it is that you want to be doing. Maybe it is fitness, maybe it is painting a picture, maybe it is writing (like me!). Whatever it is, it is unique to you. Again, I can’t tell you what your niche is but I can tell you that when you are doing it you are in what yogis and mind magicians call ‘the flow state’. Which is a pretty awesome thing. Essentially it is when you are doing something that feels effortless, requires little energy, you could do for sustained periods of time and that during and after: you feel much more positive. Excuses are what distract us, or resist us, from doing this very important dimension of self-care. This is because we all have something unique that we can do that gets us in this flow state where we are effectively creating energy rather than consuming energy. Again, I am no scientist, I simply speak from experience here: you need to start doing what you want to do. But what is an excuse? I’ll be honest, there are some really lame ones out there: “I got to party”, “I got HAMMERED last night”, “I don’t know where to look on Google”, “I made plans with a friend,” all of which are likely said while you blankly stare at a cell phone screen. Blah blah blah I honestly don’t care. This is rather pathetic. Now, I’m not saying you are pathetic but these excuses certainly are. These are not excuses. These are you wasting one of your most precious gifts: time.

A real excuse, is something like a commitment or some form of obstacle that you have no control over that you must engage with. The example previously stated were not mandatory engagements. You taking eighteen shots of some horrid liquor was of your own volition. If you are trying to tell me that it’s because your ‘friends’ forced you to do it because they were pointing some imaginary pressure pistol at your head, then the answer is simple: find new friends. A real excuse is something like you not wanting to miss your daughters first swimming lesson, you wanting to do something special with a parent, you making time to write a report for work that might get you further in your company. I have no idea what it might be but a real excuse is something you actually have to do. Being a parent is a good excuse for not doing what you want or need to be doing. However, it is still an excuse and as I mentioned earlier, excuses are what get in the way of us doing what we need to. Am I saying be a dead beat parent and run out of your kids life? Absolutely not. Then you really would be pathetic. No, I am not saying don’t do these things, afterall, they are obligations. You have to do them. Your life will be better managed if you do. What I am saying is use these excuses as fuel. Instead of saying that you can’t work on your next passion project because it’s your daughter’s first birthday, change your mindset: It’s my daughter’s first birthday so I need to work on this passion project. And how you do that is by making time. My suggestion is finding time in the day to do what it is that you want. Instead of throwing away time looking at how happy the robots of social media are, do what you need to do so you have more time to put away and do the things that put you in that flow state. Turn your excuses into your reason or influence to do what you want to do.

In the end, it is all up to you. You are responsible for how your story turns out. And how it turns out is based on your decisions not the decisions of others. That guy who forced you to get hammered? He doesn’t owe you anything. That device that steals all your time? It’s not apologizing any time soon. What does matter: your family, your real friends who support and encourage you, yourself. That is what matters. And guess what? That’s on you to put in the time and effort into. It’s your life, not theirs. So make it count. Think how much more present you will be with the ones that matter if you do what you need to do for yourself. And what you need to do for yourself is work on the things that make you feel happier, fuller, refreshed, invigorated. Make time to do your time. Turn your excuses into your reasons to do something instead of to not do something.