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zen habits: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

December's Habit: Positive Parenting

Every day this month, all month long, I will be trying to become a better parent. My habit for the month will be to become a more positive parent, using "positive parenting" techniques rather than negative, destructive ones that have been my habit in the past.

I was raised to believe that yelling and spanking are the ways to discipline a child. That's the culture I come from, here on Guam, although in truth my mom was not much of a yeller or a spanker. She was a very positive parent, and in fact she's my role model this month.

As a father of six children, I have been very much into discipline, and I expect my kids to do what I say. I do yell, when I get angry, and I spank on occasion, although I never feel good about that. It has been my intention for quite some time to change these habits, as I do not think they are the best way to show my children I love them, or to develop them as human beings.

My goal for this month is to have zero (0) yellings or spankings each day in December, to praise or talk gently to each child at least once each day, and to show my love and affection for each child at least once per day. Regardless of their behavior.

If I fail, I won't beat myself up about it, but I will analyze what went wrong, and what obstacles stand in my way of success, and find ways around those obstacles and strategies to succeed.

Each day I will try to log my success/failure in each of the above measurements of my goal, and at the end of each week I will evaluate my progress so far.

Using my experience from quitting smoking and running and waking early, I will use the following strategies:

1 Commitment: Posting this to my blog is putting this commitment in writing. I will also share this month's habit with family members, and with my children, making them a promise to achieve this goal this month.

2 Motivation: My motivation is simple -- my children, and their self-esteem, and their happiness. I will put pictures of them up in front of me to remind me of my motivation. Also, as a reward for a week of success, we will go out for a treat each weekend.

3 No Slipups: While I cannot be perfect, I will do my best not to have any slipups, preventing myself from receeding back into my old habits. I will focus on each interaction with my children, trying to be a more positive, loving father.

4 Support: I will look for support from my wife, my children and my mom.

5 Delay: If I feel myself getting angry, I will STOP, take a deep breath, count to 10, and go somewhere else where I can cool down and then speak to them calmly, and hopefully positively.

6 Replace Negative Habits with Positive Habits: I may not know that much about positive parenting, but I will read up on it. I have a book on it, and I will research some websites and post some of my favorite findings and tips. I will list the positive habits, as I learn about them, and try to implement them as part of my daily goal of being positive and loving towards each child.

7 THINK POSITIVE: I can do this, and I can be positive!

My 12 Habits

Last month, I started an ongoing thing that I call my 12 Habits: it's a way for me to focus on one habit at a time, rather than a bunch of them. It's also a way for me to focus on a habit for an entire month, rather than doing one for a week or two, and then moving on to my next interest.

So, if you look in the sidebar, you'll see the 12 habits I plan to tackle over the next year or so. They'll change, as I go along ... what I've put up there is a rough list, and I'm still thinking on it.

My first habit, in November, was writing daily. I cannot claim success with that habit, and I will be continuing to work on it in the coming months. I wrote daily for the first week, but was spotty in weeks 2 and 3, and then wrote phenomenally in the last week. I hope to be more consistent with this from now on, and more consistent with my other habits.

I will be doing a series on the 12 Habits ... one post for each of the habits over the next week or so, talking about what I want to achieve, how I will measure each goal, what strategies I'll use, maybe some links. Another note: the 12 Habits won't be limited to 12 ... after I do the 12th one, I'll move on to the next. I just call it that because I'll be working on 12 habits a year, one per month.

Fifty. Thousand. WORDS!!!!!! I did it!!!!!

I can't believe I did it. As I posted yesterday, I entered NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, and fell way behind. I was 19,000 words behind with three days left, 13,000 words behind with two days left, and at 3:30 a.m. this morning I woke up with 6,000 words to write before midnight. Well, I knew I could do it, so of course I procrastinated.

But about an hour ago, I was within sight of the finish line, and I sprinted triumphantly to the end! I made it! I went to the NaNo site, uploaded my novel, and was congratulated on winning! I got a cool winners certificate to download and print out, and a nice winner's icon to display on this site, which I will proudly leave in the left sidebar for as long as people will stand it.

Really, my novel isn't done. I reached the 50K word goal, which is exhilarating, but I probably have another 20K to go to the end. And then, I take this crappy first draft, which is what it really is, and I have to revise. And revise. Until I like it. And then I'll decide what to do with it -- I hope it'll be good enough to send to a publisher, but I can't tell yet. Ask me in a few months.

I hope to continue the habit of writing every morning, at least 500-1000 words a day, for the rest of my life. I will wake up tomorrow morning and write. I won't write on Sunday, because that's my first marathon!

Which brings me to the other point of this post: in the span of a few days, I will accomplish two of my life's major goals: to run a marathon, and to write a novel. I will probably have done both very crappily, but that's not the point, is it? I am awed by my accomplishments this week.

Now to carry it on to 2007.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Only a day left for NaNo!

This is my first year doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a mad dash to writing a novel of at least 50,000 words. I started the month out great, doing about 2,000 words a day in the first week. Then, typically, I dragged in the second week, and barely wrote anything the third week, and then made sporadic attempts to catch up. Yesterday I wrote more than 5,000 words, which isn't bad, but today I need to write somewhere around 6,000 words, and tomorrow 7,000 words.

I only have a few hours left tonight before I get too sleepy to write, but I'm going to go on super mode and try to actually reach 7,000 words for the day. That'll leave 6,000 for me to write tomorrow. Yikes.

I'll check back tomorrow, after the madness is over, to report on whether I made it or not. And to reflect on the madness, and what I learned, and where I go from here.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

3 Steps to a Permanently Clear Desk

Once upon a time, my desk was cluttered with all the things I was currently working on -- not to mention dozens of things I wasn't working on: notes, post-its, phone numbers, papers to be filed, stacks of stuff to work on later. I was too busy to organize it, and if I ever did get it cleared, it would pile up soon after.

It's a different story today. These days, my desk is always clear, except for the one thing I'm working on, and perhaps a notebook and pen for jotting down notes, ideas or to-dos as they come up. It's a liberating feeling ... it calms me ... it reduces stress and chaos ... it definitely makes things easier to find ... and it makes me more efficient and productive.

How did I make the transformation? Well, it wasn't an easy journey, and I've improved over the years, but the basic steps are outlined below. The important thing to remember is that you must have a system in place, and you must teach yourself to follow the system. Otherwise, you just clean your desk, and it gets messy again.

Much of my current system (as opposed to stuff I've been trying along the way) is taken almost completely from "Getting Things Done," by David Allen (via Lifehacker & 43 Folders). A must read if you haven't yet.

Here's the system:

1. First, take everything on your desk and in your drawers, and put them in one big pile. Put it in your "in basket" (if it doesn't fit, pile it next to your desk or something). From now on, everything that comes in must go in your in basket, and you process everything as below.

2. Process this pile from the top down. Never re-sort, never skip a single piece of paper, never put a piece of paper back on the pile. Do what needs to be done with that paper, and then move on to the next in the pile. The options: trash it, delegate it, file it, do it, or put it on a list to do later. In that order of preference. Do it if it takes 2 minutes or less to complete. If it takes more, and you can't trash, delegate or file it, then put it on a list of to-dos (more on your to-do list in another post).

3. Repeat at least once daily to keep desk clear. The end of the day is best, but I tend to process and tidy up as I go through the day. Once you've processed your pile, your desk is clear. You've trashed or filed or somehow put everything where it belongs (not on top of your desk or stashed in a drawer). Keep it that way. You must follow the system above: put everything in your inbox, then take action on each piece of paper in the inbox with one of the steps listed. If an item is on your to-do list, you can keep the paper associated with it in an "Action" folder. But you must regularly (daily or weekly) go through this folder to ensure that everything is purged.

It's that simple. Have a phone number on a post-it? Don't leave it on top of your desk. File it in your rolodex or contacts program. Have something you need to work on later? Don't keep the papers on top of your desk. Put it on your to-do list, and file the papers in your Action folder. File or trash or delegate everything else.

Leaving stuff on top of your desk is procrastination (and as a procrastinator, I should know). If you put it off until later, things will be sure to pile up on your desk. Deal with them immediately, make a decision, take action.

What I've described is a good habit to learn, but it takes time to learn it. You'll slip. Just remind yourself, and then do it. Soon it'll be a habit you have a hard time breaking. And trust me, once you're used to your desk being clear, you won't want to break this habit.

Some links:

See also:

Friday, November 24, 2006

Recipe for a Flat Stomach

For a long time, I wanted to lose weight. I know now that that's a mistake. Weight is only one factor -- lean muscle mass, body fat percentage, hip to waist ratio, etc. are all just as important.

After that, I wanted to get six-pack abs. That's also a dumb goal. First of all, most people are not genetically programmed to have those kinds of abs. Second, even the supermodels and male models that have six-packs don't have them all the time. Usually they have a little fat, and then burn it off in the weeks before a photo shoot.

So my goal now is to have a flat stomach. It really should be to get down to an acceptable body fat percentage, but I dont' have an easy way of measuring that. A flat stomach can be measured in the mirror or by my wife. I don't need to have defined abs, but just lose some of my stomach fat and get it to be flatter. To me, that will look good, feel good, and be healthier.

I've done my research, and by learning what's working so far for me, here's the three steps to a flat stomach:

1. Cardio, cardio, cardio. Doing all the abs exercises in the world will do nothing if you have a layer of fat covering it. Doing strength training, or lifting weights, would help, but not as much as aerobic exercise. So my plan is to continue my running, and add in swimming and biking. I plan to do at least 30 minutes of cardio 6 days a week. On some days I'll do more -- 45 minutes, an hour, two hours, even more on long days. I'll start out short for the bike and swim, like I did with running, until I build up my endurance. A quick note: interval training is also great, and I will add that in after my endurance is better. If you want to add some ab exercises in after the cardio, that's great, but be sure to work your whole torso, not just the upper abs -- that includes the lower abs, lower back and the muscles that wrap around your sides.

2. Less Fat and Sugar. It's that simple. The American diet is typically filled with fat and sugar, and you'll never get a flat stomach on that recipe. Cut out meat, if you can, and even better, cut out dairy and eggs. But if you can't, at least eat lean meats (low-fat turkey, skinless chicken breast, lean beef, fish), and stay away from fried food and too many sugary desserts. That doesn't mean you have to starve yourself -- if you're eating healthy, you can actually eat a lot -- or deprive yourself too much, but only eat the bad stuff in moderation. Vegan diet is the best, especially if it's balanced, rich in vegetable protein and calcium and minerals, full of fresh fruits and veggies, and high in fiber.

3. Give it Time. If you want to have a flat stomach in 3 weeks, or two months, forget it. Losing fat takes time, and it's unhealthy to lose too much weight too fast. Aim for 1-2 lbs. a week. Gradual weight loss is healthier, and more likely to be sustained over time. Go for a lifestyle change, something you can live with for the rest of your life, or you will just yo-yo. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Some links for flat stomach reading:

Traineo: Achieving a Flat Stomach

Go Ask Alice!: I want a flat stomach!

Four secrets to a flat stomach

Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Tips for Quitting Smoking

I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary of quitting smoking. Well, of finally quitting ... like most smokers, I had tried to quit many times and failed. But this quit stuck, and I'd like to share the top 10 things that made this quit successful when the others failed.

1. Commit Thyself Fully. In the quits that failed, I was only half into it. I told myself I wanted to quit, but I always felt in the back of my mind that I'd fail. I didn't write anything down, I didn't tell everybody (maybe my wife, but just her). This time, I wrote it down. I wrote down a plan. I blogged about it. I made a vow to my daughter. I told family and friends I was quitting. I went online and joined a quit forum. I had rewards. Many of these will be in the following tips, but the point is that I fully committed, and there was no turning back. I didn't make it easy for myself to fail.

2. Make a Plan. You can't just up and say, "I'm gonna quit today." You have to prepare yourself. Plan it out. Have a system of rewards, a support system, a person to call if you're in trouble. Write down what you'll do when you get an urge. Print it out. Post it up on your wall, at home and at work. If you wait until you get the urge to figure out what you're going to do, you've already lost. You have to be ready when those urges come.

3. Know Your Motivation. When the urge comes, your mind will rationalize. "What's the harm?" And you'll forget why you're doing this. Know why you're doing this BEFORE that urge comes. Is it for your kids? For your wife? For you health? So you can run? Because the girl you like doesn't like smokers? Have a very good reason or reasons for quitting. List them out. Print them out. Put it on a wall. And remind yourself of those reasons every day, every urge.

4. Not One Puff, Ever (N.O.P.E.). The mind is a tricky thing. It will tell you that one cigarette won't hurt. And it's hard to argue with that logic, especially when you're in the middle of an urge. And those urges are super hard to argue with. Don't give in. Tell yourself, before the urges come, that you will not smoke a single puff, ever again. Because the truth is, that one puff WILL hurt. One puff leads to a second, and a third, and soon you're not quitting, you're smoking. Don't fool yourself. A single puff will almost always lead to a recession. DO NOT TAKE A SINGLE PUFF!

5. Join a Forum. One of the things that helped the most in this quit was an online forum for quitters (quitsmoking.about.com) ... you don't feel so alone when you're miserable. Misery loves company, after all. Go online, introduce yourself, get to know the others who are going through the exact same thing, post about your crappy experience, and read about others who are even worse than you. Best rule: Post Before You Smoke. If you set this rule and stick to it, you will make it through your urge. Others will talk you through it. And they'll celebrate with you when you make it through your first day, day 2, 3, and 4, week 1 and beyond. It's great fun.

6. Reward Yourself. Set up a plan for your rewards. Definitely reward yourself after the first day, and the second, and the third. You can do the fourth if you want, but definitely after Week 1 and Week2. And month 1, and month 2. And 6 months and a year. Make them good rewards, that you'll look forward to: CDs, books, DVDs, T-shirts, shoes, a massage, a bike, a dinner out at your favorite restaurant, a hotel stay ... whatever you can afford. Even better: take whatever you would have spent on smoking each day, and put it in a jar. This is your Rewards Jar. Go crazy! Celebrate your every success! You deserve it.

7. Delay. If you have an urge, wait. Do the following things: take 10 deep breaths. Drink water. Eat a snack (at first it was candy and gum, then I switched to healthier stuff like carrots and frozen grapes and pretzels). Call your support person. Post on your smoking cessation forum. Exercise. DO WHATEVER IT TAKES, BUT DELAY, DELAY, DELAY. You will make it through it, and the urge will go away. When it does, celebrate! Take it one urge at a time, and you can do it.

8. Replace Negative Habits with Positive Ones. What do you do when you're stressed? If you currently react to stress with a cigarette, you'll need to find something else to do. Deep breathing, self massage of my neck and shoulders, and exercise have worked wonders for me. Other habits, such as what you do first thing in the morning, or what you do in the car, or wherever you usually smoke, should be replaced with better, more positive ones. Running has been my best positive habit, altho I have a few others that replaced smoking.

9. Make it Through Hell Week, then Heck Week, and You're Golden. The hardest part of quitting is the first two days. If you can get past that, you've passed the nicotine withdrawal stage, and the rest is mostly mental. But all of the first week is hell. Which is why it's called Hell Week. After that, it begins to get easier. Second week is Heck Week, and is still difficult, but not nearly as hellish as the first. After that, it was smooth sailing for me. I just had to deal with an occasional strong urge, but the rest of the urges were light, and I felt confident I could make it through anything.

10. If You Fall, Get Up. And Learn From Your Mistakes. Yes, we all fail. That does not mean we are failures, or that we can never succeed. If you fall, it's not the end of the world. Get up, brush yourself off, and try again. I failed numerous times before succeeding. But you know what? Each of those failures taught me something. Well, sometimes I repeated the same mistakes several times, but eventually I learned. Figure out what your obstacles to success are, and plan to overcome them in your next quit. And don't wait a few months until your next quit. Give yourself a few days to plan and prepare, commit fully to it, and go for it!

BONUS TIP #11: THINK POSITIVE. This is the most important tip of all. I saved it for last. If you have a positive, can-do attitude, as corny as it may sound, you will succeed. Trust me. It works. Tell yourself that you can do it, and you will. Tell yourself that you can't do it, and you definitely won't. When things get rough, think positive! You CAN make it through the urge. You CAN make it through Hell Week. And you can. I did. So have millions of others. We are no better than you. (In my case, worse.)

See also:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Great positive parenting tools

One of my goals is positive parenting -- any parent knows how difficult it is to raise a child without losing your temper, without yelling or getting upset at your child. And yet, I know that this is not the most effective, constructive way to help my children.

I'll post more about this goal later, but today I happened across some great stuff and a website that I wanted to share.

Magnetic Responsibility Chart

Rewards for Kids!: Ready-To-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting

Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): F.A.M.I.L.Y. Rules

Parenting that Works: Building Skills that Last a Lifetime

Smart Parenting: How To Raise Happy, Can-Do Kids

Parent Hacks website

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Zen Habits?

First, I love Zen. I named one of my dogs Zen. I've read it, tried it, love its simple philosophy, love the meditation and love the aesthetics.

But I chose Zen Habits as the title of my blog because it describes the philosophy of the blog in a concise way.

This blog is really about setting and achieving goals, and the numerous goals that I want to achieve. But I believe that goals -- especially ones that are worth reaching -- are ultimately achieved through the building of good habits. Do I want to complete a marathon? Then I must cultivate the habit of running 4-5 times a week. I must cultivate the habit of positive thinking. It also helps to become an early riser, a healthy eater, and a non-smoker, as I've done.

These habits are not born overnight. You can't tell yourself, "Hey, self, I am going to become an early riser, starting tomorrow morning!" Well, you can tell yourself that, but if you think that it's going to happen so quickly, you are clearly delusional.

No, these habits must be cultivated through daily practice. It is my belief that you must practice a habit, as focused as possible, every day for a month. When I only do it for a week, it doesn't take hold. But when I've done it for a month or longer, it does. And that doesn't mean that I'm successful each and every day ... but the important thing is that I try, and when I fail, I learn from those mistakes.

In addition to the habits, I hope to post Zen-related stuff now and then, just to give me a peaceful feeling and to justify the use of the cool blog name.

Zen Habits is born

I'm excited. OK, and nervous too.

With this blog, but a drop in the ocean of blogs, I will chart my progress with my life goals. I will post what I learned, from research and from experience. I will share the secrets of success to building good habits that lead to accomplishing any goal to which you set your mind.

My credentials? Well, here are a few:

* In a week and a half, I will be running my first marathon, just a year after I first started running (I couldn't run a mile a year ago).
* I just celebrated my one-year anniversary of quitting smoking. This was my first life change in the last year, and the changes kept on coming all year.
* I've also successfully become a vegan.
* I'm now an early riser (between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. daily).
* I've lost more than 20 pounds, and counting.
* I've become very organized (I'm a disciple of GTD, a clean desk and an empty inbox).
* I've simplified many parts of my life.
* I am writing my first novel.
* I am eliminating my debt (a work in progress).
* I'm halfway to my goal of saving for a $1,000 emergency fund.

But I'm not an expert yet. I am learning as I'm going, and in addition to continuing my success with the above goals, I am planning on tackling the following:

* Completing my first triathlon by summer (and learning to cycle and swim in the process).
* Commuting to work by bike.
* Achieving a flat stomach.
* Becoming a more positive parent.
* Practicing patience.
* Meditating.
* Getting into law school (applying in 2007, to start law school in 2008).
* Further simplification of my life.

I'm also a writer, with two jobs, six children, a beautiful wife, and a very busy life. My kids have soccer, honor choir, academic challenge bowl, doctors appointments, parent-teacher meetings, school performances, PTO meetings, other classes (such as aikido or dance), and more, so I will be posting about how to deal with such a busy life and achieving your goals at the same time.