Firstly, let me apologise for the edition number snafu last time out. I had spent all day working on the webmention endpoint for the blog and almost forgot to send it. In my rush I called it letter 16 when it should have been 17.
Hardly the end of the world, I suppose, but I like to get these things right.
So, how is your 2021 going so far? The past few weeks have been quite a revelation for me following on from the fresh starts of last time. Getting in the right mindset to begin one habit (reading before bed) has triggered some kind of psychological shift leading to a second and third habit.
I have been painfully aware (literally) that I haven't been moving as much as I should during lockdown. I'm not as young as I used to be (a stupid phrase when you think about, but it will serve) and things ache. A lot. When commuting to the office I would be walking around a mile to the railway station and back, more as I traversed the London Underground and then movement around the office. For nearly a year I have had none of that and not replaced it with anything.
As a family we have vowed to get more active despite the "stay at home" order by taking laps around the garden — walking or jogging, each at their own pace. I am personally using work as a cue, just like I would if I was commuting. Now, when I stop for lunch I do a number of laps (a combination of walking and running) before coming back in to eat. When I finish work I will also be doing my "walk home" so as to get some extra exercise in for the day.
My wife found an interesting website: The Conqueror Virtual Fitness Challenges which I mentioned on the blog this week — we have all signed up for the "English Channel" challenge as additional motivation. Each time you do some exercise you add it to the challenge in order to cover the required distance. It's a pretty cool concept.
As I have also discussed over the past week I have finally been getting down to some serious writing for "It's Only Words..." — my on/off/on again writing project (I'm loathe to call it a book.) Even if I'm only adding a couple of hundred words a day it's more than I was doing before and, at this stage, it's more about building the daily habit. Using Austin Kleon's Practice and suck less challenge sheet is the perfect way to give me the nudge I need. The other two habits are linked to specific cues whereas this is a bit more flexible. I have generally been writing each day before anyone else in the house gets up but that is not always at the same time so the sheet acts as a nice visual reminder.
It also means that I'm actually a step closer to evolving these letters in the way I always intended. I want to take sections of the project and put them here to give them an initial airing in very rough draft form. I feel doing so is an additional motivator. Just as giving the project a name made it seem more real so deliberately sharing parts of it will re-emphasise this even though everything I'm doing is already publicly available, albeit not overly visible, on the Digital Garden. It is largely built upon extracts from the Write365 project, where I have pulled out a number of common themes which developed over that year, supplemented with material from various blog posts and additional thoughts. Lessons learnt from a year of writing... and beyond.
The past week has seen me tidy up some things for the intro & preface before getting stuck in to the first and second chapters: What is writing? and Like any other habit.
With all this talk of habits it is no surprise that I have now finished James Clear's Atomic Habits — I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to instigate some form of change in their lives. What really struck me about this, as I mentioned last time, was the simplicity of it. While Clear references scientific studies he doesn't load the book with all the language you would normally associate with them.
The joy of Atomic Habits is that it hooks into things you already know, deep down — it reaffirms them and, in doing so makes you sit up and take notice. It helps you achieve that shift in mindset I mentioned above. You may have an idea rolling around in your head but the self-doubt can tell you it's silly, hearing (reading) the same thing from some else, someone external to the situation who doesn't know you from Adam, changes your perspective, makes you realise that you were right and should have a bit more belief in yourself.
What's not to love about that?
This isn't your typical new-age self-help book, it is a genuine model for building good habits whilst deterring bad ones.
To keep the reading habit going my next port of call is Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs:
...Alan Jacobs shows us that engaging with the strange and wonderful writings of the past might help us live less anxiously in the present–and increase what Thomas Pynchon once called our “personal density.”
I've only just started so will reserve any comment or judgement for future letters. Just suffice it to say that the difference in writing styles between Clear and Jacobs is causing a bit of a jolt. I'll get used to it.
I wasn't previously in the right frame of mind to dig into his book How to Think a while back but will return to it in the coming months now that I've got my reading groove back on and work through my current stack.
And that's it...
Next time I hope to mix things up a little bit as I go into a bit more detail about the writing project. I might also start throwing in a few links to items that I have read, think were worthy but may not have mentioned on the blog. Still, I've always been a terrible curator so this may or may not happen.
Take care and stay safe,