Positive Changes *or* Sophie Gets Deep

10 10 2010

Current Habit: Waking Up Early, Day 7

Sophie: So this whole habit-creating idea is having a ton of positive effects on my life and relationship that I did not expect, and it’s kind of awesome.  Apparently, if you take a little time to figure out what you want out of life, then map out a game plan to accomplish that, it makes you happier!  I know, right?  It’s like some crazy novel idea…or not.  But I, and apparently a ton of other people, have forgotten this simple concept.  I think this happens easily with the instant-gratification mindset of a lot of Americans today…along with busier lifestyles, demanding jobs, families, etc.  Or maybe people just aren’t teaching their kids the value of a little focus and determination anymore.  But to be honest, it didn’t take a whole lot of effort to make some changes.  It was thinking about making the changes that was so overwhelming.  Really, I just sat down one day and thought “Who do I wish I could be?” wrote it down, wrote down some things I needed to do to become that ideal person, and jumped right in!

Focusing on this blog is the first concerted effort I have made to really improve my life since graduating college 5 years ago.  My career hasn’t really gone anywhere, I haven’t returned to grad school, and I’ve been with the same boyfriend in a static relationship the whole time.  Quite frankly, I’ve been pretty unhappy and lost without school in my life – some sort of goal to always be working towards.  I’ve been aware of this void, but haven’t been able to figure out how to repair it.  When I set out to start this year long quest and associated blog, I didn’t think it was going to be the solution; it was just something to do.  Now that I’m 3.5 weeks in, I think this is the best thing that could have happened to me.  Well, it didn’t really happen TO me, I just took the initiative to start something.  Nevertheless, it’s had some fantastic effects, and I thought I would share.

First, and I may be completely off base here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten smarter since we started this… maybe not Stephen Hawking smart, but I’m definitely a little more articulate, slightly more quick-witted, have a better memory, and am able to focus more easily.  This might be a result of the specific habits I chose (so far: reading, and waking up early), or it could just be a benefit of being happier in general.  Taking time out of every day to focus on myself, being able to tell Boyfriend that his ‘needs’ have to wait until I’m done with mine, and having a brighter, constantly improving future to look forward to is a natural mood booster, and it’s reinforced every day.  Being in a better mood just has a domino effect on every other aspect of life – I’m more fun to be around, nicer to Boyfriend, motivated to do things (like clean the apartment – which has bonus benefits),  and I’m a hell of a lot more social than I was before.

On top of all that, there are aspects of my relationship that have improved drastically (*wink*wink*….just kidding…kind of).  For example, Boyfriend said to me the other day that he really respects and admires my motivation to improve myself, and it makes him want to strive to be a better person too.  This is INCREDIBLE coming from him, as I’ve never known him to think about self-improvement, or even the future beyond the upcoming weekend for that matter.  This, in turn, has given us more topics of conversation – a huge plus, because after 4.5 years with someone, you pretty much run out of stuff to talk about.  Also, as I mentioned before, he wakes up at the ass crack of dawn.  He’s done this since he was a kid and can’t sleep in even when he tries.  This results in about a 4 hour gap between when he gets up and when I get up, which in turn results in him getting bored and resorting to “natural remedies” to entertain himself, which pisses me off, and gets the whole day off to a bad start.  It’s an endless cycle, that was only broken when I started waking up at 6.  Now, instead of what has been happening, we have the early morning time to cuddle, drink coffee, talk (with all our new conversation material!) and just spend some quality time together that we have never had before.  I never would have imagined that all the time we spent talking about what we can do to fix our relationship could have been spared if I had just made myself a priority for a minute.  I highly recommend trying it

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Early-Rising *or* If You Try to Talk to Me This Morning I Might Slap You in the Face

5 10 2010

Sophie: So, as indicated by the new picture in our header, we have officially started a new habit today – waking up early: 6:00 a.m. during the week and 7:00 a.m. on weekends for 3 WHOLE WEEKS.  The characteristic I was thinking of when we came up with this portion of the list is “Early-Riser”, who (to me) is someone who starts their day with a bang, and accomplishes more before 9:00 a.m. than I normally do in an entire day.  Boyfriend is one of those people.  He is usually getting home from playing 9-18 holes of golf by the time I wake up in the morning.  I am not one of those people.  The characteristic I embody when waking up before 9:00 resembles more of an ogre/zombie hybrid than the productive go-getter of my imagination.  I sleep harder than anyone I have ever met, and absolutely love every bit of the sleeping process….except waking up.  I’m hoping to change that.

So last night Deryn and I were discussing our game plan for successfully waking up this morning, because we’ve tried this before and failed miserably.  Ultimately, we decided that each of us gets a squirt bottle, and if one person wakes up and the other doesn’t, she gets to go squirt the sleeper in the face with cold water to wake her up.  We both have a good sense of humor about these things, so I figured if/when it does happen, it will be pretty funny.  This really ended up working in my favor when 6:00 rolled around and I heard Deryn’s door open and close – I knew she had to be headed my way and hopped out of bed faster than ever.  6:00 on the dot, 12 minutes of snoozing, not a minute wasted, we were both up.  When I finally got through my morning routine and went to the living room, I saw what must have been the most miserable Deryn-face I’ve ever seen.  “You did this,” she sounded like she might actually hurt me.  I’m sorry, but I was laughing inside, probably because I was miserable myself.  I think Deryn may not care so much about being an early riser, but I appreciate having a buddy to suffer with.  I admit, I may have been more optimistic this morning because I don’t have to go into an office like Deryn does, and I do have the option of an afternoon nap.  But on the other hand, she normally wakes up at 7 every weekday for work anyways, while my body is accustomed to waking up no earlier than 9, ever, except on the rare morning-volunteering day.  Bottom line, it sucked for both of us.

The unfortunate thing about the first night/morning trying to wake up early is that my body did not want to go to bed early last night.  I had an awful night’s sleep, and was almost relieved when morning came.  Despite this, I was surprisingly energetic shortly after waking up – not to be confused with happy, but I was no where near as exhausted as I had anticipated.  It was still dark outside, and we ended up just watching TV while I cooked breakfast, so it really just seemed like a regular weeknight…only at the ass crack of dawn.  Anyways, I cooked breakfast, watched about 2 hours of TV (Deryn left for work after the first hour) made my bed, washed the dishes, cleaned up a little, got dressed and went to ‘work’ early for the first time ever.  An HOUR early.  Boyfriend didn’t seem to notice (I work for him), but this is kind of a big deal in my world.  I love sleep; I have been known to sacrifice a lot of things in the morning in order to gain another 5 minutes in bed – I’ve skipped breakfast, fought with Rufus (my dog),  traded a shower for a “white-trash” bath (which is really just a wet washcloth), canceled plans, worn hats to cover dirty hair, I’m perpetually late, and I regularly hold my pee longer than I’m sure is medically recommended.  So I was proud of this morning’s feat and running on my high of success for about 3 – 4 hours before my body said “Wait a minute, what the f*** did you to me?”

At this point, Boyfriend really started getting on my nerves.  All of a sudden the combination of a bad night’s sleep+Sophie’s excessive sleep needs+Sophie waking up at an ungodly hour morphed into someone you do not want to meet.  To save myself (and him) from an undeserved (ok, maybe a little deserved) blow-up, I just decided to get through my day in silence, and get home as soon as possible.  So I’ve bitterly finished the day, and can’t way to go to sleep by 9:00 tonight.  Hopefully, I’ll get a good full night’s sleep and will be able to function semi-appropriately tomorrow…provided I don’t wake up to a water squirt to the face…





Positive Decisions *or* The Pile of Books I was Destined to Find

3 10 2010

Current Habit: Reading, Day 21/9

Deryn: Thursday after work my mood was, in a word, crabby.   True or not, I felt like the only places I went were home and work.  Leave home, go to work, go home, go back to work, go back home… The routine was getting to me.  When Sophie came home, I suggested maybe going to the bar that is two blocks from home where a beer costs $1.75.  Sophie shut that idea down for its obvious lack of nutrition.  I then suggested we go to Half Price Books, or as some people who live in this apartment call it, Heaven.   I had a list of books that I was excited to read and had conveniently just gotten paid.  Off we went!

Sophie has mentioned previously that she has a book addiction.  She buys 5-10 at a time on most trips to Half Price Books.  I’m more of a 1-2 book at a time kind of gal.  Too many books purchased at the same time means that I have to spend a good 20 minutes making a pro and con list for what order I will be reading each of the new books.  This particular trip didn’t start out well for me.  None of the books on my list were on the shelves and nothing else was really grabbing me.  Sophie, however, had 4 books in her arms within 15 minutes of getting there.  I was bummed.  Happy for her, but bummed for me.  It is rare that I actually have any room in my budget for the luxury of buying myself a book (even at half price).  The idea that I was in the store with money in my account and no books was maddening.  I scoured the shelves and picked up books that I really felt no interest in.  Then I’d  put them back, all the while feeling a little guilty for having lead them on in the first place.  I knew that book and I would never be going home together.  This just made my mood even worse.  I’m not typically a grumpy, negative or angry person, but I was all of those things in that moment.

And then it happened.  Sophie was ready to check out so we had come back to the front of the store.  I had one book.  It looked promising, but I wasn’t super excited about it.  With a sigh, I wandered over to a cart with a few piles of books.  There was a woman already going through them who looked uncannily like my mom.  In the pile closest to me were a few books I recognized: Love in the Time of Cholera (one of my favorites), The Great Gatsby (a favorite of mine), Pride and Prejudice (a book I try to read once a year because I love it so much), A Confederacy of Dunces (yes, another favorite).  If I were a cartoon character, a light bulb would have appeared above my head with a little chiming sound.  I would pick a book from this pile.  I started to pick the books up one by one until my arms were loaded down.  I started to add books to Sophie’s already precarious pile of books.  I could barely contain my excitement.   There were so many books in that pile that I had either heard of and been interested in or had thought about getting before but had forgotten about.  It was all just so thrilling!  We replaced the books to the pile after a very stressed, but polite, employee informed us that he had organized the books in to piles already and was worried about them getting messed up.  I cheerfully replied that we had kept the books true to their piles and gleefully skipped to an empty aisle to make my final decisions.

The moral of the story is that  I could have gone to the bar, drank some beer, ate some fattening food and gone home.  Instead, reading every day meant that I needed some new books, sending me to Half Price Books which then completely turned my mood around for the rest of the night.  Success!

These are the books that I adopted that fateful evening:

There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble by Laurie Notaro

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

Sunday Jews by Hortense Calisher





Book Review: Brain Rules

29 09 2010

Sophie:

So while establishing our first habit (reading every day) it has become very apparent that we’re going to be getting through quite a few books!  We’re both already half-way through our third.  So, as long as we’re reading them, we may as well let you know how they are.

Brain Rules by John Medina.

Brain Rules is an in depth look at the basic rules of optimal brain function.  It was written by a molecular biologist who describes one Brain Rule (what scientists know for sure about how our brains work) per chapter, and then offers ideas as to how we could potentially incorporate these ideas in our lives.

It’s basically my new bible, in a nutshell.  Poor Deryn and Boyfriend can’t get through a conversation without me spouting out “That’s just like this part in Brain Rules….”  But seriously, I love this book.  It’s so useful in every day life; I feel like everyone just NEEDS to know this stuff.  ESPECIALLY parents (even though I’m not one…); it just seems that it would be hard to raise a child without knowing the basic biology behind brain development, learning and wiring.  In fact, I just saw that this author is about to come out with a new book called Brain Rules for Baby in October.  I can honestly say that I have been able to apply every chapter of this book to my life.

I already included a few tidbits of info from Brain Rules in the “Science Behind Habitual Me” page, but there’s one thing in particular that I definitely want to apply to our little “adventure” over the next year – Scent.  Apparently, the more senses you stimulate, the more ‘ingrained’ a memory/experience will be in your wiring, because the information is stored in more areas of your brain.  Smell is the strongest sense to stimulate (other than vision, of course) because it is processed near areas of the brain responsible for creating emotions as well as memories.  That’s why a very specific memory may pop into your head when you are exposed to a certain scent.  So I’m thinking (and have actually already started this) that we need to have certain scents to associate with each habit that we’re doing.  So I took a trip to Wal-Mart to get a little high on essential oils.  After spending about an hour smelling every single scent they had at least 4 times each, I found a cool diffuser for $3 and settled on a citrus smell for waking up early, a rosemary-mint for meditation and yoga, cherry-blossom-something-or-other for reading and a cinnamon-apple just because it smells like Christmas :).  In theory, whipping out a certain scent on days I’m not very motivated may make these habits come a little easier. I’ll let you know how that works out, but in the meantime, you should read this book!





Self-Realization *or* What Do You Mean It’s Not Normal To Be Dead Inside?

28 09 2010

Current Habit: Reading, Day 16/5

Deryn: I’ve always been an observant person.  For as long as I can remember, I would watch people and then use their experiences to make decisions about my life and how I wanted to lead it.  The best example I can think of is watching my two older sisters go through high school.  I saw how both of them acted towards their friends and our parents and thinking, “Wow.  That is definitely not the best way to go about things at all.”  I realized that if I got good grades and was up front with my parents about my plans, they generally had no issue letting me stay out past curfew.  I’d been using this Observe and Decide method for about 25 years and it had gotten me through some rough times.  I decided long ago – so long ago that I don’t actually remember when – that I would not close myself off to love.  I would probably get my heart-broken and would probably be hurt plenty of times, but that wouldn’t stop me from keeping an open mind and heart when it came to someone new in my life.  After all, that’s what starts people on the path to becoming an Empty Shell Person.   So, in efforts to stay true to the point of Habitual Me and become the person I want to be, it is time to decide to be open again.

In “Friends” there is an episode where Monica reveals to her husband that she has been keeping stuff locked in a messy closet for years and nobody ever knew about it.  My emotions and feelings definitely live in a locked up messy closet.

In college I had a boyfriend, my own Mr. Big (up to the last season of the tv show, before he was capable of commitment).  I loved him.  We went through a lot of drama to be together and he was a great boyfriend.  Sweet, fun, caring, intelligent and funny.  We both said that we had neither felt anything like it before.  Then he dumped me.  He was wanting to focus on his career and couldn’t commit to our relationship and his career at the same time.  We tried to stay friends, but that was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done.  He didn’t love me, but I loved him.  He didn’t want to be my boyfriend, but didn’t want to date anyone else.  He still came over, kissed me, made me dinner, but wasn’t interested in being anything but friends.  It was all so confusing and so painful that I forced myself to stop feeling.  I rationalized that I would rather be friends with him than nothing.  It was better to have him in my life in some way than not at all.  For the next 2 years it was a roller coaster of us being friends or being a couple, all the while I got better and better at locking my emotions in the closet.  Eventually, I realized that he would never be able to treat me the way I felt like I deserved to be treated in a relationship.  This was especially hard because I never thought Mr. Big would be interested in me in the first place.  It’s contradiction in the purest form: Mr. Big is everything I thought I didn’t deserve because I’m not good enough for him, but when I realized he was treating me like I wasn’t good enough for him then he wasn’t good enough for me, even though I desperately still wanted to be with him.  It was just too much.  My already fragile self-esteem just couldn’t take anymore so I broke things off very abruptly and stopped talking to him.  He didn’t seem to care.

A few weeks later, I started talking to Joe*, a friend of a friend from high school who lived in Dallas.  I had decided that I wanted to be in Dallas,  and Bob was trying to help me get an interview with his company.  Bob had a crush on me all through high school.  He had me on a pedestal, he thought I was the most amazing girl ever and didn’t understand how everyone couldn’t see that.  He was the opposite of Mr. Big in so many ways and we started talking more and more.  I felt so much better about myself as a person again.  It grew in to more than friendship and by the time I moved to Dallas, we were a full on couple.  That lasted 3 months.  A guy who had a crush on me for 12 years got over it in 3 months of actually being with me.  There is obviously more to it than that.  He wasn’t my ideal either.  We fought a lot and we both know that we weren’t right for each other.  Still, it’s hard to not think that I did something wrong.

To comfort me during that break up was this amazing guy, Christian*.  He was beautiful, smart, funny, and made me feel beautiful.  He was also my boss.  Christian and I started to spend a lot of time together for about 3 weeks.  Then, he just stopped talking to me.  I, to this day, don’t know what happened.  He stopped calling, stopped texting, and even avoided talking to me at work.  Logically, I know that I didn’t do anything wrong except trust him too soon and allowed the relationship (in the physical sense) to move faster than was a good idea.  A few weeks later, I was fired for not hitting my sales goals.

Too much of my self-esteem has been wrapped up in guys and by doing Habitual Me, my goal is to be happy with myself for who I am and for who I have let myself become.  I joke with my friends that I’m “dead inside” because I don’t feel things anymore.  Last week, I was driving with a friend and an 18 wheeler was merging into the lane.  It was coming too fast and it was going to hit us.  My friend, the Marine who has been on three tours over seas and shot at numerous times, was screaming obscenities in fear for his life.  I was calm and thought to myself, “So, I guess this is how I’m going to die.”  I was able to swerve the car and get out of the truck’s way so we were fine, but I had an epiphany.  I don’t want to be dead inside.  I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to let this happen to myself, and I failed.  It’s time to do something about it.  I’ve observed myself and have decided I need to feel things.  If I’m going to become the person I want to be, that means letting someone in to my life who may hurt me.  Now I just have to find the key to that pesky closet…

* Gotta love the anonymity of pseudonyms.





Rediscovery *or* Yeah, I’m A Nerd

26 09 2010

Current Habit: Reading, day 14

Sophie:

On the surface, reading is not the most exciting activity, but I LOVE it.  To an avid reader, books really become a part of your life; you feel connected to the characters, and never stop learning new things.  When I was a little girl, I would lay on the floor in front of our bookshelves and read everything I could for hours on end.  It mostly consisted of Beatrix Potter, Puzzlemania and Goosebumps, but it was so fun!  As I got older, I would spend my summers reading from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep.  This generally meant I would finish one novel a day, then walk to wal-mart and buy another one.  At some point my parents didn’t want to pay for this “habit” of mine, and got me a library card….a.k.a. a reading addict’s crack.  I would come home with stacks of books I couldn’t wait to read. It was wonderful.

Then I got to high school and met Shakespeare and William Faulkner.  And so ended my love affair with books.

I would still read on occasion – maybe one book every few months – but it was never the same.  Being forced to read something utterly dreadful and then extract some sort of convoluted meaning from it made me hate writers, books, reading, all of it.  Signs of my addiction still lingered – a bookshelf is always a permanent fixture in any home of mine, and if I leave a bookstore with less than 5 books, I’m showing some serious self-restraint.  This has resulted in an awesome, tall bookshelf completely filled with interesting books I have never read.  The upside of establishing this first habit of reading every day is that I am finally getting through all of these books that I have bought over the years.  I organized my bookshelf and, quite frankly, I have a ton of books I’m really excited about getting to – which I suppose is why I bought them all in the first place.

It’s only been two weeks, and I’m already thinking that I can’t believe reading was not a part of my daily life for so long.  It’s really a perfect example of why we started this whole blog in the first place – being complacent and lazy about my life has not only prevented me from changing into the person I want to be, it has caused me to let go of things I do love for no good reason.  I was so unsatisfied with my life for such a long time, and all of a sudden I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m already happier just changing this one little thing, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of this adventure is going to take me.





Truth and Consequences *or* Back to Day 1

23 09 2010

Current Habit: Reading, day 11/1

Deryn:

The Truth:

What I know of last night is a lot of cheese, a lot of wine, laughing hard, and making a phone call.  What I don’t remember is getting home, what I was laughing at, or what I said on that phone call.

I didn’t do my reading.

The Consequences:

The research shows that to establish a habit, the action must be done every day for 21 days.  According to Psycho-Cybernetics, if a day is missed you have to start back at day 1 or you won’t reap the benefits.  To be honest, we knew the day would come that one of us wouldn’t be able to accomplish our daily task.  If there weren’t consequences for our actions, there really wouldn’t be any motivation or incentive to follow through when things get a little difficult.

So, I’m starting over and it’s back to Day 1 of reading.  Reading (for me) will now overlap with the next habit.  I’m annoyed with myself for having not stuck with it better.  I have a lot of excuses for myself (work, mostly), but know that none of them really matter.  But if I really am trying to be a different person, then that means I have to put in the work.  These new habits won’t happen magically.  After working a solid 8 hours at the office and then another 3 from home, I’m not excited about having to do anything else with my brain tonight.  That would just be another excuse.  Instead, I’m going to try to look at my reading tonight as a way to help myself wind down after a stressful day and mentally prepare me for sleep.








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