In which I collect things

As recent readers are aware, I recently swapped out desks.  Doing so gave me a chance to sort through my top desk drawer.

Drawer packed full of pens

This doesn’t really give an idea of the sheer *depth* of pens. I cannot fit the loose pens in the back into one fistful. That is at least two fistfuls of pens, not counting the pens in the front or the ones in packaging.

It turns out that I have a lot of pens.  I mean a LOT.  Jetpens during the pandemic is definitely part of the problem.  Trying to find the perfect pen for Postcards to Voters (Pilot Multiball, btw), and also starting a paper planner on nice Moleskine paper, these also contributed.

Pens I actually use (mostly just the Clena and Pilot G2, but the rest are useful for occasional planner stuff).

But before pens, it was hand sanitizer.  And masks.  I have more of either than I will ever use (though I did manage to give away a lot of the excess masks– I hope fancy hand sanitizer will still work as a class prize Fall semester…).

Lots of hand sanitizer.

Remember the ‘tizer.

I think I just have a problem!

I was talking to my friend who has a candle problem and asked what I should collect now that I owned all the hand sanitizer in the world and certainly did not need any more pens (and I’m allergic to candles and a lot of kinds of makeup).  It turns out that at some point in my life I have collected almost everything she suggested.

Purses:  that stopped in college when I lost all my IDs by leaving my purse in a classroom.
Shoes: I have not collected these but I am super picky and have to try them on.
Cat Decor: I did this most of elementary/middle school.
Video games: DH collects these and has more than he will ever be able to play.
Jewelry: I stopped this in middle school after my sister destroyed all of my necklaces and I was sad.
Dolls: My sister collected these. I had two.  This was another thing of mine she occasionally destroyed.
Stuffed animals: DC2 collects these.
Nail Polish: I had my phase in middle school.
Fish: I cannot keep anything alive that does not tell me when it is hungry. See also plants.
Actual cats: See Cat Saga.
Socks: This one is tempting and I’ve sort of started doing it. The problem is that I don’t actually wear socks much– I’m either in tights or sandals most of the time. I rarely wear tennis shoes or hiking boots, which are my only shoes that actually accommodate socks.

It’s not about things, per-se, though it has been things during the pandemic to a much greater extent than usual.

I just like sets.  I like completing things.  I like trying things and trying them all.  I don’t actually need to own all the pens, but I wanted to try them out.  Libraries are great for this– I can try books and then only buy the ones I really liked and will read again.

We go through cookbooks systematically from start to finish. During the pandemic at the grocery story I will try one of every kind of a category. Like Fizzy water or chocolate with almonds or fancy ice creams. Sometimes I’ll just type in a word in the search like “pistachio” or “mango” and just get all the random stuff that comes up. Or like, “German” which is how I found my new favorite brand of muesli (that doesn’t come up when you look up Muesli because it’s spelled differently!).  I’ve tried most of the non-candy stuff at nuts.com (and pretty much all of the chocolate candy with nuts or fruit in it).

It is probably better to stick with gazingus pins that are edible or returnable.  To complete collections of experiences instead of things that clutter or drain the pocketbook.

I woke up with the certainty that I should start collecting cute paperclips.

In the mean time, the kids get to take fancy pens to school next Fall and I won’t be fussed if they lose them.

What do you collect?  Do you systematically go through anything?  Have these habits changed throughout the pandemic for you?

On teenagers’ role in the household

Wow, this draft was last touched in 2011.  I have a teenager now– I think I will finish this post using italics so you can see what has changed in the past 10 years now that I’m less ignorant!  I bet I know less!

Disclaimer:  we don’t have any yet.  Update:  We have one teenager and one almost-9 year old.

Often it is said that your teenagers need you more as a SAHP than they did as toddlers.  This was maybe a bit true last year– the transition from doing nothing academically in middle-school to all of a sudden having AP classes and homework in every class and being expected to know things that weren’t taught in middle-school was pretty traumatic for everyone.  There was also just a ton of hir needing to remember things.  Last year turning in English assignments (last period of the day) was the WORST, and zie kept making the exact same MLA citation mistake on every single paper and getting Cs because of it.  THE SAME MISTAKE.  But this year has been a lot better.  I don’t know if it’s getting more sleep, having everything set with deadlines electronically, the more flexibility that the pandemic has brought or what, but oddly having DC1 home 24/7 has been less stressful and less time for us than hir going to school.  (The same is not true for DC2!)  [Though to be fair, they have never needed me as a SAHP.  I guess technically DH is a SAHP right now, but looking for work and doing unemployment training stuff is kind of a part-time job, so…]

I sure hope that’s not true.

I hope my DC is mature enough at that point to make good decisions on hir own.  I hope I’m mature enough to trust DC to make those decisions, even if they end up becoming learning experiences.  For the most part DC1 is mature and makes good decisions.  Zie just needs to do some kind of extra-curricular and also there are some things zie can work on in terms of project management, but those aren’t bad decisions so much as small mistakes.

Working mom from generations of working moms…  This is still true– the point I wanted to make here was that I had friends/acquaintances whose moms were SAHM and who basically catered to their every whim and made sure they met deadlines and helped them with their art projects and science fair projects and so on.  I was expected to figure this stuff out myself– my mom had work, and school was my work.  So starting in 5th grade or so she stopped going through my back-pack and just expected me to get good grades, which I did.  (In 5th grade we also got school planners and they had to be signed every night– my mom ended up telling me just to forge her signature, which I did.  I still can!  She better not let me near her checkbooks!)

if my mom is to be believed, she cleaned the entire house and got her younger siblings to school every morning..  I never had to do anything like that, but I was expected to be responsible for myself. 

I wasn’t quite that much of a superwoman, but I started helping with hardcore chores by age 7 and was cooking dinner several nights a week by the time I was a teenager…  This is true!  I could cook many things by heart.  Oh hey, it looks like I say what I wanted to say here a couple sentences lower.  I just the patterns of my brain haven’t changed much in the past 10 years.

I was more helpful as a teen than as a younger kid.

This benefited me as well… by the time I was on my own I knew how to cook and grocery shop and do basic cleaning.  I’d been taught.  I had years of practice.  Just because I choose not to do many of these things now doesn’t mean I don’t know how.

As the kid gets older, zie waits on the parents rather than the other way around.  That’s how I was brought up.  I had kind of hoped for this, but alas, DC1 has to be cajoled to empty the dishwasher or make hir one meal a week etc.  The cajoling often takes both parents (zie only does it, with grumbling, when the SECOND parent, usually DH, says zie has to).  DC2 has been pretty helpful on the days that school assignments get done super early.  I think zie gets bored. 

Sure, I went through normal stages of teenage angst… and was treated with sympathetic but amused indulgence that it probably deserved.  DC1 had some rebel-ly angst last year, but sometime last year zie  found out that one of hir friends has a terrible homelife (zie was telling us this this year while in pandemic, not last year when it actually happened– zie hasn’t kept in touch with the kid, otherwise I’d have suggested zie bring the kid home sometimes) and that made hir grateful for us.  And then this year there’s just been no angst at all, which I attribute to being able to get up at 8 instead of 6.  Sleep is important!

I had friends who went through more abnormal stages of teenage angst.  Mostly coinciding with parents divorcing.  Some with SAHM (I’m not sure what I meant by this or who I was thinking about).  My mom bought a pregnancy test for a friend of mine…(huh, was her mom a SAHM?  I have lost that memory!)  Some angst caused by parents, abuse… (There’s a reason kids go away to boarding school…)  When we were residence assistants in graduate school we had a student who was an only child with a very overbearing mom… he was a stress case.  One nice thing about being busy with work is that it’s really hard to cause too much damage through overparenting– there just isn’t *time*!  I mean, maybe if you’re that law professor at Yale who is super messed up (apparently she hosted inappropriate parties this past year in exchange for clerkship recommendations and her husband is not supposed to be alone with law students and it sounds like there’s a lot going on besides the Tiger Mom stuff).  But most of us don’t have that kind of energy! 

So… I wonder how to end this.  Maybe just with a series of questions for Grumpy Nation.

Obligatory update:  A commenter reminded me that the mommy wars exist and I forgot to put a disclaimer #NotAllSAHP.  You do you, bro.  Empirical evidence says it DOESN’T MATTER (low SES kids do better in high quality preschool, bad preschools are worse than educated moms… and nothing else makes a lick of difference). That’s another nice thing about having a teenager instead of a toddler– all this stupid stuff people get angry about is years and years away.  I’ve completely forgotten all the stuff that the patriarchy forces women to fight about as if it matters instead of fighting a common enemy.  And I was just reminded the other day when a friend of mine mentioned a facebook war she was watching about whether or not it was ok to call your pets your children and yourself your pets’ mom.  Maybe now that Trump is out of office, we’re back to our own stupidities?  Guys, voter suppression is going on in a huge number of states.  Figure out what your state is doing and make phonecalls.  Also call your federal MOC and ask them to pass HR1.  

What do you think teenagers’ role in the household is?  Were you a help or a hindrance to your parents as a teenager?  If applicable:  Do your kids wait on you or the other way around?  What should they be doing?

Ask the grumpies: Have you ever had a conversation that permanently changed your life?

CG asks:

Have you ever had a conversation that changed your life permanently? How?

I’m sure that I have, and probably lots of them, but I’ve been coming up blank which is why this question has been put off so long.  I mean, I had a conversation once that made me realize that mortgage interest wasn’t the same as credit card interest which changed things… but did it really change things that much?  I feel really bad because this is such an interesting question and I am dying to read everyone else’s answer, but I’ve just been coming up blank.  I’ve had a couple of conversations with people that lead to quick publications, which is always nice, but I’m not sure how life-changing that is, just you know, marginally.

We’ve read books that have changed our lives.  But that’s not a conversation.  I’ve had conversations with people that they claim caused them to permanently change their lives.  Apparently an off-hand comment I made to a friend about how dating without the internet was just as risky as dating using an internet service led her to meet her future husband through a dating app.  Another friend credits my saying that she didn’t need to go into the family business if she didn’t want to and she should think about what she’s interested in as jump-starting her career, but I think she would have gotten there on her own anyway.  I’ve saved a few of my colleagues hundreds of thousands of retirement dollars by explaining that they need to use TIAA-Cref or Fidelity rather than the super expensive retirement place that sends people around to get them to sign up with their program.  They don’t realize that I’ve changed their lives permanently and probably won’t ever know or remember, but I did.  A colleague credits me for introducing her to early potty training which she says was life-changing (I don’t even remember doing this!  But there was a time when I was super into explaining it.)

What does it say about my massive ego that I remember when people tell me I’ve changed their lives with random conversations but I don’t remember other people changing mine?  Nothing good!  Also it’s weird that it’s always the off-handed comments that I barely remember that seem to spark people.  Life is so random!

Grumpy Nation, please answer CG’s question!  It’s so fascinating!

What’s your Jungian archetypal dream?

So lately the anxiety dreams I’ve been having have revolved around forgetting to wear a mask or being the only masked person around lots of unmasked people.  I assume this was not part of Jung’s collective unconscious categorization, and perhaps evidence (since I know I’m not the only person who has had this dream) that maybe folks having similar dreams isn’t that mystical.

But there are a lot of random bizarre dreams that people share.

My biggest one is where my teeth fall out.  Before the internet, I thought this was just a me thing.  But now I know I am not alone.  (See also:  a support page for people who hiccup when they eat carrots, which I also thought was just a weird me thing, though sadly it is no longer up.)

Another common anxiety dream is public nudity.  For me I always discover I’m in a trench coat or bathrobe with nothing underneath and I somehow have to make it back to safety without anyone realizing.

I don’t have the flying dream, though when I was a child I did– I used to jump off a piece of playground equipment and just fly and it would be like swimming.  As an adult I guess I’m just too heavy even in my dream world.

#2 put peeing here as one of hers.  Apparently it is a thing even though it’s not my thing and is thought to have something to do with physiological needs.

#2 also notes nightmares about teaching where she shows up and she’s not prepared or she has forgotten to bring the exam on exam day or she’s been signed up to teach a class but doesn’t figure it out until the last day.  Fortunately those seem to have stopped or at least slowed down since leaving academia.  Not sure if Jung had that on his list, but the reverse as a student is super common.

I know several people, including both of us, who have had a recurring nightmare that the phd was a mistake and we have to go back and redo graduate school.  Mine is even worse– I have to redo high school(!) in order to get my PhD back.

Those are our recurring dreams that we share with some subset of the human race (I notice now that with the exception of flying, and maybe peeing, they’re pretty much all anxiety dreams!)  What are yours?  Tell me I’m not alone in the teeth one.

Why I don’t want to list my pronouns

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of years about gender and sexuality.  I’ve been learning a lot more about other people and about myself too.

I’ve mentioned before that I only recently learned that demi-sexual is a thing, and is in fact, a thing that explains so much of my life (and why I will never ever be able to do modern-style dating if something terrible happens to DH).

I have *always* thought that gender was just a construct and an unfair one at that.  I have never understood the actual concept of people being male or people being female.  Male and female to me was always something that society assigned and assigned roles for based on my chromosomes and physical characteristics at birth.  I’ve never cared about my clothing being masculine or feminine, just that it be comfortable and appropriate for whatever venue I have to be in (I LOVED grunge in the 1990s, and my pandemic wardrobe is DH’s old t-shirts with workout shorts/pants). I have always figured I was female because it is much easier to be female than it is to be a trans man.  If DH was ok with it and I had a magic wand, I would totally switch sexes and reap the benefit of all that male privilege.

At some point, I realized that other people do identify as male or female and not because society has tricked them, because trans women exist.  In order to give up that male privilege, they must really truly identify with being female.  Thus it makes sense that some people truly identify with being male, even if their chromosomes are XX.  And there are likely XX-types who feel they must be women and XY-types who feel they must be men.  This is just one of those things that I don’t understand, much like the way my demi-sexuality makes it so I don’t understand instant sexual attraction.  But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  People are different and that’s ok.

After a lot of thought, I have decided of the types of genders listed out there, I am probably non-binary.  But I’m also the kind of non-binary that doesn’t have gender dysphoria (so I can’t even answer many of those “am I non-binary” online quiz questions). That is because I don’t understand the concept of gender at all (except as a construct of how society views me). I don’t care if people gender me male or female or non-binary or what have you.  People who are non-binary who really identify with not being male or female might have negative effects being mis-gendered as something they’re not.  Me, I don’t care.  It’s not that I need to come out because I’m fine with how other people gender me (other than the whole misogyny thing) because my view of gender is exactly that– how other people gender me.

Lots of people have started listing their preferred pronouns on their zoom profiles and email signatures.  The idea is that if CIS-gendered people (that’s people whose gender identity matches their chromosomes/sex characteristics) start doing this, it will seem more normal for trans and non-binary people.

The one part of my gender identity that seems real is that I do not want to label myself. I do not want to bring attention to my gender.  I don’t want to list she/her because I resent being treated in the way that women are treated.  I don’t want to put down he/him because people look at me and see a woman and that would cause cognitive dissonance and problems I don’t want to deal with, even though I would prefer to be treated as if I were male.  (I wish we were *all* treated like white men on the lowest difficulty setting and given the benefit of the doubt etc.)  I don’t want to put they/them because it doesn’t bother me to be referred to as she or he and I know it’s hard for people to get used to the they/them construct and I don’t want to be the person they practice on.  (Maybe that’s selfish?  But I don’t think I have to always sacrifice myself.  I’m already gendered as a woman by society.)  I don’t want to draw attention to myself or to have to explain this whole, “I don’t understand gender” thing.  Someone would likely try to explain it to me(!)

On a recent anonymous survey, we were given multiple choices for gender and I happily picked female and non-binary.  When I only get to pick one of male/female/other, I assume they mean “how do others view you” so I pick female.  I think this is different from the pronoun listing because with the pronoun listing it really feels like I am saying, “this is what I *prefer*” and it isn’t.  I would prefer people treat me (and everyone else) like a dude.  I would prefer there not be genders at all!  (But I understand that some people prefer gender, so as long as it isn’t hurting others, do what you will.)

If I were forced to do the pronoun thing, I would write: (whatever/whatever).  But I know that seems flip and not helpful for people who want to make their genders clear because it is part of their internal identity.  So I’m glad we’re not forced.  (Briefly considers an email sig with “pronouns:  it’s all good,” rejects it.)

And I think this is ok.  I’m not making fun of listing the pronouns.  I understand why they’re important, and I think it is great that CIS people are adding them to their profiles.  But I do not want to do it myself.  Not because I think they’re bad or wrong but because I really do not want to label myself with a gender.  I hope this absence doesn’t harm anyone or make me less of an ally, but there’s so little that I care about when it comes to gender that the fact that I do care about this one thing… well, I think I should listen to myself, especially since I’ve determined it isn’t coming from a place of internalized bigotry.  I don’t want to lie and say I prefer she/her when I in fact do not prefer it.  It turns out that I really do care that I don’t care.

Also, I love the comic strip, egscomics even though the beginning is immature and the storylines take years.  I think it’s neat how the author has played with gender identity and how different cast members have different levels of it.  Now I have the Ranma 1/2 season 1 theme stuck in my head.

Have you put pronouns on your stuff?  Why or why not?

Ask the grumpies: What do you want to do when you retire?

CG asks:

What do you want to do when you retire? My motivation for asking is I’m always interested in these people who retire at 40 or 50–they have a lot of time left if things go well and what kinds of things do they want to do or accomplish with their second act? This applies to people who plan to retire at a more traditional age as well.

#1 doesn’t really plan on retiring.  I don’t know what I would do.  I’m honestly not very good at being unproductive 100% of the time (I am very good at being unproductive on weekends) and I’m sure I would feel huge amounts of guilt if I weren’t doing something to make the world a better place.  Depending on the trajectory that the US ends up in, I would probably end up miserable trying to herd volunteer cats to fight the power.  The life of a professor in which I gently nudge students to think critically about their goals and how to achieve them while also removing their math phobia seems a lot better than that.  If the world was in a good place, I don’t know, probably go places to try eating new things, read more challenging novels than I do now, and watch youtube videos.  I’d probably also exercise more.  I would hopefully not waste too much time arguing with people who are wrong on the internet, but who knows.

#2 loves the idea of retirement and would read books, foster kittens, and travel to Italy to eat.  Also all the naps.

Dame Eleanor Hull’s decades meme

All the cool kids are doing Dame Eleanor Hull’s decades meme!

Four decades ago I lived in Virginia and had a Piedmont accent.

Three decades ago I lived in the midwest and spoke like a TV broadcaster.

Two decades ago I’d moved from one coastal blue city to another for schooling reasons, and had just gotten married.

One decade ago I was living the South with a house and job and child.  I still speak like a TV broadcaster.

It’s interesting to me how much of my life is lost just looking at the 10 year marks.  A lot can happen within 10 years.  If I’d done this exercise 3 years from now the decadal snapshots would be completely different.

What’s your life like by the decades?

Do I think I am better than other people?

Specifically, do I think I’m better than DH’s family?

Of course not.

I mean, I definitely think I’m a better person than anybody who advocates separating asylum seekers from their children and then torturing them, but DH’s family are good people.  Most of the people I genuinely think I’m better than currently work in the White House.

What I do think we are is better OFF.  We are better off than the rest of DH’s family.

Most of that is luck and taking opportunities granted.

Some of that is choice (ex. the decision to have two working parents instead of one).

But even those choices are made based on our specific utility curves and our specific budget constraints.  I firmly believe that we are optimizing based on our budget constraints and our utility curves.  DH’s family has different budget constraints and different sets of utility curves.  I assume they are optimizing as well.

What we’re doing for DH’s relative with the kids is increasing the budget set, but mostly only for higher education for the kids.  We pay for application fees, tuition, and books.  We only do this for the kids who want to go to college and we stop when they stop wanting to go.  We may wish that more of them would go, under the assumption that they don’t have full information, but that’s up to them.

I firmly believe that people with privilege have a responsibility to make things easier for people who don’t have that privilege.  Privilege comes with the responsibility to level the playing field.  That means political action and it means giving people a hand up while you’re waiting for political action to work.

Why don’t we just give money to them, unasked, no strings attached?  Because that would be weird.  That would strain relations between DH and one of his best friends. (We do at Christmas and when they’ve had an emergency, but those are socially accepted times to give.)  And tuition and books is something we can anticipate and budget for and can easily be separated into a separate mental bucket.  Also, so far it’s been pretty affordable.

(In case you’re wondering, this is in response to a mean “just trying to help” message from Anonymous in New Jersey.)  (From well over a month ago.)  (It keeps getting pushed back because the pandemic is more important than my musings on privilege)

Work problem Part 2: Creating Good Habits: Trying out Atomic Habits

In my previous post, I discussed my work problem and how I’m trying to break some bad habits.

As a reminder, my bad habits were:

  1.  Surfing the internet instead of working in the morning and at work.
  2. Not being able to work from home, even during working hours.
  3. Not following my work schedule, instead binging on service/teaching tasks.
  4. Not using unexpected free time chunks wisely.

The laws of creating good habits are similar to those of breaking bad habits, but they have a lot more detail.

Make it Obvious

A.  Fill out the habits scorecard:  I opted not to do this as I want to fixate on specific work habits, not a complete life audit.  Instead I thought about problem points with work.

B.  Use implementation intentions for each habit.

  1. Surfing
    • On weekdays I will either snooze or get up/use restroom/brush teeth/get dressed/eat breakfast/leave when I am woken by DH’s showering.  I will not lie in bed with the internet.
    • I will work when sitting at a computer.  Playing/surfing will be relegated to the small iPad and my iPhone except during specific break-times when leechblock is off.
    • I will write for one hour when I get to work.
  2. Home
    • If I wake up in the middle of the night and using the restroom/trying to get back to sleep doesn’t help, I will get up and do work.  I will not surf the internet.
    • I will work when sitting at a computer.
    • I will continue to use my iPad pro only for reading/commenting on pdfs.
  3. Schedule
    • I will follow my schedule by prioritizing harder things in the morning and leave class prep/service/etc. for after 3pm (exceptions:  lunch break I can do whatever and getting reviewers for articles newly in my editorial box can happen whenever)
  4. Free time use
    • I will not consider half hour or more chunks to be small chunks of time, but rather larger ones in which tasks can be started.
    • I will have a list of things I can do with unexpected free time (email, cleaning out office, updating classes for next semester) for smaller chunks of time.  I will not binge through these over the course of a few days, but leave them to be spread out.

C.  Use habit stacking

  1. I have stacked the iPad to the restroom which is stacked to teeth brushing.  Other internet usage is stacked to breakfast which is stacked to getting out the door.
  2. I have stacked being at the computer with work.  Being awake at night with work instead of play.
  3. The schedule is a stack.  I just need to start following it.
  4. N/A

D.  Design your environment

Most of the things here were covered under bad habits.

Make it Attractive

A.  Use temptation bundling– give an immediate reward for working on or completing the habit

One of the examples in the book is to play podcasts or watch shows while exercising.  Unfortunately, the tasks I need to do require attention and so do the temptations.  I mean, I could eat chocolate while working, but that seems likely to be not good for me in other ways.  Post-rewards used to work for me, but lately I’ve been realizing that I can just give myself the reward any time I want to and I end up just, say, reading the entire novel.  I think this may have something to do with being financially independent– I seem to have lost a lot of that delayed gratification muscle.

B.  Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior

I mean, I do work at an R1, and I did start that weekly brown bag.  So I already kind of am in this culture, but I’m definitely not doing great.

C.  Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit

This is what has gotten me into trouble in the first place, so not a good idea as the enjoyment part has been stretching out.

So I’ve kind of struck out on the “Make it attractive” step.  Any thoughts?

Make it Easy

A.  Reduce friction

  1.  Surfing.  Most of these things are covered under bad habits (increasing friction), but for writing in the morning I will plan ahead the day before to know what I will be working on writing.
  2.  Home.  Most of these things are covered under bad habits (increasing friction).
  3.  Schedule. I need to continue to plan the morning work the afternoon before.  I used to do this and it worked well.  One of the current problems is that even when I do this, I just ignore the schedule.  This started happening when things out of my control messed up my schedule too many times in a row.
  4. Free time.  I need to make a list of odds and ends that can be done in shorter amounts of time that is easily accessible.

B.  Prime the environment.

  1. Surfing. Leechblock and other things from bad habits
  2. Home.  Isolate particular areas of the house, specific machines, and specific times of day for work vs. play.
  3. Schedule.  Have a working computer.  Remember to take Vit D (possibly even schedule in the second pill?)
  4. Free time.  Have the list easily available.

C.  Master the decisive moment

Not sure what to do about this.  Maybe just be better about getting started on things?  (Though getting started isn’t my only problem– not getting distracted is also a problem.)

D.  Use the two-minute rule to downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less

I think that doing this is part of the problem– it’s not the small habits I have trouble with, it’s the longer ones.

E.  Automate your habits.  Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.

I’m not sure what to do here.  I could buy another computer, but that’s worthless if I just start using it for play.

Make it Satisfying

A.  Use reinforcement.

See above on “temptation bundling”

B.  Make “doing nothing” enjoyable– this actually belongs under getting rid of “bad habits”

C.  Use a habit tracker.  Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain”

I need to think about whether or not this is worthwhile for keeping track of writing or getting into work by a reasonable time.  In the past keeping track has been more of a pain than a help because I know if I’ve broken the chain or not without plotting it on a chart.  And plotting on a chart is another step that takes effort I’d rather use for something else.  But I can think more about good metrics.

One big problem with measurement is that when you measure, you tend to focus on the measurement rather than on the larger goal.  For example, with weightloss, you focus on the number which can lead to unhealthy behaviors and forget about the “why” (it’s not actually weightloss that’s the goal, but health or whatever– pounds is a really bad metric for that.  Even if fitting into your clothes better is the goal, pounds are not the right metric).  So I can see myself wasting time writing unnecessary stuff or coming into work completely sleep deprived just to hit some arbitrary metric when that actually hurts my true goal of getting stuff done.  So this is non-trivial.  What are good short-term metrics?  I don’t know.

D.  Never miss twice.  When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.

I will try to be better about this.  Part of my problem has been multiple days of interruptions outside of my control.  But hopefully those will have settled down.

How do you keep up with good habits?  Any thoughts on how I could fit my desired habits into these laws of creating good habits?  Do you have any tricks to suggest?

I have a work problem: Breaking Bad Habits: Trying out Atomic Habits’ list

This summer and this semester a lot of things have gone wrong with work.  All summer was non-stop bad research news, followed by almost an entire semester of my work computer being broken and/or replaced unpredictably.  I also taught at days/times I’d never taught before and never really figured out a new rhythm (next semester I’m back to one of my more regular schedules).  And I had so many emotional conversations with students needing to drop a class or out of the program entirely (why me? I have no idea).  And I have a ton of service and teaching and those are just so much easier to do than hard research.  Finally, DC1’s heavy homework load and DC2’s lack of a heavy homework load mean that both our kids need more individualized attention in the evenings than previously. These things combined caused me to feel unmotivated and to lose many of my good research habits and to replace them with the quick hit of websurfing and watching youtube videos.  I kept thinking, I’ll be better later…

But, like tomorrow, later never comes.  But in my case it’s jam every day.  And I need a bit of spinach to grow a strong research agenda.  (Obviously my mixed metaphors need work.)

I finally decided enough was enough.  I need to fix my bad habits so I don’t stagnate.  I’d like to get another paper under review before my annual review in Spring and I have lots of projects, just none close to the right stage, and nothing will be close to any stage if I don’t start now.  Today even.

Having just read Atomic Habits, I decided, why not try their recommendations to see if they help at all.  Of course, it’s really easy to create a new habit if the habit is easily definable.  Like, you want to exercise at a certain point each day, or you want to drink more water, or what have you.  It’s a bit hard to know where to start when your problem is a big amorphous work problem.

So my first step was to list my bad work habits (and, in a later post, to list the good habits that I want back!)

  1.  Surfing the internet instead of working
    1. This has particularly become a problem in the morning– I used to just check email and read a few webcomics.  Lately I’ve been watching full youtube videos!  What used to be ~15 minutes before getting ready can stretch to TWO HOURS.  That’s ridiculous.  I should either be asleep or working.
    2. It’s also a problem at work.  I’ve been avoiding leechblock by using chrome in addition to firefox, or by getting out my phone and surfing on that instead.
  2. I have completely lost my ability to work from home (other than some successes with doing anything involving pdfs on my iPad Pro– more on that when I talk about good habits).  This wouldn’t be a problem if I was being productive at work, but sometimes I have to stay home because DH is out of town and I want to be here when DC1 gets off the bus, or I want to hide out from well-meaning students and colleagues who just want to chat.  I’m great at writing blogposts at home, but not so great at sitting down and doing work.  My home desktop just doesn’t feel like a work computer anymore.  I mean to work, but I either end up surfing the internet from my desktop or I end up on the couch watching youtube videos or reading novels.
  3. I have stopped following my daily schedules for work.  I generally put the important big stuff on my list for the mornings and then the stuff that doesn’t take brain power (service/teaching) and has shorter deadlines in the afternoon.  But instead of doing research in the morning, I’ve been doing the service/teaching stuff and then when afternoon rolls around instead of switching, I just do more service.  Or I go home meaning to work but end up on the couch reading instead.  I would say that service fills up any time hole, but actually one of the reasons I said enough is enough is that I ran out of obvious stuff to do and I want to get back into good habits again before it starts filling up again.
  4. I am not using little bits of free time, and my definition of “little” has gotten pretty wide.  It’s no longer, oh I have 5 min, let’s check twitter, it’s more, oh, I have an HOUR, well, can’t do that thing on my to-do list that’s marked for 2 hours, might as well surf the internet.  This needs to stop.

I would link to the atomic habits cheetsheet here, but it looks like he’s taken it offline.  You have to buy a copy of the book AND KEEP THE RECEIPT if you want a printable version.

In any case:  Here are his laws of breaking bad habits:

Make it Invisible:

  1.  Surfing:
    • Move the iPad charger from the bedroom to the bathroom.  I had initially thought to move it to the living room, but that just lured me to the couch.  I do need to briefly check my email in the morning at home, otherwise I end up checking it at work which leads to a bad habit there.  Putting it in the bathroom provides a good place to do a quick check.  DH also suggested that I allow myself to use my phone while eating breakfast, which will bundle those habits as well (more on this in the good habits post).
    • Leechblock Youtube at work
    • Hide the shortcuts for all web browsers that aren’t Firefox so I don’t just move to chrome when Firefox is leechblocked (my “new” work computer has all the shortcuts)
    • Make the phone more inaccessible at work.  I need it to be such that I can hear the buzz if someone texts or calls, but such that it doesn’t call to me when I should be working.  I am thinking about putting it in a cloth bag that we get tamales in, but it might make sense to put it in a drawer or put a sheet of paper on top of it or just turn it over so I can’t see the face.  I will work on this.
  2.  Working at home:
    • I can’t hide the couch or the bed, so I’m not sure what to do here.  We talked about maybe setting up a work station just for work in another room, but my spot in the office really is ideal (nice window, DH’s desk next to mine), so I’m hoping I can reclaim it for work instead of play.  Also I might have to buy a new desktop or laptop to get another station, and I would definitely need another monitor.
  3. In theory I could hide the service/etc. from myself until later in the day, but I think that might be counterproductive.  For this one I don’t think making it invisible is the best idea.  It will probably require willpower.
    1. DH suggested a calendar reminder for the schedule, though I’m not sure if that will help nudge me when the list is right there.  But who knows.
  4. Using bits of time is more of a pro-active thing than a re-active thing, but hopefully #1 will keep the internet from being as attractive as it had been.

Make it Unattractive:

After talking this one over with DH, we decided this one wasn’t helpful because “highlighting the benefits of avoiding [my] bad [work] habits” just makes me depressed.  I need to think less about this stuff, not more.  Because thinking leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to 2am wake-ups, which lead to too little sleep, which leads to poor work, mistakes, and lost willpower.

Make it Difficult:

Many of the “Make it Invisible” bullets above are also making it difficult.

Make it Unsatisfiying:

The two items recommended here are to get an accountability partner and to make the consequences of bad habits public and painful.  I have a great accountability partner for going on a walk each day, but I have been far less successful in getting an accountability partner for work.  Invariably they start slipping and get irritated by my nagging or they start slipping and I take it as permission to start slipping too.  And when my accountability partner is DH, *I* start slipping and he lets me.  So yes, it would be lovely to get an accountability partner for work, but it’s not realistic.  I did start a weekly brown bag for research at work, and that helps somewhat.  I did have to forbid the phrase, “incremental data progress” from the weekly update recently after using it one last time as it is far too easy a phrase to hide behind.

There’s another item in the “How to create a good habit” list that actually belongs in the bad habit list:  “Make ‘doing nothing’ enjoyable.  When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.”  The example given in the book is each time you don’t eat out, move the money you saved from not eating out to your vacation fund.  I’m not really sure what an analog for any of the four items above would be.

So I wasn’t able to think of ways to get all of my bad habits into his methodology.  However, many of these had opposites that seemed to fit in the “How to create a good habit” section which I will discuss in a future post.

How do you break bad habits?  How do you stay focused at work?  Any thoughts on how I could fit my bad habits into these laws of breaking bad habits?