It’s about ten-thirty on a Monday morning and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my old laptop. I’ve got my headphones on and I’m focused on writing for the next hour and getting something out.
It has been more than two years since I’ve posted on this blog. The reason for that is pretty simple, though not fun: ongoing struggles with depression. I’ve been stuck. I’ve been in a rut. I’ve been struggling to find meaning, motivation, and direction. I’ve been feeling trapped in a dead-end job with little sense of hope for the future or getting out of this situation and into a better one.
It’s been shitty. I’m not going to let it remain shitty, though.
One trap I often fall into is just closing down and turning inward, when what I really should be doing is to be open and honest with others about the way things are. Returning to blogging here is part of opening up.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the bigger picture of my life so far. I’m now 41 years old, barreling toward 42 in just a few months. At this stage, my personal history falls pretty neatly into two phases. The first 20 years were childhood and adolescence (which, in terms of brain development, actually lasts until around age 25 for most people1). The second 20 years have been my life as an adult.
Both the first and second halves of my life so far have had their ups and downs, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what has and hasn’t worked for me over the years. Adulthood has had unique challenges that I never expected to contend with as a child (global pandemic, anyone?), but if I’m honest with myself, most of the challenges I’ve faced have been things that I can either control or at least have some influence over.
Yeah, my brain is wired such that I’m prone to depression, and the ADHD is a constant struggle, but that same brain also manages to do a lot of things quite well. Ultimately, the best thing I can do is learn to work within the constraints I’ve got and make good things happen anyway. Within that context, some of the most powerful tools I have access to are habits. Just as bad habits can wreak havoc in our lives, good habits can empower us and thrust us forward into beautiful new territories of experience and accomplishment.
In his excellent book Atomic Habits, author James Clear wrote a line that has stuck with me:
Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
Habits, essentially, are systematized actions and patterns of behavior that have been maintained well enough for a period of time that they become internalized, that carry us forward on built-up momentum.
When our habits are bad, we’re voting for a lesser version of ourselves. When they’re good, we’re opting to become better versions of ourselves, or as I like to think of it, leaning into becoming who we were always meant to be.
And so, it seems to me that it’s time to put a great deal of thought and effort into identifying the good and bad habits in my life, new habits I want to establish, and doing the work to get them going.
What problems am I trying to solve?
- Physical health: I’m overweight, I don’t have the level of fitness I have previously maintained, I eat poorly too much of the time, and alcohol is doing me no favors.
- Mental health: I’m scattered, distracted, and too often do things that let depression and ADHD take the wheel.
- Career: I am desperately underemployed and in a line of work that leads me to feel trapped, while also giving me constant stress because I’m barely getting by and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
- Money: As above, not enough of it. And I’ve got plenty of valuable skills, but I haven’t been leveraging them properly. Barely at all, really.
- Creativity: I am a creative person, but I am not applying my creative skills remotely enough. I am not making enough and I’m not shipping enough creative work. Engaging in creative work is relevant to my professional goals, of course, but it’s also something that’s deeply satisfying for me. I enjoy it.
Of course, not all aspects of these problems are to be addressed by habit alone. Good habits provide a foundation, however, on which to build success. Put together, our core habits effectively constitute an operating system. Ideally, our default behaviors should be such that they inevitably yield a lot of the results we desire.
For example, weight loss: if I’m engaging in the right dietary and physical activity habits, those will naturally yield my being a healthier person at a leaner body composition.
This isn’t just conjecture, either. I know it to be true because I’ve done it before. When I’ve been in more high-functioning phases of my life, my habits have naturally yielded the results I wanted.
So what habits am I trying to establish now? The list is long, and trying to create too many at once is only going to guarantee failure, so the trick is to begin with a few habits, get them established, and then add others. Initially, the four habits I’m focusing on are:
- Daily meditation and journaling (I have come to see these as a unit, as one practice supports the other)
- Daily physical activity: a combination of cycling, calisthenics, and mobility work, focusing on the MED (minimum effective dose) to keep things light and easy to accomplish
- Daily study and use of Japanese
Each of these will contribute significantly to better health, happiness, and ability to accomplish my larger goals.
Finally, let me include one specific goal. I want to get my weight down. Part of it is simply for health, as the extra weight isn’t doing anything good for me. It’s also a matter of confidence—most of my adult life, I’ve been pretty lean. I’ve put on about 10 kg (22 lbs) since COVID hit, and I just don’t like how I look now. When I’m lighter, I look better and I feel much more confident.
So my goal is as follows: get from my current weight (78.5 kg) down to my goal weight of around 68-70 kg by the end of the year. This is entirely doable over this time frame (just under 14 weeks). I just have to do it.
And now I’m getting distracted and remembering the various things I need to get done before work, so I’m going to finish this off and move on to other things. I will be back here with more new posts soon, though. I’ll also be figuring out a way to integrate public habit tracking on this site, for the sake of accountability.
Thanks for reading!
Recently, in my never-ending search for tools to help me manage my ADHD-addled brain better, I found brain.fm. It’s a tool that uses specifically-designed music to aid in relaxation and focus, and I’ve been very impressed with how well it’s been helping me remain focused when I sit down to do things like, say, write this blog post. The price is reasonable and they’re adding new music all the time. I recommend it.
I have a referral link, too. Note that I don’t get any kind of referral fee or other benefit, it just lets you sign up at a reduced price. I’m including it here simply because it’s a tool I believe in, and if it helps me, it might help you, too. Try brain.fm