Habits and Yoga

Do you ever notice a disconnect between what you say you do, and what you actually do? I, for example, say that I practice yoga, but realistically make it into the yoga studio less then 3 times a month.

Gandhi on the Boardwalk by Adam Morris on 500px.com

I was reflecting on this in December while I was in India, wondering how I could “get” myself into a healthy yoga routine. The determination to bring about sudden change for a renewed commitment often fails, in the same way that the new years resolutions typically are forgotten by February. And determination against your natural will will often have other detrimental side effects.

I know successful change contains two key components:

  1. Build a habit.
  2. Find the joy in it.
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9pm rule – week 2

My 21 day commitment of turning off my laptop by 9pm is an interesting project. After the first two weeks, I am finding:

  • It forces me to concentrate. Watching the clock tick down, I get things done quickly and efficiently before 9pm.
  • I send more e-mails: I don’t stress over making detailed and comprehensive responses, and am learning to effectively communicating my message with less.
  • The time after 9pm is a great stress relief. Being able to let go in the evening creates space that I don’t fill with the pressure to get things done.
  • On the down side – my posting has disappeared in the last week.

Strangely though, I feel out-of-balance. My previous 21-day stretches incorporating exercise, meditation and the creativity project have vanished.

Prof. Srikumar Rao, in his course, Creativity & Personal Mastery, states that anytime you are trying to change your behavior through an act of will, you are doing harm to yourself – instead you should focus on who you are being, and let the change happen naturally through you. In a way, these 21-day commitments are an attempt to force myself to change – and perhaps not the most effective way to bring about change.

Project Communication Tool: 15 Minute Round-up

Over the weekend, a colleague in the in open space retreat I attended suggested a method for communicating project status across a team without long, inefficient update meetings.

At the begining of each day, the project team (say 20 people) get together, and in the space of 15 minutes, everyone gives a brief update of what they’re working on and any problems they are encountering – while standing – no sitting allowed. People speak up if they are able to help, but no solutions are offered in the meeting.

Results: Everyone is informed about what others are worked upon, and connections form automatically to bring people together without wasting everyone’s time.

21 Days and the 9pm rule

Somewhere, I heard it takes 21 days to develop a habit. So, I started giving myself 21-day commitments to help create change in my life.

I believe true change comes naturally when your beliefs change, and the way to change your beliefs is through awareness. The experience of being committed and doing something non-negotiable for 21 days provides awareness of what commitment means. And, it is much easier for me to say, I must do this today, for the next 3 weeks, then I must do this today, for the rest of my life.

Lifehack.org had a piece yesterday on How to Create a Non-Optional Mindset which examined the problem of seeing items we want to accomplish in our life as optional:

Because we haven’t made the relevant body-changing habits non-negotiables in our life. On some level we still consider optimal eating and consistent exercise to be optional. Of course we do, otherwise we’d never have the start-stop problem.

Tool: 21 Day Commitment

I have just started my third 21-day commitment, the objectives of first two were:

  • Round 1: Minimum 15 minutes of meditation + 15 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Round 2: In addition to above, taking the time to recall my dreams in the morning, and posting to the creativity project each day.

Learnings: 21 Day Commitment

Round 1 Results: Success. Making sure I had time each day for meditation and exercise, even if it was only for 15 minutes, was not as hard as I thought. I find even these 30 minutes are giving me more energy and clarity during the day.

Round 2 Results: Failed. Trying to commit to 4 things in a day, was too much. I started doing the minimum exercise and meditation each day, and cutting out my sleep to get things done, which made my energy and clarity worse.

Round 3 Objective: 9 pm rule

I have just started round 3 with the 9 pm rule. The rule is no laptop after 9pm. No e-mail, no writing, no nothing, except if I choose to watch a movie. (Although, I never watch movies, so I don’t expect this to occur).

This was a suggestion by my friend Olivia Fox Cabane as a way to improve my lack-of-sleep and walking around in a daze. If I can eliminate the word “sleepyhead” from my girlfriend’s vocabulary, I will consider it a victory.

Slow down

A bit of good advice came to me today from the Creative Generalist (via Leslie’s super premium blog) – especially needed after working non-stop: the best way to boost creativity is to slow down, because:

  1. efficiency kills creativity
  2. speed denies you any change to think
  3. systems, by definition, throttle innovation
  4. a firm, disciplined focus stops people going off on tangents (which is where most creative ideas will be found)
  5. cutting costs often cuts out innovation too

Personally, I still want to know the where do you draw the line between getting things done, and making space to be creative? Or is it more a question of what is required for the task at hand?

Seems like I’m not the only one trying to figure out how to get things done…

How strong is your workplace?

Gallup, as described in the book, First, Break All the Rules, determined through rigorous analysis the 12 questions which are the most useful in describing the strength of a workplace, and created a story describing the strength of your job in terms of climbing a mountain. And because a company who has figured out the world’s organizational problems using hard-core statistics can’t be wrong – here are the 12 questions:

Base Camp: “What do I get?”

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the right materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

Camp 1: “What do I give?”

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Camp 2: “Do I belong here?”

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission / purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

Camp 3: “How can we all grow?”

11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?

12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

So how high on the mountain are you in your job?

Efficiency vs Mental space


My experiments with Getting Things Done have started. (Right-brained people of the world – don’t have a heart attack… it’s just an experiment.) Objective: to use this methods for reducing stress and to become more efficient by:

  1. Gathering all the thoughts on my mind
  2. Processing the thoughts
  3. Ensuring that items which need accomplishing have a clear, concrete next step attached to them
  4. Tackling one action at a time

“Supposedly” (i.e in some far-fetched theory) by getting vague thoughts out of your head and becoming clear on the next concrete action, mental space is created to get things done. More mental space = room for creative ideas to surface.

The catch is, if I become more efficient, and that raises other’s expectations… will I find myself taking on more responsibilities to fill the new found space? This could be a disaster in waiting.

Alternate Reality Excercise

The latest exercise from Prof. Rao’s Creativity & Personal Mastery course is about shifting your perspective of reality.The reality that we construct for ourselves is based on the limited information we receive through our experiences. So if something in your world is not working for you, why not change it?Here is what you can do:

  • Pick an area of your life that is not working.
  • Create a new reality that improves upon this “reality”. (Make it up. Be creative.)
  • This new reality must be plausible at some level.
  • Start living with this reality, and gathering evidence that supports that it is true.
  • Disregard all evidence that disproves this reality.

And then see what happens over the course of a week. I find it almost scary how easy it is to find the evidence I need to prove something radically different.

Mind-chatter exercise


Creativity & Personal Mastery has started again. This week’s exercise is to record our mind-chatter throughout the day. It is a very powerful reminder of how unproductive our thoughts can be. The objective is not to get rid of the mind-chatter, just to observe it.

A brilliant example of how useless mind-chatter can be:

I purchased a power-cord for my computer, paid in cash, didn’t ask for a receipt, and when I returned home and plugged it in, I discovered it was a dud.

My mind chatter began exploring the scenario of returning the item, and soon it was worrying about potential problems from not having a receipt. I actually started to feel angry at these mythical future attendants for refusing my request without a receipt – and worse, kept repeating the story in my head.

And continued repeating it for about 2-3 days… until I had a chance to return to the store. Of course, they exchanged it without any questions, leaving me to question why I had created all this completely useless mind-chatter to begin with.


  • Follow-up idea #3: Use the mind-chatter exercise to notice when you are repeatedly worrying about stupid things. Especially things that aren’t likely to happen in the future that won’t impact your life if they did.
  • Reminder #1: If you won’t remember it in a year, it is not that important.
  • Usability tip #6: Observing is just that – watching the thought, noticing the sensations, and accepting what is there without trying to change it. I find this difficult, as if I have a built in habit to try and fix what I don’t like. Unfortunately this just creates tension rather then to dissolve the undesirable state.

Observation exercise


Painting is a unique opportunity watch a picture unfold on the page. Visually, we experience color and tone everywhere, but our mind quickly translates these images into words and concepts to understand and interact with them. Soon as we label an object, “the tree”, “a bus”, “Mr. Anderson”… the unique experience is gone.

One exercise I enjoy is to sit and look at a common object, like a jacket – and try to see it, not as a jacket, but as I actually see it. To look at the color and tone, patterns and textures… without labeling it. Even colors are a deceptive label. A shiny black jacket is rarely black, but an intricate subtle reflection of various colors in the environment. The objective is to look until you no longer see the object, but see what you are seeing.

  • Usability tip #3: If you have trouble dropping labels, then try this: describe the object. Then, question your descriptions and look for the opposite For example, when you see black, ask yourself “how is it not black?”
  • Side-benefit #4: Observing without labeling has the effect of bring me into the present moment, heightening my sensations and sharpening my awareness. This is useful for creativity.