(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River.)
One of the positive effects of the worldwide pandemic is the potential for improvements in our lifestyle. Yes, what began as a necessity was soon accompanied by the realization that we can consciously choose to reinvent our life. Actually, this is not even the first step; it must be preceded by the realization that most of our life is composed of habits. We are not making deliberate, present-tense choices; we are being controlled by our habits. (Habits replace the need for thinking. Thinking is hard work; habits eliminate the need for thinking. Do you have to think about how to brush your teeth or button a shirt? No; these are habitual actions, performed without thinking.) We perform the same routines, over and over, often for years, without taking time to examine them or ask if there might be a better way. Likewise, our way of thinking is also habitual; most people are equally unaware that we have the ability to change how we think.
For most of us, nothing changes, including our habitual ways of thinking, until something like a pandemic forces us to change. (Why should we want to change? It is much easier to just follow your usual routine, something that does not require thinking.) Now, rather than lament our lost lifestyle because of the pandemic, we should rejoice. Embrace the epiphany moment when we realize that we have the power to change. Now, we can carefully evaluate our habits, then decide if we want to continue living as before – assuming that is a viable choice – or if we should shift to a superior behavior by making a few changes.
In my case, such self-examination has resulted in several decisions about changes I wish to make. However, rather than make a permanent commitment, I am choosing to make changes for 30 days at a time – a 30-Day test, if you will. At the end of the 30 days, I can decide what to continue or what to abandon. Regular readers may remember when I stopped drinking coffee for 30 days a few months ago. It was a positive experience because it made me realize how much coffee I was drinking and also made me realize how habitual this was. Since then, I have returned to drinking coffee but not as much as before – and, now that I am much more conscious of it, with more enjoyment. It is now a choice with an alternative, abstaining, which I explored during the 30 coffee-free days.
I have been considering some other personal habits that I have evolved and maintained for years. Prompted by the excellent book 30 Days by Marc Reklau, I have begun to some new 30-day experiments. The first new 30-day test is to limit myself to three hours per day of digital time. Over the years, I had gradually increased the amount of time I was sitting at my desk, working on the computer. Too much screen time, too much time struggling with details and complications, and too much time developing swivel-chair spread. I also realized working on the computer inherently involves a certain degree of stress and frustration – because the dern things almost never perform as they are supposed to. In fact, there are times when I seriously believe that my digital devices are conspiring together to make me crazy.
However, when I limit myself to only three hours per day, I am forced to carefully choose which activities will be worked on that day. Prioritizing is critical. This time limit also emphasized the need for efficiency since I had only three hours available. A bonus of limiting myself to three hours of digital/desk time daily, is I have more time for other non-digital activities that have been neglected. Now I have more time for my family, for cooking and baking, for cleaning and organizing, reading for pleasure – and for going fishing! (I don’t always go fishing to catch fish. Although at least the possibility of catching a fish is a prerequisite, that is not my primary purpose. Often, I simply want to get out of the house and get some fresh air. While I am nominally fishing, I will also have my Kindle close at hand.)
Another 30-day project is a little more personal. I have decided to forgo alcohol in any form for 30 days. (Note: Like my test with coffee abstinence, if someone invites me out for a drink, I will not decline. However, I will not drink at home. For inquiring minds, let me assure you there was no particular incident that precipitated this resolution. I have no health problems and I don’t drink to excess; I learned years ago about the consequences of that. However, I became a little concerned when I was evaluating my habits and I realized drinking had become a daily activity. In fact, I could not remember the last time I went any significant length of time without drinking. There is a fine line between a lifestyle and a habit. I wanted to be sure that my drinking was still a choice but not a habit. The easiest way to do this was a 30-day test period of abstinence to prove I can live without alcohol. (We have a saying in my American state of Missouri: Show me. That motto means: Don’t just tell me with words, show me with action. Or, as my father used to say, “Until somebody puts some money on the table, all you have is talk.”)
Now, after only a week with no alcohol, I have already seen some changes. My sleep patterns definitely improved within two or three days. I am sleeping better, as in more hours and with fewer times to wake up in the middle of the night. I also feel better each morning when I get up. All this shows me that my body had become accustomed to alcohol almost every day. 30 days without alcohol will prove I do not have the habit, mentally or physically. At least, it will prove that the habit does not control me.
What about you? What habits have become part of your life – perhaps over many years? What do you do every day without thinking? What habit have you made part of your routine without realizing it is a choice? Even more important, how might your life be changed – perhaps significantly improved – if you changed some of your habits? Everything we learned, we might have learned differently – and it’s not too late to adopt some alternatives.
In some ways, the 30-day test reminds me of the Benjamin Franklin 13-Week system of self-improvement. As a young man, Franklin developed a weekly rotation of certain traits that he considered most valuable for improving himself. You can find his entire list of thirteen as well as my personal list of desired traits in my book It’s That Simple. If you don’t want to buy the book, send an email to randy@randy–green.com and I’ll be happy to send you a PDF with the complete list and explanation of the Franklin system.
So, as I enter the second week of my joint 30-day tests (only three hours of digital time daily and no alcohol), I feel pretty good. It makes me wonder, however, what other physical routines and what other habitual ways of thinking should be examined in detail. In changing our lives, the Covid-19 pandemic has opened a window of opportunity. It can make us aware that we do have choices and that those choices are not permanent.
Why not try it in your life? What habits or assumptions can you change or abstain from for 30 days that might lead to improved productivity or a healthier lifestyle? It’s only for 30 days; if you wish, you can revert to your old ways – but with the knowledge that it is now a choice.
P. S. In further reviewing my activities and attitudes this week, I found one other change I will make. This change will be longer than 30 days. For several years, I have published a new blog post article weekly; there have been very few weeks I did not release something new.
Now, upon examination, I find that the deadline of publishing weekly has become a major source of my stress – at least from sources I can control. Additionally, the time involved in publishing weekly means that there are many other activities and projects which I do not have time to do while I am working on the blog post. The opportunity cost is growing as I defer an increasing number of other projects to meet the weekly publishing deadline.
I decided that I would continue to publish blog articles but less frequently. Primarily, I want to reduce the stress that comes from trying to complete all of the many steps necessary to publish an article each week. Therefore, beginning immediately, I will plan to publish a new article every two weeks. I will see how a biweekly schedule feels. This change will allow me time for writing more thoughtful articles. But the greatest benefit I expect from this change will be to reduce the stress of a continually looming deadline.
This is not meant to be a permanent change – although, perhaps it will be. Initially, this will simply be a test to see if my old system and my old attitudes should be adjusted to new realities. This is one more example of how we need to regularly rethink all our old routines and ways of thinking to decide if a change is warranted.
What about you? What is something you have been doing – perhaps for years – that needs to be reviewed… and perhaps changed? Maybe you should try changing for only 30 days to see what happens. As Marc Reklau says, you can rebuild your life by changing your habits. (I call it reinventing.) One or two baby steps a day – each day – will have a tremendous cumulative effect.
另一个30天的项目是比较个人化的。我决定在30天内放弃任何形式的酒精。(注：就像我对戒咖啡的测试一样，如果有人邀请我出去喝酒，我不会拒绝。但是，我不会在家里喝酒。对于好奇的人，让我向你保证，没有任何特别的事件促使我做出这个决议。我没有健康问题，也不会过量饮酒；多年前我就知道了这样做的后果。然而，当我在评估自己的习惯时，我开始有点担心，我意识到喝酒已经成为一种日常活动。事实上，我不记得自己上一次长时间不喝酒是什么时候了。生活方式和习惯之间有一条微妙的界限。我想确定我的饮酒仍然是一种选择，而不是一种习惯。最简单的方法是进行30天的禁欲测试期，以证明我可以不喝酒。(在我的美国密苏里州，我们有一句话。Show me. 这句格言的意思是。不要只用言语告诉我，要用行动告诉我。或者，就像我父亲常说的那样，”除非有人把一些钱放在桌子上，否则你所拥有的只是空谈”）。)