Posted by Lynne Spreen on January 26, 2014
Happy New Year! I’ve been off in the dungeon, working away at my new book. It’s a sequel to Dakota Blues, because you’ve been hounding me for same, and hey, I aim to please.
Remember I promised to get back to you on forming new habits in 2014? Good news: I think I found something. According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, you can’t expect to completely erase old habits. Give up on that, because they are hard-wired into your brain. Habits are developed as an evolutionary tool to conserve brain energy. Once you learn to do something on cue, you don’t have to think. In survival terms, that’s good, because it allows you to then focus on other things, like not getting devoured by a sabertooth.
That’s why habits, once established, are darn hard to break. Duhigg says it’s smarter to let the habit continue, but just replace certain harmful elements with good ones. Here’s the habit chain: you perceive a cue, which sets up a craving, which results in you following a routine that leads to a reward. The only part of this chain you can change is the routine. If you replace an old routine with a new one, you’re golden. Your brain is fooled, it’s happy, and the habit will stick.
To use myself as an example, remember I said I crave a glass of wine in midafternoon? At about two o’clock, my energy flags. After working all day (I start early) in the dungeon, I also feel a little guilty about ignoring Bill. I want to party, but it sets up a cascade of bad effects. After a short burst of wine-induced energy, I feel lazy and my inhibitions are lowered, so I snack and drink more, and for rest of the evening, accomplish less.
I know. Loser. That’s how it makes me feel.
But using Duhigg’s work-around, I think I’m on track to overcome my problem. Here’s the old routine.
- Cue: 2:00 pm (party time)
- Routine: wine and snacks on the patio with my honey
- Reward: sociability, relaxation, a buzz
Here’s the new routine:
- Cue: 2:00 pm (party time)
- Routine: caffeinated tea and snacks on the patio with my honey
- Reward: sociability, relaxation, a buzz
For almost two weeks I’ve substituted tea for wine, and it seems to be working. By the time the tea is gone, so is the craving. Bonus: the buzz I’m feeling is about caffeine-induced real energy, so I get more done in the evenings. I think this “replace the routine” idea has legs. How cool to think we might be able to overcome our old bad habits by simply out-thinking them.
So consider trying it. You can also find out more at Duhigg’s website, The Power of Habit.
Enjoy your weekend!
Posted by Lynne Spreen on January 11, 2014
One of my greatest fears is that I will sleepwalk through my life, only to figure out at the end of my days that I did it wrong. I wasted an opportunity. Maybe I’ll realize I played by the wrong rules, worked hard to get to pointless places, or simply failed to fully appreciate the gifts that were showered on me: the people who love me, the quiet of my patio, the chance to have a picnic in the nearby mountains, time out for music. A slow read of a good book. A movie, designed to inspire. A gallery, just an hour away, that I’ve been telling people about for ten years, and have probably not visited in the same amount of time. A walk through the oasis that is The Indian Canyons.
I’ve been remiss. The new year brings a desire for change, a resolve to do better. I’m not sure how, but I’m taking the first step: my eyes are open now.
I’m reminded of a passage from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson:
This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it,” says the character John Ames. “I know this is all apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it…I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely…”
Happy New Year, my friends.
Posted by Lynne Spreen on December 27, 2013
There it was again, in an interview in Parade magazine last Sunday, with Emma Thompson and Dotson Rader:
Rader: When you were at Cambridge, you became a feminist. I don’t mean that in a negative sense.
Thompson: No, it’s not a negative word.
We accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist. She was not someone we wanted to emulate…In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naïvely, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore. We mistakenly thought that there was nothing left to fight for.
Feminism has fallen out of favor. This is partly because it has been taken over by extremists. Lately, for example, it’s considered bad feminist form to diet, lest one be perceived as selling one’s soul in compliance with cultural norms of beauty. (Dang, right after I started back on Weight Watchers!) According to an article in Elle Magazine this month, Marisa Meltzer says,
There’s a thread of old-school feminist thought that says taking pleasure in being admired for our looks is participating in our own oppression…
Daughter, please. There’s also a thread of feminist thought that says make up your own mind about what you want to take pleasure in. Just don’t let anybody limit you based on gender.
The feminist movement (a) made some mistakes and (b) got co-opted by the forces of capitalism. Unfortunately, the message of feminism was perverted from “you can be whatever you want to be” to “you must be a spectacular over-achiever.” Women are expected to be perfect mothers and partners while running corporations, and they’re freaking out and opting out.
Although we’ve opened up classrooms and board rooms, allowing women to go where only men have gone before, we’ve ignored the fact that women have wombs, ovaries and breasts, plus the talent for perpetuating the human race. This requires a little more effort and time, which they’re not getting. They’re expected to pop out babies on their lunch hours and get right back to work, pumping breast milk in the ladies’ room while wolfing a sandwich at their desks.
It’s horrendous. A nightmare. I’d be pissed, too. But instead of competing with each other for the title of Superwoman, we should recognize that women face similar difficulties and challenges in work and life. That used to be the basis for feminism. Our common difficulties impelled us to band together and fix things. We rejoiced in our collective power to shape a society that for too long had taken our contributions for granted while barring us from real power.
Back in the day, we wanted to be liberated from stereotypes that said we couldn’t be astronauts or fire fighters, and from rules that we should act or look a certain way to keep society from feeling threatened. Yes, some of us took it too far. Some of us became narcissistic assholes. If you were raised by one, I apologize.
But here’s one of the coolest, most empowering things I, as an old broad, can share with you. If you don’t like something? Change it, alone or collectively. Remember, there is more power in numbers, so you might get a couple hundred thousand sisters to join you in your mission. Call it whatever you want, but do something. Make yourself proud.
You can wallow in the nastiness of what is, or stand up, hose off the mud, and create a better world for yourself and other humans. If not for yourself, for your daughters and sons. At least, please try.
Posted by Lynne Spreen on December 20, 2013
I always feel energized by the arrival of a new year. It’s like a clean slate, twelve sprawling months ahead for reaching my dreams. Do you feel that way, too?
If so, maybe I can help by sharing my own plans and a great book recommendation. My goals are to lose weight and become a best-selling author in 2014, which is the year I turn sixty.
Hey, a girl can dream.
Re: the weight loss, I’m a recidivist Lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I like the program because they taught me how to eat during the craziness of menopause. But I’m not plugging them – any program you stick to will work. So, how do you do that?
To prepare myself, I picked up a great book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, I learned:
- Habit is more powerful than addiction
- Your brain resorts to habit because it conserves energy, which is then freed up for survival
- Scientists now agree on proven strategies for developing new habits or changing old ones.
To change an old habit, Duhigg reports, you learn to recognize the cue that triggers the routine that leads to the reward. Then you leave the cue and reward alone, and change the routine. In other words, you don’t try to rewire your brain not to want what it wants – you just go about getting to the reward a different way.
This intrigues me. To test the theory (so you don’t have to), I’m going to work on one of my worst habits: I crave a glass of wine around 3 p.m., which usually leads to a cascade of consequences like eating too much for dinner, etc. That’s an old habit I need to change.
On the other hand, creating a new habit, Duhigg says, requires a slightly different approach. You create a cue and reward (which must be cultivated into a craving). Then the routine connecting the cue and reward is the desired practice, like exercise or meditation. In other words, in order to create a new habit of meditating, I’ll have to invent a cue and reward that make me want to repeat the routine.
I know this is vague but why load you up with details before I test drive the theories? But if they work, how cool if you could develop a foolproof strategy for making yourself into the person you’ve always wanted to be? The future would be unlimited!
So here’s my plan: I’m going to get started, and right around the first of January, I’ll report back to you about my degree of initial success, so you can decide whether Duhigg’s methods hold promise for you.
As for the best-selling author plan, I’ll be working on some strategies (like better time management, and daily meditation to enhance my creativity). One thing I’m not very good at is asking for help, so here goes:
If you read Dakota Blues, and liked it, would you mind telling a friend? And if you haven’t yet tried it, I’m getting really good reviews on Amazon, so you might want to check it out. People say it’s empowering, inspiring, and joyful. Also, it contains tips, strategies and wisdom, delivered in story form, for living your best life after fifty. Here’s the link, and I hope you love it.
What are you planning for 2014? Why don’t you share your aspirations in the comments below?
Posted by Lynne Spreen on December 13, 2013