Habits are the new resolutions

Green neon sign that reads: Habits to be made. Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Every year we set resolutions and every year we forget them, often before the shine is off the New Year.

As we head into a new year—and a new decade!—maybe it’s time to approach this admirable but often fruitless activity and work on forming new habits.

Habits are the less flashy cousins of the showier resolutions. Resolutions are often BHAGs—big, hairy, audacious goals; they make a statement. They say to the world, “I can do something that matters.” Habits are smaller, quieter, more straightforward, and often far less grand. But behind their modest exterior, habits are extremely powerful. Habits can change our lives.

Depending on who you follow in the world of habits, you might learn that it’s impossible to stop bad habits—that our only real chance is to replace the patterns that no longer serve us with new ones. This makes sense; habits are a well-worn groove in our brains. Our best hope is to form a new groove.

And for real: who doesn’t love a new groove.

The trick to habit formation is to use an approach like the one that James Clear outlines in his book Atomic Habits (one of my top three book picks from 2019). You can get a jump start with this guide from James Clear.

  1. Make it ridiculously easy to say yes.
  2. Start small. Really small.
  3. Make incremental improvements; break down big habits into smaller ones.
  4. Track your progress. Note that I said progress, not perfection. You are looking at the trend. If you miss a day, get back on track, and don’t look back.
  5. Be patient and kind to yourself. Change takes time. When we rush, we burn out, and that can throw us back to square one.

As with resolutions, it’s tempting to go waaaaay overboard and come up with audacious goals.

Stop right there.

I want you to think small. Habits are building blocks for other larger habits, so trust me when I say that little things pay off. For example, developing a habit of getting up on a schedule can facilitate a whole slew of other habits: reading, exercise, quality family time, and more. Some of these habits offer multiple benefits and enable other habits that lead to accomplishing big goals. Whether you want to create a painting, write a book, learn data science, run a marathon, become flexible, all of these goals start with small habits.

So, here are 10 examples of things that you can do to start small to go big:

  1. Read for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  2. Exercise for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  3. Always take the farthest parking spot to get more steps into your day
  4. Always return the kitchen to ready before you go to bed
  5. Never leave dishes in the sink
  6. Wash underwear and socks every Friday
  7. Change your sheets on Tuesday
  8. Walk your dog before or after every meal
  9. Write a one-line summary of your day (learn more from Austin Kleon)
  10. Make some quick art to explore your feelings (learn more from Sam Bennett)

Pick one habit and start with that. When it becomes automatic or nearly so, pick something else and add it to the mix. Most people select too many things and make them too big and too complicated. RESIST that temptation. Cut it waaaaay down.

Last year I started with a ridiculous list of habits that I wanted to work on, 15-20! I started with 3×5 cards and then graduated to a spreadsheet. Don’t do this. Habit tracking became a part-time job. I realized pretty quickly that I could reliably keep track of three things in my head. (Three is a magic number, after all.) So, I focused on three things. Pretty soon, those things became a regular part of my day. I did them without thinking. They became habits. Honestly, I felt like I won the habit lottery! One of my goals was to read more, 50 books a year, or about one book a week. So, I started by switching on the light when the alarm went off every morning and grabbing a book off the nightstand and reading for about 30 minutes. Was it hard at first? Yeah, a little. But now the alarm cues the light and the light signals the reading, and I am happy and amazed to report that I have read more than 50 books this year, something I never thought I would do. We also make the bed almost every day, and I write in my journal regularly. The kitchen stays cleaner, I make and finish more quilts, and I exercise more. I get 10 thousand steps or more most days thanks to my workout Buddy.

Buddy, the Mountain Cur mix

Now I want to work on my creative habits: quilting, painting, and writing. I also want to create a yoga habit and exercise every day. I want to cook more and eat better. I want to tackle some hard subjects. Plenty of habits to work on in the new year! This TEDx talk by Amanda Crowell provides some critical insights into why we don’t do what we say we are going to do. It comes down to identity. If we don’t see ourselves as yoga practitioners, or writers or artists or learners, we won’t be successful in making long-term change in these areas. Take some time to reflect on how you see yourself now and how that fits with your habit goals.

20/20 is the standard for good eyesight, and as the New Year approaches, let’s put down those resolutions and commit to seeing ourselves more clearly and practicing the habits that we need to accomplish our goals.

Habits are habit forming! 🙂

Wishing you many good habits in the New Year!


You can learn more about developing habits from these great teachers:

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (I loved the book and recommend his emails, too)

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits (I recommend his emails)

Daily Stoic (I recommend the emails, and you can choose from daily or weekly formats)

2019: So Many Books

Books, books and more books Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič - @specialdaddy on Unsplash

One of my goals this year was to read 50 books. I haven’t read that many books in a year since I was a kid. Most of the books that I read now are non-fiction which, for me, has always been a different kind of reading. With some help from one of my top recommendations of the year, Atomic Habits by James Clear, I developed a rock-solid reading habit.

The three books that I read this year that I would recommend in general:

  1. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  2. Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
  3. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

The three books I would recommend to artists:

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. Art Inc by Lisa Congdon
  3. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne OR Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

The three books I would recommend to people having an existential crisis:

  1. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
  2. What if this were enough? by Heather Havrilesky
  3. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

I also read:

  1. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
  2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  3. The Mastery of Self by don Miguel Ruiz Jr.
  4. The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker 
  5. The Education of Will by Patricia B. McConnell 
  6. Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud
  7. The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman
  8. Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson
  9. Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins
  10. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
  11. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  12. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher
  13. Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Miller and Michael B. Frisch
  14. The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
  15. The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
  16. Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland
  17. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  18. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  19. This is Marketing by Seth Godin
  20. The Next Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley Ph.D. and Sarah Stanley Fallaw Ph.D 
  21. Everybody, Always by Bob Goff
  22. Ransacker by Emmy Laybourne 
  23. Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  24. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  25. Choose Wonder Over Worry by Amber Rae
  26. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge 
  27. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 
  28. Job Joy: Your Guide to Success, Meaning and Happiness in Your Career
    by Kristen J. Zavo and Ellen Petry Leanse
  29. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  30. The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh and Lazlo Bock
  31. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  32. Worth It by Amanda Steinberg
  33. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by Dr. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger 
  34. Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, David Maxfield
  35. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson 
  36. Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, et al.
  37. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor 
  38. Get it Done by Sam Bennett
  39. Start Right Where You Are by Sam Bennett
  40. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark
  41. The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen
  42. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  43. The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

Coaching is my new jam, especially coaching for executives and creatives, so I read a lot of related books. I am also interested in how we can improve end-of-life care for ourselves and others so there are a few books on my list on that topic. And there’s still a little time left in 2019 for another book (or two!). Send me a note and tell me your favorite reads from the past year. I always appreciate a good book recommendation.

Header photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

I don’t know who needs this today …

Capturing a shooting star over a bridge. Photo by Alejandro Benėt on Unsplash

I am reading Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna. It’s not at all what I expected. It’s a deeply profound book about understanding who you are and the forces that formed you and your beliefs. If you are lost, temporarily or habitually, or you want to break out of a pattern than brings more sorrow than joy, this is a place to start.

My biggest takeaway so far: to see a shooting star, you need to soften your gaze. Focus will not help you.

unsplash-logoAlejandro Benėt

Gift Ideas

Woman presenting a wrapped gift with a red bow

‘Tis the season! I read today that on top of the regular waste produced, Americans generate an additional 25% more trash Thanksgiving and New Years, about one million tons more waste per week. I think we can do better: we can reduce consumption, buy gifts that last, give gifts that are experiences, and help others. Here are some ideas to get you started. These aren’t affiliate links, just 10 my favorite things, from free to $76.00+. Add your own and remember the Earth we share in all that you do.

Gift of time: One of my all-time favorite gifts is the gift of time. Take someone out shopping, to the movies, help around the house, do some Netflix binging (The Crown, anyone?) Free or nearly so, but you can make someone feel rich.

Gift of listening: Brush up on your active listening skills and give the people you love the gift of listening this year. Everyone likes to be heard. It’s a gift that keeps giving. Free but also so valuable.

Gift of story: Record family or personal stories in writing or with a video or audio recording. Use a composition book, your smartphone, whatever you have handy. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Additional resources available at the Story Corps website. Free and also priceless.  

Cherry Republic: We have been the lucky recipient of a couple of gift boxes from Cherry Republic. The Little Six Gift Box is $65; is the Cherry Cheer Gift Box is $70.

Serrv: buy beautiful gifts from around the world that support artisans (many are women and people with disabilities who might otherwise have difficulty finding work). Delight your loved ones with fair trade, ethically made foods, home items, jewelry and more. My favorites: Divine Chocolate, including the Mini Dark Chocolate Bars, Zanzibar Island Spice, Decorative Baskets, Nativities of all kinds, and much more. I am a big fan of the Layered Peace Wreath. $3.95 and up.

One Simple Wish: Grant a wish for a kid living in foster care on behalf of someone you love. You can sort by gender and geography to make the gift as special as your recipient. For extra fun, make or buy your loved one a magic wand and grant wishes together. Every amount counts.

Splendor: This may be my most-played board game of all time. Since early April, I have played almost every day. We play asynchronously, taking a turn when we have a free moment. One turn at a time has translated into hundreds of games. Check out The Rules Girl for the 3-minute video on how to play. Splendor is available at Target, but I suggest that you pick it up at your local game store if you have one. $40

Cutco: I have had Cutco knives FOREVER. Made in the U.S. and guaranteed forever. They are still sharp, and they are still my favorites. I think the Trimmer is their most versatile knife, $76.

Art Inc: I love this book by Lisa Congdon. Let’s squash the myth of the starving artist once and for all! Signed copy for $16.95

Let’s Make Art box: These monthly art kits contain four watercolor projects and access to online paint-alongs and tutorials. Yes, you can paint a watercolor painting on your first try. Sarah Cray helps the inner artist in all of us! $45 for a single box (and even the box is fun!). I like the Butcher Tray & Brushes Bundle for $20, too.


Space to breathe

Two friends contemplate the awe that is Mt. Hood

I love the expression “breathing room.” It’s about making space for yourself expressed as a fundamental human need: breathing.

When we are overworked or overwhelmed, we instinctively try to create space in our lives to “catch our breath” (another great expression!) before we continue on.

I just finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by writer and therapist Lori Gottlieb. It’s a page-turning account of her life as a therapist and as a client. This is an excellent book for therapists, coaches, social workers, and all other humans.

I thought I knew what therapy was — just like I felt that I knew what coaching was before completing a coach training program. There’s a prevailing belief even among those in the know than therapy is about fixing you. But it’s not that at all.

Therapy and its cousin coaching are about giving you breathing room, the space to consider your life and the stories that you have created to make meaning of your existence. People seek therapy and coaching because they need to move to a new place in their lives, and they need a guide, someone familiar with the terrain who can support them on this journey to the unknown.

There’s a great piece by Heather Plett on “Holding Space,” a concept familiar to many coaches, but unfamiliar and downright foreign to others. The simplest explanation is to allow people to occupy a space without judgment or opinion. You just let them be who they are at that moment. This breathing room enables people to unlock everything that has been closed up tight, to relax, to consider other possibilities, to reconsider their stories, to accept their innate worth.

One of the most beautiful expressions of this is in Taylor Swift’s song Lover:

“And at every table, I’ll save you a seat.”

I tear up every time that I hear that line. It’s the ultimate expression of love and belonging. It’s holding space.

If you want to learn about therapy and how to create breathing room in your life, I encourage you to read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. To find a therapist in your area, visit the Psychology Today website.

If you want to learn about coaching, check out this article from Positive Psychology: 30 Proven Benefits of Life Coaching & Mentoring.

You can also reach out to me or any coach to learn more. There are multiple directories of coaching practitioners online, and most coaches offer a free 30-minute introductory or discovery call.

Take the next step. Let someone hold space for you and give you room to breathe.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

When life gives you cucumbers…

Cucumber photo by Deviyahya on Unsplash

We joined a CSA this year (Community Supported Agriculture). We bought two shares from Helsing Junction Farms in Washington: a mini share and a snack share. It’s actually too much, even for two vegetarians who are trying to eat more vegetables and fruits, but we weren’t sure what to expect. 

We pick up our shares once a week. The pick-up spot is just down the street, which is super convenient and really was a deciding factor since, for the most part, we live far away from everything. Our shares are packed in a small box. We transfer everything to bags and then flatten the boxes, part of CSA etiquette.

We have had blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples, arugula, kale, chard, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, radishes, fennel, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and more. Every week is a little different, but greens and green beans are a recurring item. The other thing that we have had a lot of is cucumbers, and more than one variety. I love cucumbers, and last year I grew a variety called Mideast Peace by Adaptive Seeds based in Sweet Home, Oregon. I have never had success with cucumbers, so I thought this was a long shot. But I liked the name and the description. Wow. These cucumbers are perfect. 

My only complaint is that I didn’t grow enough plants, so this year, I doubled the number of plants, and I bought a couple of lemon cucumber plants. As you might expect, lemon cucumbers are about the size and color of a lemon. They are also yummy, and one is the perfect size for two people. Sliced into wedges and sprinkled with Coffee BBQ Rub from Trader Joe’s, lemon cucumbers made a great appetizer. 

Well, to borrow a line from that American classic, Airplane, I picked the wrong week to expand my cucumber bed. SO MANY CUCUMBERS. We might typically buy one cucumber a week from the store and use it on salads. Between the CSA and our own garden, some weeks we have had 6-8 or more. Cucumbers aren’t something you freeze or cook. Like our crazy tomato harvest, we started eating them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

We ate them with hummus. We made cucumber peanut salad and cucumber raita. This week we tried a creamy cucumber salad. And still, there was a stack of cucumbers on the counter and a second bunch of dill staring us down. So we considered refrigerator pickles. I’ve heard of these but never tried them. I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective as a starting point. I didn’t have any pickle jars, so I used a 6-cup rectangular glass container with a snap-on lid, and I went crazy and tripled the recipe. I skipped the mustard seeds simply because I didn’t have any on hand and I added 2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning. I was heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, added fresh jalapeno rings, and went light on the onion (I used red onion). I used a combination of cucumbers, some small, some large, about 8 or 9, I think. The recipe says to wait 24 hours, but I cheated and had some with a grilled cheese sandwich at around the 18-hour mark. These are darn good. Spicy (hello, red pepper flakes!) but so tasty. How have I lived this long without making refrigerator pickles? Now we want to try to pickle other things! Watch out world! 

Yummy homemade cucumbers on a plate
Old Bay Pickles, whaaaaaat?

I was worried that the brine wasn’t quite enough to cover the cucumbers, but I think that it pulled some water from the cukes and worked out perfectly.  

Being part of a CSA has reminded me of the importance of staying connected to our food supply and what might be lost without small farms. I realized anew how much food is worth and that low-cost food might have a hidden price tag. When you can see and name the people who grow your food, it changes how you feel about it. Buying direct from a farmer is more personal than picking up your vegetables at a big box store. And when you have a front-row seat to growing conditions, logistics, and harvest mishaps, it creates tremendous empathy for farmers and gratitude for the food in general. 

CSAs offer some unusual varieties that push even experienced vegetable eaters like ourselves into new territory. Fresh fava beans? Check. Roma beans? Figured out after one failed attempt. Maybe I accidentally made a smoothie with arugula, but it was still edible. We have also become more nimble with our food stores and better at being creative with what we have. I can’t tell you how many new recipes we tried this summer to use the stockpile of beans, to figure out fennel, to eat up the greens, and to conquer the cucumbers. It pushed us to a new place, and that’s good. It gave our growth mindset a serious workout. I think we all need that. Next up: we plan to pull out the spiralizer* and make Chilled Lemon-Dill Cucumber Noodles from kitchn.

So when life hands you cucumbers — you know what to do.

*If you are wondering if spiralizers are a useful gadget, we have this one, and we use it all the time for zucchini noodles, AKA, zoodles. (I especially like the safety features.) 

Photo by Deviyahya on Unsplash

Get out your seam ripper

Mistakes happen--that's why I own 8 seam ripperspper.

I recently worked on a quilt project, four placemats for my dad. The fabrics were selected to reflect his experience as a Boy Scout. He was an Eagle Scout, and he worked at a scout camp. One of his duties was to care for a fox on loan from the local zoo. Foxy made a big impression on my dad, so, of course, he had to be part of the quilt. 

I used a quilt-as-you-go technique for these mini quilts with two-inch strips set on a 45-degree angle. To keep the pieces straight, I start in the middle and sew to one corner, and then I flip the quilt over and sew from the middle to the opposite corner. I learned the hard way that starting from one side can result in some distortion. 🙁 

These went together pretty fast, and the strips covered the batting and the backing fabric almost perfectly. I trimmed the quilts to neat rectangles and then sewed the binding together. For the first time ever, I sewed all the mitered seams correctly without having to redo them! Yes!

Then I started sewing on the binding. This is where I first goofed up. I join the edges of the binding in a mitered seam but miscalculated the overlap, so the binding didn’t match up. Then I noticed an even bigger goof-up: the foxes were upside down.

The backing fabric features the Boy Scout Oath with a definite top to the material, and the eagle fabric was laid out in a particular way as well. When I flipped the quilts to sew from the middle to the left, I flipped the foxes, so they were right side up as I was sewing them. Alas, this rendered them upside down in the finished quilt! Things like this happen to everyone, even experienced sewers, but it’s not fun. 

At this point, I just had to get up and walk away. 

In the past, this is where I might have abandoned the project. I am sorry to admit that I have been short on grit more than once in my life. But it’s something I have been working on, so the next day I returned to the sewing room to assess the situation. Luckily, the fox fabric is the second strip from the edge so I would only need to remove two pieces. I had plenty of material and even had extra strips cut. I decided to try removing the binding only from the affected corner. I wasn’t sure if this would work but decided it was worth a try. 

I pulled out my seam ripper. Actually, I probably have eight seam rippers. It’s a small but indispensable sewing gadget prone to being misplaced. So, I have purchased multiple seam rippers over the years. My Clover 463 seam ripper is probably my favorite. Seam rippers are ingenious tools and helpful for all kinds of sewing and non-sewing related tasks.

I made my corrections in stages, so it wasn’t as frustrating to undo the work that I thought was done. I removed the binding first and then came back twice to remove the two corner pieces. Luckily my first quilt was correct. I always do one as a strip guide when making multiples of the same style. It didn’t work perfectly as a guide, but as I said, these things happen in spite of the precautions that we take to ensure a good outcome.

I ultimately sewed on the new corner strips, trimmed the quilts and sewed on the binding. I hand sew the binding in place as the last step, and I am happy to report that they turned out great. 

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process. It helps to have tools in your toolbox to recover from errors and other setbacks, gadgets like my trusty seam ripper.

What are some other tools that can help you handle setbacks?

Mistakes are also an inevitable part of life–not just creative work. It’s a great idea to get good at failing: Acknowledge and label your feelings, don’t label yourself as a failure, and cultivate a sense of humor. Most importantly, remember that failure is an event, not a personality trait. 

Fall down seven times, get up eight. You’ve got this.