So, I’ve started a minimalist habit kick-off and acknowledged that it was going to take more than just a whim and a prayer, and this week — the tools that are helping me get the job done. Everyone has friends they can count on, right? Mine just come in the form of cute emojis and “you go, girl!” notifications.

HabitBull

There are likely hundreds of habit tracking apps on the web, but this is the one that I finally settled on after trying a few others. It’s easy and has a number of different ways to track — it can be a yes/no-either-I-did-it-or-didn’t habit, it can be attaining a certain number of something (i.e. writing 200 words per day) or many other variations of ways to track habits. HabitBull also has a list of some of the most common habits to help you set them up correctly. In the free version, you can track 5 different habits at one time.

Walk Me Up

So, how many of you are just like me and can hit the snooze button a few thousand times before actually crawling out of bed in the morning? What I realized was that this was true wasted time; I was already up but not doing anything remotely productive. And enter Walk Me Up — the app the forces you out of bed — to stop the highly annoying alarm, you need to get up and walk with the phone. And just waving it around doesn’t work (I tried). I found that it was just enough to get me up and going… and instead of not really sleeping for 25 more minutes, I stumble down to the basement and get on the treadmill for that amount of time. Sure, I’m not marathon training or conquering the world, but I am walking  1-2 miles more than I normally would on a work day.

Tinydocs

A website rather than an app, this is where I do all my writing. Its minimal interface gives the writing precedence, the text copies into WordPress and other programs seamlessly, all my stuff is available from any device and it even gives me basic word count stats. In a lot of ways it’s nothing special, but inexplicably, that’s what makes it so special. It’s the editor that just works and gives me everything I need.

Headspace

This meditation app calms my mind and centers my focus and while I can’t cite a causal link between using it and keeping my habits, I can say that in my n=1 experiment, when I use this app I seem to do better at sticking to the changes I’ve committed myself to.

Runkeeper

Great app for keeping track of my runs (and walks, bike rides, etc). Tells me how far I’ve gone, in how much time and other fun stats that make a numbers geek like me get all excited. Since my phone is with me to provide entertainment anyway, Runkeeper makes it easy to keep track of everything else.

Podcast Republic

Sure, I like listening to music when I’m out and about, but lately it’s all about the podcast. I absolutely love feeling like I’m learning something new or at least stuffing my head with facts with which to amaze and entertain the lunch table. PR functions like most podcast apps — you subscribe to podcasts (or download one-off shows), you can sort and organize, choose how they’re downloaded and how long the episodes are kept. One really great feature is the ability to sync your subscription list to the cloud which then allows you to download it down to a different device. How awesome is that?! But wait – you say that you don’t know what podcasts to listen to? Take a gander at my What I’m Listening To post and look for another one to come up soon.

IMG_20150321_200245

Could you say no to this face?

Belle

Not a website. Not an app. Just a big, cuddly, 75-pound lap dog. If you’re trying to curb your eating, this is the best investment you’ll make — not only do you get exercise by walking the dog, but what owner wants to rouse the dog napping in your lap, even if your legs have painfully fallen asleep and you’re hungry enough to gnaw your own arm off, am I right? Dogs rule. Go rescue one right now, okay?

So, what apps do you count on to get the job done? What apps do you wish someone would develop to make life easier?

 

Just a short note, since I’m sitting poolside, surrounded by palm trees, enjoying a little “recharging” time while in San Diego with my family to celebrate my cousin’s wedding. While last week I talked about the beginning of the fall and the clean slate it presents me with it never occurred to me that one week in the future I’d be here to witness the perfect example of it.

IMG_20150912_101330This is a second marriage for my cousin; he’s been widowed for a few years now and found a wonderful woman to share the rest of his life with. And it struck me that my cousin, in his fresh start, embodied two traits that I left out of my fresh start conversation: courage and commitment. Because starting anew isn’t just about a different routine or changing habits — there has to be an underlying vein of courage to break from the old and an acknowledgement of fierce commitment to the new. Without those two things, talk is cheap and words on a page do nothing but take up space.

And so while my week-long new minimum habits are going well (I’m still in the honeymoon phase, so to speak), I’m here to publicly remind myself that it won’t always be easy; there are going to be days when even this littlest bit of a habit is going to seem too overwhelming to accomplish. And I’d do well to remember that fresh starts aren’t all unicorns and rainbows and from time to time, I’ll need to scrape up my courage to push back against the draw of the easy way out. After all, what’s a fresh start without the fortitude to honor my commitment to forge a new path?

And with that, congratulations to my cousin and I need to get back to the important business of paying attention to the swaying palm trees.

You had the same one, I know it. Don’t lie…

Like most kids, it seems I took most of the summer off, eh? But now that September has rolled around it’s time for to start checking in here regularly. Even though my school days are over a half a lifetime behind me, the beginning of the school year always feels a lot like January 1st to me — a time to look back at the year and see what happened, a moment or two to assess the state of my current situation, and a chance to look forward at what I want from the rest of the year. A fresh start. The only thing that would make this better is shopping for school supplies (remember having to find the perfect Trapper Keeper or the entire school year would be a complete failure? No? Maybe that was just me…).

I won’t bore you with the whole looking back part — suffice it to say that it was a busy summer and I can’t believe that, with the exception of the hot and humid weather, it’s about over. The signs are impossible to ignore: my nephew is starting high school (what?!), the neighborhood kids aren’t as screechy during the week and my summer flowers have died (I’ve heard rumors that their deaths are under investigation and I might be indicted as an accessory to the crime).

And now, with the fall semester here, I’ve made a re-commitment to what I call the “self dashes”: self-improvement, self-care, self-education, self-love and all of the other self dashes that you could name. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis or perhaps just a mid-life awakening, but I feel a sense of urgency to stop wasting my time doing things that don’t feed my mind or nurture my soul. Sure, that marathon of Criminal Minds might be spellbinding, but am I really the better for having watched it (I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that my life never reaches the level of drama where Criminal Minds knowledge would help me)?

Some days, of course, are more difficult than others to rev up the motivation to get things done, but I’ve decided to work off a plan of minimums — the least amount that I can do every day to keep myself happy.  One minimum goal: a mile of walking or running every day. Lately I’ve been getting up in the crazy o’dark early hours to do it before work (which isn’t as awful as it sounds — I simply replaced 20 minutes of hitting the snooze button with getting up at the first alarm) to get it out of the way. And you know what? It feels good to set a goal and reach it. There’s something to be said for minimum habits because it doesn’t seem to matter to my brain that it’s not really a lot of work to do, I’m proud of myself anyway. Three weeks and counting so far. Woot!

Another minimum goal is to write 300 words every day. And before you ask, no, email and Facebook posts do not count, but most anything else does. Is that absurdly easy? You bet. But it’s the habit I’m working towards, not a word count. Just getting into a rhythm of writing on a daily basis is the goal, not writing something novel-worthy (or even blogpost-worthy).

Less defined, though not necessarily less important, are my goals to learn more stuff (WordPress, Lightroom, web design) and read more stuff (I’ve already almost hit my New Year’s resolution to read 50 books this year) and do more stuff (I’ve been sadly negligent of my mountain bike all year — I’ve only really been out once). Basically, I’m out to do all the things that actively bring me joy. Why would I allow myself to sit practically comatose in front of a TV for hours on end, day after day, when there are so many exciting things that I want to do?

But one of the things that’s been challenging my desire to do all these good things is an overwhelming lack of energy — even when I get enough sleep, I arrive home after work and want to do nothing more than sit down. And let me tell you, I’m drawn to the couch like a moth to a flame, or perhaps more appropriately, like a slug to mud. I’ll give in, become one with the couch and then find that the afternoon and early evening has sped by and it’s time to go to bed without me having done much more than be a lump for a few hours. Which, in case you were wondering, isn’t nearly as productive as you might think it would be. I’m working with my doctor to see if there’s something physical that’s causing it (so far, my thyroid numbers seem slightly out of whack, which could be something to point the finger at) and in the meantime, I’m just trying to take good care of myself and be as kind to myself as I would be to someone else who was having this issue. And having my minimums — which are easy to do — allows me a sense of accomplishment, especially while dealing with my energy black hole.

I’m excited by the potential of this 2015 fall semester — I really do love clean slates and new beginnings — and am committed to doing my best to really make the most of it. As I’ve often paraphrased before, the days might be long, but the years are short (Gretchen Rubin) and there’s no time like right now to put aside the time fillers for meaningful activity, whether it be reading, running, writing, walking, playing with my camera, learning web design and Lightroom or anything else that stretches my mind or body. It’s all a matter of picking a time and starting. When better than now?