A sunset in Oregon

Focus and embrace new habits

About a while ago, I wrote a note about slowing down, taking the time to enjoy what we are doing, and focusing on one thing at a time.

I am running an experiment in my own life. I’m trying to slow down and focus intimately on the task at hand, which is not easy. Distractions are everywhere, and technologies such as our smartphones and social media make it nearly impossible to escape their digital crack. I want to allow myself to enjoy my surroundings and enjoy the present instead of focusing on just what’s ahead, or worst, what’s in the past.

In the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes about ways of creating new habits. He describes the habit loop as a practical way to create long-lasting habits. The habit loop consists of a cue or trigger, a routine, and finally, a reward.

The habit loop is a widely used method by many industries, including the game and social media organizations, to get us addicted to their products. A good example of this is your smartphone notifications; that’s what triggers your craving brain, it makes you look at you social media app or email without thinking about it, and finally, it gives you a reward in the form of a new reply, a new like, or a new follower.

This habit loop is something we can use to our benefit, we can replace or use an existing trigger and follow a new routine and a new reward to accomplish something we want, instead of something someone else wants us to do or see.

So the habit I am trying to replace is the habit of reaching out to my phone or computer as often as I do today. And to do this, I am experimenting with using existing cues that make me look at my social media, email, etc., and instead use those same cues and triggers to do something else. I really want to do something that will keep me focused on my goals and the tasks I assign to myself.

For example, every morning, when I wake up, I see my phone, which immediately triggers my brain into picking it up and going through emails, scrolling through my social media apps, etc. Lately, I have been placing my kindle or a book in place of my phone, and every morning when I wake up, I don’t even think about it; I pick up the kindle or book and read for at least 20-30 minutes. Reading a book is more beneficial and relaxing than wasting my morning time with the digital crack, making me feel anxious and stressed.

If you see, the cue is the same, the routine is the same as I’m still picking an object and looking at it, but the reward is even greater now; at least for me, it is. I replaced a bad habit with one that fulfills my goal of reading more books, and at the same time, I feel focused and accomplished doing this.

Changing habits is what I am focused on right now; in the past, I focused on creating new habits without replacing bad ones, and that was a mistake. The best way to focus, to slow down, and to be more present is to change your habits, but doing it without adding complexity or having to remember to do new things. Make it as simple as possible, use the same triggers that make you waste time looking down at your phone, and pick better routines.

You owe it to yourself and to the people around you.

Photo of ocean

A simple change to my morning routine

There are many ideas and tips out there to help you become more productive and content about the work you do every day. I’ve read many books on the subject, many articles, blog posts, listened to podcasts, etc.

As you can imagine, many things in life can alter your productivity and the way you feel about yourself. With this post, I am not trying to list them all here or give you the ultimate advice about this. Instead, I want to share a simple change in my morning routine that so far, it’s working for me.

Wake up early and train your body to do it without an alarm.

This is an obvious thing to do if you want your day to last you longer. And it isn’t Just about waking up early, but In addition, to change the activities that we do after we wake up. I’ve heard about the idea of waking up at 4 in the morning, I applaud those who can do it, but that’s not me. My ideal wake up time is between 6 and 7 am.

Lately, I’ve been training myself to wake up around 6am but without the help of an alarm. I am doing this because waking up to the terrible and loud sound of a wake up alarm is not fun, and it causes me to feel anxiety just by listening to the terrible sound of my phone’s alarm.

This is what I’ve been doing, I set my alarm with a very soft sound that starts at a low volume level, and the sound increases consistently until it wakes me up. This alarm sound is very soft, even when louder, so it doesn’t make me jump out of bed as my previous alarm sound did.

In the past two weeks, my body has been adjusting to the softer sound, and slowly but surely, I’ve been waking up around 6 am, most days before the alarm goes off.

Drink water and then read for 15 to 30 minutes.

For many years, I’ve spent the first 20-30 minutes of every morning, reading social media posts and email with my phone. Another important bad habit I recently eliminated was to drink two cups of coffee or more, before drinking any water. It was bad.

Today I wake up without looking at my phone, then proceed to have at least one cup of water, and then I open my kindle and read for several minutes. After that, I shower, and then I have my first cup of coffee, a delicious, hot cup of java. In this new morning routine, my phone no longer plays an essential part of my morning, it is empowering.

Reading and drinking water before I look at my phone or computer makes me feel not only happier, but also more present and with more energy to start the day. It makes sense, the water hydrates me, and the reading stimulates my mind. Subsequently, avoiding looking at email and social media eliminates any negative feelings or anxiety.

This is not the first time I try to improve my morning routine, a few years ago I tried journaling every morning, it was the first thing I’ll do but the problem was, I used my computer to do it so opening a social media website was very easy and so I did it often.

Because of that I found journaling challenging, and so it wasn’t enjoyable. The easy access to social media sites in my computer while journaling caused me to fall into my bad habits again, undermining my efforts to avoid looking at my phone first thing every morning.

This time is different, I feel it, reading every morning is delightful to me and like I said above, having that cup of water after in the morning and before any coffee gives me the energy and concentration my body requires to do some reading every morning. It also puts me in a good state of mind to start my day.

Reading a book gives me clarity of mind and a blank palette to start my day. This is important because when I was waking up and reading social media posts, or email, it affected my state of mind, it made me feel stressed, or sad, or anxious about things that didn’t have any relation to my day.

A simple change to my morning routine with these small changes has resulted in a significant positive return. Since my morning routine change took place, my professional work output has increased, I fell less rushed every morning, and just feel more content with myself and the world around me.