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Kelly J. Cooper

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Strategies For Implementing New Stuff [Mar. 29th, 2011|05:08 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I don't know whether many of ya'll read self-help books. I tend to skirt right along the edge of them with books like The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama & Dr. Howard Cutler and Get It Done When You're Depressed by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston. They tend more toward how-to books for your brain than the more popular self-help literature. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself, I dunno.

Anyway, do ya'll have strategies for implementing new stuff that you learn (from books, from life, from other people, whatever) into your own life?

Do you post reminders on bulletin boards or put sticky notes on mirrors? How do you do it?

Get It Done When You're Depressed is subtitled "50 Strategies For Keeping Your Life On Track" and each strategy is one line (and the title of each chapter). I typed all of them into a Word file & set it to 2 columns so they show up on one page. But I'm not really clear on how to cram that stuff into my actual day-to-day life.

I'm not sure how to do it partly because there are a lot of different data points. And partly because I have ADD, giving me the attention span of a butterfly and a memory like swiss cheese (yes, full of bacteria-driven fart holes). And partly because I'm not exactly sure how my learning process works in this arena. I know I tend to need structure (e.g., classes) to learn stuff. I also know that I tend to absorb and subconsciously implement certain things that really strike a chord for me. But I dunno what to do about the rest.

Anyway, your thoughts appreciated.

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 03:09 am (UTC)
Digestible pieces. OK. Makes sense. Like breaking down any other task.

But it still doesn't answer how you graft 'em onto/into your life.

I could email you the word doc I made of the 50 strategies from Get It Done When You're Depressed by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston if you wanted to give me your thoughts on it.

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[User Picture]From: istemi
2011-03-29 09:56 am (UTC)
Strategy sounds so deliberate. There are some things that make me more likely to succeed. They all come down to knowing how I tend to do things and how I tend to go wrong. Kind of like self-aikido - work with the flow instead of insisting I should flow in a different direction.

I think of the biggest thing as "put the bucket under the drip". What needs to be in place, and where is it most natural to do something? I'm great about using canvas shopping bags because they live in my car. When I empty the groceries, the bags go next to the door for my next trip out. I never remembered them until they moved to my car. I failed to review language flashcards every day until I bought an iPhone flashcard app. Firing up the laptop was a barrier to doing it, but my phone is with me whenever I'm waiting in a restaurant.

I'm good at getting excited and motivated, but sometimes I'm dead stupid about connecting my actions back into my projects. I want to lose 5 pounds? Great! And later I'll chomp down a piece of cake, and only afterward remember that it didn't support my goal. It's a "duh" moment that I keep having over and over again. I'm trying to put my goals under my nose regularly. I got the TouchGoal iPhone app. It's not the best app, but it's shiny and lives on my phone, and the icon is next to the Facebook app that I use all the time. If sticky notes and mirrors work for you, go for it. A whiteboard on the fridge at eye level worked well for background inspiration. I saw it too often to actively notice it, but it was a good place for quotes.

It helps if I explicitly plan what day I'll do something. Again, that idiot disconnect... if I want to do something regularly, I need to spend time doing it. Making the decision ahead of time gives it momentum. It means I don't have to renegotiate whether I'm going to do something, and I don't depend on a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm to remember to do it.

My enthusiasms are bursty. I'm figuring out how to work with that flow. It's ok to do something for a while, then switch to something else. If they're both pointed in the same direction, what's the difference?

I've started to ask what a goal looks like when it's done. "I want to learn a foreign language" is huge and unrealistic. "I want to know a language enough to read a childrens book, get directions, and crack a joke" is attainable by mere mortals like us. It's ok to swap out a goal when it's done.

I max out at two big things at a time.

I lie to myself a lot when I'm in the middle of something and not loving it. "Only five more minutes! Starting .... now. No, wait, now." or, "I'll go to the gym for 20 minutes, and if I really really really don't like it I'll come home" (but I'd never leave after only 20 minutes).

So there you have it. Skillful manipulation of deceit and inertia.

Were you planning to tweak something you already do, or start a whole new activity? They work a little differently for me.

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[User Picture]From: catness
2011-03-29 01:31 pm (UTC)
I heartily second this bit about doing stuff in a way that's natural to you. If you have to totally change the way you do everything in order to "get it together", then whatever the process is becomes too big a task and it demoralizes you even if you're not actively committed to it yet. Gah.

One thing that caught my attention in your post, Kelly... if you need structure to learn stuff, do you need structure to get stuff done, also? I'm finding that as it gets harder to motivate, sometimes I need to put a calendar reminder that says, "Do This Small Thing At This Time Every Day" or whatever interval makes sense. I try not to beat myself up when I don't do it, and NEVER when circumstances prevent, but it's like a little emotional cookie every time I *do*. Small but good.

I have more thoughts. I'll see if I can't post them later.

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 04:03 am (UTC)
if you need structure to learn stuff, do you need structure to get stuff done, also?

Yep. I loves me some deadlines. Deadlines for projects force me to create structure to get them done.

I would really like to "Do This Small Thing At This Time Every Day" but each day can be so different from the previous one, depending on a whole pile of factors I haven't figure out yet.

So far, I've managed to get myself into the habit of taking pills every day.

I've also managed to set a mental trigger that, when TV is over (usually at 11pm), I should do my 15-minutes if I haven't already done it for the day. Huh. So that worked for the same time every day. Interesting.

There are a few other habits I've developed that are helping:
  • If someone wants to give me their phone #, I just put it into my cell (I don't write it down cuz I will lose it).
  • If I have an appointment or any sort of date-dependent thing, I put it in my calendar.
  • I also look at my calendar whenever I'm trying to figure out what tomorrow/this week may bring. (Writing & looking being two very different habits, oddly enough.)
  • If I'm interested in a piece of music or a book title or a movie, I write it down in my notebook (meaning I no longer assume "I'll just remember that" because I won't); if I don't have my notebook, I write it down on anything handy & put the piece of paper in my pocket or on my desk. I have been getting better about either buying it on iTunes (music) or moving it into my notebook (books & movies), but if I don't, I can always find it in the pile of similar notes on my desk.
  • I set up online banking so I can check my balance & I've switched some of my bill paying to online, so I can pay them when I remember AND can confirm that I have money.
  • I'm trying REALLY hard to be better about physical mail and getting rid of as much as possible as soon as it comes in.

I probably have other habits I haven't mentioned here, but these are the ones I've implemented in the past couple of years after ceasing to try & force myself do these things "the right way." There's a lot of other stuff I need to work on, though. And work through.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 03:30 am (UTC)
So there you have it. Skillful manipulation of deceit and inertia.

I do this a LOT. Similar to you, my enthusiastic periods are bursty. And they're wicked short. Sometimes they are all mental, with no physical energy at all, so I have to confine myself to thinking about something or working through a problem on paper or brainstorming or something like that.

I guess, I should think a little harder about what I want to accomplish.

Some of those things are to remember lessons learned from the book I mentioned, Get It Done When You're Depressed. When I feel a particular way, I want to call up a particular strategy. But, in reality, 90% of the time I forget the book exists.

With other books, like The Art of Happiness, many of the things in there are already things that I do, like actively practicing empathy whenever someone pisses me off. What I need is to isolate/document the things I don't (yet) do & try to DO them. I guess that's a two-step process; (1) document and (2) implement.

OK, concrete example. I had to force myself to start using a calendar a few years ago, and now I feel naked when it's not in my pocket, even if I'm wearing sweatpants. That's an object (calendar), tied to a strategy (write down all events), that alleviates issues (fearful of forgetting; actually forgetting & missing things important to me), caused by the way I think AKA the way my brain fails to work (ADHD).

I have other issues (other ADHD things like out-of-sight out-of-mind stuff-piling tendencies, depression, anxiety, bad money habits, chronic fatigue/no exercise feedback loop) that I want to make less painful or troublesome or whatever.

I have other strategies, from doctors, coaches, friends, and books.

To extrapolate, I need objects/tools/thought processes that support these strategies (testing each to see if it works with my brain and then either integrating it into my life or discarding it & moving on to the next one) to alleviate the issues, which in turn makes me happier or at least less miserable.

If that makes sense. That all just popped out of my head as I attempted to clarify the issue in this here note.

Wow, you are really good at helping me think!

Now, how do I do all that...
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[User Picture]From: istemi
2011-03-31 05:00 am (UTC)
What I need is to isolate/document the things I don't (yet) do & try to DO them.

Is there something small you could use for a test drive? I'm overwhelmed at the mention of "practice empathy". That's huge, and it wore me out just imagining it. I'm also finding your post abstract, and it's hard to bring it down to a day to day level.

Instead of calculating which few things would yield the biggest impact, can you stick your hand in the bucket and grab a teeny thing that would improve your quality of life? Like, "I hate when I run out of toilet paper", or "I whack my foot on that thing every time I walk in the door". Think of it like a piano etude - not great music, just a little practice piece.

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-04-05 04:35 am (UTC)
I'm overwhelmed at the mention of "practice empathy". That's huge, and it wore me out just imagining it.

That's interesting, because it's a default way of thinking for me. I'm not sure why or when I developed it, because it's almost always been true, but whenever I see someone pull a bone-head maneuver, I just assume they are in a hurry, having a crappy day, distracted by kids, etc. I don't take it personally. It made having an opinion tough as a kid because I could always see both sides of an issue.

Anyway, it's a cue-thing too. I see a stupid thing; if it impacts me, I get angry; my anger is a cue to me to see things from the person's point of view; I generate understanding if not compassion; sometimes I calm down. (Of course, sometime I curse the selfishness of the person even though I know they're not trying to screw with me on purpose.)

I'm also finding your post abstract, and it's hard to bring it down to a day to day level.

Well, let's say you've got a book. It says "when you feel extra depressed, try this strategy." It sounds like a good strategy. Only, the next time you feel extra depressed, you forget all about it. You don't even remember that the book exists because depression warps your brain.

Unlike cooking, where you have 3 tomatoes & you look up recipes that involve tomatoes. Or you buy a new cook book & find a really great recipe, so you go to the store & buy the ingredients needed to cook that recipe. Those things follow logically, one to the next.

The trick is, when I'm particularly depressed, having a really bad day, I might be in bed. I might be on the couch. I might be on the computer. Usually, I'm fuckin' around somewhere. There's no good place to put a note. How do I develop a habit for a thing that only happens occasionally when it takes 21 days of doing something every day to develop a new habit?

Maybe if I applied the strategy EVERY day, even on days when I'm not depressed, then it will become a habit & function when I am depressed.

Gah. I hate it when I answer my own question. I know it's a good thing, but I feel like I'm wasting everyone's time.

Anyway, I'll pick a thing & try & make it a habit & see if it helps next time I'm in a bad way.
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[User Picture]From: istemi
2011-04-01 04:11 am (UTC)


Thanks to this thread, I've noticed I rely a lot on cues for habits. Brush teeth --> take pills. Did I take my pill? Yes, right after I brushed my teeth. If I didn't do it with the cue I have a hard time recalling if I really did it or only thought about it.

Sometimes I make the cue annoying. Trip on canvas bags by door --> put bags in car. These have a high success rate.

And I think that's where mere enthusiasm fails. I can be enthusiastic and motivated, but that doesn't automatically remind me to do a behavior. In fact, more enthusiasm makes me feel worse for forgetting.

How interesting!
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-04-05 04:23 am (UTC)

Re: Cues

I have to actually change something to make sure I did it. Er, that doesn't sound right.

When I go to bed, I move the bottles of pills that I need to take in the morning from the right side of my alarm clock to the left. When I wake up & take them, I take them from the left side & put them on the right side. If I get confused and look at my pill bottles, I can immediately tell whether I've taken them today or not.

This is because unless I really focus on what I'm doing, I'll forget whether I've done it. Worse, is that even if I train myself to really focus on something to keep from forgetting it, I'll then fail to be able to differentiate between doing this today, yesterday, the day before, etc. So I remember doing it, but I can't remember if I did it TODAY. Very disconcerting.

It takes 21 days of continuously doing something to turn it into a habit. Once you have a habit, you can use it to cue all kinds of other things. So, when I go to bed I put my cell phone next to my bed along with my calendar, I take my night-time pills, I move my wake-up pills, I write a TO DO list if my brain is busy, and I write a 2-line note in my 5-year journal about my day. Most of those things are cued off just going to bed, although moving the wake-up pill bottles is cued off taking my night-time pills.

If you need a cue to do a behavior & develop a habit, I find that a sticky note on the door, next to the lock, helps a lot. The note doesn't have to be detailed, it's just a hint. So mine will say something like "DVR" which reminds me to set the digital recorder thingy on my TV if I'm not going to be back in time for a show that night. And now, whenever I'm leaving the house for a night out, I first check the TV schedule as to whether I need to set the recorder.

You can also use it for one-time things that are boring enough to be forgotten & irregular enough that they don't warrant a habit... one I need to write is "RADIO" to remind me that I need to get the radio on my car fixed. Or "pills" if I've been forgetting to pick up a prescription for a few days.

If you need to remember something at the computer, put a pad of paper next to your mouse & write yourself a note. Lots of GTD-types recommend writing down the top 5 things you need to do the next day on the pad to clear your head.

When I'm desperate & I can't remember (no matter how many notes & cues) to do something to save my life, I write it on my hand, on the back of my hand, between my thumb & wrist. It's less painful than writing on the back of my hand & stays longer than writing on my palm.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 03:36 am (UTC)

Re: "Just do it!"

Maybe someone has written a self-help book on how to read and implement other self-help books? A meta-self-help book... whoa!

When I realized that this was my barrier, I actually thought about writing that book! Cuz I don't think it exists.

(you talk like you don't realize this sometimes?!)

I have no sense of my self kicking ass. On my bad days, I see myself as an overweight, childless failure struggling to get out of bed before it's dark outside.

On my good days, I get something done despite all that.

Thank you for not quoting Yoda. One of the worst therapy experiences in my life was when one lady made me promise to not use "TRY" in my life anymore. It sucked. A lot. There's a lot of failure in my life. If I don't use TRY, I would be even more crazy than I already am.

And, according to ADHD experts, lots of failure is a part of ADHD and we just gotta suck it up and try something different or try it again at a different time or try it again even if we hate it, etc.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 03:45 am (UTC)
The fewer self-help books I read, the more I get done.

I do not know how to get things done. Sometimes. Often. Well, some things.

And I am flailing around in a giant soup of failure, trying to figure out how to build a ladder out of soggy noodles. And I need an instruction manual. Something like "Everything People Have Taught You About How To Do Stuff Won't Work For You Because Your Brain Is Wired Differently, So Instead Of Continuing To Bang Your Head Against A Wall, Try This Instead."

Except no one's written that one yet, so I'm kind of cobbling it together from life experience, friends, the few experts I can get to talk to me for more than 30 seconds, and books.

So I'm trying to figure out how *I* build habits. Because past ways of trying to build habits rarely worked.
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[User Picture]From: laurenpburka
2011-03-29 07:07 pm (UTC)
If I want to get something done, either by myself or with my spouse, the only thing that works is to put an entry in my Google calendar. After it's in, I get several alerts that a huge pain in the ass. However, it is the pain in the assness that makes the alerts work. Other electronic calendars will work. But as we've demonstrated time and again, failure to put it in the calendar means that it will not get done.

I have a mobile electronic device that keeps a copy of this information for me. It makes even more alerts.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2011-03-31 04:13 am (UTC)
I'm not sure that I can develop new habits based on an electric calendar.

I mean, yes, the device could go "PING!" and then remind me of a habit I'm trying to develop. But if the reminder comes in when I'm doing a bunch of other things, it won't help. And if it goes off every hour, I'll just get irritated.

Although it might force me to shave down the concept until it can be typed into a device and fit on a small screen.

I'll have to think about that harder.
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