Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we learn to separate out the important from the urgent.
The podcast which we get extremely practical about the little things that sometimes keep us paralyzed.
The podcast in which we learn that lucidity about our bad habits or lack of routine is not tantamount to complaining: it is the discomfort that will help us start making progress.
My name is Lily Fields and my name is Poppy Fields, and we are going to be your Fairy Godmothers for the next half hour or so.
That’s right, my real-life flesh and blood sister, Poppy is here with us this week.
But don’t you worry, LiElla Kelly is here too. She took off her Death Doula hat this week, and she is going to speak to us from the heart. You’ll see. She’s got a great big heart.
You’ll be hearing a conversation I recorded with Poppy during a recent visit, with the intent of helping me deal with a bit of personal paralysis when it comes to a very specific area of this week’s topic, which is Habits and Routines.
Habits and Routines. Ugh. They are simultaneously the bane of my existence and the thing that keeps my sanity in check. At either end of the spectrum, they are critically important to my experience of my Ideal Life.
I’ve already told you, from the perspective of a hyper-creative person, I depend on habits and routines to keep me on the same plane of existence as my more down-to-earth indulgent husband. Without disciplining myself with habits and routines, I’m not sure our marriage would have survived the last 23 years. I could, if I let myself, float from one creative project to another without ever going to bed or coming up for air or a meal or a shower for that matter.
Add to that the onset of peri-menopause, which has the consequence of quite often making me feel like I am losing my freaking mind, Habits and Routines have helped ease some of this discomfort. I talked about this in Episode 10 of the Podcast, entitled La Vie en Rose. Go back and listen. It’s kinda funny, in a menopause-y kind of way.
Habits and Routines now form the structure of my days and make it possible for me to live in relative harmony with my indulgent husband and my two children. Yes, it requires discipline and determination and sometimes really sucks when I have a spurt of creative energy. My creative highs can be very very high, and my lows can be very very low. But the structure provided by habits and routines provide something to return to so that I don’t fall so hard after a creative binge. In this way, Habits and Routines are immensely helpful for my Mental Health circle of the Venn Diagram of my life.
With my children, we raised them to depend on routines as well, and this has been extremely helpful when faced, particularly with one child, who is hypersensitive. In this way, Habits and Routines are immensely helpful in my Parenting circle. We aren’t going to talk about that this week, but I want to plant that seed, because we’ll be coming back to it another time.
Today, though, LiElla is going to talk about Habits as an intrinsic part of taking care of our Bodies, which is one of our Ideal Life themes which we covered in Episode 15, The One About Our Bodies.
I am going to talk about how Habits and Routines can help us make better decisions, which is, incidentally, an Ideal Life theme we covered in Episode 23, entitled You’ve Got a Choice.
And finally, Poppy is going to help me figure out how to turn planning and scheduling into a habit by giving us a primer on planners and calendars. Are you ready?
In my Ideal Life, I have healthy Habits and Routines
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- Automates daily decisions as much as possible
- Doesn’t waste time with easy things
- Puts things back where they belong
- Has a habit of planning meals, organizing schedules and looking ahead.
- Has a morning routine that brings me joy
- Has an evening routine that brings me joy
- Knows how to develop and maintain a good habit
- Is aware of bad habits and has the heart and headspace to break them.
Now, keep in mind I don’t have all the answers, but because I am of a naturally impulsive and spontaneous nature, I have had to deal with this for most of my life. So I have had to create strategies that make me a less whip-lashy kind of person to live with.
As contradictory as it seems, it is because I am spontaneous and impulsive that my Ideal Life is one that is highly regimented by Habits and Routines. Anything that can provide touchpoints throughout the day gives me a sense of permanence, which because of who I am, I regularly lack.
This aspect of my character is one my husband used to criticize, and, although it hurt at the time, I can now see why it would have driven him crazy. He used to say I would “separate”, which meant that once he was no longer in my sight, I no longer gave him any thought. Which was true. I had, and sometimes still do have, an object and relationship permanence problem. Because I liked him, and especially, liked how he understood me, I knew I needed to work on this.
I am proof that old dogs can learn new tricks if they really, really want to. I hope that I can transmit how I learned those new tricks, because I believe that if I can learn to develop habits and routines, then anyone can.
Wicked Stepsister: Habits
You know LiElla Kelly because she usually talks to us about death and deathy topics. But this week, she has a really important confession to make and it has to do with habits.
LiElla, the floor is all yours.
Before we get started, I need to tell you that your Wicked Step Sister isn’t here today. It’s just me, LiElla Kelly, fellow Podcast listener. I don’t want to talk about death, I want to tell you about my bike.
Last September, I bought a used but awesome Pivot Mach 6 mountain bike. I then took it to the bike shop had the drive train switched out, had to new crank arms put on and a dropper post added. It’s beautiful and now it’s even more awesome.
Now a little background about me. I am 43 years old. I have worked as a massage therapist for 22 years and I am a death doula, two care-giving professions. I enjoy being outside and have a fairly active lifestyle. Back to my beautiful bike, Last year in Montana we had a gorgeous autumn and I was mountain biking every chance I got. My friends and I continued biking all the way into December, riding more and more aggressively. After one of my last rides, when I was loading my bike onto my car, I noticed some twinges in my butt. Whatever, moving on. A couple days later, on our first cold day of the year, in spite of a little snow, in spite of feeling a bit tired and in spite of some twinges in my hip, I convinced my friends that we could fit in one more ride before the snow flew. So, we did. When I got on my bike, I was stiff but surely I’d warm up and loosen up. At the top of the first climb, I stopped to take some Aleve because my leg was really starting to complain. By the next climb, I could no longer push down on my leg and I had to dismount and push my bike up the hill. By the time I reached my friends I had wrenched my low back. Once I stopped, severe muscle spasms set. I couldn’t walk under my own power and I basically had to be carried off the mountain. Eventually my friends got me back to my house and my husband took over my care, which was basically everything. Somehow, he got me tucked into bed and went to sleep on the couch. All good, right up until I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. And this is where we get into the realm of over-sharing…Long story short, though I did manage to get myself out of bed, I couldn’t get myself onto the toilet because of the spasms and well, I peed myself and my husband had to clean it up. I’ve had better nights. But…after some x-rays and some rest and a prescription for muscle relaxers, and four days of missed work, I was back to functional. And no, I couldn’t hike at my normal pace and no, I couldn’t touch my toes without a bit of contortion, but I was functional.
Fast forward to March. I was still not great but functional. We went on a little vacation, I went snowboarding, I caught an edge which likely happened due to a lack of function in my low back…and I hit the ground hard, whiplashing myself. After sitting on the hill and regaining my composure, I made my way onto the chairlift. However, I wasn’t very stable, as I had just smacked my head into the ground so when I stood up to get off the lift, I fell down. The lift operator didn’t stop the lift and I was literally run over by the chair lift which irritatingly, ripped up the back of my brand new snowboarding jacket. Not wanting to ruin the day or waste my $80 lift ticket, I took some Aleve, bought some stickers to temporarily mend my coat and spent the rest of the day snowboarding. After that day, my neck was a bit stiff and no I didn’t have full range of motion and my fingers did keep going numb but I was functional, so all was well. Right?
As spring arrived, the weather began improving and I was back to mountain biking and running. And well, running was hurting my hip which likely was caused by a compensation for the low back not being properly aligned and I was noticing that I just felt old, stiff and in constant discomfort. So naturally, I complained to my friend about my woes. Do you know what she said? She said that I have to come clean about my bad habits, my complete lack of self-care. So, that’s what I’m doing, this is me admitting to my total disregard for self-care. She also recommended a chiropractor and another therapist. In my efforts to not only come clean, but to stay clean, I’ve been receiving therapy and guess what? I’m not feeling old anymore. My hip and back don’t hurt and I can bend over without some weird bracing posture and I don’t have tingling fingers. I’m creating new habits and I’m feeling way better. It turns out, a little self-care goes a long way. You should try it. I highly recommend it.
I know for a fact that I needed to hear this. Thank you, LiElla, for reminding us that it is not selfish to care for ourselves. Our bodies tell us things and when we don’t make it a habit of listening to it, we can end up with a lot of discomfort.
I’ll put a link to LiElla’s Death Doula work in the show notes. LiElla handles topics like Advanced Directives, Choice of Health Care Agent and the burial practices with grace and a big, big heart. As she always says, talking about death won’t kill you. Go take a look at what she’s up to.
Incidentally I have noticed that people with big hearts–people who care for others–generally don’t take very good care of themselves. As people who love those people, we can try to provide occasions to help them do this.
Offering to watch their kids while they go to the doctor. Or taking them a meal so they don’t have to cook. Remember the Golden Rule: We should do for others what we would want done for us. So if we would dream of someone of carving out a moment for us to practice self-care, then maybe we can create an opportunity for someone we love to have some time for self-care.
It’s no guarantee that someone will do it for us. But at least somebody is getting a moment to breathe!
Conquering Urges and Impulses
As a creative person, I feel a kind of moral imperative to constantly be re-inventing the wheel. I cannot be satisfied by simply reading about something. I have to get my hands dirty and try it for myself so that I understand how something works.
This is true for work, for organizing events, for crafts, for just about anything I undertake.
The problem is this: as I have told you before, I am an enthusiast. Anything that scratches the creative itch in the back of my head can quickly become an obsession. I could, at any given time in my life before I understood the value Habits and Routines brought to my marriage, disappear mentally and emotionally from my relationships while I pursued my creative urges and impulses.
The “Project Mentality” that creativity fosters is not easily compatible with the “Maintenance Mentality” that relationship, parenting and marriages require. I made a lot of bad decisions.
One day, in the middle of my mid-life crisis, I realized that I had checked out of my marriage, probably because it required a “Maintenance Mentality” that I had been heretofore unwilling to acquire. I was overwhelmed by everything that needed to get done, though, and with two small children in tow, I often felt like I was going to lose my mind.
While this may not, on the surface seem entirely related, I think that the fact that I was trying to live in “Project Mentality” with things that required a “Maintenance Mentality” that made me particularly susceptible to urges and impulses. The question for me was how to get out of the go-with-the-flow mentality required for a project, and into a less easily distracted mindframe.
So as part of my “buy no clothes in 2021 challenge”, which I told you about last week, I also undertook to understand where the urges and the impulses came from. I wanted to understand what made me want things I could have. And I wanted to learn how to turn away from urges and impulses.
One of the very first things I did was to intentionally stop fearing my desires.
You see, this was always one of the stepping stones to giving into an impulse. I would try to deny myself a little pleasure, which always made it more desirable. Saying NO only made something forbidden. And forbidden fruit is always more delicious.
What I did instead was I started being curious about my desires. Asking myself questions about the object of that moment’s desire. What did I like about it. What would I do with it? Where would I put it?
By turning curiosity and a little bit of self-interrogation into a habit, not trying to shut off the valve of the impulse right away by saying “no”, I usually could diffuse the impulse. It was far more satisfying and, when done over time, often multiples per day, it became easier to do. This whole topic of learning how to be curious about ourselves is one we will talk about in the next season. But the benefit is so life-altering that I wanted to mention it here.
For example, as part of my challenge, I started the year by noticing–literally, counting–how many impulsive, covetous thoughts I would have per day. At the beginning, it was often in the twenties. I would see someone’s shoes and wonder where I could get the same ones. I would see a piece of jewelry and think I needed it. I would see someone’s cute face mask and get mask envy. Seriously. It was like a sickness.
By the time I had built up the habit of being curious about the things I was coveting, I was rarely, if ever experiencing that kind of intense wanting anymore. This habit literally helped change the core of my character. Old dog. New tricks. It’s possible.
Another extremely important element to reducing the number of impulsive or urge-driven decisions is automating the easy things. We talked about decision fatigue–which we defined as the difficulty we have at resisting temptation when we have been making many unimportant, insignificant but urgent decisions.
The prime example of this is at the grocery store, when for thirty minutes we have been filling our cart with items that we have chosen–chosen for their utility, yes, but also for the price, size or any other reason. Our decision-making faculties get worn out under the stress of knowing that we need to get everything on our list, and end up unable to resist, I dunno, that family size tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream that is on sale or the Snickers bar at the checkout counter.
Like LiElla said last week, we are faced daily with tons of decisions that are unimportant and relatively insignificant, especially if we make them when they aren’t urgent. Urgent decisions use up more emotional energy and take up more space in our hearts and minds.
A decision like “What am I going to wear” isn’t urgent or terribly important until you realize that you have three minutes before you have to leave and you are still in your pajamas. This decision about what you are going to wear can be made at another time, thus freeing up that space in your heart and avoiding an urgent, fatigue-creating decision.
Building a habit can be partly defined as automating easy, insignificant non-urgent decisions.
A decision like “What is for dinner” on any given night is important, but it doesn’t have to be urgent. (I am preaching to myself, friends. Preaching to myself.) It doesn’t have to be made five minutes before everyone starts getting crabby from hunger. Making it earlier–either in the day or even, ideally in the week, means that there is that much more heart and headspace for more important things, like connecting with and spending quality time with those potentially crabby people that we love so much.
Now don’t start thinking that I have this all figured out. I have been able to concretely make some progress with certain things, like having a designated home for everything I own, for example, so that I don’t have to make decisions about where things go when it is time to clean up. This habit, of designating a home for things, is one of the biggest sanity savers when it comes to my hormonally-driven fog. Having a routine of taking a few minutes several times a day to put things in their designated homes has likewise been a sanity saver.
It’s not all La Vie En Rose, but it is definitely a step forward.
A habit of planning
In Episode 17, I shared with you that, although I had enjoyed and succeeded in a career as a wedding planner, somehow, when faced with my own family and marriage, I found myself failing miserably in anything that remotely looked like planning ahead. This was–and still is a big, uncomfortable sticking point in my family life.
My real-life flesh and blood sister (who is also a life coach), Poppy Fields, came to France for a visit recently, and I asked her to give me a primer on planners and calendars so that I can get unstuck in this area–hopefully to make planning a habit I actually want to stick to going forward.
Lily: Habits and Routines overlaps with the Ideal Life Theme of Scheduling and Planning. I often think that if I could turn scheduling and planning into a habit, then I would be much better off. My sticking point is that I have never found the right planner. And believe me, I have tried some planners. This is what I want to talk to Poppy about today: how to pick the right planner so that we can turn planning into a habit and routine that we actually come back to. Poppy, would you recommend a virtual planner or a hard copy planner.
Poppy: This is a very, very personal choice. I personally would love, love to get on board with the virtual planner. It’s so much easier to carry around because my iPad is literally one of my appendages. So I wish that I could just incorporate it into the iPad that I am already going to be carrying around anyway. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work for me. Partly…call it my age group. Partly call it…I love the satisfaction of writing things down and crossing them off on a piece of paper. It’s very satisfying.
Lily: You had said something interesting–talking about the age group thing. Textbooks. And why you find virtual textbooks so difficult to use. Could you tell us something about that?
Poppy: Ageing myself and Lily here just a smidge…I am forty eight years old. We grew up in a time when there were not computers. I mean, they existed, but they certainly weren’t laptops or anything of the personal nature. When we grew up we had textbooks. You had to lug around your six or seven textbooks in your backpack to class every day. So when you studied, you opened a textbook that could be three or four hundred pages. And you would remember things like–oh, I need to find out about molecules. Where was that in my textbook? Oh, I remember, there was a picture. Or I had highlighted something nearby. And you could flip through the book really quickly, find the picture, find the topic and there you go.
The problem with virtual ereaders is that you can’t just flip through the book anymore to find the picture or the highlighted spot. I have no idea how children learn now. It completely boggles my mind. I love to read a novel on my Kindle. I love to be able to download a book from the library and read it on my iPad. That’s super cool. But actually learning is another thing entirely.
And so for me, it’s the same thing with a planner. Yet again, it’s because of the age thing, and that I don’t love all the tech stuff…I will have literally written down a password somewhere in my planner–and I’ll be like, “Okay. What was that password? I know it was in February…” and then I can go back to February and (sound effect of flipping through pages) where is it? Oh yeah. There it is. This is why I love paper planners.
Lily: But you’ve tried different virtual planners, right?
Poppy: Oh yes. Lily had suggested DAYONE, which is a fabulous option. I have tried something called Zinnia, in which you can create your own planner, but it ends up being more like a scrap book. I spent so much time setting things up. You had to use a stylus in order to check things off, or scratch things off. It was super unsatisfying when you would have to go in and check something off, and you would just have to go, “dyoop.” It doesn’t have the same feel as paper when you’re crossing something off.
Lily: And when you’re crossing something off, there’s such a feeling of satisfaction…and that is another moment of joy.
Poppy: Yes! Yes! And you don’t have that moment of joy, because it’s just like..meh. Okay.
Zinnia stores locally on your device, so you have to be very mindful of the storage capacity. It took up a lot of space on my tablet. Zinna has a free version which works exactly the same as the paid version, but you can only have three separate…they call them “books”, but I used them for months, so you could only plan ahead for three months at a time and then you have to delete it. Well then, what’s the point of the planner, right? It just didn’t work for me.
I have tried literally every other planner on the planet that is in English. For many, many years I had a Day Timer. They are brilliant people. They have so many different versions. They have dated, undated.
You can get any number of sizes. I personally love a humongous planner. I like to write. I like to write big. Some people like to be able to throw their planner in a little purse, so they like a tiny little planner. Naturally, those planners are going to limit how much you can write on it.
Day Timer has two pages per day, one page per day. But, the Day Timer is limited to quarters. So if you have a daily planner, you will get January-March, March-June, etc. I feel like you almost need four or five months at a time…so it’s only going to work super well for the first month of the quarter, otherwise you are just going to have to carry around two. Another thing with Day Timer is that it is a little bit expensive, but you’re only paying for it once, since you get the whole year in advance. It’s not that expensive, because you are really getting a nice product.
So when I started creating my planner, I would have a few pages at the beginning for random things, you know, like certain goals that I have for myself. I put that in the front. You might have other kinds of habits and routines you’re trying to accomplish. It might have to do with the gym, it might have to do with studying…you’ll have your own thing. But anyway, you’ll have that at the beginning.
And then I have a whole monthly calendar. Oh…and sorry, I also do have a monthly to-do list, too. Birthdays go at the top. Birthdays are incredibly important. You’ll put your goals, anything you need to get done that month. Like, “Don’t forget to get your oil changed!” or “Hey! Have a new experience this month!”
Then I have a weekly page. I’ll put things where I have to be there. Like, where I have to show up in person. It might be meetings, I do a lot of dogwalking…it might be personal appointments…you know, that kind of thing. So that is all on the top third of the page.
On the bottom two thirds of the page, is where you get into things that are very personal, and it’s really only going to relate to you, right? I have four columns: My step goal for the day, I have my Ideal Life exercise topic. The third column is specifically about Mise en Place, which Lily has waxed lyrically over…I am an enormous fan of Mise en Place. Lily does it every night before bed, I believe? I do it on a weekly basis. I generally know what is coming up, which days I might have virtual meetings, which days I’m going to be out walking some dogs, then I’ll be wearing things don’t matter if they get fur on them. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that you need to know if it going to be raining (it’s always going to be raining!) So that’s my third column, Mise en Place.
And my fourth column is meals: If I can make something that could even last for three days, that would be even better! Like…I know that I am going to have to do this and this and this, so on Wednesday night, I don’t want to have to cook. I can plan ahead so that–oh! I’ve already made something!
So those are my personal columns for each day of that week…And it could be different for everyone.
To facilitate writing out the day schedule I would print out a little calendar–no, it’s not really a calendar–it’s more like an hourly schedule. It’s an easy overview of what is happening that day.
Lily: I have found this method really helpful–the one with the columns and the blocks. I’m going to put a link to it in the show notes, so that people can see what we’re talking about. It really really has been helpful to me.
Thank you so so much for being here and sharing about how to set up a planner.
Poppy: I am so happy to have been here in person with you!
Lily: We’ll talk soon!
Let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories, on the theme of Habits and Routines
What is working?: What good habits do you currently have? What routines are working for you and making your life easier? Have you noticed any progress? These are things to celebrate. Here is an example of something I am really excited about: my indulgent husband decided to set himself a challenge of cleaning the toilet every single morning for three weeks. It’s now been way more than three weeks, and he’s still at it every single day. I love having a front row seat to someone else’s successful habit forming!
What isn’t working?: What are the rocks in your shoes these days? For me, it is the fact that I just simply hate planning meals and would rather die than think about it. With summer coming up, and everyone being home all the time I am going to need to get serious about this
Things to consider: I want to get serious about a planner, like the one Poppy suggested, and get into the habit of actually using it, even if it is just for the summer. Give it a try. Maybe this will help me build a good meal planning habit. If I want to make progress in this, I will have to buckle down and get disciplined, and I’m going to take inspiration from my indulgent husband to make this happen. Hey. At least I don’t have to get elbow deep in the toilet!
Things to do: Print out Poppy’s weekly planner pages, one for each week of the summer. Make a list of summer goals and start planning about how to attain them, and figure out which ones of them are habits that I need to start.
There are a million great resources about developing habits out there, and I hope you can take the time to find the ones that will speak to you. I’ll put a link to one of my favorites in the show notes.
Part of the satisfaction of a life well lived is having been faithful in the little things. The little things can look like those tiny little daily habits and routines that keep your family functioning smoothly and help keep you healthy.
What I want you to walk away with from this episode is that even highly creative people can benefit from developing habits and routines. This may sound counterintuitive, but I have found it to be one saving grace in the midst of the ebbs and flows of creativity.
Habits and routines give a structure to fall back on when excitement fades. This structure can keep us out of the pit of despair that can accompany an ebb in creativity.
Keep an open mind about these things, my creative friends.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: Caregivers need care, too; conquering urges and impulses through habits and routines; building a habit of planning.
Episode 25: Anything But Routine is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Habits and Routines.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
A copy of Poppy Fields’ weekly planner page can be found here: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2022/06/17/episode-25-anything-but-routine/
If you are looking for inspiration around developing habits and routines, check out Gretchen Rubin’s website: https://gretchenrubin.com/
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.