On breaking habits

Regular readers of the blog know that something has been amiss since Monday. That’s right, this is the first post since I wrote a review of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. So much for daily blogging…

I managed to write every single day for 48 days in a row. In my original blog post I said I was going to give it 3 months before I switched to anything other than a daily schedule. I missed that by almost half.

I’m still going to be writing daily, but I’ve decided not to publish everything like I have been. The reason I didn’t publish anything on Tuesday or Wednesday is because I wasn’t satisfied with what I wrote. So here’s the plan:

  • On the days when I have something ready to publish, I’ll publish it. I still plan on writing based on the daily categories, but I won’t necessarily have something for every day.
  • On the days when I don’t have something ready to publish, I’ll write a short post giving some stats about the writing I did that day. Nothing crazy, just what I worked on and how many words/pages/whatever I managed to drag out of my brain and onto the screen.

Sound like a plan? Well that’s what I’m doing, so it better. See you soon!

The power of journaling

I listen to Tim Ferriss’ podcast regularly. I’m somewhat tired of the similar answers that seem to pop up all the time (yes, I read Meditations and stoic philosophy is interesting Tim). There’s probably something to be said for any answer or habit that occurs regularly though. That’s why I still listen.

One thing that comes up over and over again is journaling. A bunch of people do it, and they all seem to get something out of it.

I recently took up notebook journaling and it seems like a habit that’s going to stick around in my life. I’ve done other kinds of journaling for a long time. I use the Day One App on my phone every day and have for more than 2 years. I only use it for basic journaling, however, because I find typing on the tiny keyboard difficult. Instead of writing out paragraphs of details, I tend to write a simple sentence about how the day went. Sometimes I’ll include a photo from the day as well. I don’t look back at it often and I don’t have any plans to in the future. I like to have the data though, because there’s always an idea about some all-powerful dashboard of Logan that I could have in a distant future, one where I could pull up any day and remember exactly how it was through the magic of the quantified self and data visualization.

Anyway, I’ve tried to keep a paper journal a few times in the past and it hasn’t stuck. I’ve been journaling in my notebook for about a month now so there’s no guarantee that it will continue. I’ve found it incredibly useful in focusing my efforts on a daily basis. I’ve also looked back to find important information on a couple of occasions. Those two data points alone are enough to tell me it’s worth my time.

This is what my journaling looks like

  • I use a black large hardcover Moleskine Classic Notebook with squared paper and a blue ballpoint pen. I like the squared paper instead of lined because it plays nice with lists. I’ve tried Rhodia notebooks in the past for their superior paper, specifically so I could use a fountain pen instead of a ballpoint. I simply can’t justify the extra cost for the small perceived benefits to the process, however.
  • I write a couple pages in the morning, usually shortly after I wake up. I’m not great at keeping a perfect schedule. The morning journal tends to be more about the day ahead, although I don’t have any set requirements for myself. I do try to set a few specific goals for the day so I can write about my progress at night.
  • I write two pages in the evening whenever I can find time. It’s 7:30 as I’m writing this and I will probably wait until after dinner to write my journal entry. I’m not as good about writing in the evening, but I find it just as useful as writing in the morning. I usually review my goals and write about any important situations or people I had interactions with during the day.
  • In both the morning and evening journaling I use the Evernote mobile app to save a digital copy of the journal. I simply open the app, tell it I want a new note in my Daily Journal notebook, choose the photo option and point the camera at the notebook. The app has a great document recognition feature so it just automagically snaps the page without any input from me.
  • The image is transferred into searchable text by Evernote because I’m a paid subscriber to the service. I can search by keyword, although with my terrible handwriting the optical character recognition isn’t always the greatest.

Like I said, I’ve already looked back into the journal to remind myself of something I knew was in there, which is incredibly useful. Probably more important is the way it forces me to order my thoughts and goals and put them out on paper every day.

I’m going to continuing journaling. I can already imagine a future with an entire bookshelf dedicated to the black Moleskines. They will, of course, be filed by date with labels on the spines to aid in my information retrieval. Maybe I’ll even do something interesting enough that someone will want to read them in the future. If not, there’s always family. They’re obligated to be interested — or sell the notebooks as kindling in a garage sale.

Ice baths and cold showers

Think of the most luxurious experience you can have on an almost daily basis. Is it eating a wonderful meal? Going for a leisurely walk? Sex? Something else?

For me it was often a shower. I am notorious in my family for taking long showers. When I was younger my father marveled at my ability to completely empty the hot water heater with a single rinse. More recently I lived in an apartment complex with a water heating system that meant I had unlimited hot water. I didn’t keep track of time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent an hour in the shower on some days.

Part of the draw of the shower is the luxuriating. There are few things I enjoy more than almost-hot-enough-to-burn water cascading down my body. The majority of my obsession with long showers was much less hedonistic. I used the time in the shower to think without distraction. The cleaning ritual was automatic, so I could focus on the real issues of the day and get busy solving them.

For the last week my shower times have been significantly different. I’ve spent no more than 10 minutes in the shower each day. It’s too cold to stay any longer.

I’ve been taking cold showers. And I love them. It started out when I took an ice bath after a long run because my legs were feeling sluggish. I’ve known about the health benefits of ice baths for recovery for a long time, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to suffer through them. As it turns out it wasn’t all that bad.

It just so happened that I heard about the potential benefits of cold showers on the podcast I was listening to on the run. I don’t even remember what podcast it was, but the cold shower bit definitely made an impression. There is evidence that cold showers also have benefits so I decided to continue my chilly experimentation.

The cold shower was incredibly invigorating, and not just because it was 100 degrees outside. I felt a rush and a surge of energy that lasted long after the shower. That’s the main reason I’ve continued to take cold showers, and why I will likely continue.

My family members are probably rolling their eyes right now because they think I’ll be back to my old ways in no time. They could be right. For now I’ll continue to embrace the cold.

Postmortem of a news junkie

All through my childhood and adolescence I read two local newspapers a day. Residents of my hometown have the option to subscribe to both the Journal Gazette and the News Sentinel. My daily news consumption formed much of who I was for a very long time. I even went to school for journalism and moved to Austin to start a digital magazine, because I was convinced the world needed another publication telling local stories in new and interesting ways.

Today I don’t read any news publications, digital or otherwise. Sometimes I stumble across an article from one of the major national newspapers, but it’s nothing like it once was. I was a heavy Google Reader user at one time, but now I don’t do anything with RSS. What happened?

I’ve found that the news doesn’t contribute anything useful to my life, so I choose not to consume it. Instead I get by with a lot of slow information (think magazines and books), niche blogs, and several online communities that tell me everything I need to know. I still get Austin news, but it is a filtered version that comes from other Austinites discussing it online. If I need more information about whatever is happening I go directly to the source. No newspapers or reporting required.

I don’t necessarily think my habits are a good idea for an average person, but I’m almost certain they are very similar to most people my age and younger. No one my age has ever come up to me and said, “Did you see the story about [some local event] in the Statesman?” People often ask me about thought pieces published on some blog or another, however.

It wasn’t until I spent time at my parents’ house recently that I realized how much things had changed. They still get a newspaper, and they still read it every day. Habits die hard, I suppose. Or perhaps the only way to get the information they are accustomed to is from the physical paper. I’m not sure, because it wasn’t important enough to me at the time to ask about it.

There aren’t many areas in life where I’ve changed so completely over time. I would love for the journalism and “news” business to get back on its feet and do something wonderful, especially because of all my friends and former classmates who are still working in publications. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

This all came to the forefront when I came across a Medium post about the future of “creative artists” and society the other day. I’m not sure how I found it (which is one fascinating symptom of my media habit these days) but I read it in full. Read it yourself if you must, but don’t expect any great insight into the reality of the situation. The author makes an argument that seems to be built upon the fact that journalists, musicians, and other creative types are making $X millions less a year, while Google, Amazon and Apple are making $X millions more a year. Amidst all that, people are consuming more of the stuff the creatives are making, but somehow the creative people are getting less money. The great logical leap here is that the money that went away from the former must have gone to the latter, so we can blame Google, Amazon and Apple for creative people making less money.

It’s a ridiculous argument in almost every way, and the only reason I read through the end was some small hope that it was all a joke. My hope was squashed, as it often is when reading about the business of news, and I was left to ponder my own part in all this. Over time I’ve learned to become more detached from it all, despite the time I’m spending thinking and writing about it now.

I don’t have any great insight into what the future might hold. I just know that I as a super consumer of news at one point, and now I am not. I don’t see a future where any of my news comes from anything resembling a traditional publication. I hope magazines stay around, but if not I’ll be fine getting my news from books. The rest of the important stuff will make it to me by way of the all-powerful interwebz somehow.

This is the postmortem of a news junkie. May he rest in peace.

Thoughtful email newsletters

This is a nontraditional Thoughtful Thursday post (does one post count as a tradition?). Normally I’ll write about a topic I’ve put some deep thought into, but today we’re going with a different meaning of the word.

Based on feedback from one of you lovely readers (thanks Adam, that’s two days in a row your name is on the blog) I’m going to start sending out a weekly newsletter instead of posting everything I write to Twitter, Facebook, etc. I don’t want to be that guy who only posts about his writing constantly.

You can sign up for my newsletter here:

The newsletter will be a meta look behind the scenes of my writing and life as it relates to words on a page. I’ll also include a digest of my weekly posts.

See you at the inbox!

Running as meditation

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first installation of Thoughtful Thursday. I promise it won’t take long. My thoughts are simple. Check out this post for more about my daily writing schedule. Also, don’t judge me for calling myself the editor of my own eponymous blog, OK?

My father meditates. He calls it quiet time, but I’m pretty sure it’s actually meditation. I know we’ve talked about it before. We had to, because how else would I have tried it those few times?

It didn’t work. I remember struggling mightily to clear my mind, but wait how do you actually clear your mind — isn’t that like dying? — I’m totally thinking even in my sleep because dreams. Wow breathing is really weird I wonder how my lungs do that when I’m not paying attention.

You get the idea. I failed in every way to slow my mind, let alone clear it.

I haven’t tried it since, so it still doesn’t work for me. Instead I’ve used running as a way to keep my mental energy level on a relatively flat trajectory. I’m not sure that’s what meditation does, but that’s the best way I can describe what I get from running. Very long runs of 20+ miles tend to put me in a place where I can focus on my breathing instead of my inner monologue. Shorter runs can have the same result if I’m lucky. Only those long runs guarantee a few moments of bliss.

So yeah. I run. I call it running, but I’m pretty sure it’s also meditation. Why else would I lace up those shoes so many times each week when I could be doing more important things? Things like sampling every chips and salsa combo in Austin and ranking them across all the important indices like spiciness, chunkiness and deliciousness?

Meditation is one of those customs I really think I ought to have. It must be doing something for my father, since he’s done it as long as I can remember, and I’m more like him than anyone else. It would no doubt be of use to me considering our genetic and behavioral similarities. I can’t make my mind slow down on command so running will have to do. I even read this book about Running With The Mind Of Meditation and I’m still out there thinking about my next meal or how I can fix that thing at work or whatever instead of just sitting in the moment and realizing the truth of the matter:

The universe is not the voice inside my head.