Hello from the midst of an especially busy period of work!
Last week, I wrapped up a three-day Report for America virtual training that I helped to organize and co-lead; yesterday and today, I’m emceeing the annual meeting for The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. These events are all-consuming: It’s a lot of spending time on Zoom, a lot of presenting to and learning from impressive journalists, a lot of keeping track of all the little details and big-picture observations that make an event run smoothly. And, when they’re over, it’s a lot of catching up on all the other work I missed.
Needless to say, my time for other responsibilities has been limited, which is why I’d like to try another newsletter discussion thread this week.
(If you missed last month’s thread, on our relationship to work when life gets hard, it was a great one.)
Like everyone else, I keep a running list in my head of things that would make life better. They’re things that, if I had the time to do or energy to prioritize, would likely make me happier, healthier, and a generally better person.
Some of these things are relatively big, like picking up a new hobby or planting a vegetable garden. But a surprising number of them are small, like meditating for a few minutes a day or making the bed every morning. In theory, those small things would be easy to do. Yet oftentimes I find that some kind of barrier or bit of friction gets in the way of making them happen.
For the longest time, one of the small habits I wanted to adopt was consistently taking my various supplements each morning. I’d purchased a colorful pill container, but would still miss out on taking my daily doses because I rarely had a glass of water with me in the bathroom. I’d tell myself to return with water and take the pills later, but would often forget. I’d only remember the next morning, when I saw the previous day’s pills still in their compartment.
This, as you might be thinking, was not a hard problem to solve! Eventually, I figured it out. A couple of weeks ago, I started keeping a small cup for water by the bathroom sink. That’s it! It was the easiest, most simple solution ever, and it was exactly the reduction in friction that I needed. Now, I never miss taking my supplements. It feels like a small victory, an important step in taking care of myself.
Which brings me to my question: What’s your cup by the bathroom sink? In other words, what’s one small tweak you (finally) made that led to a bigger, better change in your life?
This newsletter is called My Sweet Dumb Brain for a reason. Sometimes it takes a long period of banging our heads against the walls—shoot, I forgot to take my pills again!—until we eventually figure out a better way to approach things.
I can’t wait to hear your a-ha moments.
remembering to take my morning pills was also a small friction -- now, i put on my watch when i take them. that way, if i look down to check the time and i have no watch, i realize the omission.
Keep bright red lipstick at my work desk.
When imposter syndrome creeps in…
When I need to move towards a scary next step…
When I feel unprepared or ill-equipped…
I slap on a red lip, shake out my hands, and say aloud “You are powerful. Let’s do this!”
Jump in with a bold lip. 💋
Hydration has been a big one for me! I've tried so many times to be better about drinking water; I've had multiple doctors tell me I need to drink more water; I've actively noticed the negatives in my physical and mental health that stem from NOT drinking water; but still it's been almost impossible to get myself to drink water. My solution (still early in the making, but successful so far) has been twofold. First, I downloaded a water-tracker app that lets me mark down every time I drink water (I tend to respond well to tracking goals and the simple reward of checking a task off a list), tells me how much water I need left in the day to reach my goal, and reminds me every hour and a half to have a drink. I also started a "water drinking challenge" with a good friend who is trying to be better at this as well. We encourage and remind each other throughout the day, celebrate with each other when we hit our goal, and keep a digital calendar that shows when we both succeeded. There's no prize, but these little steps have made a huge difference, and I'm regularly drinking more water now!
Great thread! My life is full of these little hacks. Not because I am so organized, or obsessive, but because I am actually a hot mess. My family and I joke, these little coping mechanisms constitute my "disguise" that I am a normal functioning person. The hook RIGHT NEXT TO THE FRONT DOOR where I hang my car keys. Because if the keys got further into the house I'd never see them again. Having a pair of sunglasses that live in the car and an extra pair int he house. Here's a weirdly satisfying one: I recently started storing all the food storage containers in the lower cabinet with the LIDS ON! No more fussing around looking for the lid that fits the container I want, or discovering there is no lid at all. Yes, it takes up more room down there but did I really need all those other containers? Not really. If I run out of containers, it is probably time to clean the fridge (see, it's a two-fer). Another kitchen hack, I tend to print out recipes from blogs and I am really bad about putting them away, or finding them again if I do put them away. So I stuck a Command hook on the side of a cabinet by the sink and now I can clip all those papers with a blinder clip and hang them, they don't look too untidy and I can find that recipe I want. Once in a while I'll go through the stack and file or toss papers that I don't need handy anymore. Also, I tape recipes and directions for cooking certain products that I use often but forget how to make (does this rice want 1 cup of water or 3/4?) inside the cabinet door by the stove. This one is kind of obvious but a game changer for me, I always forget to buy contact solution and then don't have it when I need it, so I put it on Amazon auto ship.
As for alarm reminders, I use those too but I find that after a while they become furniture (I don't "see" them, the urgency wears off) so I change up the ringtone or the voice. I used to have a pill reminder that sang out in the voice of Elsa from Frozen, when that got old I switched it to Morgan Freeman, who intones, "This is the universe. You know what to do."
I used work a slightly later shift than my coworkers, and coming in after most people I always got a terrible, far-away parking spot. Then I learned I could park on the street by the door in the two-hour parking, move my car at lunch and get a convenient spot. But I kept forgetting to move and getting parking tickets. It was hard to remember bc I didn't *always park there. Sometimes I did find a close spot, other times street parking was full. I made a post-it note that said "Move your stupid car" and kept it on my desk. When I parked on the street the first thing I did when I got to my desk was move it to the monitor where I could see it. No more parking tickets! (Funny when I had to explain this to my boss, but he actually wanted one too, ha.) When I think of things I need to do or remember, I email myself with that info as the subject line. I'm in my email a lot so when I scroll I see them, and I don't even have to open them to know to call to reschedule an appointment or give the dog her flea meds or whatever.
All of these and others make my life better because they remove some of the noise from my head.
As I rapidly approach the beginning of my eighth decade, Katie, I am blessed to have a tidy wife.
She puts the water glass in the bathroom every day, but also remembers where I put my "smart" phone.
If the darn contraption was so smart, then how come it allows me to misplace it so often?
I do, however, remember the big things, such as installing a new fully vented range hood. It had only been hiding for a month or two in the box the nice delivery lady carried into our house.
Live is grand 😊
As usual, I enjoyed your most recent essay Katie.
Dental floss in my car. Except that hack doesn’t work now that I no longer commute to the office. Perhaps tod say is the day I move those flosser picks to a spot by the desk in my home office.
My fiancé and I recently started keeping a notebook in a frequently visited area of the kitchen to keep track of all our random to-do and household admin things. We start a fresh page each week and while there are a lot of repetitive tasks, it’s been really nice to automatically get a sense of who’s doing what and divvy things up. (Inspired by a recent Girls Night In newsletter!)
Also: lotion right after the shower, always! It was always a habit I couldn’t stick to until I put a good lotion RIGHT by the shower :)
I’ve been dealing some neck and back pain recently (and will be trying to keep in mind another person’s post on mindful posture!), and simultaneously, had found my pre-bed Headspace meditation wasn’t helping me sleep as well as it used to. So I changed it up and started taking 10-20 min to do mindful stretching in bed, with a sleep music soundtrack. It helps clear my mind and my back is gradually feeling better. So far, it feels more like a treat than a chore, because of the spa-like music and the fact that I’m doing it in bed.
Another one is having a Google doc where I track the ingredients and leftovers I have in the freezer. I don’t keep it as updated as I’d like, but even a periodic update is really helpful when throwing together a meal. No more digging through the freezer when I can’t remember if I used the last of the frozen tomato paste!
Hmmm what little thing can I do to ensure good posture...
For months I'd been trying (and failing) to do push-ups every day. I had tasked myself with doing 3 sets of 10 each day, and I could usually manage a day or two in a row before giving up and letting the habit lapse for days and weeks. So two weeks ago I had an aha moment that 3 sets of 10 are way too many push-ups, and changed my aim to 5 push-ups. And I've been on a streak ever since! Each morning, when I see the notification from my journaling app, I drop down and do 5 push-ups. Nice and easy! I'm even toying with the idea of doing more (seems silly to stop at just five), but I'm sticking with 5 for now.
I've always struggled with having a sink full of dishes, and recently I started committing to running the dishwasher every night and unloading it every morning while my coffee brews. It's such a small and intuitive thing, but it makes it so that the dishes can just skip the sink altogether and go straight into the dishwasher during the day, which helps me avoid that "ughhhhh I need to do dishes but the sink is full of dishes and it's gross" feeling.
Ah-ha... same with me and taking my supplements. I finally set a notification bell on my phone for daily ring at 7 PM. If I’m not near them, I’ll set a snooze for the required time. Easy Peezy.
I also bought a cute little pill organizer! It's a citrus fruit and I add all of my pills on Sunday, then just flip through during the week.
The big thing that's a struggle for me right now is getting out of bed--I love sleeping, I hate getting up for work. Oftentimes my alarm would go off and I would end up on my phone, scrolling through twitter when I should be getting ready. Simple solution: I now keep my phone charging in the bathroom, so I need to physically get up to turn the alarm off AND I don't take the phone back with me to bed. When it goes off again, I get out of bed again...and then I usually just get up for the day.
Katie, I love this one. I am constantly thinking of little changes I can make that have big results! The most significant one was purchasing a regular little treadmill and adjustable desk off the web (no need to pay thousands on walking desks) and moving the two things to face a sunny window. What I thought was a "tweak" to stop sitting so much while working, I have found many other huge results: my mental health, work productivity/concentration, and better, more efficient decision making - not to mention I look down and I have walked 4 miles! Well worth every penny!
I keep my kids' socks by the back door (where we put on shoes) instead of in their rooms (with the rest of their clothes). No one was putting socks on in their rooms, so we were spending a lot of time sending people back upstairs to get socks ... to carry them downstairs and put them on by the back door.
I bought a second container of face wash, so I could have one in the shower and one by the sink, because getting the face wash from the shower was a real stumbling block in washing my face at night.
I run the dishwasher every night and I (or my husband) unload it every morning while the kids are eating breakfast. I also timed myself unloading the dishwasher to prove to myself that it literally takes less than 5 minutes and makes the rest of the day go so much more smoothly.
I don't put leftovers in the freezer "for later" because later always ends up being 2 years later when I throw them out.
These are great! Esp the posture ones--a few years ago I started getting something called piriformis which is basically when your tush muscles irritate your sciatic nerve. it was honestly the most surprisingly painful thing ever and I was able to deduce with my doc that it was related, if not entirely due to, my hour+ commute. For whatever reason I always tended to lean to my right with my arm on the center console and it threw everything out of alignment. Every time I catch myself doing that again now (fortunately I don’t commute anymore but old habits die hard) I immediately adjust position because I think of how incredibly painful piriformis is!!
A great life hack for me though has been my Apple Watch- I try to walk with my dog every morning before my first calls or work begins and I truly feel so much better when I do. (I live in the SE and it’s disgustingly hot but cooling down, finally) I listen when the watch demands it’s time to stand up and I regularly compete against myself and my stats. Sharing info with my brother helps too because he will tease me mercilessly and rub it in that he burned 4 million calories one day when I only burned 4. 🤣
Maybe if I move my little colorful pill container to my bathroom, and then get a cup to go with it, I will actually take them. And right after I take my supplements, I can put some lotion on the bottom of my feet. I put lotion everywhere except the bottom of my feet, which is probably where I need it the most because I'm always wearing flip flops. I think it has something to do with the fact that after I put the lotion on, I have to wait for it to dry before walking away. Those extra few seconds deter me. We are humorous creatures for sure. 💟
First up: hydration. Having a cup (with a lid that fully closes! and a straw!) that I find aesthetically pleasing enough to bring everywhere means I genuinely enjoy bringing it everywhere - including from room to room with me.
Second: morning meds. I'm new to taking a medicine in the morning (all others are evening, and are in a cute little citrus pill dispenser, highly recommend). to make sure I remember to take it, I bring my cup into the bedroom and put it on my nightstand. Even if I leave the bedroom without my cup after waking up, it guarantees I'll be back very soon, and will see it sitting next to my morning meds.
A general idea I was taught is called "habit stacking" - if there's a new habit you need to develop, attach it to an old one you already have. For example, instead of trying to remember to take your vitamin every day, decide you'll always take the vitamin with your morning coffee, if you never miss a morning cup of coffee, and make sure the vitamins are front and center by the coffeemaker. That makes it much easier to get the habit going. For me, I've started doing calf stretches while brushing my teeth. Calves are notoriously stiff in most people and overlooked in many stretching sessions. I've got an electric brush which buzzes at 30 seconds, so I do two intervals for each leg and have much less stiff calf muscles.
hello all. I still frequently lose keys, glasses, wallet, handbag, etc.
Have been trying different approaches to simplify so that I waste less time looking for whatever I need. hope to be able to come back to this at some time with a success story. Until then, thanks for your posts and inspiration.
This thread has me wondering what changes I’ve made that I don’t even think about anymore that help me. Like hydration. Every morning I make a big picture of ginger nettle tea. It’s just there and I drink it all day long and it’s wonderful for hydration. I’m not the best about drinking plain water and light herbal tea is my go to because I will drink it every day.
I started a monthly habit tracker about a year ago and that has helped me stick to new things that I want to build as habits. Somethings I do better than others. Anything I can do first thing in the morning definitely has a better chance of sticking, but since I have this practice of going out before sunrise I can only do so many things in the morning. Remembering to write in my journal every day is something I really want to do and I’m struggling to get better at it even though I have the journals and the color pens and all the supplies right in the middle of my room where they are obvious and I can see them.￼￼
I do have habits like even how I get dressed to go out in the morning or where I keep my keys or the order I do things in. They’ve all been thrown off in the last few weeks with this whole sciatic pain thing and I find myself forgetting things I never forget. Like I forgot to brush my teeth one day and I never forget that. So even the best laid plans can get thrown off kilter when you kind of have a major diversion.￼
There are two activities in my life that I look forward to with delight and always want to make the most of: thrifting and karaoke. I keep ongoing lists in my phone of items I want to thrift and songs I dream of crushing on the karaoke stage. That way when I find myself with a little free time, and want to do either activity, I have a place to start. It's helped more in the thrifting department than karaoke, but I have aspirations.