Revenge of Analog

I’m a friend of a musician who loves listening to vinyl records. He has a sweet setup in his living room that includes a 1970’s turntable and big speaker boxes that he bought at an estate sale. In addition to his growing records collection, he also buys and uses old film cameras. He recently traveled to Europe and shot black and white photos of his trip on rolls of film. 

We have ongoing conversations about the revival of analog. He wants me to get my own turntable so I too can enjoy the rich, authentic sounds of vinyl records. He tells me that film is very much available for old cameras and that they make more beautiful pictures than the iPhone. 

In The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, journalist and author David Sax describes a growing market for real, tangible things – vinyl records, print books, notebooks and the like.  He writes:

Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric. We want to interact with goods and services with all our senses, and many of us are willing to pay a premium to do so, even if it is more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalent. 

My vinyl-records-collector friend and I had analog childhoods in which digital was uncommon and less of an option. As Mr. Sax argues, however, the revenge of analog does not just stem from nostalgia or hipster fad, but also from every human being’s emotional connections with tangible things and the social interactions we get in sharing them. 

I have been tempted to get a turntable and begin collecting vinyl records. I have yet to do so because I don’t want the clutter this will bring or give up the physical space this will require.  So I stick with digital for entertainment purposes, e.g.,  music streaming apps, Kindle ebooks, and digital photos taken with my iPhone (although I do print some to put in family photo albums and in picture frames around my home and office). 

For personal productivity – such as planning my day, setting goals, staying on task, and keeping focused on my highest priorities – I go with analog. I find that putting pen to paper is the most effective personal productivity system and that no digital app can fully replace the analog method.

To learn more, read my latest article, Why Analog Beats Digital for Focusing Your Mind and Getting in the Zone. 

As the year comes to a close and we prepare to enter 2019, I  encourage you to think about how you can embrace more analog and resist more digital. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and it’s up to you to create the ideal mix for yourself. 

May you set your daily intentions and create a fulfilling year ahead, 

Dyan Williams
Productivity & Purpose Coach

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How to cultivate gratitude

Expressing thanks to others, appreciating your accomplishments, and being grateful in every moment are vital wellness habits. They need to be honed, practiced and repeated daily. They do not come naturally in our hyperconnected world — where comparing and competing often take precedence over cultivating self-worth and personal excellence.

Thanksgiving is a national day in the United States celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.  It is one of my favorite holidays even though I did not grow up here as a child and did not really begin to appreciate it until well into my adulthood.

Whether you celebrate this holiday or not,  you can take a day (schedule it if you must) to take stock of your life and reflect on what you are truly thankful for.

Dig deep in the positives

Family, friends, community, health, home, and life itself are some of the most common short answers to the question, what are you grateful for? While these do bring out feelings of gratitude, you will benefit from digging deeper. Engage in higher-level appreciation by noticing the unique attributes of your favorite person or prized possession that are easily taken for granted or overlooked.

Why do you turn to a particular friend when faced with a personal crisis?

Which quality do you appreciate most about your life partner? 

What special thing does your child do that melts your heart every time he does it? 

Why is having good health so important to you? 

How does your home bring you comfort and  a sense of security? 

As you explore and discover what you treasure most, you build knowledge and insights into how to create more of it in your life. Feeling deep gratitude and offering a sincere thank you will help call in the interaction, experience or thing you desire most, again and again.

Gain perspective on the negatives

After you have exhausted your list of big positives and major wins, dare to reflect on the first three losses, challenges or negative experiences that immediately come  to mind. What was it about them that floored you,  outmatched your grit, or tested your patience?

You don’t have to be grateful for them. You’re not going to be thankful for needing to euthanize your pet, staying up to finish a project you put off close to the deadline, continuing to watch a crappy movie just because you paid for it, or getting your car stuck in a ditch in a heavy snowstorm.

But with the passage of time and a different perspective, you can acknowledge the lessons learned and the actions you took to solve the problem and improve the situation. While the experience itself might never be met with gratitude, it can make you a more courageous person and empathetic human being when you stay open to the results.

Notice the small great things in your daily experience

Even when you get to the end of the day with nothing much to show for it — in terms of goals accomplished, major tasks completed, or big changes made — you can always have a moment of gratitude. All you need to do is pay attention to the little things that seem inconsequential but add up to make a good life.

It might be the neighbor who cleared snow from the sidewalk outside your home while he was ploughing his own space. It could be the barista greeting you with a genuine smile and remembering your name when you stop in for your regular caffeine dose. Maybe it’s the courteous driver who used his turn signal, checked his blind spot, and moved into your lane well ahead of you, instead of cutting you off. Or perhaps it’s your kindergartener giving you a hug every time she parts from you at the school bus stop.

Keep track of the small moments that bring a smile to your face. Practicing daily gratitude goes a long way in cultivating it for the long term, no matter the countless times you get angry, feel sad, or face disappointment.

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3 Simple Steps to Build Habits that Stick

Following through on new year’s resolutions,  heading in the right direction, meeting goals, or making creative shifts requires the ability to build sustainable, congruent habits. While self-discipline, willpower and a growth mindset all play a role in making your dreams and wishes come true,  it’s habit formation that makes the process easier.

A habit is an automatic tendency, behavior or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.  It is formed through regular repetition and is a natural consequence of how the human brain works. Healthy habits keep you on the path of worthwhile pursuits, despite obstacles and setbacks.

Whether you seek to finish an innovative project, make time for daily exercise, develop an essential skill or just get more sleep,  you will benefit from building habits that trigger positive change and continuous progress.

Follow these 3 simple steps to build habits that stick: 

1. Start small. Having Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) can be highly motivating, but moving toward them often involves taking incremental steps. Likewise, to implement a new behavior that you want to become a habit, start with a small, doable action from which you can build momentum. As Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”

Need to create a writing habit that will help you complete your sci-fi novel and become a published author? To start, you could commit to writing a page or for 15 minutes each morning. Then, after this becomes ingrained, add another page or an additional 15 minutes. Keep building on the practice until you’re up to a chapter or two-hour writing blocks a day (or whatever maximum you can handle).

Start with super small actions that you can expand upon as they become habitual or routinized. Your forcing yourself to write a chapter or for two hours, right off the bat, won’t work. Instead, you’ll likely find yourself checking emails, updating your social media posts, scrolling through online news feeds or giving in to other distractions to alleviate tension or boredom.

Depending on who you ask, it usually takes 21 days, 28 days or 30 days, to form a new habit. In one 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, a University College London research team found that it takes an average of 66 days until an action becomes automatic.

The researchers recruited  96 participants (a statistically insignificant number) who were interested in forming a new habit such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch or doing a 15-minute run each day. Participants were then asked daily whether their behavior was “hard not to do”or could be done “without thinking.” The study found that on average, the “plateau of automaticity” was reached after 66 days.

Despite the research studies, there is no magic number of days to form a habit. Some behaviors are harder to adopt than others. It’s much easier to write an article than to finish a whole book. Eating a salad for lunch each day is less challenging than completing a daily, one-hour workout at the gym.

For most people – no matter how long it takes to form a habit – starting with a small action is more effective than going for bold changes at the outset. In Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff suggests you cut your goal in half or double the timeline to avoid the perfectionist, now-or-never mentality that stops follow-through.

To incorporate mindfulness meditation into my evening routine, I started with 15 minutes.  To implement a tai chi practice into my morning rituals, I began with just 10 minutes. Shooting for 30 minutes or 1 hour would have led to failure in making them into daily habits. A regular practice, even for a minimal amount of time, provides significant benefits that I would not otherwise get if I didn’t do it at all.

Lower the bar and reduce your expectations if you’re having trouble making consistent, lasting progress. Set yourself up for success by taking small actions you can readily accomplish and will give increase your sense of control.

2. State your “if-then” plans.  Positive thinking helps you learn from failures and recover from setbacks. But it’s not enough to get you where you want to be, as  Gabriele Oettingen, psychology professor and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking,  Inside the New Science of Motivation, points out.

Oettingen discusses a four-step process called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) to  think about potential obstacles, contrast them with your dreams and goals, and design a plan to overcome them to attain preferred outcomes.

In one research article, Oettingen and her colleague, Peter Gollwitzer, explain that making if-then statements is a powerful way to create a desired future behavior or outcome. They state, “While goal intentions (goals) have the structure ‘I intend to reach Z!’ with Z relating to a desired future behavior or outcome, implementation intentions have the structure ‘If situation X is encountered, then I will perform the goal-directed response Y!'”

Using an if-then format, you specify plans on where, when and how you want to act  in certain situations. Oettingen and Gollwitzer note, “For instance, a person with the goal to reduce alcohol consumption might form the following implementation intention: ‘And whenever a waiter suggests ordering a second drink, then I’ll ask for mineral water!'” This helps to close the gap between having goals and reaching them.

If-then statements establish patterns that prompt healthy behaviors and responses to specific situations. They are based on critical cues (opportunities or obstacles), such as your emotional state, the time, your location/environment, and the preceding action, which are linked to the goal-directed response.

When faced with the critical cue, you have a pre-planned, automatic (habitual) response to deal with it. For example, instead of telling yourself “I will get enough sleep everyday,” you could say, “If it’s 9:30 p.m., I’ll start winding down to go to bed by 10 p.m.” Rather than commit to “I will maintain a clutter-free home,” you could specify, “After dinner, I’ll clear out the junk mail.”

Oettingen has a related WOOP app designed to help you fulfill your wishes and change your habits with if-then plans. The process is based on environmental triggers and current routines you can use to build a new habit or to add to an existing one.

3. Suck at it.  Don’t be in a rush to become an expert or a master; embrace the beginner’s mind, in which there are many possibilities and nothing is all figured out. If you miss a day or two of taking an action that you want to become a daily habit, just get back to it.  No need to count this as a break in your streak.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states, “Some habits yield easily to analysis and influence. Others are more complex and obstinate, and require prolonged study. And for others, change is a process that never fully concludes. But that doesn’t mean it can’t occur.”

Even when you fall short of your ideal behavior or preferred outcome, getting things right 5%, 20% or 50% of the time is overall better than 0%. By cutting yourself some slack, you get to continue your efforts rather than abandon them at the first slip-up.

Over time, and with sustained effort, you can make better informed decisions on whether to continue the action or habit. If it’s not truly purposeful or enjoyable, you can not only suck at it, but you can give it up altogether.

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If you have trouble fulfilling resolutions or achieving goals, try these 3 simple steps to build habits that stick and will help you make sustainable progress without beating yourself up.

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