Breaking Streaks Makes Habits

A photo of a neon sign that says "habits to be made"
Photo by Drew Beamer.

Here's something I hadn't thought about before: you don't truly build your habit until you break your streak.

Back when I was doing my yoga teacher training, we talked about the importance of doing yoga every day. (Every. Single. Day.)

During my teacher training, it was easy. My life revolved around yoga and I wanted to practice between classes to experiment with the things we were learning.

Once teacher training ended, however, it immediately became harder. I started missing days, and (gasp) even a whole week, before my life got really shaken up and I basically abandoned my home practice for months.

But! Whether I missed a day or more, here's how I know it was really a habit: I started up again. I didn't worry about "catching up" or somehow correcting for lost time, I just picked my yoga habit back up and kept going.

(Admittedly, that's not what the article I linked to is really about. It's about being gentler with yourself and letting your habit be something you actually ENJOY, not just something you force yourself to do for the sake of having done it. Which is also very good advice.)

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Kindness and Love

"No matter how many people tell me we need a new approach to racial justice based on kindness and love, I say, no, we need a new approach to kindness and love based on racial justice."

I freaking love this.

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Being a Good Person

Are you a good person?

This video from School for Life says that there is one simple test to find out if you are or not: (stop reading if you consider learning the content of a 4-minute infotainment video a spoiler) ask yourself if you are a good person. Only good people recognize their flaws and potential for evil and say, "no."

Of course, while watching this I had a crisis of conscience. Because in the space between the video posing the question of being a good person and letting us know that the right answer is no, I thought, "well, I'm not perfect, but on the balance, yeah I would say that I am a pretty good person."

So then am I really a bad person? According to this video, I guess so. Or perhaps just "on the balance." Start the crisis.

But! Then justification strikes: they say no one can be a good person "and at the same time think that they're blameless and pure inside."

Well, I certainly don't think I'm blameless and pure inside. I just don't think that being a good person required someone to be perfect. That's also why I had a waffly "on the balance" answer.

So then with that I swing back a little bit from my crisis. Maybe I'm okay.

Then! Another swing!

They describe how everyone who has ever performed an atrocity thought they were doing the right thing. That people never set out to do evil but instead believe they are flawlessly serving truth or righteousness or purity in some way.

The implication is clear: the feeling of absolutely doing the right thing is an indicator of being wrong. It's the moral version of the Dunning-Kruger effect.


I have felt, at times, that while I may not be blameless as an individual, I was unflinchingly on the side of good. Granted, I have never used that to justify hurting someone else, but when I (for example) shot down a random dude on the street telling me COVID isn't real, I did so with the full assurance that I was right and he was wrong. Not even because of the fact of COVID's existence, but because I am acting based on principles of science, reason, adaptability, and care for my fellow humans which I think are the right principles to act on.

So am I a bad person for that belief?

What do you think? What makes a good person? Based on all of this, are YOU a good person?

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A portrait of a young woman, author Zadie Smith, sitting with a black background, looking at the camera.
Photo by Internaz on / CC BY-NC-SA

"What modest dreamers we have become."
-Zadie Smith

Cuts to the quick.

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We All Need Something to Look Forward To

A photo of a man on a bench, looking out over a canyon, shot from behind.
Photo by Daniel Salgato.

"Here’s something that my mom said to me and I think it’s very true in terms of happiness: You have to always have something to look forward to. It can be a very minor thing, and it can be a major thing. But you always have to have something you’re looking forward to next."
-Julia Louis-Dreyfus

When we got about halfway through this summer, I began to feel a bit rudderless.

In the (first) summer of a pandemic, I realize that feeling like you're just sort of drifting through life without purpose or drive may be the least of many people's concerns, but it was concerning to me.

I had been having a pretty wonderful summer of park hangs and a few great camping trips (thank goodness we had some good outdoors time before the smoke moved in to stay!), and suddenly all my special summer activities were over and all I had to look forward to was autumn, the encroaching cold and dark, and the fact that my soul-saving outdoor park hangs were about to get struck out by rain.

Then I read this blog post from Austin Kleon about the importance of having something to look forward to and immediately scheduled another backpacking trip for the end of August.

It worked! I not only did I have something to look forward to, but that something that still rang the bell of summer and friendship while being one of the few safe activities in a pandemic, and everything seemed a lot better.

Austin Kleon brings in a few different people's perspectives into his post. One is the Julia Louis Dreyfus quote above, another is from the esteemed psychologist Viktor Frankl, and one is Tamara Shopsin and her book Arbitrary Stupid Goal, named after her father's philosophy that everyone needs an arbitrary stupid goal so that their life has meaning.

"A goal that isn’t too important makes you live in the moment, and still gives you a driving force. This driving force is a way to get around the fact that we will all die and there is no real point to life."

I truly love this. It's a goal that isn't so big or important that you defer joy or alter your entire life but is compelling enough that it gives you something to work towards, which is really what hobbies do for most people, isn't it? They take up running, photography, or pottery and begin tracking progress and setting goals for new things to try.

Of course, my first arbitrary stupid goal might be just coming up with an arbitrary stupid goal, because I keep coming up empty!

In the meantime, scheduling fun things just far enough away that I look forward to them might very well do the trick.

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A Different Sort of Life

A photo of Jane Goodall standing in front of a projection of a photo of herself back when she was doing her research. In the projected image, she is young and sitting in a forest with a monkey that is scratching her back.
Photo by World Economic Forum on / CC BY-NC-SA

“I hope people take away the fact that it is possible to have a different sort of life.”
— Jane Goodall

What sort of life could we have? Maybe one that isn't centered around capitalist economic systems? One that is deeply connected to nature? One that prioritizes relationships?

There are really so many options.

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Before You "Check-In" On Your Friend's Mental Health

A photo of a young woman standing alone on the side of a street, staring forward. It looks like she may be in a dark place, mentally.
Photo by Raychan.

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of posts circulating on social media encouraging everyone to check on their friends' mental health - especially any friends they know to have anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges.

As a person who has spent some time in this world, I have a thought or two.

My main thought: having a "how are you doing - no, how are you really doing?" conversation with someone I don't really know or don't typically talk to about these things is, well, is not the thing I usually need when life is harder than usual.

This isn't because it sucks when people care, but because those conversations usually feel like the person won't be satisfied until I lay a bunch of mental anguish at their feet. They came to support my mental health, dadgummit! They should be rewarded by me pouring my guts out, crying, and then being so, so grateful they cared to call.

Believe it or not, I actually don't always have mental anguish to share, and when I do, I have people (professional and non) that I talk to about these things.

As I said when I wrote about Bell Let's Talk Day at the Huffington Post: a deluge of concern that comes out of nowhere and is not really going anywhere can be really uncomfortable.

I'm not saying you should never check in on someone's mental health, just that it's complicated and your intervention may or may not be actually needed or wanted. I know, this sucks for you, the Good Person who just wants to help, because it means you can't always know you're doing the best thing.

For me, a good place to start is being open about your own struggles. Nothing makes me feel like I can trust you with my pain like being trusted with yours.

Next, don't assume that I must have a lot of underlying pain just bursting to be shared - being a person who lives with depression doesn't actually mean I'm constantly hurting. Sometimes I am totally fine, and when it does come to the fore, at this stage, it's pretty old hat and there isn't much to say other than that it's there.

For me, my depression coming in and out is like my bad knee acting up: it sucks and it may be impacting my life, but it's not the end of the world and I pretty much of know how it will play out.

Because of this, I muuuuuch prefer to talk about it pretty casually and without an avalanche of sympathy. It also means that if I say I'm doing okay, I really appreciate the people who believe me.

I say this, fully knowing that when I was a teenager in the early stages of being deeply depressed and not knowing what it was or how to deal with it, all I wanted was for someone to see through my smile and not accept the lie when I said I was okay. (Of course, my mom did try to do that and I always managed to keep my misery just out of reach because what I actually wanted was for a cute boy to see my hurt, want to make it better, and kiss me so we would fall in love forever and I would never feel sad ever again. Because that is obviously how that works.)

So maybe there is someone in your life who needs you to not only ask how they're doing but to press a little harder when they try to brush you off. Or maybe even someone who is on the verge of doing something drastic and needs to know that literally anyone cares.

Knowing that, here's my advice: if you have seen something that gives you actual concern for someone's safety, go forth and intervene in whatever way you are best able (and actually, you may be able to save someone's life just by keeping them distracted and busy for a time).

Otherwise, just let them know you're there and then follow their lead.

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You Are Marvelous

A photo of an elderly woman with children standing next to her at a street festival of some kind. She is looking out at something with a contented smile on her face. There are lights all around.
Photo by Guille Alvarez.

“Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. Be on the watch. There are ways out. There is light somewhere. It may not be much light but it beats the darkness. 
Be on the watch. The gods will offer you chances. Know them. Take them. You can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. And the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. Your life is your life. Know it while you have it. You are marvelous. The gods wait to delight in you.”

— Charles Bukowski (line breaks added)

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Don't Suck These Popsicles

A group of art students, Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui, and Cheng Yu-ti, made popsicles out of polluted water.

The result is terrible and beautiful. Honestly, if someone told me they were artisanal, organically flavoured popsicles that cost $5 each, I would believe them.

A photo of a bunch of popsicles lined up in a grid. They range from somewhat clear with some debris inside to brown and sludgey. They are made from polluted water.

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On Our Great Feline Companions

A close-up shot of a fluffy white cat's face with one green eye and one blue eye. You get the feeling this cat is a bit weathered. It's seen things.
Photo by Sergey Semin.

Did you know I love cats? I love cats.

Here are some meditations on the cat by Leonard Michaels from his book A Cat.

First of all, those knowing eyes:

You look at a cat, and it looks at you. You have the scary idea that a cat is a kind of person. You look more carefully and let the cat’s eyes tell you what it sees. It sees you are a kind of cat.

A cat always looks into your eyes, as if it knows that you see it with your eyes. As if it knows? What a mad idea. A cat doesn’t even know it has eyes, let alone know that it is seeing you with its eyes. And yet it knows, it knows.

If you think long enough about what you see in a cat, you begin to suppose you will understand everything, but its eyes tell you there is nothing to understand, there is only life.

And then there's the lonely soul:

When it comes to loneliness, a cat is excellent company. It is a lonely animal. It understands what you feel. A dog also understands, but it makes such a big deal of being there for you, bumping against you, flopping about your feet, licking your face. It keeps saying, “Here I am.” Your loneliness then seems lugubrious. A cat will just be, suffering with you in philosophical silence.

I remember once, a roommate complaining that she was sitting on the bed crying and the cat wasn't coming to comfort her. I always knew somewhere in my heart that it wasn't indifference. This is what it really is: the cat says, "Yeah, me too," or perhaps, "We're all lonely, you don't have to make such a show of it," depending on its mood.

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A Couple of Cuties

Just a couple of cute things from Twitter for you.

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The COVID Show

A photo of a woman out on the street with a patterned fabric mask on to protect from COVID. She is standing with her bike.
Photo by Thomas de LUZE.

Has anyone else noticed that there are two aspects to our COVID precautions?

There are the actual precautions and then there is the performance of the precautions.

The precautions themselves are pretty straightforward:

- we meet up with friends in a park and stay six feet apart, each bringing our own snacks.

- we wash our hands for 20 seconds when we get to our workplace, which is fully set up for safe physical distancing.

- we carefully pick a friend to "bubble" with, ensuring that we are on the same page about precautions and comfort levels.

- we wear face masks when we go grocery shopping.

Then there's the performance:

- when we take a selfie at that park hang, we stand a lot more than six feet apart so that it is really obvious in the picture.

- all of our social media posts have captions like, "a wonderful (distanced, outdoor) hang!" and "bubble buddies!"

- we make a point of sanitizing parts of our workstation that we haven't touched in weeks and probably won't touch today just so any coworker who is paying attention can see that we are keeping it clean!

- we don't hug a friend who is actually in our bubble, because we're out somewhere people might not know we are bubbled and we don't want to give the wrong idea.

- we simply don't post about something because it might not be totally obvious that we followed the rules and we don't want to give anyone scrolling past the wrong idea.

Our showy demonstration of following the rules is part avoiding judgement and part subtly making a point to everyone else. The performance is, in many ways, as important as actually following the rules: it reinforces our social contract for safety and lets everyone know we aren't making things worse.

I love to see it.

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