3 Reflections on 30 Days of Habit Building

It’s been three months now since I started using 30 days to create habits that will help me succeed, which means I’ve got three more habits in my arsenal in the battle that is survival (cue dramatic music). I’m planning to go into more detail on building each habit myself, but in the meantime wanted to share three critically important lessons I’ve learned on habit building in general.

1. Set goals with imperfection in mind

Combatting perfectionism is a classic mantra that the majority of us have had beaten into our psyches as we’ve matured from wee bairn to the strapping individuals we are now. But really, such a dedication to self defeat is just so much detritus produced by our overworked and underachieving society. Make sure to banish this tendency early on. As tempting as it is to berate yourself for not waking up at exactly the time that you want to or binging during your diet and afterwards wallow in a pit of self-loathing, it’s really not getting you any closer to your goals.

Instead, skip the self-hate and whittle your inhuman expectations of yourself down a bit. Instead of waking up at 7AM every day, maybe set a range for yourself to wake up in – say, 7AM – 8AM (or if you’re a real hardass, 7:00AM – 7:30AM). Instead of going full out paleo or vegan, maybe go for a softer version or one that allows for some wiggle room. It’s also worth noting that even if you’ve made a goal to work out for 30 minutes a day, just doing 5 when you’re really struggling still holds benefit.

2. Be decisive early on (because you can always change your mind later)

Starting any project is going to require you to make decisions. This is true whether it’s goal setting on a grand scale, such as setting milestones for your career (What skills do you have and which do you want to focus on honing first?), or whether it’s something simple like baking a cake (What flavor of cake do you want to bake?).

For some of us, certainly for me, making decisions has always been a pretty tough thing to do. I live in possibilities – I love to be standing in that wonderful place where I have hundreds of potential opportunities unrolling at my feet. However, even not doing something is a choice, because life goes on without you. The good news is that choosing is actually easy… because if it turns out to be a choice that you don’t like, you can go ahead and re-decide at a later date.

I’ve done this frequently in the past three months. After establishing my first habit, I thought I wanted to work on the times I woke up and went to bed. It made sense in my mind that this was a foundational habit for me to have for a stable working life. I made different decisions on my bedtime routine, the alarms I used, the times I woke up, all to realize that maybe I just wasn’t ready to establish this habit. So, I approached my habit building from a different angle and chose a different habit that I thought would help me out. And it worked – but more on that in upcoming posts.

3. You may have to dedicate yourself to one habit – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else

So, I’ve got to tread lightly here. The point of taking 30 days to develop a habit means that, yes, you are completely dedicated towards making that habit your priority.Tackling one habit at a time is supposed to be a softer, easier way to develop habits for folks that may already be overwhelmed or don’t enjoy living in a self-betterment bootcamp. However, once you start this process, the effects may surprise you.

I was blown away by the deluge of inspiration and new ideas I had during and after the creation of each habit. I was scribbling down ideas like a mad woman, started up a book group and a religious discussion group, and was more social than I had been in ages. It was like opening the floodgates – I had given my imagination permission to romp around, because I knew I was on track in my habit building.

In other words, my advice here is really to just relax and enjoy the process. If you start feeling more productive and inspired, feel free to capitalize on it – but don’t bully yourself. Starting and finishing projects here and there is fine. You’re experimenting – and you’re already doing your homework anyway.

That’s it! Those are my big three reflections so far. I’m sure that I’ll stumble upon more as I go. Have any of you started 30 day challenges? I’ve seen many authors writing about this sort of experiment and would love to hear if anyone has any similar experiences. 🙂


Talents, Traits, Skills, Professions, Oh My!

The following blog post is based loosely on World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 MMOs because besides the week of Final Fantasy XI I played in high school, those have been my MMOs of choice. 

The title and description of this blog had to come into play at some point; “Level Up: Because We All Need The XP,” is a play on the fact that while I graduated college with no real world experience (due to amusing events beyond my control), I have plenty of in-game and in-story experience. It would be a mockery of my first 20 or so years to pretend that all that play had *zero* utility for understanding the world, so without further ado: how MMO character structures can parallel our real world personalities. But first things first:

Why does this matter? 

There are a lot of reasons, in my estimation, why such an exercise would be important. For one, it’s always important for people to take a step back and consider who they are because it directly affects their futures – which major they choose, which career they’ll go into, and what generally makes them happy. For another, it’s always useful to be able to perform the same analysis on other people. If someone’s got the passives for antisocial behavior, has actively nurtured that behavior with violent pastimes, works as a thug and knows how to kill a man with his bare hands – maybe not so much the person you want to hang out with in your free time. And finally –  it’s just for fun okay and who doesn’t love quizzies?! (Not to be confused with testes, of course). *giggle*

Racials / Passives

Source: gaygamer.net

Hi there… don’t you find me ENCHANTING? 😉 Source: gaygamer.net

In WoW, these are the characteristics given to a certain race. As depicted above, Blood Elves have a passive that adds +10 to their enchanting skills. A real world parallel is that these are the characteristics and tendencies you’re born with. An example of this may be your sensitivity to stimuli [link to the vacations post], whether you’re an introvert/extrovert [link to hangover post], or unchanging physical characteristics (like height or eyesight). This, despite World of Warcraft’s loaded term, is not actually attached to any race, it’s just that WoW’s a shitty game anyway and PROBABLY RACIST.

Okay, not really. I loved that game. And then there were pandas. And I mean, whatever, to each their own.

In the real world, passives can and do change over the course of someone’s life. Nothing is set in stone. For a general idea on your passives, you can take Myer Briggs test that is helpful in helping folks understand themselves (when taken generally, not as a rule). I guess you could also take an IQ test, but those are dumb.

Talents / Traits

In Guild Wars 2, traits determine how the abilities you already have are expressed in game. In the real world, it can be said that these are the aspects of your personality or abilities that you nurture. This may be by developing healthy habits, changing up your environment, or reevaluating your approach to a challenge in your life.

Source: IGN.com

In GW2, traits determine how your characters abilities are expressed. Source: IGN.com

Classes / Professions

"Ranged Magic Damage Dealer" = you pack a heavy punch but if someone so much as shoves you, you're down for the count. Source: us.battle.net/wow

“Ranged Magic Damage Dealer” = you pack a heavy punch but if someone so much as shoves you, you’re down for the count. Source: us.battle.net/wow

This is essentially the role you tend to play in the various areas of your life. It probably changes depending on your context – for example, maybe you’re a Healer class with your family, a Tank class for your friends, and a DPS class for your boss. Certainly, we all embody these classes, but sometimes it’s easier to say “Quit being such a Blood Elf Priest” when your friend forgets to hit the elevator button for your floor cuz she’s too busy checking herself out in the metal reflection. You’re thinking, ha ha, how hyperbolic. Not as hyperbolic as you think, sadly.


These are the very specific abilities that have to do with practice, time, and generally trial and error. Want to learn to sew? Well, you may be honing your tailoring abilities. Similarly, fishing and archery are skills or disciplines you could grow in. And, well, why not – programming, graphic design, etc. are also skills and disciplines.

Fishing in WoW was the bane of my existence.  Source: wowwiki.com/fishing

Fishing in WoW was the bane of my existence.
Source: wowwiki.com/fishing


Well, I’m actually not going to touch level. In theory, I guess the closes equivalent is your age, because really your experience (XP) is what feeds into what level you are. I also don’t want to use an arbitrary number for folks to degrade each other with… and experience, life, it’s all circular anyway. It would be a fallacy to assume that someone is getting better permanently because their level is higher. Life has ups and downs, and the Native Americans probably had it right when they talked about the cyclical nature of existence.  Oh yah – I just commented on the nature of existence – I went there.

Putting It All Together 

Let’s choose a famous character to work with, say Don Draper from Mad Men. Why? Because it’s hilarious to think of him walking around smashing up NPCs and also, if anyone deserves to be lost in the Barrens forever, it’s this guy.

If Don Draper was an MMO Character, this is how he might be broken down 😉

Anyway, whether or not you find any of this sort of commentary useful remains to be seen. At the very least, I find it quite entertaining.

Getting Better, A Month At A Time

“Why is everything that should be simple feel so hard?”

The question is one that I inevitably end up asking myself at some point during my day. Never mind that I work at a reasonably well-paying job that has only a loose concept of the 10-6PM. Or that I have a small one bedroom apartment that barely requires any maintenance. And certainly never mind that there are people that have to do real survival things in other countries like walk 1 mile in 100 degree weather to get one bucket of maybe drinkable water. It still feels like I have to fight just to get by day by day without my home or work life descending in to chaos.


my house. when things go wrong.

If I can’t do SMALL things, how can I do BIG things?

What’s more, it strikes me that if I can’t even do simple things like maintain a reasonably orderly, stress-free life just doing the basic “not dying” things, how will I ever be able to do something great and end up in one piece?

This might seem dramatic, but I’ve been surprised at how many of my friends have a lot of wonderful ideas and visions of their future that often seem to be just out of their reach. I relate with them completely. I have always had this driving desire to be better – the problem is, I don’t always know how.

Here’s what I mean. I have a goal of becoming the best at communicating ideas in my organization’s area of policy expertise. Now, I could start with a habit like “Wake early every morning to read the news and come up with 5 ideas to create content around.” Yet that resolution has failed again and again. Needless to say, not the most confidence building process to be a part of.

But I think I’ve found a solution, of sorts.

Two months ago, I stumbled upon an idea that might bring me closer to achieving my goals. I figured that the reason I was having such a hard time with the grand resolutions (Wake Up Every Day and Write Before Work) is because I didn’t have the right habits in my life to support that goal. And with that realization, suddenly the problem got that much easier to break down.

I’m sure we’ve all heard at one point or another that 30 days is the magic number to build a habit. Now, I’m sure there are a great deal of factors that go into this (and arguments to the contrary). However, at work my team and I have been consciously creating a culture of facts, not theories – which is just another way of saying, we’ve made it a point to go out and just do things and see what happens.

So I grabbed my sketchbook and started mind mapping and brainstorming a list of habits that might build on each other. Here’s an example of how I started breaking things down:

Goal: “Waking up early every morning to read the news and come up with 5 ideas to create content around.”

Big Habit: Waking up early enough to have time left over for reading the news and brainstorming content ideas after eating and getting ready for work.

Little Habits that support this:

* Proper nutrition
* Having a good bedtime
* Having a bedtime routine
* Wrapping up my work day before I leave the office
* Meal planning and preparation
* Preparing my clothing and work materials for the next day

To top it off, each of these habits have their own process of self-discovery. What is a “good” bedtime for me? How many hours do I feel the most rested? Do I have to have a few weeks of making up for sleep that I’ve been deprived of? Maybe I’m suffering from insomnia and need to address some health issues?

I’m not saying this to overwhelm anyone. Nor am I saying to go down a rabbit hole of trying to make everything perfect before starting. But I think that instead of setting ourselves up for failure, let’s start from the beginning. Let’s go through a process of self-discovery that will help us create the meaningful, fulfilling lives we’re hoping for.

I figured out where I was going to start.

Everyone’s list will be different, and everyone will have their own starting point. I wanted to set aside a specific time that would remind me of this whole process that I’m undertaking and keep me on track and reflecting on my progress. A journal seemed to fit the bill.

Since that was a little under two months ago, I’ve only successfully completed the first of my goals – write in my journal every night. I did some refining and tweaking of the process as I went along, but more on that later.


I want to be better than I am. So I’m choosing great habits and building them into my life a month at a time.

What is This Crazy Thing?

Two years ago, the world ended.

And by ended, I mean it really began. In May 2010, a well-meaning but somewhat befuddled 21 year old (me) graduated from college and headed out to a new city to start an unpaid internship.  Being alone for the first time, I realized very quickly that there were certain basic survival skills I had never covered. I also realized that although I was fairly book smart (if I do say so myself) I wasn’t all that street smart nor… well… any other kind of smart. Or so I thought.

It seems I have a knack for – or an obsession with – making things better. Myself better. The world better. Or just simply “this project” or “this tuna salad” better. So after a series of quite unfortunate and very fortunate events, all in quick succession, I rose from the settled waters to realize another huge thing: I want to meet people that have that same drive. Hence, Level Up – a blog for all the folks that want levels and need the XP.

I’m sure that the majority of my ideas are iterations on what already exists on the net/the universe. However, I firmly believe that for many folks, the learning is in the doing. So, I’m keeping a record of the way I do things for my own benefit in learning from my mistakes, but also to learn from others.

Level Up is my attempt to create a community of folks that I can connect to and grow with.