Patterns, patterns everywhere!

As each week of the Do-Over Project passes, I am more and more convinced of a single truth: change happens when we interrupt the negative patterns in our lives and don’t interrupt the good ones.

Humans are creatures of habit. We want habits because they make life easier for us. Like driving a standard vehicle. At first, it’s hard as you pay attention to every little detail of driving. After a time, you just do it.

It’s important that some stuff in our life is automatic. How would it be if we had to pay attention to every stroke of a toothbrush or every step we take in the dressing process?! When some things are automatic, it frees up our brain to do other stuff. Like when I’m running. I don’t have to pay attention to every footfall, which frees my brain up to solve problems (or let my creativity spin stories as move along.

Of course, too much automatic thinking is also a problem. That’s why mindfulness training has become so popular. We’ve become a society that multi-tasks everything and pays attention to nothing. Shoveling food into our mouths mindlessly helps drive the obesity epidemic. Driving while distracted by cellphones and radios and friends talking has led to more than one car accident.

But back to my original thought…some automatic habits are good–especially if they’re good habits!

How can we use this automatic ability humans have to create good habits? It’s understanding the role interruption plays in habit-forming.

For example, when I started my new job three months ago, I had to keep track of every moment between the time I woke up and the time I left the house, lest I take too long on one task, which would make me leave the house a few minutes late and, invariably, miss the bus.

Now the alarm goes off, I go through my routine without ever checking the clock because I can feel when I’m falling behind. My morning routine has become a habit.

Interrupt my routine and failure is sure to follow! Let’s say my husband has a dentist appointment in the morning and doesn’t leave until after me. Now he’s underfoot in the bathroom, hits the coffee maker before me and just generally makes a nuisance of himself (I love you, dearheart!).

If he lost his job and was now underfoot all the time, we’d adjust and make it work. That would now be our habit.

So, to create a new habit or get rid of one you don’t want, you need to interrupt the pattern.

If I was a pack a day smoker and one day ran out of cigarettes and couldn’t get anymore (say I was iceberg surfing in Antarctica and there were no corner stores), my smoking habit would be interrupted.

Maybe the next day there’s a supply drop and I get more cigarettes, but because my pattern was interrupted, I at least have the idea that it’s possible to be smoke free. Maybe I go back to my smoking habit or maybe I don’t, but once I know something, I can’t unknow it! I now know I can do without cigarettes. The simple act of interrupting the pattern made me mindful of another choice.

Like most things in life, being mindful (even temporarily) of your patterns is the catalyst for change.

With the Do-Over Project, the act of writing in my journal every day is becoming a habit. When I interrupt the pattern, I feel like I’m missing something in my day. If I interrupted my habit, say, for a week, it would be much more difficult to start again (anyone who’s ever stopped exercising for a time and tried to start again can attest to this!)

So, if you want to start a new habit, get a pattern started and don’t interrupt it. If you want to stop a habit, go ahead, break that pattern!

You don’t have to be perfect at it. Just the act of breaking the pattern once is enough to at least get you thinking mindfully about change and that’s how it all starts.

Here’s to making and breaking habits!


creatures of habit


Husband challenge: Part deux

I accepted my husband’s (Pierre) challenge yesterday and let my subconscious work on the connection between apples and change overnight.

It turns out apples and change are not random topics after all! They’re really quite connected.

When I think of apples, I think of the fall when it’s time to go and pick them from the orchard. I love roaming the rows of different varieties and taste-testing them all. Some are crisp and sour, others are softer and sweet; some are naturally small, which Image result for apple picturesother varieties grow fat; some are green and some are brilliant red. I was looking for Spy apples last fall and, when I asked the owner of the orchard where they were, he said they don’t grow them anymore because it takes too long. Aw! So some varieties also grow faster than others!

It’s all very interesting when you think of people and change. We’re all human, and thus very similar, but what differences we have too! The varieties are endless. That means that change is different for each person too. Some people embrace change, while others avoid it like, well, wormy apples! Some people take their time, others jump right to it.

Whatever our comfort level, we need to meet ourselves where we are (a vast human orchard!) Just because Louis next store seems to be one of those fast changers, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, because you’re not!

In the end, what we all have in common is that we won’t grow at all, unless we plant the seeds. Then, depending on temperament, background, environment, opportunities, etc., we grow. At some point, if we continue to nurture ourselves, we will blossom. If not, the worms, bad soil, drought, etc., will get us!

But it doesn’t end with blossoming. We have to continue the nurturing process, because there are many years of blossoming within us–if we keep at it. Eventually, we all bear fruit. And, if we continue to nurture ourselves, we’ll continue to bear fruit year after year.

That’s why we cannot grow stagnant as we grow older. An old apple tree doesn’t bear as much fruit as a young tree, and the farmer has to work a little harder at keeping it healthy, but that old tree still has lots of juicy apples to deliver–don’t underestimate it!

So, my apples, the moral of this story is: continue the change process, it’s completely natural, and you will reap the rewards–for a lifetime!


Husband challenge!

No, I’m not being challenged (or challenging others) to find a husband!

I was talking to my husband, Pierre, about the blog post I wanted to write last night–I hadn’t actually thought of a topic and I was too tired to come up with one after a long work day.

Pierre challenged me to come up with a topic tonight, let my subconscious work on it overnight, and then write it tomorrow night when I’d be full of ideas.  He gave the example topic of  “apples and change”. My job would be to let my subconscious explore a connection between two seemingly random ideas. What an interesting idea!

Since I’m about change this year and doing things differently, I said, “I’m game!” Maybe this will create a new habit that will make me think about change in new ways.

I’m stealing Pierre’s topic directly and I’ll let you know tomorrow night what I discovered about “apples and change”! What an adventure!



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Better than before


When I got my first pay check at my new job a couple of months ago, I immediately bought a Groupon for a facial. I don’t pamper myself much, so this was a little out of character for me. But, I’m doing things differently, so why not?

Perhaps, because it’s out of character, I kept putting off calling the spa. Maybe, subconsciously, I didn’t feel worthy of the pampering. Finally, the day before the Groupon expired, I made an appointment. Thankfully, they could fit me in.

Friday evening after work, I raced across town and spent the next hour being touched by a complete stranger. I didn’t even know the girl’s name (I forgot to ask!)! I just put myself in her hands as she steamed, extracted, lotioned and potioned me. It was amazing!

After a few minutes, I noticed that I was very tense and wondered why.

Firstly, it was odd to have a complete stranger touching my body. But I’m the touchy-feely sort so this didn’t quite fit. Then it occurred to me that the face is an intimate place. After all, how many people do we have in our lives that getthatclose to us? And, even those who do getthatclose, how often are they that close for that long?

OK so it was normal to be a bit tense, so I allowed myself to relax a bit. But I was still tense. “What else is there?!!!” I thought.

And then I understood: “Oh, I get it! I’m supposed to be doing other things!”

Like most people, I have a long list of “have tos”. I was in a hurry to get my (relaxing) facial “over with” so I could get to my next task!! Facial. Check. Groceries. Check.

It took me 20 minutes of laying there to figure that out! So, for the next 40 minutes, I put away my mental check list and forced myself to relax. This was going to take as much time as it took! Potion away, my girl!

I don’t believe in coincidence. The next day, I went to Chapters to use a gift card I had received for my birthday. I was browsing through the Self-Help section, when a book practically dove from the shelf and leapt into my arms.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It’s about making and breaking habits for a happier life. Well, I was going to happily spend my gift card on a book about change by the author of The Happiness Project!

I rushed home and read the first chapter. If you want to change, Rubin says, you need to look at your habits. I read further until I came to her Habits Manifesto, where I was clubbed over the head with #6:

When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.

I can work on myself endlessly, beat myself up for not changing faster, or worry myself sick about the possibility of NOT changing within my 365-day timeline, but none of these will get me there faster than being kind to myself.

It seems obvious. If I want, for example, an employee to work harder, I can beat them down with mental cruelty and they will do what I want out of fear. Or, I can treat them with dignity and respect, I can coach and mentor them, I can lead by example, I can give them the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and so much more. Which is going to be the more motivated employee? It’s a no-brainer!

The question is: why can I be kinder to an employee than I can be to myself? Now THAT’S a change worth exploring!

Whether it’s setting aside time for pampering, self-reflection, fun or relaxation, I will get more out of myself in the long run, if I am kinder to myself.

I see a massage in my future!


Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Eustress, me stress!

Last week was extremely busy at work. A colleague was away on holidays so we took up the slack, we had a deadline to get a newsletter out on Friday morning (with people sending me things at 4:59 pm Thursday afternoon that just had to go in it), as well as a variety of small bits of writing that needed done yesterday.

Today was the first time I’ve had a moment to reflect on last week and I discovered something–I had a good time! Although it was stressful, it was fun!

I remember reading about eustress, the “good” stress that motivates you versus distress, the “bad” stress, that makes it hard to cope. Last week was pure eustress.

As long as I’m writing, I can handle a number of competing priorities and that makes me feel good. I feel eustress. Distress arrives, for me, when peoples’ baggage, drama and politics enter the mix.

It got me thinking, “How did I get so lucky that I can write for a living?” The answer is, of course, that it wasn’t luck. I worked incredibly hard (which included a lot of distress),  to get my degree in Journalism. The job I have today is a direct result of the decision I made when I was 12 to go to university. My decision. Not my parents or teachers or guidance counsellors. Mine.

I don’t know what possessed me to make such a life-altering adult decision at such a young age. No one on either my mom’s or dad’s side of the family went to university. I didn’t having anyone telling me to do it or not.

All I know is that I made the decision and followed through. It was the best decision I have ever made.

How about you? What is the best decision you ever made? How has that one decision changed your life?



Goals update

Hi All!

I have 283 days to do. So where am I on my goals?


  • I totally forgot to sign up for the MEC Race Series so I think I’ll ditch it and find other events
  • Sign up for Army 1/2 marathon or 10km (Sunday, September 17)
  • Sign up for Fall Colours 10km (Sunday, October 8)
  • Audition for at least two more things. With all the extra appointments, I need to cut back on my expectations. If I can audition for one more thing, I’ll be happy.
  • Get new passports for husband and myself (spring 2017)
  • Find 10 things to do that bring more fun/joy to my life.
  • Start writing my second book.


  • I just got a therapist to help work out issues that have developed in the last two years.
  • Decided to stop taking Paxil (for anxiety) so have a doctor to wean me from it
  • Just signed up for an 8-week pilot project at work that’s called Meditation for Leaders. Goals for the program are:
    • 1. Commit to 8 weeks
      2. 5-minute meditation every day
      3. write down 5 things I’m grateful for daily


  • Training for Race Weekend (group did 16 km on Sunday).
  • Limit alcohol (which I do anyway) but maintain.
  • Go back to mainly protein & vegetables.
  • Supplements.
  • Neurofeedback once/week.
  • Balance my gut this year (getting full blood workup, endoscopy).
  • Singing (fun goal) Go to all lessons and jams. (not perfect, but doing better).
  • Go to four additional jams around the city (other than The Music Factory). I’ll be at Irene’s Pub at the end of the month.
  • Sing at the jams like I don’t care if I crack or forget lyrics (Sheer joy!).
  • Save 15-20,000 for a big trip in 2-3 years (taking adventures!).
  • Finish my office with beach theme (doing a bit every week).
  • Take a beach vacation in 2018 with my husband.
  • Take two local vacations in the next 3 years with my husband.
  • Write a Do-Over Project blog post (once per week, but often twice a week).


  • Eating few or no sweets.
  • Regular workout routine established: still struggling to do what I’ve always loved.
  • Rock climbing: trying to find a place for it in my schedule.
  • NEW 100 queries by the end of the year.
  • By the end of this year, I want an agent.


  • Weight loss (I’ve been really struggling with this because I’m tired all the time. I’m guessing that when I get my gut issue sorted out weight loss and exercise will be more consistent)


I keep track of the following in a journal every day:

  • MOSTLY CONSISTENT Healthy eating
  • ON TARGET Positive Facebook post: AT LEAST once a day
  • INCONSISTENT I am great at:
  • MOSTLY CONSISTENT Do something differently
  • MOSTLY CONSISTENT find something that brings me joy
  • INCONSISTENT Do a drawing prompt
  • CONSISTENT reading a daily positive message


I’ve achieved the following:

  • Get knee fixed
  • Sign up for Ottawa Race Weekend 10 km (Changed to walking the 1/2 marathon
  • Set up RRSP
  • Start a travel fund
  • Go to bank for a travel rewards card
  • DON’T cancel my cardiologist specialist (heart issue ruled out).

Planting seeds

Hi All!
As I was out raking the front lawn in the glorious sunshine today, I started thinking about my plants. You see, they’re looking pretty retched right now. My perennials don’t look perennial, they look dead!!! They’re dried out lumps of grey/ brown.

I said to my husband, “I’m amazed each year because my plants don’t look like they’ve survived the harsh Ottawa winter–but then low-and-behold, at some point, I start seeing buds or new green stuff shooting up from the ground!” We agreed that nature is pretty cool.

Excited by the thought of what lurked beneath the winter decay, I began cleaning out my flower bed and, sure enough, there was some (barely visible) green stuff! I was tickled.

When I apply the lesson learned from my perennials to the Do-Over project, it’s like the Robert Louis Stevenson quote about planting seeds.

Sometimes we’ve planted seeds (or bulbs or whole plants) and we’re not sure if they’re going to grow (or even live through the season, if you lack gardening skills like I do!). It requires faith. Faith that we’ve done enough of the right things (like watering, fertilizing and removing debris) to give the plant a fighting chance!

Sometimes, I forget to have faith. I’m planting seeds, maybe not daily but enough that, even if half of them grow to their full potential, I will have a wonderful garden. I have to have faith that, next year on my birthday, I will have done enough good stuff for myself that I will, at the very least, be on the way to turning things around.

Already I’ve accomplished some of my goals (stay tuned this weekend for an update) AND I’m less anxious about whether every day is a “success” or “failure”. To me, that’s huge success–and we’re only in April!

Happy Good Friday!

Big picture Stevenson for blog

Why are bad habits so easy?

Why are bad habits so easy to acquire and good habits so hard to acquire? That’s what’s been on my mind the last few days.

I work at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). We have a commitment to work on sustainable development projects and one task we’ve been working on is decreasing our internal paper consumption.

I’m a writer, so almost by necessity (and certainly by proclivity) I am a “Paper Beast”. I always have pads of paper (large and small), daytimers, journals and stickies (where would we be without them???), well, everywhere. At home, at work, in drawers, in bags, in purses, on desks–everywhere.

Since Earth Day is coming up on April 22 and we’re promoting it, I challenged myself to go without paper FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK!!

That week has just come to an end and I can tell you IT WAS HARD. Every five minutes I was turning around to grab a piece of paper and a pen to jot a note down before I forgot it. And how did I go to meetings without anything to take notes?!

I managed. Somehow. I truly didn’t think it would be that hard, but, honestly, it was torture! But I learned a few things:

  1. I CAN go without paper.
  2. I don’t LIKE to go without paper.
  3. Not relying on paper made me rely on my memory more. Argh.
  4. Not relying on paper made me get creative. Like putting the timer on in Outlook to remind myself to do something, instead of writing it on a stickie. Or sending myself home an email to remember to bring something to work. Or using OneNote to make daily task lists.
  5. When I don’t use paper, and thus don’t have piles of paper around, my desk is neater.

The biggest lesson learned, however, was to simply be more aware. I love writing in special journals with pretty pens, so I’m not going to give that up. It makes me happy. But this week’s exercise made me aware of every piece of paper I could have potentially used. It showed me that I can, if I want, choose differently.

Ah, there’s that word again “differently”. Doing things differently is on my radar this year to make changes and it’s part of the reason I took this challenge on. Not because I knew I was going to suddenly change my ways and never use paper again, but that, when I do use paper, I will be more aware of it and SOMETIMES choose a different option.

The end of my successful paperless week over, I’m left with that question still churning in my mind: “Why are bad habits so easy to acquire and good habits so hard to acquire?” Working at the CRA is a perfect example of each.

Good habit hard to acquire: If I were going to go permanently paperless, I know it would be a long hard climb for me.

Bad habit easy to acquire: I’ve only worked for the CRA for two months and already I’m in the stubborn bad habit of jones-ing for one of those gluten free peanut butter Rice Krispie bars with dark chocolate they sell in the cafeteria around 3:00pm each day.

If you’ve ever wondered why latching onto bad habits is so easy (and letting go of them so hard), you’ll be happy to learn that it’s not your fault. Researchers say that bad habits give you instant rewards (e.g. chocolate!), while good habits provide you with, well, not much! A sense of accomplishment when you finally maintain it (e.g. quitting smoking. You know it’s good for your body, but the reward comes from not dying of lung cancer eventually).

The end result is awesome, but human beings have a hard time with the-thing-that-takes-a-long-time-with-no-immediate-gratification. The positive habits have the greatest rewards long term, but suck at the short-term fix. That’s where bad habits excel! And that’s why changing your life is so darn hard!

Experts say that the first step to changing a bad habit is acknowledging it exists in the first place. It’s being aware, just like I experienced every time I picked up a pen this week.

To eradicate it, so say the experts, you then need to draw your attention to it. That was easy to do for me as I tried to go paperless. It was very obvious every time I physically turned to grab a pen.

The next step to change a habit is to interrupt the bad habit with a positive behavior. In my case, choosing ANY other option but paper.

Other examples might be to go for a walk every time you crave that cigarette or making tea every time you think of making yourself a cup of coffee.

To sum it up, awareness is the the first giant leap to change. The rest is just:

  1. Keep at it.
  2. Know it’s going to be painful, but the long-term gain will be worth it.
  3. Repeat.

Here’s an infograph to illustrate the process of change:

bad habits.png

The good news is, it WILL eventually stick because all this time you’ve been rewiring your brain. I expect by this time next year, my brain will be fully rewired!



If you’re interested in more information on change, check out Brian Tracy, who’s done work on the subject for years:

Goals can change just like you!

When I started the Do-Over Project, I set several health and wellness goals, one of which I’ve changed COMPLETELY. The results have been interesting so I thought I’d share them with you.

I signed up for the 10km run at the Ottawa Race Weekend (ORW) in May. My training was going well and then I got Bronchitis. “No problem, I’m ahead of schedule so I can catch up”, which I did.

In the meantime, a friend of mine asked me if I’d like to join her group of women who are training to walk the ORW’s half-marathon. I am not a walker. Oh, it’s fine for getting from point A to point B, but it doesn’t really feel like exercise because I can’t get my heart rate up high enough. I like the huffing and puffing of running, so I get frustrated with the whole walking thing.

In addition, I realized long ago that I’m not a run group kinda girl! It took me a while to figure out why, because I’m an extrovert, so I thought I should LOVE them. In the last couple of years, however, I’ve become aware that I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The result is that, as much as I love being around people, they distract me. When I’m running, this is a problem because I can’t focus on my breathing properly.

BUT, I’m trying to do things differently, so I told my friend, I’d join the group. The first week I felt the usual frustrations arise. “We’re going too slow!” and “I could have been done ages ago if I’d been running!” were my internal mantras for all 10.8 km.

During the week, I was feeling grumpy and annoyed that I’d committed myself to such torture–I had even transferred my bib from the 10km run to the 1/2 marathon walk.

Then I thought, “you need to do this differently, because you’re trying to change. So change your attitude!” After all, why was I in such a rush to finish our walk? I mean, what else do I have to do that’s so pressing at 8:30 am on Sunday morning?

This morning I was determined to have a different attitude. Every time the inner monologue started about how slow we were going, I stopped it. Instead I thought, “what a great way to start the day. I don’t have anything else that I ‘have to’ do right now, so just relax.”

As I forced my body to relax, I realized walking was just a completely different activity than running–and that was OK. No, I wasn’t in the meditative, focussed internal place that I’m in when I run, but I was in a good external place, where I was enjoying getting to know these lovely women with whom I was walking. I was enjoying our stream-of-consciousness conversation as we bounced from one topic to another over the two hours. Afterwards we even went for coffee to continue our conversation.

Overall, I can say that I was pleased with how I chose to view the experience, as well as the experience itself. Both are worthy goals.

Now, I’m not giving up running for walking! I’m still running on the side. I need the huffing and puffing, the rush of endorphines and being inside myself, but I can say that this experience is bringing something different to my life that I like.

And, the experience has also reminded me that goals are guidelines, not words written on tablets like commandments! Just like us, as human beings, we’re not designed to stay static, we’re designed for change. So, too, should our goals be dynamic. Life is not about having static rules but being able to adapt to change.

To me, as long as I continue my commitment to change and I learn something from the experience, it’s all good. And who knows, maybe I’ve made some new lifelong friends!