I'm a disabled artist with CFS/ME, a complex nuero-immune metabolic illness that causes me to be limited to my house and often my bed. Explore my life making art with CFS/ME through my blog and videos!
Feb 03, 2019 | Posted by Zeraph
Yesterday was one of those days I didn’t feel like doing anything. I felt crappy and headachy and lazy and tired.
I was recovering from a minor ME/CFS crash and my body was focusing energy inward, on recovery and repair. The energy I needed to rebuild from the crash was depleting my immune system, and I had a sinus infection.
Everybody has those days, chronically ill or not. There are different degrees, of course, but everyone feels off sometimes. It’s a good reminder to allow your body some rest time, to “lean in” to the slow times and let them restore you so you can get back on track sooner.
Today, I woke up feeling different, better. I wanted to get back on track. I was ready to start doing positive things for myself again.
When I need to know what to do to get back on track, I like to turn to a reference that will remind me of my goals. I used to have a tendency to flounder around, feeling guilty I wasn’t doing what I should be, but not quite making it to the “action stage.”
Instead, I was just making myself feel bad all day by thinking vaguely about things I was supposed to be doing.
I’ve been using the Streaks app (iOS) to build habits for several years, but this year I kicked it into gear and have been making huge progress. I want to share with you what I’ve learned and what I think is key for creating daily habits that actually help, and sticking with them permanently.
Habit-building is about creating daily and weekly habits. Rather than a to-do list, which changes all the time, daily and weekly habits will mostly stay exactly the same. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose them carefully.
Here are the criteria I use to choose good daily habits:
1. Choose tasks that are always a good idea. A daily habit should be something that would be good for you— body and mind— pretty much any day. If you have severe ME/CFS and you set a habit to get dressed every day, what if on some days it would actually hurt your health to get dressed because it is too difficult? Then you would have to choose between achieving your goal or “failing” and protecting your health.
Choose a habit that will pretty much always be helpful. I like to shoot for several rest periods per day as a daily habit, for example. I also include things like taking my medication and drinking my medicinal tea.
2. A daily habit should be achievable. Don’t shoot too high. If you currently get one rest period per day on most days, then make one or two rest periods your goal for a while.
Don’t immediately decide that because five rest periods would be ideal, that should be your goal. You’ll be more motivated to create habits if they are achievable.
3. Make sure your habits will always be possible to complete. Perhaps it goes without saying, but a daily habit has to be something that is possible to do every day.
If you set a goal to go for a walk (and I’m assuming you don’t have ME/CFS here…See #6) and sometimes there is bad weather, you’ll fail to reach your goal due to factors outside of your control. Instead, make your goals more general (“Get some exercise”) or time-based (“Exercise 15 minutes”).
4. Throw in some easy tasks. I like to make some of my goals very easy to achieve. The streaks app gives me 12 goals per day, so a range of difficulty is possible. One of my goals is “listen to my audiobook.”
I can check it off even if I only listen for a minute. I’ve found this still helps me a lot, as it’s something that gets me into a calm state, and often I want to keep listening. Easy tasks will keep you motivated and help you segue into more difficult ones.
5. If you have ME/CFS, don’t choose exercise-based goals. If you have ME/CFS, I recommend that none of your goals are exercise-focused, even if you normally exercise. Use your goals to track habits that are always going to benefit you even if you are unwell that day. If you choose to exercise (while being aware of the risks!), of course you still can, but it should be a separate decision, not linked to completing your goals.
Here are six of my habits:
My “hot bath” habit is actually a weekly habit that can be completed at any time during the week, ideal for less frequent tasks where you have to pick days that work for you as you go. “30 minutes handsfree” is a partial rest period when I don’t use my hands for anything and might include watching videos or listening to an audiobook.
I love tracking things, and I love apps. Maybe you do too (or maybe you don’t)! The key is to find what works for you.
Personally, I like to track my goals in the Streaks app according to percentage of completion. Streaks lets me see how often I completed my daily habit in the last 7 days and the last 30 days. I set a percentage completion goal for the month and make sure I reach it. For January, my goal was 40% for all 12 tasks; for February it is 50%.
I actually totally disregard the “streaks” aspect of the app. Think about it this way: It’s much more important to your body if you complete your goal most of the time than if you have a “streak” of 20 days. Frequency matters, but streaks are just a number. Use them if they help you — if not, ignore!
Rather than using streaks, percentage goals give me an ongoing emotional investment in my own success. If I complete tasks, I can push my percentage up and reach my goal.
Different apps will have different ways of tracking, reminding and rewarding you for completing daily habits.
I’d love to hear about tools you use to build positive habits! If you’ve tried Streaks app, did you like it? Do you prefer other apps, journalling, pen and paper charts or reminder alerts? What tools would you consider using to improve your health in 2019?
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