Training habits for single life

I read a blog post somewhere this week (I’d link to it if I could remember where it was) that was advocating habits over goals. This resonated. I love me some habits.

The point the author was making was that it’s all well and good to have goals — buy a house, travel through India, make a million bucks, run a marathon — but achieving goals is more about creating the right habits than it is about having a vision. Also, a goal ends when you achieve it, while habits endure.

There’s a contradiction here. Let’s say your goal is to get fit. Most goal gurus would say this is a poorly-defined goal because how will you know when you get there? Goals need to be measurable, so a “better” goal would be “I want to run the New York City Marathon in 2018” which is now specific and time-bound.

But the only way you’re going to achieve this is by getting race-fit: embarking on a regular running programme to train for the event. That means establishing a habit. Habits are boring and daily and never-ending, pretty much like a marathon. And it’s that boring never-ending routine that’s going to get you across the finish line.

However, having run your marathon, what do you do then? Getting fit is no longer your goal, because you are, and you’ve run your marathon, so that’s not your goal any more either. Lots of people quit running at this point because their training was in pursuit of that marathon goal, and not in pursuit of vaguer goals like ‘to become a runner’ or ‘to get fit and stay fit’.

All those goal gurus would tell me that ‘to have a good single life’ is not a well-formed goal because it lacks specificity. That’s true, but the purpose of setting this goal isn’t so much to reach it (what would I do then? Sit on my deck and congratulate myself? Die?) as to provide a point of focus for identifying the habits I need to develop in order to achieve it. My real goal is to be living in a way that means every day I’m doing the things that will ensure I reach my goal. My goal is to establish habits that lead to my goal.

The definition of ‘a good single life’ will change over the course of my life. But regardless, at any point it will mean doing daily those things that contribute to my definition of a good life, which currently means looking after my health and wellbeing, doing things I enjoy (as distinct from things I think I’m supposed to do but don’t enjoy), and avoiding doing harm.

It all comes back to that marvellous quote from Annie Dillard:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.



The irony of moving out of town to live alone

I have now gone unconditional on the land, so there’s no going back! Not that I want to. I’m planning and dreaming and tying myself up in knots over logistics. It’s fun. 

A curious phenomenon: I have told friends about this purchase and my plan to build a small house and retreat there to live a quiet and solo life. And everyone’s first reaction? “I’ll come and visit you!”

The irony of it. I am frankly quite delighted and weirdly flattered, or is it encouraged ? that so many people are interested in my plans and excited for me, while also being excited they’ve now got a cheap or free place to stay when they travel up that way. (They’re wrong about free: the guest accommodation will be part of my income so they will have to pay, although at reduced rates). 

But it’s not my intention in moving there to have a constant stream of guests. I want to live alone. And that means being alone for more of the time, much more of the time, than being with people. 

In reality I doubt this will be the inundation it sounds like at the moment, with everyone excited and the idea of it all brimming with possibilities. Already, friends travelling up that way have asked for the address to go check it out. 

This is all fine right now. And maybe I’m reading too much into people’s enthusiasm. What I’m concerned about for myself is being able to pace myself, to regulate the amount of visitor time I have, to ensure that I have enough time alone. 

I cannot do back to back weekends with visitors. Last weekend’s tramping trip was great but it was enough people contact for several weeks. Having friends to stay in my house is hard going for me. Entertaining people – being responsible for showing them a good time – is exhausting. 

I am going to need an approach to having people to stay that makes it clear they are on their own in terms of entertaining themselves from after breakfast until dinner time or even until next morning. I need to know I can retreat to my own space and get on with my own projects without being interrupted or forced to socialise. 

In fact I think this approach can be very freeing for guests too. They can do their thing and not feel dependent on me. The fact they’ll have to have a car to even stay there means they’ll have that freedom without needing me to drive them. 

Ironic that, in planning for my great escape, my first need is to protect my privacy and solitude.