Reading With An E-Reader

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At the end of last year, I published a blog post where I listed all the books I read in 2019. It was a year of not-very-good reading, but for the last months one could definitely see an upswing in my reading habits.

It was because I decided to invest in an e-reader.

I’ve had it for more than a month now, as I purchased it at the end of November, and have had the time to try it out. And the great news is, the e-reader has truly changed my way of reading. I thought it to be interesting to share my insights about the gadget with you, as maybe some of you have wondered about buying one!

So – let’s get into it. I’ll begin with the technical stuff and then we can get into the interesting things: the good aspects and the one fault it has.

My Choice of E-Reader

My e-reader is Kobo Forma that comes with a comfortable 8’’ display and a design that lets you flip through the pages with either using the screen or pushing the two buttons on the side of the display. It’s extremely lightweight and comfortable to hold in hand, and the display is friendly for the eyes even at night time as it does not flicker and has an adjustable color temperature. The battery lasts for a few weeks if I read actively 1-2 hours every day and recharges in just a couple of hours.

The choice was not quickly made. After making the decision to buy an e-reader, I put down a couple of days and several hours to research the different options and what kind of reader would suit me best. Apparently, the best producers of e-readers on the current market are Kobo and Kindle.

The price differences and the technical aspects between Kobo and Kindle are few but there was one thing that made me change my mind from Kindle to Kobo. 

The reason why I wanted to buy an e-reader was to get easier access to books in Finnish and Swedish, something you can barely find in Australia and New Zealand. As I was looking into the e-books that are sold in Finland, I noticed that most of them are in EPUB format. This turned out to be the decisive factor for me and the reason why I chose a Kobo over Kindle. With Kindle, that supports mainly MOBI, you get access to a large variety of English books, while Kobo supports EPUB, and the latter is definitely more popular in Finland and other Nordic countries (and you also get a large variety of books in English).

Kobo Forma is, in my opinion, quite expensive comparing to other models, costing approximately 300 euros. But I decided to give it a go and try one of the best e-readers that are currently on the market to see if I would like it – and there I definitely did the right thing.

The Good About The E-Reader

After purchasing the reader at the end of November, I’ve read five books and are currently more than halfway through two others. For me, the e-reader has been more than anything a game-changer for my reading habits.

I think it is for two reasons. 

First, the e-reader opens up a world of books to me. Previously, I’ve found it challenging to find good or interesting books to read, but somehow, having an e-reader has opened up a world-wide library of books. I now have more than thirty books on my to-be-read list – and I think having an e-reader has something to do with it. E-books tend to be more affordable, they are easy to download and you can have them on your reader in no time. The threshold to buy a book is lower when you get to preview the book prior to purchase, and it feels easier to let a book go when it’s ”only” on your e-reader. 

The second reason is that the e-reader allows me to change the font, the marginals and line spacing on the pages. Suddenly, reading such books as Stephen King’s It or other heavier novels becomes easier and more fun when you’re not forced to read it in small print with too many lines tightly fitted on a page.

In this way, the e-reader makes reading classics and longer novels an easier challenge. And in addition to that, it’s nice to try out reading with different fonts and see what works best for you. The big surprise has been to realize how much I enjoy reading with the OpenDyslexic font that has been designed for people with dyslexia.

It took a while to get used to reading on a display rather than an actual book and my focus tended to shift a bit in the beginning, but in a few days I already found it easier to read for longer times and was able to focus even better after a week of reading.

I was afraid that my eagerness to pick up the e-reader to read would fade within a few weeks after purchasing it. You know, the fun excitement of getting a new gadget tends to wear off after getting used to it – but it didn’t happen with my reader. Sure, some of the early excitement has vanished, but it hasn’t had an effect on my reading hours. Every day, I feel motivated to pick up the reader to continue on the books I’m reading at the moment and on a good day, I get 2-3 hours of reading done.

So – a great purchase, right? But there’s one thing that I consider to be a fault in this whole e-reader thing. It hasn’t got to do with the Kobo Forma itself, but with what it stands for.

The One Big Bad Thing

Books are great. They are awesome. They are entertaining, informative, provoking, even life-changing. The people who write these books are masters of the craft and relentless in their work – they are the people who have gone through the whole writing process, the ups and downs, edits and rejections. I have immense respect for them (especially if I like their books), and because of this I would like to support them.

E-books, however, don’t really support writers.

In a way, they do, but not in the same was as buying an actual copy or borrowing from library does. I checked into the whole deal, how it is in Finland (especially when I wish to read mostly books in Finnish on my e-reader) and found out that writers aren’t compensated for e-books and audiobooks in the same way as they are for physical books.

In Finland, a writer gets royalties for his or her work when signing a book contract and publishing a book (approximately 3 euros per hardcover). They also get approximately 25 cents for every time a book is borrowed from the library (so if four people borrow the book, the writer gets 1 euro).

But for e-books or audiobooks purchased or borrowed, the writers get no additional compensation. So, although I’m supporting Finnish literature by purchasing and reading it, I’m only barely supporting the writers themselves. And that is a major drawback of using an e-reader to read e-books.

Luckily, there are a few things I still can do to support the writers: by buying their book, whether it’s an actual copy or in digital format, I show there’s interest for their work and thus make them a little bit more attractive for publishers. The other thing I can do for them is that I can always review their work and tell about their books to others. Word-of-mouth can be extremely efficient and result in way more than just three euros for purchasing their hardcover in a book shop!

Final Thoughts On Digital Reading

The shift from analog to digital reading has made me a more active reader. It has also encouraged me to pick up more challenging, heavier books and helped me get back to good reading routines. In the long run, all this reading will help me develop as a writer and develop my world view.

I’m happy with my investment and don’t honestly think I could have done any better – in my current situation, an e-reader is the best way for me to keep on reading fiction in many different languages and it helps me get my hands on all kinds of literature wherever I am. Thus far, it has been worth every penny I paid for it and I hope to have many great reading moments with it in the future.

However, it does make me think about the authors and how they aren’t getting compensated for the e-books that are being sold. Luckily, there are ways to support the writers in other ways that, for the time being, help me calm my conscience. In the future, I hope to be able to support the writers in some other ways, but for now, showing interest for their works and putting out a good word for them will have to be enough.

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Have you tried reading with an e-reader? Would you even consider shifting from analog reading to digital?

A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.

14 Hours Of More Clarity

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Thirty days ago, I decided to delete the app for Instagram from my phone and to log out from my Facebook account. For a month now, I haven’t really been up to date with my friends and family or with the newest writing updates or recipe revolutions posted on social media.

And you know what? I’ve been just fine.

The first few days were the oddest. My fingers automatically found their way to the place where the app for Instagram on my phone was. It was also extremely easy to start writing facebook.com on the address bar while surfing the Internet.

But as I was determined about creating a successful change and didn’t experience any abstinence from staying away from the platforms, in a few days, I was completely okay with dedicating my time for something else.

How I Spent My Hours

So, where did my time go? How did I spend those 14–28 hours I counted I would save by quitting scrolling on Instagram and Facebook?

I might have to disappoint you here because I can’t tell you what I did. I honestly don’t know, at least not hour-by-hour. But I can tell you what I think I spent it on:

  • Watching videos on Youtube. And I don’t mean funny animals or home videos –  I’m not an active cat-video person so I didn’t spend hours on watching cute animals fall off shelves or getting their faces caught in Kleenex-boxes. Instead, I spent time watching some interesting, though-provoking videos on self-development and when I was feeling a bit down because of the weather or life in general, I watched videos about van life and sailing (because those videos are most often very sunny and positive).
  • Reading books. I had more brain energy to focus on the content of several different works of fact and fiction. For instance, I finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I reflected on in a blog post. I continued listening to Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and read the first 600 pages (and continuing) of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I also read and summarized a book about writing called Paper Hearts by Beth Ravis.
  • Thinking. It might sound odd but I actually found more time and especially energy for deeper thinking. As I wasn’t constantly getting distracted by some food photo or book recommendation I had seen or read about on social media, my thoughts were more focused on me and what I am surrounded with. Things I’ve been thinking about have been, for instance, what I want in life, what I think has meaning in my life and how I am as a person.
  • Getting things done. I hope to be able to talk about this more in another post, but as I didn’t have Instagram or Facebook to direct my procrastination needs to, I actually got many such things done that usually would have waited completing for hours: everything from cleaning the coffee maker (and I mean properly) to responding to e-mails directly as they drop into my inbox. Finishing these small things that I tend to leave hanging gave me a sense of achievement (just like making one’s bed in the morning can give).

Doing More By Doing Less

The thing with Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter among many other platforms is that they take your time in small, unnoticeable amounts: a few minutes here, ten minutes there. But put together, they result in a specific amount minutes and hours every day. Therefore, I can’t show you exactly how I spent those minutes I’d otherwise have spent on my phone because there wasn’t really anything I did that took only a few minutes from one moment and a few minutes from the other.

In a way, maybe one of the absolute benefits of staying away from active scrolling is this: I was able to put those small snippets of time together and instead, spend an hour or so doing some deeper work. Instead of spending a few minutes of time here and there on some random chores or a few book pages, I put all those snippets together and did something more efficient with those minutes that were turned into a whole hour.

For instance, I spent an hour reading about writing or listening to a book, or took twenty minutes to watch a lengthy video about how to keep an eye on your expenses and create a budget, and so on.

I was able to do more by doing less – if it makes sense?

What About Staying Updated?

But hey – if I’m not that much on the Internet, how do I keep up with the world when I’m not connected to it? How do I know what my friends and family are up to if I can’t check their updates on Facebook or Instagram? And what if I miss out on something important, like an interesting event or a revolutionary food recipe because I’m not on those platforms they are announced or published in?

After being AWOL for a month now, I have to say that I have been completely okay with not being connected or updated. I’ve felt peaceful despite the risk that I might have missed out on something. In a sense, I haven’t experienced any feelings of fear of missing out.

One of the drawbacks of social media is that it creates this need of constantly being present – we need to be there where everyone else is to not miss out on anything. But I have a question: did this same fear exist before we started hanging out on social media? If it did exist, how strong was that fear?

What makes me question this is that although I haven’t watched my sister’s Instagram Stories for a month now or I’m unaware of what my friends have been up to, I haven’t experienced that fear. And why I haven’t is because I know the fear is not real. I know for a fact I’m not worse off because I haven’t been following the news or my friends’ latest adventures. My life hasn’t become worse because of me being offline.

The fear many people experience from not being connected is almost completely made up from thin air. We create that fear ourselves by thinking that we miss out on something if we’re not actively online – although we aren’t.

Or, well, it depends, of course, what you define as something. If you want to be a part of different social media phenomena or want to know what videos have gone viral, then yes, you are missing out if you’re not active on social media. However, if you are afraid of missing out on friends and family updates or the daily news – your fear is probably artificially constructed.

You don’t need social media to know what your friends are doing because you can ask them. And it’s so much more fun to hear from themselves what they’ve been up to instead of not asking because you already know because you saw a short video or a photo of it.

What It Gives and Takes

The decision to ignore the fear of missing out on things and make that fear entirely non-existent comes from finding balance and peace within yourself. You need to be okay with not following the 24/7 news posted on Facebook or find peace with letting those Instagram Stories vanish into thin air without watching them. And the way to find the balance is to ask yourself:

1) What does knowing these things give you? And

2) What does knowing all that information take away from you?

For some people, being on social media actually gives them more than it takes. But for many, constantly updating and being updated is actually taking more time, energy and memory space compared with how much high-quality information one gains in return. If you are able to see the off-balance and acknowledge it, you won’t have a problem finding peace with yourself with not being active on social media.

This is, at least, how I’ve experienced the whole thing.

Final Thoughts

Keeping my mind free from all the information on social media has helped me focus on things. I’ve been putting my concentration to work: my projects are progressing, I’m thinking about more complex issues and have been generating new ideas and thoughts. It’s been relaxing to not stress about Instagram content or being updated with book recommendations, food recipes and writing advice.

Instead, I’ve been able to figure out what I want to know, what I want to read or see and when I want to do it. I’m more in control over my own resources (time, energy, brain power and memory space) when I’m not accidentally giving them to the social media platforms. The hours I have when I’m not scrolling are being invested into my hobbies,  into writing, self-development and spending more time with loved ones.

But what happens after a 30-day detox? What I can tell you is that I’ve made two decisions: 1) I’m not calling it a detox anymore, because 2) I’ll continue being absent from social media for an undetermined period of time.

Maybe there will be a time when I wish to get back in but for now – I’m staying offline.

Investing To Know Yourself

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It was Friday, the sun was setting and we had just finished the typical Ikea-meal: meatballs and mashed potatoes with brown sauce and lingonberry jam. We decided to check the outlet-corner (or the Corner of Findings as it’s called) before hitting the rest of the store, curious to see what they had there.

We have never actually found anything we wanted in the outlet, the furniture being either too expensive or unnecessary for us, but this time my partner spotted a grey armchair on the staff-side of the outlet, kept behind a red-white line that separated the customers from the staff space. We walked to the red-white line to take a closer look at the chair (both curious because we planned on getting armchairs for the new apartment instead of a sofa) when a staff member asked if we wanted to step over the line and try sitting in the chair. Yes, please!

We stepped over the line to the staff-only-space, and I got to test-sit the chair first.

Let me tell you – it was  the  p e r f e c t  chair.

It wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t too hard, it was just perfect (and yes, it was a total Goldilocks moment). And apparently I looked so comfortable sitting in that chair that the staff member reminded me friendly not to fall asleep there. He had a point – the chair felt so comfortable I could have taken a nap in it right then and there.

However, we left Ikea without the perfect armchair. Why? Because 1) the price was not exactly student-friendly, and 2) we aren’t staying in the next apartment too long which made me think it was unnecessary to invest in that kind of armchair for such a short amount of time. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really wanted the chair, but the facts spoke against buying it so we left the grey armchair to the outlet.

Yet, in the evening (after we had returned from the 2,5 hour-long trip to Ikea) my partner asked me this: although the chair was expensive and even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for a very long time – wasn’t I worth that perfect chair? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the perfect chair as long as I could, and invest not in the chair but in myself?

And that was an excellent question. What was I actually doing when I decided not to buy that chair that was so comfortable, so perfect? What kind of logic is it, and is it a sensible logic in the long run?

Cheap Living

I’ve been a student now for five years. I’ve lived on my own, handled my own money and been responsible for many adult-life-things, including my finances. Being a student with a very limited monthly income means that I’ve also lived as cheaply as possible for the past years. It has become a routine of some sort: comparing prices at the food store, making detailed grocery lists, avoiding spontaneous shopping and so on.

Especially after I returned from Ireland in the Fall of 2016, having studied there for one semester as an exchange student, I started paying more attention to my finances. That had most probably to do with the fact that when I came back I had less than 20 euros on my bank accounts (not my most glorious days, to be honest). Before Ireland I hadn’t really considered how I consumed my money – but now I decided to take action, never wanting to be in a similar economic situation again.

Today and two years later, after returning from The Green Island, the situation is quite different. I’ve become more conscious about my incomes and expenses. Together with my partner, we’ve managed to minimize our expenses, and I’m doing my best to update an Excel-file every week to keep an eye on our money.

During these last couple of years, I’ve managed to build an economic buffer for myself for emergency cases, for a rainy day or simply to be able to invest that money someday in something. But as I’ve reached this state of economic ”welfare”, it has made me think: I’ve been saving and saving and saving, 10–15 percent of every payment I’ve received on my bank account from subsidies to study loans to salary. That has been a plan that has worked better than I expected. But when have I saved enough? Or, rather: when can I put my savings into good use? I mean, the money isn’t just supposed to sit there on that bank account until the day I leave this world, right?

Right?

Because, as I wondered about the armchair I had left in Ikea, I asked myself this: how do I know when to skimp and save the money, and when to invest in myself and in my own life? After living the life of a student for so long, do I even know what investing in myself is anymore?

Rerouting the Thinking

As I’ve been living cheaply/economic-consciously for the past couple of years it has become almost like a lifestyle. The economical thinking is rooted into my thought-system and turns on automatically when I’m making choices. In one way, this is extremely helpful, giving me the continuity in cheap living – but when seen from another perspective, it gets a bit tricky.

I feel that this kind of autonomous cheap thinking twists the way I see myself and what I’m worthy of. Often I find myself thinking ”I cannot afford this” and opting for the cheaper alternative instead. Or I leave the object in the store, thinking that ”maybe I don’t need it anyway”. And in one way, again, this is helpful – but then again, I wonder this: do I hinder myself from buying something that could give me great joy simply because I think I can’t afford it?

As the amount of money on my savings account has been increasing slowly but surely, I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are actually quite a lot I could afford. But it’s amazingly difficult to try to switch from that cheap thinking to investment thinking – mostly because when I find something that feels worthy to invest in, those items tend to be the more expensive ones. But if I really want those things and think they will help me do the things I love to do – aren’t they worth the investment?

(By the way – although I’m talking about having money on my savings account and being able to afford things, it doesn’t mean I’m in any way wealthy. I do okay, mostly thanks to government subsidies and a study loan, but I rarely eat out or buy new clothes.)

Investing In Yourself

There is a thing I’ve thought about a good deal after that Friday night in Ikea:

I need to invest in myself to know who I am and what I enjoy.

If that money stays on that savings account from here to eternity, simply growing in amount, why have I been saving it in the first place? Isn’t saving money supposed to be about saving for things you enjoy or want to try out?

If you never invest that money you’ve so patiently been saving, how will you ever learn to know yourself and what kind of things you enjoy? If you only leave cheap, always skimping and thinking ”I can’t afford this” although you do, have you actually lived life to the fullest at all?

During this move we’ve made oh-so-many choices from carpets to chairs to lamps, and it’s been a constant balancing between what to invest in and where to save the money. And the conclusion we have come to in this decision-making process is that if the item you are thinking about helps you get closer to where you want to be or helps you to do what you enjoy, then it’s worth the more expensive one (that also tends to be better quality).

(For instance, the carpet we picked for our livingroom is an investment in our creativity. We call it the jungle mat as it’s a crazy jungle-themed dark-colored carpet with birds and other jungle-like things, and it’s thought-provoking to look at.)

So, after this lengthy thought process on Friday night, we woke up a bit earlier the next morning, drove the car to Ikea five minutes before they opened the doors, raced to the Outlet of Findings, and I bought the chair.

I bought the chair for myself.

I bought the chair because 1) it is comfortable, 2) it doesn’t make my butt hurt, 3) I can see myself drinking my morning coffee in it, reading books and sometimes even writing while sitting in it. In a way, investing in this chair is also an investment in my creative process and my well-being.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

– – –

How much effort do you put into your choice-making when you’re buying something new? What do you think about when making that choice?

What Happens After 30 Days?

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This Monday was the 1st of October which means that for four days now challenges such as #inktober (thirty-one days and thirty-one ink drawings) and #preptober (thirty-one days of prepping for the thirty-day writing challenge in November) have begun.

It seems to be a pattern: new challenges kick in as a new month begins.

September was spent doing the #whole30 (resetting your nutrition for thirty days) or challenging oneself to live free from waste for the whole month. And in November one gets to challenge his or her writing habits with NaNoWriMo or let their body hair grow as a way of participating in Movember.

The monthly challenges give a rhythm to our year in the same way as Church Holidays did especially in the times before industrialization. Months fly by so quickly if we don’t pay attention to them, and by challenging ourselves with something new each month, the year gets twelve new meanings and time becomes more memorable.

Or does it?

For me it feels like there’s almost a compulsive need in the society to give a different meaning, a new theme for every month. We humans seem to have a need to find something to do with our time, with our energy, and the best way to do it is to challenge ourselves in a new way every thirty days.

(Or, actually, we have gone so far that almost every day of the week needs a theme: Taco Tuesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Screenless Saturdays and so on, but let’s not go there, not now.)

As I’ve been observing this thirty-day life cycle of the society, I’ve asked myself: what is the main reason behind all these challenges? And maybe most of all: when it comes to 30-day challenges, what are we trying to achieve?

Why We Participate

I wrote about the pros and cons about participating in NaNoWrimo on Tuesday and came to the conclusion that depending on the reason you’re participating, you are aiming for different things. The same logic goes for the monthly challenges as well.

I see two main paths that could explain why people take part in the 30-day challenges:

  1. The challenges are a way of discovering new things about yourself: you learn new things or skills, you create new habits and try things that help you find your path, your conviction in life.or
  2. The challenges are a way of making your life more interesting: every new month brings a new challenge which makes your life more challenging and exciting. The time goes by and you get to try the same things that others are doing at the same time (this way you get the inspiration, motivation and support while doing the challenge, you get to be a part of a community).

So, you try new things to learn something new and spice up your life. But why do you do it? Why do you put your time and energy into these challenges?

Are the thirty-day challenges a way for us to become better persons? Do the challenges lead to some kind of progress, development? Or are we just trying to spice up our lives, pass the time so that we get from one weekend to the other, this vacation to the next, from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas, whatever it is that gets you going?

Because: what happens after those thirty days of zero waste/ink drawings/writing/squat challenges are over? What’s the outcome? And what happens next?

Big Change Equals A Shock

Matt Cutts gave a short but highly informative and entertaining Ted-talk in 2011 about how anyone can do anything for thirty days. In his presentation he talked about all the different things he had tried for thirty days – from participating in NaNoWriMo and ’becoming a novelist’ to biking to work and eating sugar-free foods for a month.

His message is clear: you can do anything for a time period of thirty days. You can do small things, such as drink more water every day for thirty days, or big things, like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But he also said this:

”I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick.”

And this made me think about the nature of the monthly thirty-day challenges: most of them are pretty big challenges, especially those that require a great deal of time and energy in order to make them happen.

Living a life of zero waste for a month can be a big shock for someone who isn’t used to thinking about his or her consumption. Suddenly you have to plan your grocery shopping and how you spend your time.

Aiming to write 1,667 words per day will get exhausting in the long run if you’re not used to dedicating an hour or two every day for writing (because it’s a good deal of time away from other things).

And going cold-turkey on meat for a month probably leaves you hungry for meat until October is over and you are, once again, ’allowed’ to be a carnivore (fun fact: in Finland the challenge for October is Meatless October, and in January the challenge is to eat only vegan food for a month).

These big, crazy challenges – as Matt Cutts put it – can be fun, and even make you a more confident person. But if what you managed to accomplish during that 30-day challenge vanishes into thin air when the month changes – what was the point in doing the challenge in the first place?

And this comes back to the two paths I presented earlier. Why do people participate in these monthly challenges? Are they aiming for self-development, trying to find out what they enjoy in life or could consider doing for the rest of their lives? Or are they just having fun while trying different things, simply trying to make their every-day life more exciting?

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

Once again, it comes down to the ’why’. Why do we decide to try something for thirty days? Is our aim to find long-term habits that help us get where we want to be in one, five or ten years? Do these thirty-day challenges help us get to that thing we consider being the meaning of life? Or – –

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

I feel strongly that many of the big thirty-day challenges actually distract us from what’s really important in our lives. Especially if you try out every single on of them, and if you enter them just for fun, instead of wanting to find out something about yourself (I mean – isn’t it the reason why we do these challenges, to learn more about ourselves?).

These challenges require a whole lot of energy, time and thinking capacity – and that’s time away from something else. Is your investment in these challenges worth your personal resources?

However, if you participate in these challenges with the aim of actually improving your life – living healthier or environment-friendlier, lowering the threshold for drawing and publishing them online – then I think the thirty-day challenges can actually be helpful. Then all those minutes and hours you put to the challenge can be useful and help you develop and get where you want to be in one to ten years.

Seen in this light, participating in a challenge for thirty days is a great way of trying out something, then cherry-picking the best parts of it and hopefully making them a part of your life.

(And, of course, it’s also good to remember that you are allowed to fail. You are allowed to try something and after thirty days decide that it wasn’t your thing. The thought was presented well in the Ground Up Show, a podcast hosted by Matt D’avella, where he had T.K. Coleman as his guest. Coleman said this:

”Conduct experiments instead of life-long commitments. Try something for thirty days – it’s not marriage, it’s not a new religion. It’s just thirty days.”)

The True Challenge

But as I wrote on Tuesday, simply because you try something for thirty days doesn’t automatically mean you become a pro at it or manage to create a habit that sticks. Challenges like NaNoWriMo can make one exhausted. Meatless October can make you more hungry for meat than you’ve ever been before. And a squat challenge works out as long as you have that thirty-day schedule to follow.

But the true challenge comes when the month dedicated to that challenge is over. Only then you’ll be able to see if the changes you made during that month were small enough to stick or if they vanish into thin air when the next month begins. So – the next time think about participating in a challenge that sounds exciting, I’d say this: ask yourself why do you participate, what do you wish to be the outcome at the end of the month?

Have you participated in any thirty-day challenges? Why did you participate and how did you feel about them in the end, did any of the habits created during the challenge stick? In your opinion, did the thirty-day challenge make your life better?

 

The Time On Your Side

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They say that Time goes too fast, that there simply isn’t enough of it for everything you wish to do.

They say that if they only had that time they would watch more movies or catch up with people they haven’t heard from in ages. They would read books, play the piano, write their journal, do yoga, take their time drinking coffee in the morning and enjoying the moment. They would finally be able to clean the apartment thoroughly.

If they’d just have the time.

But they don’t.

How come they don’t have the time, I wonder. In order to find an answer to this question, I start observing people and what they do with their time.

I look out from our apartment window. In the afternoon, for two hours straight, there are cars standing on the street, waiting in line for the lights to change – they are all on their way home. A trip that takes about fifteen minutes without traffic takes double as much time with all the other travelers. While waiting for the lights to change from red to green, they listen to the radio, take a smoke or check their phones.

In the school cafeteria, I observe two guys who sit near me. A moment ago they were talking to each other but now they’ve both reached for their phones. The plates are already empty, lunch has been eaten, but they take a minute (or five) to check what’s happened on their mobile extensions of themselves. One of the guys is playing a game on his phone, similar to Bejeweled Blitz.

Another day, and different people at the cafeteria. Two girls are talking while checking their phones. The other one wondering if she should buy a used iPhone: ”It’s only 500 euros and the battery is still long-lasting.”

The other one encourages her to buy it for that price because ”it’s cheap considering the brand.” Then they decide to drive to Ikea, maybe to buy a new plant for the apartment or a cheese slicer, or just to get an ice cream for a coin.

It’s Saturday. A friend comes over, and when there’s a quiet moment, she sits on the sofa and checks her phone for the latest news. She reads out loud a long article about something that happened on a German airport – a story that doesn’t have an interesting ending but the article sure gave away that there would be. Ten minutes have gone by as she has read the article.

And that’s how easily the Time goes. You binge-watch Friends or How I Met Your Mother, update your Instagram and Twitter, or simply refresh your feed again and again to see if there’s something new for you to see or read. You text with your friends about who you’ve seen and what you talked about, what happened on that event last weekend. Or you go to the supermarket because you’ve once again ran out of milk.

So, people say that they simply don’t have enough of Time to do everything they’d like to do. Is it any wonder? From what I’ve seen, minutes and minutes go by to things that shouldn’t take up your time.

Minutes turn into hours and suddenly you realize you’re late for your yoga class or a friend is coming over – and you haven’t had the time to tidy up the apartment. The Time clearly isn’t on your side.

Or maybe it’s you – maybe the Time isn’t on your side because you aren’t trying enough?

5,000 Instead Of 50,000

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I won’t get started on the what and why on habits. You can read books and articles, listen to podcasts and watch videos about habits, why you should have some of your own and how you create them.

If you are interested, you can check out Charles Duhigg’s The Power Of Habit (a book that was very pleasant to listen as an audiobook), or what Anthony on Break The Twitch says about habits.

Because in this blog post I won’t be talking about how habits can benefit you – but how they have benefitted me. This is because 1) I don’t think I’m that well-read to be qualified to tell you how to create your own habits or how they will benefit you, and 2) I feel that the best way to share inspiration is to tell one’s own story, and in this way create some depth to the topic.

So let’s get started!

Small Things Add To The Bigger Picture

Almost three years ago I was having a lunch with a friend when we were joined by two others I didn’t know from before (one of them is nowadays my partner and we still meet up for lunch with the other one almost every week – life, right?). Somehow, towards the end, the conversation steered into routines everyone had.

One at the table told that his life is pretty much structured by routines – he wakes up at 6.30 every morning, eats the same breakfast, goes to the gym Monday, Wednesday and Friday and in the evening he always eats the same meal.

I found his way of living more or less predictable and therefore boring. I also told him that, and explained that his routines made me think of my mother who was so predictable with her habits that I could tell quite precisely what she did a certain time in the afternoon after coming home from work.

I was sure I wanted live a life that was completely the opposite of the life my mother was living – because life that predictable seemed to me to be no life at all.

However, as I started to date this routine-based guy and learned to know him, I tried his habits to see how they would benefit my life. And slowly I found out that habits and routines that give structure to your day are actually useful in making rest of your life work. Small things affect the bigger picture more than big things do.

There’s a reason why it seems like habits and routines are one of the hot topics in self-development nowadays – they actually work! Creating habits to build a better life isn’t a sham, they won’t leave you hanging like a two-week-diet or a quick-fix-fit-body-workout might. Habits and routines help you reach your goals in the long run – if you just put your mind to it.

Magical Creators Of Time

I began by waking up at the same time as my partner did – at 6.30AM. Until then I had woken up sometime between seven and eight, most often without an alarm.

After a few weeks of that, I started to eat the same breakfast as he did – muesli with milk. And soon I switched my evening meals to the same he was having – crisp bread with a salty meat topping (a year ago we left out the topping and eat crisp bread with butter instead).

At the time it was a pretty easy thing to do, as we were simply synchronizing our lives. It felt natural and made the life we lived together under the same roof easier.

Now it’s been a few years that we’ve lived this way. We still eat muesli in the morning and crisp bread in the evening, and wake up at 6AM (the half-hour-switch happened a year ago). In addition to that, I have my own morning yoga routine and also own rules for when and where I use social media. I’ve also been able to add some habits to my partner’s life such as croissants and a smoothie as breakfast in the weekends (you know, just because you have habits doesn’t mean they have to be boring).

What I’ve realized is that habits give you structure and better structure gives you more time. When you wake up at the same time every morning and eat the same breakfast, you get more time because you don’t have to think about when is the best time to get up or what you’d like to eat that morning.

And because you eat the same muesli and crisp bread every day, your grocery list suddenly gets simpler and shorter and you save time in the store when you know exactly where you’ll find your food ingredients (the photo above shows what we have in our cabinet – that’s our breakfast and evening meal. The milk and butter are in the fridge, and that’s about all we have, on weekdays at least).

When you do the same yoga routine every morning instead of changing it every week, you’ll actually notice your own development and how you’re able to focus better on your breathing and getting deeper into the poses. You learn to listen to your body better.

Because of habits life gets simpler and easier – instead of having 50,000 thoughts every day (what do I want to eat, should I put tomato or cucumber on the sandwich, which comes first, the meat or the cheese, what should I put in my smoothie this morning, do I want to heat up the milk for my coffee or not… you get the picture) you can have 5,000 thoughts (muesli and milk – breakfast is ready!).

Think about it – suddenly, when you don’t need to think about every detail in everything, you’ll have so much more time to think about something else. Something that really matters, like, what do you want to do with your life? What is the next big goal you have and what are the small steps you need to take to get there? What things matter to you the most?

For me, habits also helped me to get rid of almost 20 kilograms of extra weight. Proper meal times, standardized breakfast and evening meal, regular physical training and self-discipline – those are the habits that helped me get there. The small things helped me reach a bigger goal.

Structure in my life that was created by habits helped me make one of the biggest lifestyle changes I had thought was impossible.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

The Lesson With This Blog Post

As I said in the beginning of this blog post, I won’t be giving you advice on how to create your own habits or how they will benefit you. But I would like to conclude with a few thoughts on creating and having habits, something that I’ve learned along the way.

Take It Easy

Don’t take too big a bite of the cake at once – build your habits one by one with time. If you heavy-introduce everything at once (three workouts a week, earlier wake-ups, standardized meals and so on), your system will overheat and you’ll probably collapse.

Instead, take it easy. Be gentle with yourself. And watch this video in case you’re unsure about what I mean by this.

Don’t just copy other people’s habits

It’s impossible to say which habits you will benefit from the most because only you know yourself and therefore you are the person who knows what you need. So, it’s up to you to think about what you need. You can try out other people’s routines to find out what suits you best – and in time, tailor-make your own habits.

Do you feel like you waste your time in the morning to this and that? Consider creating a morning routine that helps you become more productive.

Do you have trouble motivating yourself to work out? Consider creating a routine that makes sure you get on that running mill a few times a week.

And check out this video for tips on how to master your habits.

Give It Time…

I read somewhere that it takes 21 days to make a habit stick. I don’t know if it’s true but I do think that if you’ve done something for three weeks, it’s definitely easier to continue doing it than it was when you first started.

The most important thing is to keep on going – you probably won’t notice your progress in the beginning. Only now have I started to realize the effects habits have had on both my physical and mental health, two years after I introduced the first habits to my daily life.

… But No Mercy

And remember that creating a new habit takes both time and self-discipline. Even if you have been waking up at the same time for three weeks, it doesn’t mean you can let go of your alarm or give yourself ”a morning off”. Habit is a habit no matter what day it is. You stick to it. Because you’re awesome, you know you can do this. You know this is good for you, so hold on to it.

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I’d like to hear what habits you have in your life? Have you tried out any habits that you realized didn’t suit you?