Friday, January 22, 2010

Square 87: 6 changes

Square 087

I've never liked setting New Year's resolutions, but this year I needed a plan. I spent last fall trying to change too many things about my life and most of them fell flat. So I have adopted a new strategy for 2010.

I have mentioned the Zen Habits blog here before. Leo Babauta, bestselling author of The Power of Less, offers advice on simplifying your life and becoming more productive. He has also designed the 6 Changes Method, a model for changing behaviour, and this is what I have been following.

Here are the basic principles: pick six changes you want to apply in the coming year, address them one at a time instead of all at once, spend two months on each one beginning with small steps and moving to larger, more difficult ones, and be accountable by telling your friends and family.

I've been going with it since the beginning of the month. My first change is to focus on creative writing. I want to finish writing a novel. So I've been getting up earlier to establish a daily writing practice, and it's going well.

Here are a few tips I have learned, partly from personal experience and partly from Babauta's advice:

  1. Don't start anything immediately. Make a plan. When you have a new habit in mind, give yourself a week or two before it starts. Choose a date and time. The anticipation will help you prepare.
  2. Don't try to change more than one thing at once.
  3. When things are going well you might feel inclined to work ahead, but resist the temptation; if you change too many things at once you're more likely to backslide.
  4. It takes a minimum of one month to successfully ingrain a new habit, ideally two months.
  5. Break each change down into steps and start with one so easy you cannot fail.
  6. Make some of your six changes fun.
  7. For harder changes, build a reward system into your plan.
  8. Forgive yourself. One of my friends suggests an 80/20 rule, so if you follow your plan 80 per cent of the time, that counts as success.
  9. Blog about it. It's a good way to be publicly accountable, and your friends can encourage you.

For this square I chose six variegated yarns to represent 6 changes. Some of them are subtle, others more stark, some bright, others earthy, some simple, others complicated.

If you want to simplify or become more productive, there's no reason to wait until next January. Start now. Happy changes!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Square 86: Ancient white cedars

Square 086

The oldest trees in Eastern North America are Eastern white cedars (Thuja occidentalis) that grow on the cliff face of the Niagara Escarpment. The oldest live individual so far identified is located at Lion's Head on Georgian Bay; it has 1141 growth rings. Some dead trees have been found with as many as 1653, and some, with pith wood missing, are estimated to have lived 1800 years.

T. occidentalis is a small tree, normally growing less than 20 metres, but the ancient trees of the escarpment are diminutive, stunted by exposure to the elements. Cedars are a favourite forage plant for deer. The cliff is the only place where they are safe from browsers, forest fires and competition from more vigorous trees.

My plant ecology prof in 1986 was Doug Larson. Imagine my surprise to see him appear a few years later in a Canadian Geographic article about the discovery of these ancient cedars, with which he is credited. The story is recounted in a book I hope to get my hands on soon, The Last Stand: A Journey Through the Ancient Cliff-Face Forest of the Niagara Escarpment by Larson and Peter Kelly. Larson was an energetic teacher, compelled with desire to impart the importance of botany to the masses. I don't know how far his enthusiasm spread, but it has certainly affected my life.

Lorraine Roy's quilt, Burning Bush, which hangs in my living room (see square 43), also reminds me of the flora of the Niagara Escarpment. Sometimes it is not the big, impressive things that are most enduring.