When I was around 15 years old my family started playing Solitaire on the kitchen computer. I initially thought it was the stupidest waste of time and couldn’t understand the draw. Then one day while my mom was playing the game and I was sitting beside her (we often chatted this way), the phone rang. She got up to answer the phone and after realizing that it would be longer than a ‘telling the telemarketer off’ conversation, I casually started moving cards around on the screen, trying to see the point of the game. Once I figured out the cards and put them in the right order I won the game. And then?
I was hooked.
It was like a balloon popped and I entered this whole other world where nothing existed except winning the next solitaire game. For hours I would sit at the computer and play, play play. My fingers would fly on the mouse, ‘click, click, click’ and pretty soon I got really good. Exceptionally good. My score was always the highest because I was the fastest. It drove my dad crazy since he was used to having the best score and he would constantly ask, ‘How’d you get that high?’ and I’d just smirk and reply ‘Practice, Dad. Practice.’
Don’t be alarmed. This is not a ‘toot my own horn’ story. My life was at a standstill. I was late for the school bus, I was late for work, I was putting off homework and I was driving my family crazy, hogging the computer all the time. Finally my mom put her foot down. ‘You have to limit yourself. I don’t care how you do it, but you have to. It’s just a computer game! Knock it off!’
She suggested I limit myself to 5 games and then get my duff off the computer chair and go do something. Once I was done that task I could play 5 more. Etcetera, Etcetera,
Well, clearly she had more faith in me than I did. Besides being obsessed with solitaire, my attention span sucked when it came to finishing one task at a time. But in the interest of saving familial ties and getting a balance in order, I struck a deal with myself. 10 games of solitaire (remember, I played reallyreallyfast) and then 10 minutes off the computer.
Gradually it became ’10 games of solitaire and then 15 minutes off the computer, then 20, 25, 30 minutes. Gradually my interest waned and now I only play once in a blue moon. Like any obsession, it must be controlled before the fire burns out, crisping you in the process.
The point of this story?
I’m obsessed with blogs now. I keep adding them to my list of things to read, and since I’m on maternity leave, I basically have all the time in the world to read them. I sit on my butt for hours at a time, never getting anything done and have become a big slob. Now, before we sling bad words at me, just know that I’m trying to turn myself around. I’ll admit that I am naturally lazy (ie. Getting things done has never been a big priority for me) and there’s nothing I’d rather do than curl up by the fire with a book, but of course those are supposed to be pastime pleasures, not an all day, every day activity.
So in an effort to change my habits AND make them stick, I’ve started off slowly. Last week I implemented a system that I read 5 articles at a time and then must step away from the computer and do something for 5 minutes. After that’s done I can read 5 more articles, and then get up for 5 minutes and do an activity that’s not sitting down to read. Usually it involves housework, crafting and volunteer commitments. It might not sound like a lot of time, but it’s amazing what you can get done in 5 minutes when that’s all you allow yourself to do.
The system will change so it’s ‘read 5 articles, then 6 minutes of other activity’. As of this post being published, I’m at
7 minutes of activity. I know I drive my husband crazy with my alarm going off letting me know I did my ‘time’ since he’s a ‘just do it’ kind of guy, but not everyone is like that and this sort of thing takes patience.
As Leo Babauta says ‘The key to any habit sticking for the long term is to START SMALL’