Ac-cen-tuate the positive*

Positive reinforcement works!

Last week I set a goal of listing (and posting) habits I have improved. Now why would I do that? Why don’t I concentrate on what I still need to change?

Well, of course there is the positive reinforcement aspect.

When I was 14, my mom dragged me to a farm in rural Virginia, where she and six other seekers planned to build Walden Two, the utopian society imagined by B.F. Skinner. Reading Skinner, I learned that positive reinforcement is a much more powerful tool for behavior change than punishment. I bought in. So as I work to continue improving, I want to pause for a little self-back-patting.

But there is also another reason to list these newly acquired habits. I need to remind myself that change is possible. Changes seem to come so slowly, after so many tries, that it’s easy to feel as though I’ll never improve. Stopping to reflect on achievements, even small ones, helps me keep striving to improve.

So, here’s my brag list. These are things I used to do less than 50% of the time, and now do over 90% of the time. These are small virtues. A large percentage of the population just does these things automatically. I can only say that I envy and admire you. In that order.

  • Flossing my teeth daily, even under the bridges
  • Making the bed first thing in the morning
  • Maintaining a sparkling toilet
  • Keeping the contents of my purse organized in pouches
  • Keeping my keys in the same place
  • Replacing my glasses (I use three different kinds) in their cases so I can find them
  • Waiting for my husband to finish fixing his cereal without nudging him out of the way to get at the spoon drawer
  • Getting some daily exercise
  • Keeping the living room within 10 minutes of “good-enough” company ready
  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Checking the calendar night and morning
  • Re-reading my emails before hitting “send”

OK, that’s my list. I would love to hear yours.

And for next week:

Eat breakfast at the table

*Here’s the incomparable Aretha singing “Accentuate the Positive”:


Gut bacteria revolting

Calling for whirled peas
Calling for whirled peas

I am fascinated by the notion that my body is simply a cosmos for supporting my bacteria. When I read that our gut flora may be affecting our behavior, I started feeling a warm fuzzy feeling about my microbes. Especially when I watched this cute little NPR animation:  . So now, if my GI system seems a bit off, I think of it as my gut bacteria trying to communicate with me.

This week has been a case in point. From a recent post, you may (or may not) recall that one of my goals is to include fruit or veggies with every meal or snack. I mentioned that cherry/blueberry season makes this a breeze. I can whip through a pound of cherries a day easy as pie. (Pie? Did someone say pie?)

So I ramped up my summer regimen of radically changing from the XXL Peanut M&M’s to blubes, salads and cherries, only to have my junk-food loving gut bacteria start to bellyache, gripe, and raise a stink. They immediately began picketing (with sharp sticks, I could tell), carrying signs like: “Sugar YES, Fiber NO!” and “New Dietary Practices Unfair to the Masses!” I could feel the rumblings of revolution. In fact, for a day or two, we had outright war, with Kamikaze bugs becoming flushed with fervor. Quite a few bombs were detonated.

Well in order to calm the waters, I needed to give the fruit-troops time to grow, so I continue to eat fruit, but in much smaller quantities. And sure enough, as balance is achieved, things are settling down. What I’m hoping is that they will learn to live in harmony and quit all this ferment.

But I’m there to listen. And obey.

Goal for week 4:

Make a list of habits I have improved. Report this list on the blog next week. Receive praise from my thousands of blog fans (or at least from my gut bacteria.)

Father, forgive me for I have sinned…

Only $5 and the City loads composted leaves for you. Unloading is by hand -- great exercise! I had help from friends.
Only $5 and the City loads composted leaves for you. Unloading is by hand — great exercise! I had help from friends.

It’s been 11 days since my last confession… uh… I mean blog.

How did the “week” go by so fast? Oh yes, I remember. A friend went on vacation and lent me his pick-up truck for a week, and I was busy getting load after load of wood chips and composted leaves for my garden. Sheer unadulterated happiness!

Then it was time to wash the truck, fill it with gas, say good-bye… and experience “post-truck-let-down”. I’ve been moping around the house for three days recovering.

To remind my thousands of readers, I am working on a 52 week list of new and improved habits around my addictive eating behavior. Weeks one and two set goals to have prepared fruits and veggies available at all times, and to include a fruit or vegetable in every meal or snack. I succeeded in both so far except that today I was in the car and remembered to take a granola bar (all right, all right! It was TWO granola bars!) as a snack but forgot to take fruit or carrot sticks.

The fact that it’s now cherry and blueberry season pretty much makes “prep” a done deal, and yummy summer fruit is real easy to remember to snack on. Check back with me in January to see how this is going.

Each week gets harder, of course, because each week requires a new desired behavior added to the previous weeks’. So…what’ll it be this week?

Prepare two thermoses of water or tea while making breakfast.

This isn’t because I believe in “getting in my 8 glasses a day”. It’s because my body has trouble distinguishing between hunger and other feelings like boredom, fatigue, sleepiness, and thirst. It is common for me to eat a chocolate bar because I am thirsty. Obviously, a couple of gulps of water instead of a chocolate bar is a good thing. And a couple of gulps of water in addition to a chocolate bar at least doesn’t leave me any worse off than I was before.

Hope you’re having a great summer. I sure am!