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  • Writer's pictureDavid Gaudet

On Habits, Reps and Rituals

It is not lost on me that promoting the concept of adopting a daily ritual, does not sound incredibly original. Some of my own favorite books, in fact, argue the merits of integrating habits into our lives. My book, "The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human" provides an idea, and a corresponding action for every day of the year, because it is essentially a collection of excerpts from a podcast that ran every day of the year.

One thing's for certain, writing and producing it required a very strict habit in order for it to occur. I would do it in batches. Thursday was my writing day, ideating and creating eight new podcast scripts (one for each of the Pillar Competencies). Friday was my production day - voicing, editing and mixing the audio. Then Saturday was my scheduling day - uploading them to my podcast host platform (thank you Acast), where they would be pre-scheduled to drop in the days that followed on iTunes, Spotify, Alexa and so on.

The ritual of podcasting every day was interwoven with other habits of course. I'm one of those weirdos who runs every day. Seriously, I am not a very nice person to be around if I have not had my run. Or at least this is what I've been told. Although I don't know how anyone would know because I honestly don't know when was the last time I missed a run. And then there are more mundane, every day personal health, hygiene, and grooming habits mixed in with work as well.

The podcast was a biggie though. It's my estimation that I probably spent a solid hour on each finished episode, from subject matter conception to uploading it to podcast land. Thus close to 400 hours right there. Probably a lot more, because I'd also spend way too much time creating graphics to accompany a visual version of the podcast which I'd then post on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin, which then required time to write, what I hoped would be clever and compelling captions.

Thinking back I sometimes shudder at the investment of person-hours allocated to The Daily Undoing podcast, and what other things I might have accomplished using that same block of time. Sleep, comes to mind. Because I did not want this project to steal from family or my paid work, there was really only one time to do it - early morning or late at night. Mornings were my natural inclination. I had already developed a habit of waking up at 5:00AM in recent years to accommodate the aforementioned running addiction, so I added an extra hour into my routine, and started a ritual of starting my day at 4:00. Although, in all honesty, the number of times I got up prior to that would probably surprise even me, if I could play it back in time.

I felt that I had the whole thing figured out by mid February, having established a real rhythm with the workflow. I felt, at that time, I could finally launch a more traditional podcast, featuring interviews with local entrepreneurs, and demonstrating the utility of competencies in their world as well. I had recorded four of these interviews in late 2019, and was keen to get these stories out.

"Background Noise" as this new endeavor was christened, was launched in February of 2020, dropping every Wednesday. To do this, however, required cementing another ritual into my week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings were "booked off" for The Daily Undoing, thus I designated Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for my "real podcast". The structure of Background Noise, as we had designed, involved an opening synopsis of the interview, between myself and Undoing partner Marc Boivin. If you're interested on what "Undoing" is, you can discover a little more about that in my last blogpost.

Heaped on top of all this, and my professional and family life, was a business idea Marc and I had come up with, which would match under-employed business graduates with under-funded small businesses. "Kinship" as it had been dubbed, was envisioned as a digital platform where both parties could find one another and match small biz needs with entry level business analysts, communicators, etc. We had road-tested the concept, hooking up one of my graduates, with a small Calgary food company. Conceptually it worked, but it was going to require significant funding if it were to become a real thing. But our preliminary chats with various potential stakeholders gave us reason for optimism.

If you could possibly think back to a specific moment in your life in early March 2020, you might recall that moment as being the very last "normal" moment of your life. By then COVID 19 had wrapped its invisible and contagious tentacles around the globe and it was becoming more and more clear that it was going to be a very serious problem. Among the many casualties of the pandemic, were habits and routines for all of us. Forged in repetition since the dawn of civilization, human beings were suddenly locked into their own homes in a cataclysmic (and arguably - failed) global attempt to suffocate the virus. People were getting sick by the millions, and dying by the thousands; and everything from protective masks to toilet paper were vanishing from store shelves. There still aren't adequate words to describe what was going down on planet Earth in March 2020. It made you want to cry and laugh from moment to moment.

I remember in late March, sitting on my couch, laptop propped on my lap, listening to the vivid description of the sheer panic, chaos and carnage broadcast by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and thinking, "how do I justify the investment in doing this ridiculous little podcast now? We could all be dead in a month."

What happened though, was that the podcast became my therapy of sorts. It also provided no end of content. Every moment of every day there was another example of invoking Pillar Competencies into our lives. In fact, the case for competencies was made even clearer. We needed these behaviours more now than ever. Moreover, the many faces of heroism provided daily examples of people doing the things I was preaching about. Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Character, Citizenship, Curiosity and a whole lot of Collaboration and Problem Solving. These Pillar Competencies, I had laid out as the recurring themes of my podcast were now solidly attached to content pipelines from all over the world! Why wouldn't I want to continue telling the story?

And so The Daily Undoing didn't miss a beat, and Background Noise continued, with interviews conducted via Zoom (of course, right?). By the end of April, my challenge was breaking away from Covid as a central theme. It was by then a fact of life and the world had by and large accepted the (gag) "new normal". The narrative of the daily podcast had to evolve as well. I returned the best I could to my pre-covid workflows, pretty much the same way everyone else did. And I would continue with it for the duration of the calendar year.

We have a love-hate relationship with habits. Starting new ones, particularly those which deliver no immediate reward, is challenging. We subconsciously conduct a cost-benefit analysis and question the value in maintaining them. The trade-off often seems out of balance, the sacrifice not met by the payback. And yet, good habits, when ritualized into our lives, bring us not only the benefits they were designed to bring, but also the psychological comfort of familiarity, predictability and pattern.

When habits aren't even thought of as habits anymore, they have become rituals - there to satisfy a higher level need. No longer just something we do to merely lose weight, or write in a journal...the ritualization becomes part of us, making the original habit virtually impossible to break.

When I broke my habit of running a daily podcast on January 1, 2021, I remember having a very emotional response. Relief then sadness; freedom then withdrawal symptoms; pride then failure. How could I stop now? Would I ever start again?

Honestly, by December 2020, I hadn't even thought of stopping, I just assumed it would continue until certain signs began appearing in my life in not so subtle ways, that I would have to at least prepare to pause the process. "I'll stop for a week", I thought, kinda like quickly stepping off a treadmill's speeding belt, to take a sip of water, before jumping back on. But I over-estimated, I think, my desire to jump back on. Now, several weeks out, and the sound of crickets chirping, where once there was a daily podcast signal, presents new and different feelings.

I grappled with those in my last blog, and in a videoblog I put on Instagram last week, basically saying "I really don't know" about the status of The Daily Undoing as a podcast. I still don't. With a book launch coming, entitled "The Daily Undoing", a part of me feels I must get my ass back on that speeding treadmill, but another part of me warns, "Remember what that did to you. Do you really want to undertake that kind of habit again?"

For the time being, I feel content resorting to this habit. A weekly blog. It seems to be a comfortable place to think out loud, air a few thoughts, and even help guide me in some of the decisions I need to make about The Daily Undoing mantra of "Being Better at Being Human". If I'm going to live this truth, and frankly, turn it into some form of commercial enterprise (books, courses, etc), while at the same time, earning a living for my family via my "real job", I have to really think through what "habits" to which I am ready, able and willing to commit. Which one, or ones, do I see as becoming ritualized? I have two podcasts on the backburner, and a book on the front burner, supposedly designed to support a greater movement I wish to evangelize from the rooftops! And a family who needs me.

Any suggestions?



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