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The Power of Cuddling the Cat: Habit Synergy

The power of cuddling the cat: habit synergy
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When trying to track lots of your time, this can create a disconnect from reality.

Here’s an example from this week that shows two radically different ways I could have used the Multihabit system, for better or for worse.

My cat has a certain time of day he decides he wants cuddles. He will circle my feet and follow me everywhere. If I’m working on my computer, he rolls over on the keyboard. If I’m trying to read, he lies on top of my book or magazine.

When my timer is on and I’m trying to get time in on a habit, it creates an intense focus. If it’s reading time, I want to get through what I’m reading. If it’s writing time, I want to get through my writing. If it’s piano, I want to get through my practice. Or, if it’s business time, I need to get shit done.

There’s also an in-between strain that can be created too. I call this habit anticipation. For example, during garden season, I try to pace myself with an hour or two of work each day rather than needing to put in marathon all-day sessions. So, if my cat decides it’s cuddle time and I’m connecting to the root of my garden habit (click here for that article) — that being, putting on my garden clothes — even though I haven’t started this habit yet, the desire to complete it creates that same intense focus.

The cat can appear to be a distraction.

This is where the Multihabit system, if not used wisely, can actually be a detriment to healthy living.

Because of the degrees of freedom I wrote about last time, I have many habit modes that can help me adapt to reality. Usually, my default is “vacation”. When I’m done with single focus on one habit, I just hit “vacation” and let that timer resume.

I often think of my “vacation” habit as my home base. It’s very neutral and can go in any direction. When I’m in “vacation” time, I can think about whatever I want to do next, in terms of all my habits. I tend to clock about 1-2 hours a day in vacation time, and that’s okay. Rather than seeing this as just “wasted” time when I could have been more productive, instead I see it as time I actively chose to be in downtime, for my own wellbeing.

So, when the cat is circling and it’s garden time, I can just stay in “vacation” mode. The cat acts for me as a prompt to stop and smell the roses now and then.

The cat certainly likes when I make this wise decision. I end up in bed where I lift the blanket and create a little den for him. He dives in then rolls on his back, immediately purring as he gets belly scratches. He has me well-trained.

While this might seem like the road to procrastination, it’s actually the opposite.

Going hour after hour on habit after habit, clocking sometimes 12-15 hours a day on these habits, can be mentally exhausting if you don’t give yourself time to cuddle the cat. We need little spacers like this — provided they are little.

The cat enjoys his cuddles for about 15-20 minutes, then with a deep sigh, is fast asleep. Then I leave him in his den and out I go to the garden. While I put in more productive time, he enjoys a good sleep until his first dinner.

Here’s where the real magic happens.

What I find happens, almost every time I cuddle the cat, is that my mind comes alive with thoughts it normally wouldn’t. I have insights about writing projects, or about piano practice strategies, or plans for next year’s garden, or else just general spiritual insights which are part of my deeply nourishing reflection habit.

This is habit synergy.

When we think of habits individually, like writing, reading, piano, garden, business, workout, etc, we often think of them as isolated activities. In actual fact, though, they are deeply intermeshed.

For instance, I recently discovered I am a composer. This came to me while practicing piano and trying to write down ideas I had for how to complete more compositions by Satie. I ended up writing 3 Gymnopedies, which I imagined to be his, but when sharing them and hearing good feedback, realized, no, these are my first compositions! After this the flood gates opened, and now composing has become a natural part of daily time at the piano.

But where do I fit such a pursuit?

This one came to me while cuddling the cat:

Composing is the same as writing, except one is with words, the other is with musical notation.

When this insight came, I saw a habit synergy between piano and writing. The two blended together, and I found a way to perhaps pursue what has been a burgeoning desire the last few years, to perhaps make the piano my main pursuit.

It should be noted that this habit synergy though is more complex still. This synergy came about because of a synergy between my “writing”, “piano” and “vacation” habit. You could even say it came from my “social” habit because my social habit has gotten me to immerse deeply in chances to time spend with others — be they human or feline.

The power of habit synergy comes about because many habits can remain in operation in the background when we’re not singly-focused on them. I may put in 50-70 minutes a day at the computer with my writing-related projects, but while I’m gardening, driving, eating, or watching a movie, I may have ideas strike me that make their way into later writing sessions. I may put in 2-3 hours of piano practice time every day, but the insight to group a hard passage in triple rather than duple groups may come to me while out for a grueling run.

When habits are viewed as degrees of freedom, this also means you have that many more interconnections possible between all habits. Whatever opportunities present to you, when you view them through the lens of your habits, the more degrees of freedom — the more habits — you have, the more ways you can view them creatively as part of the larger whole of everything you are trying to accomplish across all the domains of your life.

I hope you’re enjoying this newsletter. Stay tuned for next Tuesday, when we’ll explore yet more ideas built around the Multihabit system.