Habit hacking: Apps to build good habits


Changing a habit is hard because you have to do something consistently. Every single time it is a choice between that thing that you should do, and the thing that you always do, that is easier or even automatic. Tracking a habit is very important because the mind constantly tries to trick you into slipping back into your old habits.  However, tracking can be annoying. There are more and more impressive and easy to use good quality apps though, that really work to trick your brain. My top 3 apps for habit hacking:



This one is for concentration as well as saving me from sitting. Pomodoro is a timer based app that schedules you to work for 25 minutes straight, then take a 5 minute break. After 4 cycles, you take a longer break. I use this in conjunction with Self Control, another timer app that blocks all procrastination sites for however long I choose and cannot be undone until the timer is out. It’s great because a 25 minute work interval is perfect for getting over procrastination. The hardest part about procrastination is to start on a task. It is often much easier to keep working once you get going. It is quite easy for me to convince myself that I only have to work on that task for 25 minutes, and if I really can’t get into it, I will move on to something else.

My only problem is that If I do get into a work flow I don’t notice the alarm. My brain just clicks through and keeps going so I do not get the benefit of getting up to stretch for 5 minutes every half hour like you’re supposed to and I REALLY REALLY NEED TO BECAUSE SITTING IS KILLING ME.

Perfect Me:

iPhone Screenshot 1

It’s a very basic concept with a decently easy interface. You set up a habit you want to track, phrased as a yes or no question. Did you exercise today? Did you call your mom today? and then you set up how often you want the app to ask you about it (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly basis). Then it colour-codes the days on a monthly calendar and tallies up yeses and nos. I started using this one for dry January to count how many days I did not drink (25!). Since then I have successfully used to change my waking up and exercise habits.

Stop, Breathe, & Think:

A young man meditating peacefully in his forcefield while the hubbub of life goes on around him

While Pomodoro is saving my productivity, Stop, Breathe & Think has been saving my sanity. Seriously, I love this app. I tell everyone about this app. I would shout off the rooftops about this app. Whoever designed this app did a very good job. This app asks you to check in mentally and physically, and suggests short guided meditations based on your mood. As a moody person, I was scared to even know at first. It made me nervous to record my emotions every time I meditated because I realized I didn’t want to know just how much my mood was fluctuating. But it was actually really eye-opening. I realized that I am  frequently in a positive mood and experience good level of mental and physical wellbeing. And it opened my eyes to the fact that I choose anxiety every day, on top of all my good emotions. I thought, how weird! Why am I carrying that around? Life is good, and I am happy. This was the best habit to add to my arsenal and it takes about 5 minutes a day!

Do you have an app that helped you develop better life habits? Have you tried any of these? Please share with me in the comments.


Will Hillary Clinton swear off fossil-fuel money? Bernie Sanders already has

Will Hillary Clinton swear off fossil-fuel money? Bernie Sanders already has


The Nation magazine and 350 Action are challenging presidential candidates to “neither solicit nor accept campaign contributions” from fossil fuel companies — and that’s putting the heat on Hillary Clinton in particular.

“Back in the 1990s, politicians on both sides of the aisle swore off campaign contributions from big tobacco because the industry lied to the American people about the damage it was causing to public health,” writes 350 Action spokesperson Jamie Henn in an email. Oil, coal, and gas companies, Henn continues, “have consistently misled the public about the dangers associated with their product, and this time it’s the whole planet that’s at stake. You can’t be serious about addressing climate change and still accept checks from ExxonMobil.”

Fossil fuel companies, of course, exercise quite a bit of influence over politics through their ability to lob money into campaigns. Though coal companies’ profits have been suffering, oil companies are…

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Inequality isn’t just bad for the economy — it’s toxic for the environment

Inequality isn’t just bad for the economy — it’s toxic for the environment

Yup! The two problems must be addressed in tandem because they are intimately related


The pope’s encyclical on climate change was received with both enormous enthusiasm and criticism, reactions that will only intensify as he continues to lead efforts to solve our climate crisis and generate momentum for the U.N. Climate Conference later this year. His latest move? Inviting Naomi Klein, author most recently of This Changes Everything, to help lead last week’s Vatican conference on climate change.

The most consistent and profound message threaded throughout Pope Francis’ text is how disproportionately vulnerable the poor are to the escalating effects of climate change. Poor communities are on the front lines, particularly susceptible to induced mega-storms, droughts, flooding, and other conditions that make life even more difficult. Because of their economic instability, impoverished communities are also more easily affected by a storm that in itself is not deadly. In 1998, when Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, the poor were disproportionately devastated; impoverished households lost…

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It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself

It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself
Plastic is chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

Plastic chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

As many of you know, last year I attempted the Plastic Free July challenge… with dismal results. I started out the challenge feeling confident that I will rock it because there are so many lifestyle changes that we’ve made already to reduce our plastic use – I always use my trusty S’well bottle and Joco cup, I don’t use straws, and I bring a canvas bag when I go shopping. So I thought, for sure the top 4 offenders have already been eradicated from my daily use. However, once I started, and actually counted how many pieces of plastic sneak into my life on a daily basis, I realized I wasn’t working hard enough. I also realized how many challenges there are for an individual who is trying to do this without a community of support.

So the shameful part that I have to now admit, is that after the challenge I not only didn’t try harder, but I also backslid. And now a year has gone by and the challenge has started again, and I haven’t even said a word. I told myself that I will try it again, but I made no effort to prepare. I haven’t discussed it with my partner. And then Canada Day rolled around and I didn’t start it. And I still haven’t.

One hurdle this summer is that because I have to work on my dissertation, I don’t have any trips planned to get out of the city and into nature. It’s easy in Windsor to lose the connection to the wild. There is no where here that I get that overwhelming feeling of awe, love, and joy for nature as I do in BC, for example. There is no where I can go and spend the day surrounded by old growth forests, or natural and pristine beaches, or the ocean. Southern Ontario is so thoroughly stripped of that kind of joy, and day to day tasks make it difficult to get away long enough to find it. And research confirms the disconnect I am feeling. Studies find that spending time in nature brings a deep sense of happiness and connection, and that people feel a vague sense of unhappiness in man-made environments.

But you can't take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

But you can’t take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

As my graduate education is slowly coming to an end, I also find myself more stressed out, eating worse due to lack of time for cooking, and producing a lot of garbage as a result. Last summer, I tried a local grocery delivery, which forced me to eat a variety of great local produce and cook on a regular basis. But we butted heads because they unnecessarily put all the produce in plastic bags, and even though I am very happy to hear that many of my friends signed up for the service this summer, I did not because their packaging practices have not changed. While I still have enough options for good quality local produce with less plastic, the fact that I have to go get it, mixed with stress and lack of time, means I default to going to one of Walkerville’s many delicious restaurants and cafe’s much more frequently than I’d like.

My dissertation (and in part, the challenge itself) also made me think about whether individuals trying to change their behaviour can really have the kind of impact that is needed to avert the worst of climate change. It feels futile, especially when you see things like assholes who are “Rolling coal” as a fuck you to environmentalists, or the fact that the People’s Climate March, the largest ever act of activism on climate to date was slammed for leaving piles of trash afterwards. Why should I bother with all the daily effort and mental thought that is required to build more sustainable habits? What is the point?

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People's Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People’s Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

In thinking this way, I fall into the same psychological trap that I’ve been reading about: the classic commons dilemma, the failure of cooperation, the insidious impact of capitalist culture on the psyche: If I do it but no one else does it, I waste the effort and deprive myself, while everyone else can still live with all the comforts and conveniences of our throwaway culture. Knowing that this is a psychological trap, as it turns out, doesn’t make it any easier to overcome. It comes with guilt, shame, exasperation, sometimes despair, but mostly… indifference. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself that I am contributing to progress through knowledge creation, and that is my place, and that is enough because I can’t do everything. My research on the impact of culture on unsustainable behaviour also makes me ambivalent about focusing on individual behaviour change, when it is systemic change that will have the most impact. All this uncertainty allows me to remain complacent but also ashamed because I know I can do more. And when there is shame, that’s when the conversation dies, because if you don’t talk about it then you can pretend it’s not there.

In writing about it on the blog I hope to puncture through that barrier, to bring it out in the open and shine light on what I’m sure is a common experience of paralysis.


In related news:

~ 10,000 people marched in Toronto today for Jobs, Justice, & Climate

~ If you are in Windsor, and want to join a group, check out the Windsor chapter of the Blue Dot movement

What do your mouth and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have in common?

What do your mouth and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have in common?

Why are microbeads even added to toothpaste?! Or anything, for that matter


Much like the Great Lakes, your mouth is full of microbeads — you know, those tiny particles lurking in your favorite face washes. It turns out they’re in your toothpaste, too — and that’s not a good thing.

Mother Joneshas the story:

In March 2014, dental hygienist and blogger Trish Walraven sounded the alarm with a article about how she was finding “bits of blue plastic in my patients’ mouths every single day.” The plastic, she wrote, came from Crest toothpaste, and it was getting stuck in patients’ gums. Now, dentists are concerned that the microbeads trap bacteria, possibly causing gingivitis.

(Note: This revelation resulted in a resounding “DAMN IT” around the Grist office.)

Thankfully, Crest pledged to remove the microplastics from their toothpastes by next year, Mother Jones reported.

But gingivitis might not be the worst of it. The Environmental Working Group shares that microplastics could also be estrogen-mimicking hormone disruptors…

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Necessary Evil: The role that businesses can play in waste reduction

Necessary Evil: The role that businesses can play in waste reduction

As I mentioned a few blog posts back, I found that during the plastic free challenge the majority of my plastic bags we coming from our local produce delivery service. I ended up emailing them and asking if they could refrain from packing my produce in plastic, to which they replied that they will put a note on our account but they could not guarantee the people who pack the produce would see it. However, they suggested we simply return the bags with the bins and they would be glad to reuse them.

The following week’s bin came with this message in the newsletter:

“Plastic bags, the necessary evil.

Trust us, we hate packing your items in plastic as much as you hate receiving them that way. Be sure to remove any berries, tomatoes, beans and beets ASAP. Plastic will actually help lettuces and zucchini stay fresh.”

Now, I understand that they probably have an efficient routine figured out to try to deal with the boom in business that they are experiencing this year, and my request probably throws a wrench into how they do things. If I’m the only person who made this request, I feel like it’s slightly overboard to put it in the newsletter for everyone, so I have a feeling I’m not the only one who asked. While I appreciate the fact that changing their procedure may be a challenge, doing it now, while they are a growing business, would be way easier than down the road when they are a bigger business.

The reason I chose to give my money to this business as opposed to a conventional grocery store is not because I’m lazy and want my groceries delivered, but because it is the best option available to regularly get local produce, which helps in my efforts to support local businesses and be a more sustainable consumer. If your business does not meet those needs, then I must look for an alternative.

Businesses, especially local ones, have the challenge of competing with corporations who can undercut them in many ways. But one thing that corporations can’t and don’t do is be flexible and respond to the needs of the consumer. Businesses should acknowledge and embrace sustainability as a selling point and use it to attract consumers. They would also be a major force in mitigating climate change in their communities.

Think about it, businesses are important contact points within a community. Many people use their services, meet other people in the community through their services, and talk about things that are important to the community. If your business promotes sustainability, it helps hundreds of your customers waste less and it communicates to them that sustainability is important.

So no, I don’t buy the notion that plastic is a necessary evil. Plastic is an unnecessary evil. That’s what makes it worse. No one is going to stop using their delivery service because they don’t provide enough plastic bags with their produce that already comes in a bin. But they may do the reverse.

The concept of stress, sponsored by Big Tobacco


The more you know…

Mind Hacks

NPR has an excellent piece on how the scientific concept of stress was massively promoted by tobacco companies who wanted an angle to market ‘relaxing’ cigarettes and a way for them to argue that it was stress, not cigarettes, that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

They did this by funding, guiding and editing the work of renowned physiologist Hans Selye who essentially founded the modern concept of stress and whose links with Big Tobacco have been largely unknown.

For the past decade or so, [Public Health Professor Mark] Petticrew and a group of colleagues in London have been searching through millions of documents from the tobacco industry that were archived online in the late ’90s as part of a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

What they’ve discovered is that both Selye’s work and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers…

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