Category: Podcasts

151 – How to Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones

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Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

We know that good habits can have a great influence on us, but negative habits have an influence too. Everyone knows how hard it is to break a bad habit, but there’s good news! Come discover effective ways to replace your bad habits…and their destructive influence.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

In our last episode we began talking about habits, which are learned routines or behaviors that we repeat pretty much without thinking about them. We’ve taken the bulk of our material from a book by James Clear called Atomic Habits, as well as a book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. They’re worth your time to read because they’re full of interesting information—more than we can cover in two podcasts. 

We also talked about the habit loop that James Clear wrote about. It consists of: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. The cue is the trigger that causes your brain to initiate a behavior. The craving provides the motivation to act. The response is the actual action, the behavior. And the reward is the goal, the thing you get for doing the behavior. We encourage you to go back and listen to that episode if you haven’t yet.

In today’s show, we’ll give more tips for developing a habit, plus we’ll talk about some ways to say goodbye to habits that aren’t serving you well. The reason why this is so important is because habits shape our lives.

Habits Shape Our Lives

James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits, “Researchers estimate that 40-50 percent of our actions on any given day are done out of habit.”

That can be good, because habits reduce cognitive load and decrease the number of necessary decisions we have to make, which frees up more brain power for creative tasks. We’re writers, so of course we want all the creative energy we can get.

Our goal is to give you some tools to put new habits in place to help you live a life more in tune with God’s vision and purpose for you and your writing. For example, maybe you want to start a habit of:

  • Being more grateful by thanking God every day for something specific
  • Praying before you write each day
  • Reading one new craft or marketing book each month
  • Meditating on one of God’s qualities each night. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that when we’re “beholding the glory of the Lord” we’re “being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another…”  
  • Writing encouraging notes to others

Often people will ask how long it takes to form a habit, but James Clear argues that that’s the wrong question. He says, “Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.” It’s these repetitions that actually change your brain. So the right question to ask is how many repetitions does it take?

To help you feel like you DON’T have to be a perfectionist about this, studies have shown that missing one repetition isn’t the end of the world. It’s not like you need a string of thirty successful attempts in a row or you’ll have to start all over again. But when you do miss, you’ve got to get back on track as soon as possible, because you don’t want to start repetitions for a new habit of skipping your habit.

Making a Habit Easier to Start

If we want to create a new habit, our goal is to make sure the behavior gets repeated. And one of the best ways to do that is to make it easy. So easy it almost feels hard NOT to do it. You want to reduce the friction associated with that habit to as close to zero as you can get.

1. Prepare in Advance

One way to reduce friction and make your habit easier is to have what you need ready in advance. If you want to start a habit of going to the gym to workout, for example, pack your workout bag ahead of time and have it ready to go. Choose a gym that’s on the way to or from work.

Or, do you want to eat healthier? Make healthy meals on the weekend and have them ready to warm up during the week when you’re too tired to cook and you’re tempted to eat junk food or fast food for dinner.

2. The Two-Minute Rule

Another way to make a habit easy is to use the two-minute rule. The new habit should take less than two minutes to do. Our biggest hurdle can often be just getting started. The two minute rule makes the habit so easy that you’re willing to do it, and it’s almost hard NOT to do it.

If you want to start a daily writing habit, for example, consider starting with one sentence a day. It’s almost ridiculous, right? You can do that. One sentence. ANY sentence. You might even feel silly not writing another sentence after the first one. But don’t write that second sentence. Because that’s not the habit you’re working on. What you actually want to establish is the habit of putting your behind in your writing chair every single day. You’re working on the habit of showing up for your writing time.

After a month or so, when you’ve repeated this action—putting your behind in the writing chair—often enough that you go there almost without thinking about it, you can work on staying long enough to write two sentences, or a paragraph. That’s just one possible way of making a writing habit easy to start, but you get the idea. The two minute rule is probably the single best idea on how to start a new habit. 

3. Make Habits Satisfying

Another way to make a habit easier to start is to make it more satisfying. We like to repeat behaviors that feel good, that give us some sense of pleasure. 

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he talks about how people rarely, if ever brushed their teeth before a toothpaste called Pepsodent came along. Only about 7% of Americans even had toothpaste, but a decade later, 65% had toothpaste, mainly Pepsodent. And it was effectively sold all over the world.

The inventors of Pepsodent had a brilliant ad campaign that helped create a habit of teeth brushing. What nobody realized at the time was that part of the appeal of Pepsodent was that they had added citric acid, mint oil, and a few other chemicals that were supposed to make it taste fresh. But those ingredients also acted like a mild irritant that created a cool tingling sensation in people’s mouths. This sensation was something people liked. It made them feel like their teeth were clean. The tingling made the habit satisfying, and it turned into a craving that helped drive the habit loop.

Within a few decades, other toothpaste manufacturers figured this out and started changing their own recipes to create that same sensation. Even today, most, if not all, toothpaste formulas are created to have the same effect. 

So when you want to form a new habit, look for ways you can make that habit immediately satisfying. For some habits, this might be easy, but for others, it can be challenging, because for some habits, while we know they’ll benefit us in the long run, it’s hard to see a benefit right NOW. 

For example, if you want to exercise everyday, this has long term benefits, but on your first day of exercise you’ll probably feel none of those benefits. You might even feel more tired than normal. So how can you give yourself an immediate reward to help satisfy you?

Remember the commercial for apple watches that showed a couch potato type of guy sitting on his couch, and then his watch reminded him to stand up? Then they fast forwarded through time and repetitions, and he started walking, then running. They showed this happening over and over and with each repetition this guy goes farther and passes his old self, and at the end, he’s swimming. What was that commercial all about? Creating a picture for a reward. Apple was effectively showing this guy’s long term benefit all in the space of thirty seconds to help create a craving for that new self.

Habit Tracking

Another way to create an immediate reward is by using habit tracking. For example, the little rings on the Apple watch that keep track of how many times you stand or move during the day aren’t an afterthought. They’re deliberate. They give you an immediate reward, the satisfaction of filling all your rings. They even have little games with cute animal rewards.

If you like to keep things low-tech, you can habit track by putting a big check mark on your calendar for everyday you perform your behavior. All those marks help you see your progress. They offer proof that you’re making a change that’s important to you. They also provide a visual cue for the habit you’re working to create.

Habit tracking also helps keep you focused on the system. Remember that the idea is to slowly incorporate change into your life by focusing on systems that help you create the life you want to live. 

Changing Habits

Habits can be wonderful tools for productivity and for a life lived in accordance with our values. But there is a flip side. Remember how we said 40-50% of our actions on any given day are done out of habit? That means you may not be aware of a significant amount of your behavior. So, how do you know if your habits—these things you’re not thinking about—are serving you or hindering you? 

We said this in our last episode and we’re saying it again now because it’s so important: We encourage you to devote time to carefully observing your behavior. Make a list of your habits—write them down!—so you can consider them impartially. Then you can make choices about which habits and behaviors point you in the trajectory you want your life to go, and which don’t. And the ones that don’t? It’s time to change them. 

For example, many writers struggle with doubts and negative self-talk. And, side note here, we’ve seen it so often we developed a Going Deeper Workshop called Overcoming Damaging Self-Talk to help writers break that insidious habit.

James Clear has some useful guidance on changing habits. For every idea he gives to helping you start a habit, he applies the opposite advice to habits you want to change.

1. Avoid Cues

Rather than making your cues obvious to help you start a habit, one of the best things you can do to change a habit is to eliminate your exposure to cues. So, rather than create a time and place plan to help you do a behavior, figure out instead how you can avoid that time and place to help you avoid a behavior associated with that time and place. You want to avoid your cues. If you drive by a coffee shop everyday on your way to work, and you want to stop getting coffee there because you’re trying to cut down on caffeine, or save money, or whatever, change your route to work. Even if it takes you longer, it’s worth it not to drive by your temptation everyday.

Changing your behavior isn’t about staring at your temptation in the face and saying no. Often it can be as simple as avoiding that temptation to begin with. James Clear points out that research shows those who we think are disciplined are really just better at “structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.” That’s a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to changing habits.

In fact, the reason willpower isn’t the way to go when trying to change or avoid a habit is that those cravings are engraved in our brains. Once they’re set, we can’t help but be affected by them. But, when you eliminate the cue that starts the craving, you don’t have any reason to do the behavior. 

So, one way to help change habits is to make your cues invisible. If you feel you eat too much junk food, don’t buy it. Send your spouse to the store so you’re not even tempted to buy it. Or don’t go down that aisle. Or put it on a high shelf way in the back of your cupboard—like the cupboard over the refrigerator that’s practically impossible to get to so you don’t see it every time you open your cabinet for something else. 

If watch too much TV, get rid of it. Or, get rid of cable and internet so you have far fewer options. Or put it in a room that you don’t go in very often. Have you noticed that so many houses seem to face all the furniture toward the TV? Rearrange your furniture. Take your TV out of your bedroom if you watch too much late night TV.

Another thing you want to do when you’re looking at what’s going on with your cues is to check what’s happening with your habit stacking. Maybe you find that you come home from work, change clothes, and grab a dinner that you eat in front of the TV, and then never get up until bedtime. Change the stack. Don’t eat in front of the TV. Don’t rely on your willpower to turn the TV off at 7pm so you can write. Or maybe, if you must eat in front of the TV, put your TV outlet on a timer that shuts off at 7pm, and use that as a new cue to stand up and to go to your writing spot.

2. Make It Hard

We talked earlier in this podcast about making the behavior of a habit easy if we wanted to encourage it. Well, if you want to discourage it, make it hard. That’s in essence what we’d be doing if we stuck all our junk food in the cabinet over the fridge—not just taking the cue out of sight, but also making that junk food hard to get to. There’s a lot of friction involved in dragging a chair or step ladder over to the fridge and digging that food out.

If you want to cut down the time you spend on social media, take the app off whichever device you mostly use. If you’re always on Facebook on your phone, take it off your phone and only allow it to be on your computer. Or, download one of those apps that limit or cut off access to websites you designate. That’s one way to use technology to help you. It becomes a commitment device, and a choice you make in the present locks in your behavior in the future.

Use technology for your benefit where you can, because in today’s world, technology is sometimes against us. Have you noticed how binge watching has become so popular these days? One reason is because companies like NetFlix make it so easy to keep watching. The next episode just starts right up for you. You have to work, to exercise willpower, to actually turn it off, and that can be hard.

3. Make It Unattractive

Aside from technology, You can use people to help you change your habits. You can use what’s called a habit contract, which can make your habit less satisfying.

To make your habit less satisfying, create an unpleasant cost, basically a punishment. Remember that our brain wants to repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid those that are punished. So perhaps you want to stop worrying, or swearing, or whatever. You can make a habit contract with a willing friend. You tell her you’ll put a dollar in a jar every time you give in and actively worry, or swear, or whatever, and every week your friend gets the money and goes out to a fun coffee place without you. You get left behind, or whatever else is painful to you. Maybe she’s a supporter of a football team you hate, and she gets to buy hats and mugs and all kinds of stuff for her team, and you have to then use them all. Be creative and have fun with this.

Of course, we don’t want to leave you with the idea that all habits are simple and fun to break. They’re not. In fact, Charles Duhigg writes, “…a habit cannot be eradicated—it must instead be replaced.” He also stresses that there isn’t any one, sure-fire method that works for everyone to create behavior change. But in his book, he walks through what he calls “the Golden Rule of habit change.” 

Studies show that you can’t completely extinguish bad habits, but you can have a great deal of success if you keep the old cues, keep the old rewards, but substitute a different behavior. That’s the simple rule, and it makes sense because it’s the behavior that you’re trying to change.

This is a good method because some cues you just can’t avoid. For this to work, however, you first have to recognize what your cues are, what the reward is, and most important, you have to be very sure what your craving actually is. James Clear writes that “a craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive…It is the desire to change your internal state.” 

The behaviors we have attached to satisfy our cravings aren’t necessarily the best ways to achieve the desired change in our internal state. Cues and rewards aren’t necessarily bad, but the behavior we choose after the cue to get that reward can be a problem. For example, someone may feel anxious and crave relaxation, but if the behavior of getting drunk sprung up to get that reward, that’s not good. Relief from anxiety can be found in other ways that don’t involve alcohol, so that’s the behavior that could be modified. You can have a cue of anxiety, and a desire for a relaxed state, which gives you motivation to act, but you achieve that reward with a different behavior.

Habit Reversal

Charles Duhigg gives a good example of how behavior can be modified through habit reversal training which is founded on the Golden Rule of habit change. There was a woman who wanted to stop biting her fingernails. Her habit was so bad that her fingertips were often covered with scabs. Her psychologist, by questioning her, helped her uncover what the cue was for this habit—she felt tension in her fingertips.

Awareness of the cues is the first step in modifying a habit. So many of us do our habits out of…well, habit, so we may be completely unaware of what our cues are. But it’s crucial that we identify them. For example, one of the reasons Alcoholics Anonymous is so effective is that it forces members to identify all their cues.

The therapist for the woman biting her fingernails sent her home with a notecard and told her to put a checkmark on it every time she experienced the cue of tension in her fingers. This helped her become even more aware of her cues.

But you also have to understand the reward. Through her therapist’s questions, the woman discovered that she was often bored when she felt the tension in her fingers and after she bit her fingernails it was better, and it turned out that what she was craving was the physical stimulation.

So the therapist moved to the next step and gave her what’s called a “competing response.” When the woman felt the cue in her fingers, she was to put her hands in her pockets, or pin them under her legs, or grab hold of something like a pencil—anything that would make her unable to bite her nails. After that, she had to immediately find some sort of quick physical stimulation like knocking on a tabletop or rubbing her arm. So she was achieving the same reward—a physical stimulation, with the same cues triggering it. But she was changing the behavior—the response or routine. The end result is that the undesirable behavior is successfully modified to something acceptable.

To sum it up, you recognize your cues, identify your craving and rewards, and introduce a competing behavior that can achieve the same reward. And we can’t stress this enough: you have to go deep to accurately identify your craving. For example, our alcoholic isn’t craving being inebriated. That person is craving something that being inebriated provides, be it relaxation, numbness, acceptance within a peer group, the ability to forget something terrible, or whatever. So it’s vital that you dig deep into your own motivation.

If you write fiction, pretend you’re a character in one of your novels and don’t be satisfied with the superficial answer. Maybe you want to stop snacking at work. You need to understand why you’re snacking. Ask yourself what you’re really after. Are you truly hungry? Are you just bored and in need of a break? Or are you tired and need something to wake you up?

There’s one other important aspect of successful behavior change we need to cover, and that is the belief that change is possible. You have to believe it. Charles Duhigg quotes J. Scott Tonigan, a researcher from the University of Toronto, who says, “I wouldn’t have said this a year ago—that’s how fast our understanding is changing, but belief seems critical.”

One of the things that helps boost belief is the power of others believing. Groups can help foster belief. Duhigg points out that belief is a vital component in Alcoholics Anonymous. He quotes a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group who says, “At some point, people in AA look around the room and think, if it worked for that guy, I guess it can work for me. There’s something really powerful about groups and shared experiences. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they’re by themselves, but a group will convince them to suspend belief. A community creates belief.”

So one of the best things you can do when trying to change a habit is find other like minded people who can support you and help foster your belief. But let’s not forget the most powerful belief. The belief that with God, all things are possible. 

Some of you may know that Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, attributed his ability to overcome alcohol to God. And many other people interviewed by researchers also point to God as the reason they don’t relapse even in the most difficult of times.

Of course, researchers wanted to discount this. You can’t really test God in a hypothesis and that, among other things, can make researchers uncomfortable. But God kept coming up over and over in the interviews. So much so that researchers couldn’t discount it. Their solution was to neutralize the notion of belief into a generic statement that belief is necessary, but they say a belief in general, either in themselves or some other higher power, will do.

I think we do need belief, we need hope. But we as Christians understand that the highest power in all existence is God, the Creator of all things. And he’s not bound by our understanding, our limitations, our beliefs, or our habits. Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV) says,

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

How encouraging it is that when we want to change behaviors or create new behaviors and routines, we have Almighty God. Take this to God. Ask him which behaviors are helping you and which are harming you. Trust him to give you the guidance you need.

Jeremiah 32:27 (NIV) says, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” He can show you your habits. He can show you how to change them.

Job 42:2 ​​(NIV) says, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” God knows what works best for you. God knows which habits are hindering you.

Isaiah 46:9b-10 (NKJV) says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’”

We serve an amazing God. A God who wants us to act in a way that’s best for us. In a way that he designed us. In a way that makes us better reflections of him. Take this to him and watch and see what he does!

Come discover effective ways to change your bad habits...and their destructive influence in your life and writing. #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Have you ever had to change a habit? How did you do it?

Books mentioned in the podcast

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits book by James Clear

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit book by Charles Duhigg

THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST

We’re so grateful for the sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast, with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. We know and trust Thomas, and his podcast is full of great information and advice—like Novel Marketing’s 10 Commandments of Book Marketing, which we’re going to be bringing you.

Commandment #1 is: Love thy reader as you love thy book.

This is the greatest commandment and the most foundational. If this is wrong, you can’t fix it with the other commandments. If you want readers to care about your book, you need to care about readers.

A lot of new authors fall in love with their books. They write the book they want to write, regardless of what readers want. Then writers start trying to figure out how to find readers and make them want the book. That’s backwards. Caring about your reader isn’t something you tack on at the end as a promotional tactic. It is where you must start. 

You need to know thy reader, listen to thy reader, and serve thy reader. Jesus told his disciples that the greatest among them would be those who are servants. Approach your writing out of love and with a servant’s heart. 

For more book promotion and platform help listen to Novel Marketing in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com.

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our October sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the next book in the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

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150 – How to Build Useful Habits

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How to Build Useful Habits Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWe all have habits. Some good, some not so good. But did you realize that your habits can save you from such things as decision fatigue and damaging behavior? Come listen in as we explore how to turn your habits into powerful allies in a world overflowing with tension and struggle.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

We talked about decision fatigue in episode 149, and we mentioned that habits can help us reduce the number of decisions we have to make every day. Then in episode 146, we covered five things no one told you about the writing journey—and one of those things was that you need more healthy habits than you realize. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to those episodes, I encourage you to do that. 

Today we want to help you put healthy habits into practice by covering how to build habits. Not only that, but how to build these habits in a way that doesn’t take Herculean effort.

Let’s face it, sometimes we see a person who has all kinds of great habits, and we think she must be the most disciplined person in the world. Guess what? She’s probably not. And you don’t need to be either. There are secrets to building great habits, and we’re going to share them with you.

Let’s start with a simple definition so we all know exactly what we’re talking about when we say “habit.”

What is a habit?

First, here are a couple of definitions of habit from Webster’s dictionary:

: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior

: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary

But I like how James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, defines a habit. He says it’s “a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically.”

Atomic Habits is a useful book for lots of information, ideas, and examples, and we’ve taken the bulk of the material for this podcast from it. It’s worth the time to read because we can’t cover it all, so I recommend it to you. Another classic book on habits is Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.  

James Clear argues in Atomic Habits that “changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.”

I agree with this, and I think it helps to put habits in a more user-friendly light. Habits shouldn’t be about radically changing your life to incorporate fifty new regimens. Instead, creating habits is about implementing small changes that slowly accumulate into the kind of lifestyle you’ve always wanted but maybe didn’t think you were disciplined enough to have.

Let me reiterate. We’re saying these changes SLOWLY accumulate, and slowly make a difference. The effects of habits generally don’t operate on a linear progression. So no, you can’t go from being a couch potato to a marathon runner in one week, any more than you can instantly go from being a person who can’t seem to find time to write to a person who produces a novel every 6 months.

But you could do those over time if you developed the right habits and overcame the wrong habits. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having goals like that: to run a marathon or write a novel in 6 months. But, counterintuitively, James Clear says that one of the secrets to helping people build habits is to focus not so much on the goal as on the process. 

He gives an example about cleaning a messy room. If you manage to get it cleaned up, you’ve got a momentary change—it’s now clean. You’ve solved the problem at a surface level. But if you’re not a tidy person, then that room is going to be messy again very soon, and you’re back to square one. If you focus on your system, on creating habits that a tidy person would have, then you’ll be solving your problem at the systems level, and you won’t have a messy room to begin with.

So how might this apply to writing? Writing a novel is a wonderful success that lots of people never achieve. But it’s also just one achievement in time. Becoming a consistent, dependable, productive writer is a lifestyle. If you build habits that focus on the systems level of that lifestyle, you can write one book or, just as easily, you can write thirty books. That kind of productivity becomes much less daunting. 

So, how do you build a habit? James Clear’s book breaks habits down into a four-step process. This is a predictable pattern because our brains are predictable. They’re always trying to figure out what’s happening around us and how to respond in a way that’s most satisfactory to us. When our behavior results in good consequences, our brain says, “Hey, that was good. Remember that and do it again.” When the consequences are negative, our brain says, “Hey, don’t do that again.”

The pattern of a habit is: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. 

CUE

The cue is a trigger that causes your brain to initiate a behavior. It’s a situation your brain recognizes and ties to a reward. For example, you come home from work to the smell of cookies baking in the oven, because let’s imagine you have a wonderful spouse who loves to bake, and sometimes when you come home, there are cookies in the oven. Your brain knows that the smell of cookies often ends in a delicious, satisfying taste experience. And this wonderful aroma of cookies leads you to the next step of the habit pattern: craving.

CRAVING

You WANT that delicious cookie. You desire that cookie. You are motivated to get and eat that cookie. And it’s not because it’s an attractive round shape or color, though it may be a lovely cookie. What you’re really after is that delicious taste sensation that happens when you eat the cookie. 

Without motivation, you have no reason to act. Without a spouse making cookies, you don’t come home to a cookie smell. But we’ll pretend you do have that spouse, so there is a cookie smell. So what do you do? You make a response.

RESPONSE

The response is the third step of the pattern. A response is the behavior you do because of the craving. This behavior is the actual habit. Now, a response does depend on how motivated you are and how much resistance there would be to carrying out the behavior.

For example, if you just came home from having dental work done, and your tongue is completely numb so that you couldn’t taste anything, much less chew, you’re probably not going to eat that cookie. But most of the time, a plate of your favorite cookies fresh out of the oven will generate the response of eating one, and this will bring you to the last step of the pattern: your reward.  

REWARD

The reward is the delicious taste sensation. Rewards are the whole reason you do the behavior. James Clear calls rewards “the end goal of every habit” because they satisfy our cravings. They also teach us which behaviors we should repeat.

If your spouse’s cookies always taste great, your brain will want to repeat the reward over and over. But, if your spouse has an unfortunate and consistent problem following recipes, and salt frequently gets substituted for sugar, the terrible taste will be a negative reward, and your brain will urge you NOT to eat those cookies no matter how they smell.

So, if you have a cue that triggers a craving, and the craving motivates a response, and the response provides a positive reward which satisfies the craving, that becomes a cycle you’re going to repeat. The reward will eventually become associated with the cue and you’ll have a habit loop.

One other quick example of habit is putting on your seatbelt when you get in the car:

Cue: You get in your car.

Craving: You want to travel safely. 

Response: You put on your seatbelt.

Reward: You aren’t injured during the trip.

Now, lots of times you don’t even get in an accident, but if you do, chances are you were safer because of your seatbelt. We all probably know somebody who’s life was saved by a seatbelt. 

If you know someone who was injured because of wearing a seatbelt, that may have become a negative reward, and so you DON’T wear a seatbelt.

Ultimately though, many of us put on our seatbelt without thinking about it because habits become unconscious.

IMPLEMENTING HABITS 

This is all fine and dandy information, but where is the part about this being easy? About not needing to be a hyper-disciplined person? That comes in understanding some tricks to making habits easy to start. This is where James Clear’s book really shines and becomes worth the read. We only have time to give you a few of his tips.

1. Make a “time and place” plan

Two of the most common cues that initiate a habit are time and place. If you want to develop a new habit, decide in advance where and when you’ll do that. So, if you want to develop a habit of exercise—let’s say walking everyday—then determine when and where you will do this.

This actually works. An experiment about exercise in Great Britain showed that participants who made a plan of when and where they’d exercise were far more likely to follow through.

Be sure to pick a specific time that happens everyday without fail, and a place that’s easy to get to.

For example: Every morning, right after breakfast, I will walk around the block.

“Every morning” does happen everyday, but that’s not specific enough. “After breakfast” is specific. And the place “around the block” is simple enough. You don’t have to drive to get there. Just go out your door.

Another benefit to making a plan is that you don’t have to make a new decision. You’ve already made it when you made the plan. Your job is to merely follow through with the plan you already made.

Here are some other examples of plans:

At noon every day I will stand up and stretch for 10 minutes.

Before I get out of bed every morning, I will be still and listen to God for 10 minutes. Psalm 46:10 even encourages us to do this when it says to, “Be still and know that I am God…”

To help you pick good a good time to plan your habit, make a list of things that happen in your life everyday without fail. That’ll give you more flexibility and options that you may not think of otherwise.

Think about what might be your pivotal times of the day, where one habit can alter the course of your whole day. For example, I know that I do best if I exercise first thing in the morning. For me, that’s become a key to starting my whole day off right.

2. Stack Your Habits

Sometimes the easiest way to get a new habit started is to attach it to a habit you already have. One simple example of this is if you wanted to build a habit of flossing your teeth, you could stack it on top of brushing your teeth, assuming brushing is something you do everyday. 

Another example is something I do: I eat a protein bar every morning. I cannot get my work day started without food. So that’s the time when I do my Bible study. It’s a linked habit now. I grab my protein bar and my Bible and I know I’m unlikely to skip Bible reading because I’m extremely unlikely to skip my protein bar.

Stacking your habits can become an extremely powerful means of creating a lifestyle you want or need. I suffer from severe chronic insomnia, and I need every possible help I can get when it comes to falling asleep. After habit stacking, I’ve come to the point where I have a whole wind-down routine every night (that takes into consideration the lighting, the temperature, what I’m focusing on etc.). It starts an hour before bedtime, and truly it’s helped.

One of the reasons why it’s effective is that not only am I doing the right things to help prepare for sleep, I’m not making any decisions about whether I want to do this specific thing or not. I’m just doing it and letting my mind go to the places it needs to go to for calmness and sleep.

Randy Ingermanson, in his Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, wrote a article on habits and what he called his “Daily Startup Habit.” That’ll give you another real-life example of how you can powerfully use habit-stacking.  

One key to habit stacking is to make sure you pick a good time and a compatible habit. Like flossing your teeth goes pretty well with brushing them. But if you’re brain dead in the morning before your first cup of coffee, don’t stack a habit of writing before your coffee. And maybe not even after, depending on how long it takes you to wake up. If you love to eat messy barbecue chicken wings for lunch, don’t decide your lunch hour is the best place to stack a habit of writing either, unless you want a messy keyboard!

One of the things James Clear suggests is that you do a “habit inventory” before you think about what new habits you want to start and which habits you might want to stack. It’s good to be thoroughly familiar with what you’re already doing—habits you like and want to keep, as well as habits you don’t like and want to stop.

3. Make Your Cues as Obvious as Possible

Remember, a cue is what begins the habit loop. It’s the reminder. You want it to be as noticeable as possible. A simple example of how important visual reminders can be is the end caps in bookstores. Those are prime places that publishers pay extra for. They want potential buyers to SEE and crave their books.

I have a medication I need to take every night. It’s on my nightstand. That’s an obvious visual cue. When I wanted to be sure I practiced guitar everyday, I had it sitting out on a stand, not put away in the case. The healthy snacks at my house are easier to spot than the chocolates.

When you’re trying to start a new habit, ask yourself what you can do to create an environment that encourages your habit. Maybe, if you want to become the type of person who only eats healthy snacks, you only have healthy snacks in your house. James Clear says, “If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment.”

Or, let’s go back to wanting the habit of writing everyday: create a dedicated place in your home where you write. You see the space, it triggers the cue to do your writing, because it signals to you that you want to be the type of person who writes.

4. Increase the Temptation of Your Habit

This is a simple trick: If there’s a habit you want to start that you don’t anticipate liking very much, bundle it with another activity or habit that you really like. Maybe you love looking at puppies on Instagram, but you hate processing your email. So, you can decide something like this: After I have my coffee everyday (so you’re picking a time), I will process email. After I process email, I will look at puppies for five minutes.

Or, if you want to start a habit of eating one vegetable snack per day, you could say: At 3:00 while I have my afternoon vegetable snack, I will look at puppies. Again, this would totally work for me!

But there’s more…

We’ve talked about what habits are and given some tips to easily building new habits you want. Stay tuned for the next podcast in this series, where we’ll bring you a few more tips for building habits, as well as some guidance about how to change habits you no longer want.

Until then, think about your habits. Pray about them. Ask God to show you what he thinks about your habits. Which ones are serving you well? Which aren’t? What do you need to add in your life to help you in this task of writing he’s given you?

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What is the easiest way you’ve found to build a good habit?

THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST

We’re excited to have a sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast, with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. He knows what he’s talking about, friends, and we highly recommend his podcast!  It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. You can find it at NovelMarketing.com or in your favorite podcast app.

One of Thomas’s recent episodes was “How to Write Book Reviews Readers Will Want to Read.I loved this episode because it covered a useful skill writers can use to help build a following among readers. Thomas talks about different kinds of reviews, different angles you can take for your reviews, as well as how to write reviews that are NOT boring. 

If you want to attract readers to your writing, writing reviews in an interesting way not only helps readers get to know you and your style, but readers love you for providing useful information for them. They WANT to find new books to read. I encourage you to check out this episode of Novel Marketing in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com, where you can find plenty of other book promotion and platform help as well!

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our September sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which is under contract with Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

149 – How to Overcome Decision Fatigue

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How to Overcome Decision Fatigue Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

Decisions. More and more of them are thrown at us today than ever before. And in so many cases, we just don’t have the knowledge or information we need to make wise choices. In fact, we have so many decisions and choices to make that we’ve become immobilized. Making decisions seems like the hardest thing in the world! Let us help you find ways to break free of the dreaded decision fatigue.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Remember how terrible we all thought 2020 was? I remember turning to my hubby, Don, on New Year’s Eve, and saying, “What if 2021 is looking at 2020 and saying, ‘Here. Hold my beer.’?” In other words, what if 2020 was just a warmup for 2021. We consoled ourselves that that couldn’t happen. And it didn’t. Not for us, at least.

Until March. When we discovered that our water heater was leaking. A lot. In came the workmen, and they discovered all manner of mold in all manner of places in our entryway…under the floor, in the walls, even under the subflooring. Thus began the unending repair process. 

Because of Karen’s lung disease and the danger the mold was to her, Don sent her off to Erin’s house for almost two weeks. Enough time for them to tear everything out, deal with the mold, then get the subfloor put in. Then, when Karen got home, they’d pick out new flooring and it would be put down in a week or so. Well…you know that old saying “Man plans and God laughs”?

The day before Karen went home, they found the water damage was more extensive than they thought. And it impacted not just the entryway but the kitchen. 

So instead of coming home to a mold-free house and having the fun of picking out new flooring, Karen found the entryway and kitchen cut off by plastic sheeting while they continued to work, tearing up the kitchen floor now. Good news, though. Don had saved a good portion of the flooring from the last time they replaced the kitchen floor, so at least we wouldn’t have to put a new floor in the kitchen. We chose a new floor for the entryway, which involved getting floor samples and taking them home and trying to decide which one matched everything best. Then it was Karen’s job to pack up everything breakable in the kitchen and figure out where to store it all.   

Yes, it’s too late to make this long story short, so we’ll just hit the highlights:

  • The workers ruined the piece of flooring Don had saved for the kitchen, so now Karen and Don had to choose new flooring for both kitchen and entryway. More samples brought home. More trying to figure out from those small samples what would look best. 
  • Finally, in June, the workers got all the new flooring in and were finished! Celebration! Then Karen and Don realized the new floor was darker than they thought it would be, so suddenly they were talking about and picking out possible counters and backsplashes! Do you have any idea how many types of counters and backsplashes there are?
  • Think we’re done? Hardly. Two days after their new floor was in, Don found the kitchen and the dining room flooded. The workers had pinched the tube going to the ice maker in the fridge, and it burst. Now the kitchen AND dining room floors were both ruined. 
  • Karen and Don went to order more of the floor they’d just had put it their kitchen. It was out of stock. No idea when they’d have it. So they had to schlep more floor samples and choose a NEW floor for the kitchen and dining room. 
  • Once again, after putting everything back in place, Karen had to pack up things in the kitchen and now the dining room. Then find room in the house to store two rooms worth of furniture and stuff. If she never hears, “Where would you like me to put this?” again in her life, it will be too soon.
  • The workers got the wrong color of paint for the dining room walls. They messed up the electrical so they had to bring in an electrician. And on and on it went, with Karen and Don having to make multiple decisions almost EVERY DAY

The job was finally, finally finished in late July, four long, decision-laden months. But by that time, Don and Karen were both dealing with:

Procrastination. No matter what a decision was, like what do you want for dinner or what shall we watch on TV, they both put off choosing. Karen had brain fog like never before.

Impulsivity. Karen would decide things by closing her eyes and pointing. If Don asked why she picked that one, she’d just shrug. She had no idea. She just wanted the decision to go away.

Avoidance. More than once Don told Karen, “I can’t deal with this right now.” Karen’s line was, “If I have to make one more decision, I’ll scream!”

Indecision. They’d waffle back and forth, then second-guess each other. And then snap at each other. Which brings us to…

Irritation. They were so mentally exhausted, if either one of them asked the other for something, it was like poking a tiger with a toothache. 

As you may have guessed, Karen and Don were DEEP in decision fatigue.

As we were talking that over one day, we realized that while not a lot of you may be facing what Karen and Don did, thanks to the state of the world today, you’re probably facing your own nightmares of one decision after another after another. Studies have shown that decision fatigue is rampant. No surprise when you consider the countless number of decisions the Pandemic has brought our way. Should we:

Wear masks, go to the store, send our kids to school, homeschool, let people come over or don’t, go to work, find a place to work at home, which news sources to watch, to read, to trust, go to church or watch online, travel or don’t travel, and on and on it goes. Medical, family, and safety decisions abound, and we have to deal with them all! 

That’s not all. Writers still have to make everyday decisions for their work and careers and story lines. I can’t even tell you how many online discussions I’ve seen with writers wondering if they should be honest about what they think on social media, how to deal with the censorship, should they address the pandemic in their books, what about cultural appropriation, will my factual historical storyline offend readers and should I change it, and on and on. And just when we think life is returning to normal, there’s a new crisis and MORE decisions to be made. 

Not just that, but what about every new marketing idea or social media fad that comes along? Should you hop aboard or sit it out?

It’s no wonder so many of us feel like crawling under the bed and not coming out until we hear the trumpet call of Christ’s return. And it’s no wonder so many of us struggle with decision fatigue. 

So what, you ask, IS decision fatigue? 

In an article on Usatoday.com, Roy Bauimeister, the psychology professor at Florida State University who coined the term, explains, “It’s a state of low willpower that results from having invested effort into making choices. It leads to putting less effort into making further choices, so either choices are avoided or they are made in a very superficial way.” 

Bauimeister adds in another article on Healthline.com that “decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.” 

The Newport Institute, in their article called “Change Fatigue and Decision Fatigue,” defines decision fatigue as “a mental overload resulting from constantly having to make stressful choices.”

Basically, our minds have limited energy, and when we are constantly making decisions, we drain that energy to a dangerous level. Why dangerous? Because when we don’t have the necessary physical and mental resources, we often make decisions that negatively affect our lives—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—and the lives of those we love. Bad decisions can:

  • Make us compromise our beliefs or convictions
  • Damage relationships, both personal and professional. It’s too easy to be swayed into a bad career move when we’re tired or mentally bound up. I’ve known authors who, in the midst of uncertainties and fatigue, sign a contract that seemed perfect only to discover when they were more clear-minded that they’d made a terrible mistake. One they couldn’t undo.
  • Leave us engulfed in anxiety, trying to figure out how to fix what we’ve done or caused
  • Damage our reputation, personal or professional, making it hard for people to trust us.
  • Have negative effects for years. In a devotional on insight.org, Charles Swindoll writes that, “Psalm 137 is the mournful song of a people enduring the grind of lingering consequences after a long history of bad decisions. The composer gives voice to the anguish of God’s covenant people, removed from their Promised Land, cut off from their birthright. As a band of Jewish POWs, they have been taken by the Babylonians into a foreign land.” Just read that Psalm and you’ll see that the Israelites’ poor decisions led them to years of imprisonment by other nations. And, as God warned them, their land was a desolation and a horror. They became servants to their enemies, all because they made poor decisions rather than following God’s leading. 

Another factor in decision fatigue is that the days of operating on automatic pilot, making decisions easily because the situation is familiar or routine, have gone out the window. Everything is changed. Everything is unpredictable. Too often we don’t have the information we need, or we have too much information and it’s all conflicting, to make wise decisions.

Look at publishing. Editors are making decisions about historical novels based on “sensitivity” readers or readers’ “feelings” rather than on historical facts. We heard from best-selling novelist Tamara Alexander about that in podcast episode 130. Contracts are being cancelled and books and/or authors are being blasted, even threatened, for perceived offenses. Just recently author Karen Witemeyer was awarded the RWA’s Vivian Award for the best romance of the year “with religious/spiritual elements.” An award that was rescinded by the organization when people came after them and Karen for “romanticizing” the Battle of Wounded Knee. In reality, Karen wrote a moving story of how God redeems a man who took part in the horror of Wounded Knee. But the “people” have spoken, and so the award was rescinded. 

The publishing world, both secular and Christian, has turned on its head. Some are calling censorship brave and necessary, embracing the very cancel culture it used to condemn. How on earth do we navigate THOSE stormy waters? Elizabeth Yuko, a writer and staff member at the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, expresses this well on USAToday.com:  “We’re …making high-stakes, moral decisions…that have consequences we’ve never had to deal with before. These things come with such a moral weight on them, it comes with even more stress.”

So, decision fatigue is real. As are its consequences. In the Healthline.com article, “Understanding Decision Fatigue,” the stress over time of having to make so many decisions can lead to irritability, increased anxiety, depression, and cause physical issues such as tension headaches and digestive issues. It can cause us to shut down emotionally. It can create mental stress, hinder our ability to reason and process things, reduce our desire or ability to compromise and work for a win/win solution, and, not too surprisingly, lead to depression.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, how do we know if we’re dealing with it? We talked about some of the signs already: Procrastination, Impulsivity, Avoidance, Indecision, Irritation, depression. Other signs include:

  • Inability to focus
  • Guilt for making poor decisions
  • Impulse buying
  • Fatigue that won’t go away

Does any, or even all, of that sound familiar? Yeah, it does to us, too. So what can we do about decision fatigue?

1. Take your struggle, and your decisions, to God.

Ask for peace, clarity, and wisdom. Remember Solomon? The wisest man who ever lived? In Ecclesiastes 7:12, he wrote: “Wisdom is a shelter…Wisdom preserves those who have it.” Don’t make important decisions without God’s wisdom.

Read God’s Word. Consider doing word studies on wisdom, rest, peace, knowledge, and other words you find calming and inspiring. 

Trust God to lead you. As He says in Psalm 32:8,10, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”

2. Share your struggle.

Talk with those in your family about the issue. Be honest, and let them be honest as well. 

Ask each other for help. Work together to develop a strategy to deal with decision fatigue. See how you can help each other in your places of weakness. If one of you loves to cook, that person can get input from everyone else to develop a meal plan for the week. If you hate deciding what to wear but one of your kids is a fashionista, ask for help choosing outfits for whatever events/appointments are coming up. Maybe you don’t even have to make that decision. That’s an important point to consider. Don’t make decisions that you don’t have to.

Talk with trusted counselors and seek their prayers and counsel. Remember how Moses couldn’t hold up his staff in Exodus 17? Aaron and Hur came alongside him and enabled him to do what God has asked. Let those you trust come alongside you, too.

3. Make a plan ahead of time for how you’ll handle decision fatigue when it hits.

Making a plan can take the pressure off when you’re feeling overwhelmed at having to make a decision. A good place to start your plan is with a primary question to ask yourself when you have to make a decision. It could be something like, “Which choice can God use to refine me?” or “Which choice will bring glory to God?” or “Do I need to be the one making this decision?” Work through the possible answers and responses until you have a workable “script” to follow. 

Churchleaders.com gives a great suggestion to add to your plan: Resist. “Specifically, resist external pressures that might affect your decision-making that are motivated by such things as partisan politics, bad theology, fear, anxiety or personal felt needs. It’s not that some external pressures aren’t worthy of being taken into account; just never allow yourself to make a decision simply because of external pressure.” 

4. Focus on self care.

Keep watch for the signs of decision fatigue. When you see them in yourself, admit what’s happening and take care of yourself.

Be sure you’re eating healthy. 

Get the sleep you need. This includes naps. If you’re fading during the day, a nap can work wonders. If you can’t nap, take a short break. Do something that rejuvenates you. 

Exercise. Exercise boosts endorphins, which make us feel more energized, and increases oxygen levels in the blood, which is imperative for thinking straight. The brain’s cells are hypersensitive to decreased oxygen in the blood. My dad always said if I was feeling tired, go for a walk rather than take a nap. I thought he was crazy until I tried it. It’s amazing how energizing moving and walking can be. 

Develop routines to cut out unnecessary decisions (e.g., what time you’ll write, when you’ll go to bed, when you’ll get up, etc.) and maintain them. We’ll be talking more in an upcoming podcast about how to develop habits and routines. Because again, that can help you decrease the amount of decisions you have to make.

Don’t be afraid of wrong decisions. Know you do the best you can with what you know in the moment. 

Step away. Give yourself time and space to think and pray things through. Don’t be rushed by the tyranny of the deadline. Consider Mark 6:31. Jesus and his disciples had been teaching and healing for days. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”

Never underestimate the power of taking the time to recoup. To let your heart and spirit reset on what’s most important. Remember God’s words in Isaiah 30:15, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” Don’t be like the Israelites who wouldn’t listen to Him. Take His truths to heart and rest in them. 

5. Focus on WHEN you make decisions.

Believe it or not, timing matters. Opensourcedworkplace.com shares a fascinating study done by the National Academy of Sciences back in 2011. Over 10 months they studied the rulings of over 10 thousand judges. What they discovered was that “the judges in a parole board who heard prisoners’ appeals early in the day were more likely to give a favorable ruling about 65% of the time. But as more and more decisions were made, with deliberations done over and over again, the chance of prisoners receiving parole in their favor dropped to almost zero. The researchers also recorded the judges’ two daily food breaks, and found that after the percentage of favorable rulings dropped to nearly zero, it jumped back to about 65% after each break.” 

Food doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your brain. The glucose enables it to have the energy to think more critically. Daniel Kahneman talks about this as well in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

In the case of the parole board, the judges decisions at times had nothing to do with the prisoners or the judges personal feelings. It was all about the timing. So, if possible, make your decisions in the morning after a good night’s sleep and after healthy meals.

God’s Peace and Wisdom to Overcome Decision Fatigue

We deal with so many strange things in the course of our lives as writers and believers. Where making decisions seemed easy, almost second nature, it can now become so overwhelming we’re frozen in indecision. But God doesn’t want you stuck in decision fatigue. He’s with you in every decision you have to make. He’s ready to guide you, to whisper truth and wisdom to your heart and spirit. Don’t let the craziness of the world make you forget that the God of the universe loves you unconditionally. And He offers you rest, peace, and wisdom. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:15-17: 

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do (or decide!), whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

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What are the hardest decisions you’re facing today?

THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST

We’re excited to have a sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast, with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. He knows what he’s talking about, friends, and we highly recommend his podcast!  It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. You can find it at NovelMarketing.com or in your favorite podcast app.

The last episode on Novel Marketing was An Author’s Guide to StoryOrigin. StoryOrigin is a useful service for authors trying to build their newsletter list, which is crucial these days for author marketing and connecting with readers.

StoryOrigin helps you create a landing page for your reader magnet, which is something you give to people when they sign up to your mailing list. StoryOrigin handles the delivery of that file so you don’t have to, which is nice, because trust me, readers can have all sorts of problems downloading files. 

StoryOrigin also helps authors connect with each other to develop a network for cross promotion. For lots more information about this resource, and it’s potential for you, check out Thomas’s interview with the creator of StoryOrigin on the Novel Marketing podcast in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com where you’ll also find lots more book promotion and platform help.  

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our September sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which is under contract with Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.