As habits develop, processes become routine. For example, I have a process for stacking wood. There are several different ways, but I found the one I like best for my wood storage area, taking into consideration access to our house, snow drifts, and levelness of the ground. I have had cords fall over, which is not only a time loss but dangerous as well. In my area of the world, I like to set old pallets down to keep the cordwood off of the ground; otherwise, the bottom row freezes into place and is available only after a thaw or some work with a sledge hammer.
While some of these habits you can learn from a book or YouTube videos, some of them just need to be experienced. Educational materials can get you close, but they will not get you a bullseye, and this has to be clearly understood. That does not mean educational material has no value, as it is key when trying to establish new habits to ensure you do not create a bad precedent, but in combination with experience it becomes much more so. Let’s go back to the commute example we used earlier. If you are looking at a map, it can provide very clear directions. If I need to plot my way to work, the map will give me the right directions, but there is no guarantee it will give me the best directions. Even mapping programs and applications will almost always give you the most direct route. It is after the experiences that I better understand the map; instead of reading of an intersection of “Wall” and “Stowe”, I can visualize that corner and have a rough understanding of the traffic pattern there, if used regularly. It is the knowledge of the road where it moves quickly or slow.
It applies to every habit that you create for yourself. It is human nature to look for shortcuts or the easier way. If I am at somebody’s house and they have split wood or used a different log splitter or chainsaw, I’m asking them about how it works. Sometimes it’s a cursory discussion, but other times it can be educational. Looking at how others do things and their success or failure is the basic principle of education. But these events are more worthwhile when your knowledge base is stronger. It is even better when you have routine and habit to build upon, because during the discussion you can visualize the event you are discussing, which should make it more applicable to you and, if it is routine, it is more likely that you will remember the conversation when performing the routine, allowing an opening for experiment or change.
Now there are more than several books on good habits, breaking habits, et cetera. Many of these are for the business world or to lose weight or have specific objectives. Some will be applicable or at least have some positive impact. We all have what works for us, and you will have to customize what works for you, but I will share how I look at it.
- Understand your end goal.
If you do not know why you are doing something, it makes it more difficult to do it well. Back to firewood, having the realization that this is being cut for firewood allows me to cut it to the right length from the beginning and save time. However, I also do not have to be overly neat as, again, it is firewood, so the primary concern is fitting into my stove to burn.
- Know the process chain.
Knowing all the steps helps as well. While my goal is to ultimately cut the wood to fit into the stove, having the knowledge that I will split the wood allows me to not worry about girth when cutting for stove size (although I still have to know how much I can lift onto the splitter or will have to do by hand). When cutting and splitting, having knowledge about how you will stack your wood saves time later.
- Understand the dangers.
Developing successful habits can also involve processes that are dangerous. While cutting firewood sounds fairly innocuous, it is fraught with peril. Here are some of the dangers with firewood that you should be aware of: tree toppling the wrong way or not as expected, chainsaw blade getting wedged, cords falling over, critters setting up home inside your woodpile, tripping over cut wood, splitting axe deflected, chimney fires, et cetera. This doesn’t mention muscle soreness from over exertion or blisters, splinters, bruises, and aches. Knowing the dangers helps minimize the risk, and there are many stories of those who have lost equipment, body parts, or worse while cutting firewood, so take any dangers seriously.
- Get going!
This is probably the most important point. Getting started is often the hardest, but once you get going the rest starts falling into place. Revel in the fact that you have taken that first step.
- Start with an open mind.
Regardless of what endeavor we are initiating, we have some preconceived idea of what comes next. Getting started is important. Realize you are going to make mistakes and probably make many changes. Be open to suggestions from yourself and others. Experiment when you can afford to in order to learn. For example, I have tried stacking wood in different ways and still do. I know what works, but I’ll try different things occasionally to see if it saves time or dries the wood better or is more secure. There will come a point where I’m satisfied with my process, but I still try other things occasionally to see if there is room for improvement.
- Set short goals.
Don’t try to do everything at once. For example, our process started with installing the wood burner and making sure it was safe and usable. The next goal was getting wood. The first couple of seasons, we purchased as much if not more that we cut ourselves. The following season was establishing a pattern of cutting and splitting our own wood and setting it to age properly. Now we are still evaluating proper tools and what we need to improve our process as well as building a small outbuilding for better protection of the wood.
- Evaluate regularly.
Take time to step back from the process and assess. What should I have done differently, and what can I change now to make it better and more efficient? While you may not be able to correct all your mistakes, it is still worthwhile to reflect upon them for future opportunities.
- Use all available resources.
When starting something new, use all your resources, from owner’s manual to Internet. Talk to experts and friends (realizing the differences), and look at how to apply them. The ones that you find the most insightful, save and reuse after three or six months. It will have a very different meaning once you have some basic experiences.
- Have the right tools.
Having the right tools is key to any job. Understanding the need in the right circumstances is also valuable. With cutting my own firewood, I’ve invested into a very nice Stihl saw (Farm Boss). In addition, I have a couple of axes and wedges (bought or given as gifts) and hand saws. I’ve had other chainsaws that are good for some work but cannot always handle everything. At this time, I am still evaluating log splitters and borrow my neighbors’ or split by hand. I am longing for a good quality log splitter.
- Think of alternatives methods to achieve your goal.
So after we have committed to a wood burning stove, invested in tools and equipment, have three years of firewood to go, I ask you to look at alternatives. Of course, my goal is heat and keeping warm, not the simple joy of having a fire. So alternatives could be as simple as additional insulation. The value of improving the weather stripping of windows not only becomes an energy saving project but a true trade off in labor of moving firewood. If I can reduce the heat leakage in my house by x%, that is x% less wood that I need to move over the years. Perhaps I am close to a place where I can access corn cobs inexpensivey and use that as fuel for my furnace instead of wood? Both electric and therma-electric fans to move the heat may be valuable to increase the warmth of the house. Solar could be considered as an additional heat source as well. The point of this step is to realize that there are multiple ways to increase efficiency, and some of it may be in finding ways to minimize use.
However, alternatives could mean finding a whole new way to heat your home. You may realize, unfortunately, that there is not enough lumber in your area to practically heat a home. There may be a more cost effective and less labor intensive process. This is why the majority of homes are heated with natural gas. It works great and is easy. While hopefully you fully vetted your options before you started, sometimes life just is unfortunate and you realize your mistake too late.
While I thoroughly enjoy the tangible knowledge of gear and gadgets or the basic how-to articles I find on SurvivalBlog, it is my belief that the mindset of individuals will be the key to getting through any grid down scenario. Book knowledge is good, but it is no substitute for real world experience. Real world experience is gained by “doing” regularly (not practice, not studying, not watching others) and routinely and having the various issues arise that you must overcome, i.e. instilling good habits. It prevents similar issues from reoccurring and increases your mental toolkit to handle the next issue. It also allows you to work on autopilot so your mind can figure out other issues while still keeping busy and handling tasks at hand. In a grid down situation, fear of the unknown may be paralyzing, but if you know instinctively through habit that now is the time to get the wood, feed the chickens, or weed the garden, it will give you a significant edge over those who are figuring these things out for the first time. In addition, habit is developed by experience over a period of time. Having a habit means you will also have a better understanding of the outcome, therefore relieving some insecurity for a very uncertain future. Good luck and start your path to good habits today.