Creating a Self Administered Sleep Scale

INTRODUCTION
These last few weeks have been a symphony of horror when it comes to sleep. I thought I had this nailed down, but in getting back from Spain from the States my sleep quality and quantity has been all over the place. This negatively affects almost every other habit I have, and it's a problem I've had for a very long time.

There are many variables I'd like to test out. The biggest problem I've encountered is finding a good metric that I can test variables against. A quick search resulted in this great overview. It outlines several scales, including:

  • The Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) Sleep Scale
  • The Insomnia Severity (IS) Index
  • Pittsburgh Sleep Diary (PghSD)
  • Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) Instrument

What I want is a simple self-administered scale (just like the SRHI for habit formation) that I can use as a base to deliberately test out behaviors to see what will affect my sleep. There is so much advice out there, but almost none of this is systematically tested. I've also had several friends who have gone in for sleep studies only to get vague advice in return, usually related to sleep apnea. 

EVALUATION OF SCALES
I found that the Pittsburgh Sleep Diary (PghSD) and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) Instrument both include too much detail and contain behavioral questions that I want to test out personally (how much alcohol did you consume, etc). I found the Insomnia Severity (IS) Index more feeling-based and difficult to assess with any accuracy over stretches of time. I found the Medical Outcomes Study Sleep (MOS) Scale good if applied to a week rather than the 4 weeks time periods questions were based on. The best thing I found was one section of the PSQUI on Habitual Sleep Efficiency (HSE). HSE is a simple weekly percentage:

# hours slept/# hours in bed X 100

I find this very elegant, but it does not assess quality of sleep. 

QUALITY OF SLEEP
Several questions spread out across multiple scales addressed sleep quality, so I decided to just collect them all irrespective of scale. Some had to do with daytime dysfunction (naps, sleepiness, alertness, enthusiasm), sleep disturbances (how many times did you wake up), and sometimes data collected from sleeping partners. 

Many of these questions dealt with quality of sleep during a month. Personally, I believe that remembering a month of sleep is not only inefficient, but highly inaccurate - I have problems remembering what happen a few days ago. That being said, I believe that assessing variables based on on one week would speed things along. Under the Likert-type scale, answers are based on sliding strengths of opinion. The SRHI is a great example of this with it's 7 point answer system, though many of the sleep scales have a 5 option system.

COLLECTING QUESTIONS FOR SLEEP QUALITY
Here are some questions I collected. I include this to show examples of not only the types of scales but how to potentially create self administered scales in the future, as I find them highly useful in productivity and personal development.

(All of the time/most of the time/a good bit of the time/some of the time/a little of the time/none of the time = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
How often during the last 4 weeks ...

...did you feel that your sleep was not quiet (moving restlessly, feeling tense, speaking, etc, while sleeping)? 
...did you feel that you got enough sleep to feel rested upon waking in the morning
...did you feel drowsy or sleepy during the day
...did you awaken during your sleep time and have trouble falling asleep again
...did you have trouble staying awake during the day
...did you take naps during the day
....did you get the amount of sleep you needed

  • From the IS Index:
    (0 = none, mild = 1, 2=moderate, 3 = severe, 4 = very severe)

-difficulty staying asleep
-how satisfied/dissatisfied are you with your current sleep pattern?
-how noticeable to others
-how worried/distressed are you about your current sleep problem
-to what extend do you think your sleep problems interfere with your daily functioning - fatigue, mood, ability to function at work daily chores, concentration, memory, mood

  • From the PghSD:
    (specific numbers/written descriptions)
    -how many naps?
    -how many times did you wake up during the night?
    -different types of waking up?
    -sleep quality - very bad, very good - whole scale between
    -mood on final awakening
    -alertness on final awakening
     
  • rom the PSQI:
    How many times do you...
    -wake up in the middle of the night or early morning
    -have to get up to use the bathroom
    -overall sleep quality
    -trouble staying awake while doing things during the day
    -enthusiasm to get things done 

NARROWING DOWN SLEEP ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS
I went through these and narrowed them down and modified them. There were several problems with this. First, I had to include multiple elements to the scale. The SRHI doesn't just include length of time with respect to habit formation. It includes length of time, automaticity, identity, etc.

Secondly,  the all had to be scored similarly. Some were on a 5 points scale, others were specific numbers (how many times did you get up during the night?). If there were differences, different types of questions would have greater or lesser weight. This seems really obvious, but I didn't think of it at first, and I think it's just something to remember in the future when creating metrics.

Thirdly, I had to figure out what time frame the questionnaire would be based on. Most of the exams I pilfered questions from were for a month. I don't think this is very accurate - I certainly don't remember my sleep patterns after a few days. So I'm going with a daily assessment with a weekly average in order to test out variables for a week. 

A MODIFIED SLEEP QUALITY INDEX

  1. [Sleep quality at night] How severe was the restlessness of your sleep?
    0=Very Severe, 1=Severe, 2=Moderate, 3=Mild, 4=None
  2. [Morning] How well rested do you feel in the morning?
    0=Exhausted, 1=Not Rested, 2=Moderately Rested, 3=Rested, 4=Energized
  3. [Rested, next day] How often do you feel drowsy or sleepy during the day?
    0=Incredibly drowsy, 1=Quite Drowsy, 2=Somewhat Drowsy, 3=A little drowsy, 4=Not at all
  4. [Sleep quality] How often do you awaken during your sleep and have trouble falling asleep again?
    0=Every Day, 1=Several Days, 2=A Few Times, 3=Once This Week, 4=Never
  5. [aps] How often do you take naps during the day this week?
    0=Every Day, 1=Several Days, 2=A few days, 3=Once a Week, 4=Never
  6. [General] How often this week did you get the amount of sleep you need?
    0=Never, 1=Once, 2=A Few Times, 3=Almost Every Day, 4=Every Day
  7. [Functioning] To what extend do you think your sleep problems currently interfere with your daily functioning?
    0=Every Single Day, 1=Almost Every Day, 2=A Few Times a Week, 3=Once, 4=Never

CONCLUSION + FIRST TEST
Right now, I see my sleep scale to be comprised of both the Habitual Sleep Efficiency (HSE) and the above modified sleep quality index. My intention is to take both every day to be averaged for the week. I'll be doing a controlled test this week, just to see how it works and the ins and outs of taking it. I'll check to see if some elements need to be modified.

Yesterday just happened to be a day that I had a particularly bad night's sleep. Since I already have a habit of sleep recording, it was pretty easy to figure out my HSE.

HSE = Total Hours Slept  (6) / Total Hours in Bed (11) X 100 = 54.5%

Sounds about right.

My, for lack of a better label, "Sukumaran Sleep Quality Index" was a little more difficult. Here were my results:
1. 0
2. 0
3. 0
4. I got up once
5. I took one nap
6. 0
7. 0

Numbers 1-3 were simple. Questions 6 and 7 could be modified to read "Did you get the amount of sleep you needed today?" and "To what extent did your sleep interfere with your functioning today?" respectively. Questions 4 and 5 were weird because though getting up once might be considered a medium response on the Likert scale, repeatedly having to get up over a week might result in a worse score. For question number 5, for a daily question my answer would most likely be binary - either I took a nap or I didn't. Added up for the week would result in a number that means something. So it's really difficult to take the scale accurately for a day.

It might just be best to keep all of this information, plus side notes - like the number of times I feel drowsy during the day (yesterday's total count was 32, tracked with my handy hand tally counter) - in a specified document, or appended to my daily log.


 

Towards A Master Writing Program

The last few weeks I’ve been under a lot of strain in terms of writing. It’s given me some additional clarity.

NaNoWriMo has honed my ability to bust out a first draft in record time. But that’s not enough. I see writing mastery as a linear game.

Level 1 - Draft Writing
Level 2 - Rewrite 1 - order, transitions
Level 3 - Research
Level 4 - Rewrite 2 - Word choice, how things are said, scamping
Level 5 - Proofing.

Various websites, including THIS one, divide the process into revision, editing, and proofreading, but I’ve seen it described in other ways as well.

This relates to an article I know how to do. This would change depending on the essay’s purpose. For example, writing a story is different than writing a pitch. A story may not need research per se, but may need more depth in regards to character development or world building. So this order might be altered in different scenarios, but generally the conception seems useful so far.

This NaNoWriMo I was under a huge time constraint and writing a draft was particularly painful. I found that in doing 20 (rather than standard 25) minute Pomodoros, I was able to consistently output 1,000 words per session for 3 sessions, after which I needed a break. I feel pretty damn good about that.

I found that in a more recent article, the pain period arose with the rewrite rather than the draft. And the same exact emotional problems arose: the need to do it all at once and the need for it to be perfect. In my mind at the time Levels 2 through 4 were jammed together. James Patterson’s Master Class sneak peak got me past that.

I also found that the pain of editing was very high. I noticed a pattern, that for every 20 minute Pomodoro editing session I paused at 12 or 13 minutes. That pause would break my concentration, and the remaining 7 minutes would be incredibly draining. It really reminded me of what I’d read about Flow states - that keeping in them requires constant positive and progressive stimulation. I appeared to go into mini flow states while working, but jump out of it at  around 13 minute mark.

At this point I didn’t seriously think anything of it. But I decided to experiment to see if anything changed if I instead did 13 minute Pomodoros. The results were quite staggering.

I was able to easily do 6 or 7 sets. I was able to more readily bypass the pain and work forward. I could go longer at a higher level of concentration, even if I didn’t pause after the alarm in order to take a break. It really reminds me of my breakthrough with waking up early - it’s not the alarm that wakes me up since I usually wake up close to an hour before it. It’s the act of setting the alarm and recording my sets that makes a mark on my mind.

I was also eager to squeeze in a Pomodoro even when I didn’t have much time, because, hell, it’s only 13 minutes, right? That is an incredible difference from constantly putting off the work. My failure to start issues evaporated.

It makes me feel, perhaps prematurely, that I’ve nailed the next level of writing. In the last few weeks it caused me to take more assignments than I thought I’d be able to do (what with jet lag and travel), and complete them successfully on a deadline.

There are a few other questions and points going forward.

I’m curious how this affects other levels. Research is the next lull I experience in my writing, and it’s something that I believe requires a strict cut off point, which is slightly different than simply recording 13 minute Pomodoros.

Other techniques, like scamping and a thesaurus at the ready with sentence wording and rubber duck decoding for proofing should be a default. For more complex articles, I’m also having problems with keeping transitions and open loops all in my head, and am testing out an idea that involves a distilled symbolic logic notation - like a programming language - to concisely summarize prose. That way I can easily see the global progression of an article complete with themes and specific transitions. It has still has a lot of kinks, but I hope it will really come in handy for the revision level.

Metrics really help with all this - knowing I can do 3,000 words in a rough draft per hour is relieving in its predictability. I don’t really have that with the other levels involved in completing a piece - yet. It’s something I should perhaps measure. I’m beginning to think I should keep a writing master log so I can better assess this.

This master plan also does not address skill pushes for other types of writing. I believe this is where classes come into play, replacing the role challenges play in other habits (or NaNoWriMo did for me with the draft level). Luckily there are plenty of resources -  I am taking a Gotham class on querying next month, and I’ve already bought the full James Patterson course for Lydia that I’d like to go through as well. The same goes for the specific Holly Lisle courses.

The point of all of this is that often enough knowing where you’re going takes so much of the stress out of endeavors. I often feel totally lost with writing, and have a sneaking suspicion that there really should be a more efficient way to progress in the skill - when I’m not drowning in panic. I think this is the beginning of such an efficient progression.

12 Methods to Combat Procrastination in Habits

I’ve just woken up and completed all tasks except writing. And I just can’t do it. All the procrastination mechanisms in my head kick into high gear. I’m checking email, Facebook, and Reddit incessantly.

This is understandable - writing for me is tied up with all sorts of emotions and fears, and it’s a task with many vague parts. This all reminds me of an article (now a book!) philosophy professor John Perry wrote long ago on procrastination. Procrastinators to him are rarely lazy. Rather, they have problems actually doing the task at the top of their list. His initial technique from the original article (I’m still reading his book) is incredibly unsatisfying: fool yourself into thinking that the top of the list is on the bottom, which works since procrastinators also have high self delusion skills. He then advocates a Lazy Susan approach - rotating tasks to satisfy that need for distraction.

This strategy doesn’t work for me. The task at hand for me is like touching a hot plate, it’s filled with an initial fear of pain, and nothing is going to delude me into knowing that the primary task is sitting their like a lump of hot lead.

Observing myself, I’ve come to some conclusions, however obvious. I get tense. It’s an almost unconscious avoidance. It definitely has to do with the magnitude of the task, and it stacks with tasks further on down the line that I’m not even working on at the moment that make it feel like an unliftable weight.

With that here are some strategies I’ve come up with:

1) A smooth NLP-like transition that robs you of agency. The ideal is the oft repeated intro line to most of the yoga classes I took back in 2005.

“As you bring your attention to your breath it will naturally lengthen and smooth out.”

NLP is a weird field, but one aspect I like about it is that it can function like an irrigation ditch for the pond of the mind. If I ask you to notice the tingling sensation at the back of your neck, it really doesn’t matter if there is such a sensation there or not; you’ve probably already brought your attention to your neck.

2) Relaxation. The rising sensation of panic followed immediately by tension and avoidance encompasses the emotional range of failing to start a task. In the face of relaxation tension cannot exist. So perhaps a relaxation routine can help the starting of practice. This could be something as simple as starting my music playlist.

3) Pomodoros. I used this to great affect this NaNoWriMo, spurring myself to action in spurts. I used a smaller 20 minute increments rather than the standard 25 minutes.
It’s exactly like a TinyHabit, but for an one instance of a practice session.

4) Drop Sets. Drop sets in bodybuilding is a technique of continuing an exercise at a lower weight after muscle failure at a higher weight. I think that if I can’t immediately start a session, there’s nothing going to happen except more dithering. I recently worked through this  this week by just dropping from 30 minute sets to 20 minute sets. I managed to actually do more work than I usually do despite an immense upwelling of procrastination at the beginning of the session.

5) The 3 second or 5 second rule, which I’ve talked about before. This works hand-in-hand with the previous point and the next one.

6) Jumping into the process with a timer. This has naturally been the best method for other tasks like meditation. If I don’t just start my timer, I just start dithering, but if I start it I’m pulled along almost despite myself. The 3 or 5 second rule helps out with this as well, preventing paralysis by analysis. This works hand in hand with:

7) Proper micro formation of a habit. The implementation intention isn’t just:

when [I take a shower] then [I meditate]  

it is more efficient (and prevents procrastination if it’s:

when [I put on my clothes after stepping out of the shower] then [I start my meditation clock and sit down]

6) Ritual. I’ve theorized before that a ritual can help lock in the idea of starting or easing starting an action. Athletes seem to use it to great affect, and it functions as a sort of kinesthetic form of anchoring.

7) Smaller transitions in advancement. Jumping from 5 minutes on a rower to 1 hour just doesn’t work. 5 minutes acts because it’s a small change - it’s easier to just do it. Jumping from that to an hour makes it so that there’s a huge wall in your mind. But at the same time you’ve developed a habit of doing that action. And there’s the real problem. On one hand you have to do the task because your habit is solid. On the other hand you cannot accomplish the daily minimum. You’re stuck, and because you’re stuck you can’t skip the task and go on to the next task.

8) Avoiding lags. The one thing I notice is that once I’m working, if there’s a lag, the same painful procrastinatory host of sensations comes up. It’s talked a lot in the discussion of flow states, the conditions of which are incredibly informative when it comes to forming a practice session.

9) Shuffling tasks. The Lazy Susan approach could potentially work to prevent lags. A long time ago when I started shuffling reading multiple books in a session I found I actually read more. I never just have one writing/work task to do - I have a bunch, so it might work to have a list to shuffle through if I ever hit a lag.

10) Artificial Starts. Holly Lisle advocates just writing a nonsense throwaway sentence to get started, which could be incorporated into a ritual.

11) An incredibly clear protocol. In writing I’m now very good at spitting out first drafts. In editing, I get bogged down, and this creates lag, which then creates procrastination and no forward momentum. I’ve discussed about a possible protocol for rewrites courtesy of James Patterson’s Master Class.

12) Block distractors like facebook, reddit, or gmail. I’m hesitant to use such surface level fixes because I don’t believe that they actually address the deeper problems. But it could be something to try.

photocred: tapping pencil by Rennett Stowe, stencil by Kat…, weights by jerryonlife, stop watch by Big Swede Guy, pawn by Rey-Ann Panaligan

2016 Year in Review

This has been my best year yet. I’ve experimented with a lot of theory, worked on expanding my habit base, completed a number of challenges successfully, all while traveling quite a bit and adjusting to life in Spain. I’d say the spheres I made huge strides in this past year include Habits, Challenges & Personal Records, and Theory.


Habits
-Demolished my badly formed eating habit and reformed it as a family of small behaviors
-Did the same to my “early wakeup” habit
-Made a superhabit of rowing
-Superhabit of food recording
-Superhabit of pantry checks
-Made a habit of Meal Prep Sunday, my first weekly habit
-Made a superhabit of mobilization
-Superhabit of drinking a morning glass of water
-Superhabit of recording eating
-Superhabit of recording eating
-Started a habit of setting a wakeup alarm, which may of just unlocked becoming a morning person
-Significantly progressed in meditation
-Successfully began implementing multiple habits at once

Challenges & Personal Records
-Completed multiple 8 week HIIT progressions of rowing - like it was nothing
-Completed a 30 day no alcohol challenge
-Completed multiple full courses online - the first courses I’ve completed in over a decade. This stretched my writing habit in all sorts of incredibly uncomfortable new ways
-Completed a 5 day National Novel Writing Month - 50,000 words in 5 days
-Reached over a thousand days in both daily recording and meditation
-Completed and submitted a formal book proposal for this project
-Worked on intensity of habits while traveling, including continuing a HIIT progression while on a conference in Aruba and meditating on camel back on a trip to the Sahara Desert. 

Theory
-Expanded on my theory of Delayed Onset Willpower Drain
-Formed an Identity Model of Habits, which seems to work better for pesky families of habits
-Experimented with Sandbagging in travel
-Reincorporated Challenges as a part of skill pushes rather than as a start to entering into a new habit
-Really delved into how to deal with skill pushes, the final major vector in my model of long term behavioral change
-Discovered mobilization, which I would include as an incredibly foundational behavior base along with meditation.
-Delved into Syncing with significant others, an aspect of vital importance most behavior change people don’t talk about
-Successfully worked on theories behind getting rid of habits

MOST IMPORTANT I have been successful with affecting others. Lydia is a year into a flossing habit. And my mother, is a full 30 days into a recording habit. She has completed this utterly effortlessly, despite, according to her, having so many troubles over the years of choosing to create a habit and sticking to it. I am most excited for her in the coming year. 

For so many, the New Year is a chance to change, but change in the old model is to flex some part of you inside and, statistically, to be found wanting in failure. This new model is about effortless change, where the structure of the implementation and progression bears the onus of success of failure. When my mom talks about how easy it was to get to 30 days, that is everything, and the greatest accomplishment of all for me in 2016.

What I Learned Completing NaNoWriMo in 5 Days - Part II

3) Uncertainty in my editing process prevents me from writing.

image

NaNoWriMo offers a virtual gift basket of goodies when you’re a confirmed winner. This year’s included a special Master Class session by James Patterson on editing a novel. 

What stuck out was his matter-of-factness on the number of rewrites needed.

“I like to do many drafts…but I do these drafts very quickly - I do not, I don’t get constipated, I don’t get worried, I just keep going, let’s do it again, let’s do it again, let’s do it again…”

Although I’m getting better at outputting a draft, I still get stuck on editing it. Why? For one, it’s a lot harder to quantify. I can quantify rough draft output, and because I have stats I can begin to troubleshoot. How do you judge the quality of an edit? Can you consistently know how much time it will take? Or score it based on its sliding strength quality?

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Because I cannot answer these questions clearly, the pressure to do a quality rewrite builds. Patterson doesn’t seem to care - there’s no pressure because he knows that he’ll do a bunch of them. And this prevents him from getting stuck. 

So taking from him, what if I matter-of-factly always had to do 3 rewrites? In my mind, just thinking about that already lessens the pressure I feel, and I think it might function very much like a lowered daily minimum does for starting any habit. Going to the gym for an hour might be a pain, but how does doing two pushups feel?

Conclusions:

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First, by quantifying my output it not only makes writing drafts manageable, but predictable. In a larger system of other habits, knowing exactly when I’ll get an article done is priceless. Right now, I can’t predict that unless I’m forced into it on a deadline, and I think that might be one of the bars of a true professional writer. This plays into all sorts of things like long term planning and the regimentation of my day.

Word count also helps me gauge my overall skill at writing rather than placing emphasis on one particular article - it shifts me into a process rather than goal driven orientation.

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Secondly, the Pomodoro Technique and just starting the timer completely changes the moment where the habit “fold” is created, especially how it should be efficiently created with implementation intention. Rather than “wake up, then start writing” it’s more “get up, then set up blank page and start timer”. It’s an interesting form of a failure to start, because here properly formed habit has nothing to do with the habit itself, it has to do with the starting of the session regardless of content. And this fits into a meta model I have on self change, namely that once we properly get a system of change going, it works regardless of starting state. Self change then becomes more about the system rather than the person. More on that in another post.

Lastly, mastery over writing, something I’ve struggled with, comes in three major parts. Writing a draft, research, and editing. I’m nailing the draft writing, but research still bogs me down, as does editing. But I believe that Patterson’s approach may definitely be the key to helping me with the latter. It may also be a technique for dealing with other habits where clearly quantifying progress is not as possible.

photocred: rewrite by Alonso Mayo, microscope by Kiran Foster, folded paper by Deb Etheredge

Back From Travels (And What I’ve Learned)

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Finally got back from a rather long trip with Lydia’s family. It involved a week around Barcelona, then a week in Morocco - from Marrakech, a road trip through the High Atlas to Fez (with a stop to camp in the Sahara - see above pic). Back in Spain we road tripped through parts of Southern France with a stay in Carcassonne, a stay Vielha  (in the Pyrenees), a day trip to Andorra, a coastal road trip through the Basque region, a stay in San Sebastian and Llanes in Asturias, and a beautiful drive through the Picas de Europa National Park. We finished with a stay in Bilbao before catching the early train back to Barcelona.

Whew.

But enough about travel (except for some additional pics) - what I actually learned with respects to this project were:

1) Vegetarians are crazy good at sticking to their eating identity. Lydia’s sister-in-law has been vegetarian for a long time and has traveled quite a bit. She makes it work. She buys food like yogurt and nuts and stocks it, eating them in case she doesn’t have good food options. She eats around meat on dishes. 

I’m realizing more and more along this project that the auxiliary actions - for me it’s Sunday Meal Prep, for her stocking up on veggie food items, make more of a difference than struggling head on with eating right (and behaviors in general). I need to learn how to do what she and other vegetarians in my life do.

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2) Proper preparation is still lacking in my travel protocol. I somehow didn’t carry a notebook and pen with me. I had multiple chances to change this behavior - I could’ve bought one back when we came back to Spain and had a night in Barcelona. 

Now, the normal old Biju would say - just do it - get a notebook, and continue to fail with this strategy again and again. But I’m not that person - this project looks into the mechanics of why I didn’t get one. And the truth is, I was too busy. I was doubling up on everything about 4 days before our guests arrived so I didn’t have any time or will to do the most important thing in travel prep: implement intentions and get the basic tools necessary for recording my habits.

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Because whether it’s my natural growing propensity for self regulation or this newer trick of artificially upping my basic willpower requirements a couple of days before, I’m doing my habits even in the weirdest of conditions. 

I noticed that my Achilles was tightening up while doing a lot of walking every day, so I started doing a few of of Kelley Starrett’s exercises in the back seat of cars (I need to get some more of his tools to do this even better while traveling). I meditated in cars, and even on the back of a camel in the Sahara. What I’m not doing, is recording those instances, which leaves me untethered to a master plan. So it naturally petered out towards the end of the trip.

One option in prep is to have the last day before travel be totally free and dedicated completely to mental contrasting and implementation intention for the trip - sort of like a moment of reflection elite athletes go through before the action, visualization exactly how every part of the race will go. So instead of giving myself time off after the trip, do a brief bit of it before the trip so that I don’t automatically self sabotage. How I’d incorporate artificially advanced minimums into this is something I’ll have to think about. Maybe 4 days of difficult routines, followed by the final day before the trip being completely free? I don’t know, I’ll have to experiment.

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3) Lastly, specifically lowering minimums can result in more output. This ties with the last point, but I didn’t even attempt to do any writing on the trip. One of our group journals without fail, and there’s really no reason why I couldn’t, if I gauged how to lower my minimums for writing. And I really haven’t pinned down a specific strategy to do this for all my routines.

On one hand, my ideal is to ratchet forward EVEN WHILE TRAVELING. On the other, there is value in keeping a minimal placeholder for a habit, and often times time requirements prevent the advanced instance of a progressed habit. 

While one day may give me the time to do a long walking session (most travel days are like this) I may not be able to do a full hour of serious writing. It’s more likely to be able to work on my eating than it is to do a 45 minute formal sit for meditation, especially if it’s an utterly full day. And I go back and forth on this - I think that it may well be that having a full habit while traveling is a level of habituation that’s even more advanced than a superhabit, and that skill need to be advanced to this level one at a time.

If that model is correct then the very first skill I need to master is recording, which underscores the biggest mess up I had on this trip.

“Changing Gears” & Pushing Writing

A colleague of mine always uses this phrase when she has to switch her work emphasis from, say, writing to photo editing -  and she does this ALL the time. Fresh off my travel and habit sandbagging challenge I was hoping to luxuriate in my slow and steady habits, but I need to change gears as well. 

I was hanging out last night with Lydia and she said something to the effect of “wouldn’t be neat if you were completely done with your book proposal by next Monday?”

Yes, Lydia, it would be. And she described it as tapping into the same mania that had me finishing NaNoWriMo in a week this past November.

“I can already see the gleam in your eyes,” she said.

She was right. So, I’m going to try it. It will also be a really good way to look into some concepts I’ve had in my periphery - Cal Newport’s idea of Deep Work, Scott H Young’s ideas on Deliberate Practice, and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of Flow

When I usually do a challenge I drop a lot of things down to minimums. In this case I’m going to drop meditation down to 10 minutes, simply because it really messes with my energy levels, I’m not at a place to really push it (I think I need to do a retreat or get used to sitting and meditating, both of which would require too much right now). Working out, even when doing 3 HIITs a week, is strangely relaxing and lifts me up, and other tasks are already at ludicrously low minimums. 

I also believe this will get me used to doing both parts of writing in concert - writing (scamping) and editing. I want to figure out a process for doing both really well. I’ve written about how for Flow states you need to have some sort of metric, and that’s easy enough for writing (words/time), it’s not so easy to grade editing.

But I guess we’ll see. You learn in the doing!

Experiment on Sandbagging and Travel: Part II

Conclusions (Did it work?):
I’d tentatively say…yes, but it’s hard to say without doing a control. I’ve never gone to the gym while traveling, and I’ve never had that much control over food while traveling. Doing an advanced HIIT was incredibly. Meditating during conferences, writing on the plane and during freetime at a conference…incredible, things I wouldn’t have thought possible for me.

Is it directly because I artificially sandbagged the system beforehand or have I just improved in general? I really can’t say. I did however learn several interesting things.

What I learned:
Patterns: There seemed to be an odd pattern or sense of balance for what I did and didn’t do. If I had excellent control over eating, I didn’t do meditation. If I exercised, I didn’t do writing. I set up a rudimentary scale counting each full completion as a 1 and a partial as a .5 out of 5 elements - eating, writing, exercising, food, and meditation. Here’s how it came out:
Day 1 - 3/5
Day 2 - 3/5
Day 3 - 3/5
Day 4 - 3/5
Day 5 -  0  

Despite the Reproducability Debacle, in my experience, the idea of Willpower as one depleteable resource seems to constantly prove itself true.

Challenge: I also got this odd sensation that this felt so much like a 30 day challenge, and everything that could be applied to them could be applied to this. Like 30 Day challenges, flash diet type exercises seemed to spur on my control. It also strongly felt as though it was its own progression. That is, the art of doing things while traveling is its own skill that progresses.

I can’t point to any data, but that’s how I strongly felt - like a new habit, you kind’ve scrabble around to get a hold of it for a bit at first, and only then do you actually make progress. Which is interesting because now I want to travel again to test it all out and grow more!

Possible strategies:
1) Flash diet everything. Take a pic of everything that needs to be done.
2) I feel gamification, even a pen and paper one, would work really well here. The competitive spirit really seemed to work mentally to doing stuff. There was this girl whom I’ll talk about more, who worked out every day early in the morning, and after talking about it with her she asked if I was going to show up at 5 am like her. I didn’t, I showed up at 7, but the challenge got to me. That should be harnessed.
3) Record. I failed miserably at this. Jotting down notes at the end of the day or at the beginning needs to happen. This is difficult because there were some days where I had to struggle to crawl into bed to pass out instantly. They had us running around a lot.
4) Wake up early…I managed to do this for two workouts, and that NEVER happens.
5) Eat regularly. Several breaks in willpower occurred after not eating. It’s easier to have control with everything, especially food, if you’re not quite ravenously hungry.
6) Implementation Intention! I did not do this and I knew better. Going in not having a plan makes you default to unproductive behaviors.

Overall:
I think this was an excellent experiment. And I will be able to do this again. I believe the best thing is to add just one thing. I did the sandbagging, it worked to an extent. If I just add an additional strategy, just one, it might contribute to the overall progress of this skill.

Photocred: lab notebook by Calsidyrose, all other pics by me and my insta account

Experiment on Sandbagging and Travel: Part I

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Hypothesis: Artificially stressing the system by increasing willpower/endurance thresholds through upping all daily minimums a few days before traveling will ensure an excess of energy to accomplish normal daily minimums.

I tested this by:
1) Upping daily minimums of major habits 4 days before I traveled.  I wrote more, I meditated more, and I rowed more.
I had to ensure that the system was stressed, and I believe it was - I was irritable, and I was utterly exhausted 1 day into the experiment. I didn’t have time to do everything the day before I left, but I did all my habits on Saturday which I also don’t normally do. I continued to be irritable, highly emotional, and exhausted on Sunday. When I started traveling all the emotional energy stressors seemed to drop away.

2) Observing myself when I was at the destination. I was situated in a hotel, taken around the island of Aruba for various excursions and food, but mostly I was in a conference room for the majority of my stay. From a habit standpoint this meant that I had time, I had stability, and I had a workout center.

My log (interspersed with pics from Aruba):

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Day 1 - Travel
Day 930 Record Keeping DID NOT DO
Day 902 Fixed Meditation 30 Minutes on plane
Day 776 Writing scamp on plane, 1021 words
Day 316 Rowing DID NOT DO
Day 57 Mobility/Stretching DID NOT DO

Food: Also made some really good food choices despite being on a plane. No sweets, opted out of rice, chose chicken instead of pasta. When we got to the resort, ordered relatively clean food, calamari, caesar salad, chowder

Day 2 - First day of the conference
Day 931 Record Keeping - DID NOT DO
Day 903 Fixed Meditation - 30 Minutes in the conference
Day 777 Writing  - Did some writing, but didn’t record it
Day 317 Rowing  - Went for about an hour walk
Day 58 Mobility/Stretching  - DID NOT DO

Food: Lunch, Cuban place, ordered fish, beans, rice, and plantains.
Dinner, a buffet and I made all clean choices

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Day 3 - Second day of conference
Day 932 Record Keeping - DID NOT DO
Day 904 Fixed Meditation - DID NOT DO
Day 778 Writing  - DID NOT DO
Day 318 Rowing  - HIIT, 20 min, 30s:15s, on elliptical
Day 59 Mobility/Stretching  - couch stretch, 2 minutes each side

Food: Breakfast, all clean choices. Lunch, AMAZING control - Caesar salad and ate around the croutons, had Lydia offering me the dessert several times, said no to it. Dinner, ate grilled mahi mahi, so also clean. Really amazing control with food this day.

Day 4 - Excursion Day
Day 933 Record Keeping - DID NOT DO
Day 905 Fixed Meditation - DID NOT DO
Day 779 Writing  - DID NOT DO
Day 319 Rowing  - LISS, 40 min, on recumbant bike
Day 60 Mobility/Stretching - couch stretch, 2 minutes each side

Food: Breakfast, clean, Lunch, buffet, made all clean choices. Dinner was a fancier place with lots of little croquettes for appetizers, I ate them. Main dish was all shellfish, relatively clean. Ok control here, still pretty good.

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Day 5 - Travel
Day 934 Record Keeping - DID NOT DO
Day 906 Fixed Meditation - DID NOT DO
Day 780 Writing  - DID NOT DO
Day 320 Rowing  - DID NOT DO
Day 61 Mobility/Stretching - DID NOT DO

Food, Horrendous control - no time for breakfast (early wakeup), 10 hour layover in Miami, ate Mexican. Across the 9 hour flight from Miami back to Spain I didn’t eat anything, I was sleeping. Got  back here and ordered Indian with all the fried starters and naan bread.

Alcohol for all days was out the window. I was deliberate about it, and I had PR people shoving complementary drinks in my face for the duration of my time their, as per usual.

Photocred: lab notebook by Calsidyrose, all other pics by me and my insta account
 

How to Reincorporate Challenges as Raised Daily Minimums (Beginning Habit Periodization)

This past month I completed a 30 day No Alcohol Challenge. It was great, I learned a lot, but now what?

Lydia reported seeing that many people, after completing a Whole Life Challenge, went back to bad eating as normal. I found the same case during my No Bread Challenge.

Back in the day I feel many people assumed that after 30 Days you’d get a habit that you could extend indefinitely. We know that’s not true. Nowadays, challenges are supposed to do something - but what? If we don’t harness them, we might as well have not done them in the first place.

The role of a challenge, for me, isn’t to jump start initial change. It’s to extend an already established small habit. If there are three vectors to long-term change - willpower to start the habit daily, habit to extend it and make it automatic, and the grit or deliberate practice needed to push past skill plateaus and increase intensity - then challenges belong to the third vector. Unfortunately this is the vector I know the least about.

I do know that there is a certain amount of …looseness or roominess… I feel mentally when it comes to the idea of ignoring alcohol at a bar with friends. There is a similar sort of freedom with my 8 week progressive HIIT challenge - it’s becoming easier to visualize myself trying something like Crossfit.

And I’ve successfully fumbled into progressive minimums for rowing - I started with HIITs twice a week for 8 weeks, and now I’m doing the entire challenge again 3 times a week. HIITs are now in my program to stay. What is the best way to do this with alcohol?

Lydia is adhering to a once a week drinking rule. I’m thinking of something more gradual, a twice a week drinking rule. It becomes really weird in this case because A) I didn’t have an established drinking habit and B) I don’t know how to concretely record a NON habit, especially one that’s so sporadic.

I’ve also been researching what’s at the heart of all of this - periodization. I’ve mostly been able to look at weight lifting, and it gets confusing very fast - there’s linear, non-linear, and newer undulating models of progression. And the thing that’s challenging - but good - is that it’s based on years of progress - microcycles, mesocycles, macrocycles, quadrennial cycles.

I asked Lydia how Crossfit did it, and she said it was a 6-10 week cycle dedicated either to endurance or power, and that it was based on percentages of a max. And that reminded me of my time in weightlifting where people talk about various programs - Strong Man, 5 X 5, Russian Volume, etc.

My main concern is HOW they came up with these formulas of when and how much to drop down to. For example, if I do NaNoWriMo, I’m writing at least 1600 words a day. Afterwards, do I drop down to 50%? 60 %? If I drop down too low it results in fewer gains over time. If I don’t drop low enough I run the risk of blowing myself out. I have no idea how you’d even begin to calculate that with a large set of athletes, never mind using only myself across multiple skills. It’s something I definitely have to dive into because it’s where all the fruition of my habits comes to.

And how much of this crosses over to other skills? There’s a lot of research to be done.

Strategies to Upkeep Intensity of Habits During Travel

If the gold prize for behaviors is being able to inculcate them extremely fast, then silver surely goes to being able to maintain and maybe even push habits through interruptions like travel.

Next month, Sept 12 - 17th, I’ll be traveling to Aruba for a conference. Normally when this happens I attempt lowered minimums for a few days, abandon all my habits, then pick them up a few days after I get back.

Doing that is really really good. Progress isn’t made, but my habits continue - and that used to be impossible for me. I’ve done this new behavior more times than I can count now.

But I want to push it. When I normally think about sustaining the same levels of habits through travel I think in terms of the minute - I think about if I’ll have the time, or if I’ll have access to wifi, or space to do pushups or whatever. This time I want to experiment by thinking of it in terms of general mechanics.

I see people who do sprints and workout while on vacation - why can’t that be me? Maybe it’s not the details that matter, maybe those are excuses used to cover a lack of willpower?

The next question becomes how can I increase willpower for the duration of that week? In “Sandbagging” I described Lydia’s idea of starting more habits and later losing a few in order to artificially boost the remaining one. In “Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem: Strategies” I describe a “Dragon Ball Z/Kung Fu” Method of pushing skills.

Widening this theory, what if I increased the system load of all my behaviors the week before the trip? Generally speaking I tend to feel the affects of such loads several days to a week later. My theory is that by overloading the system before, I’ll be able to artificially boost willpower in the system by dropping down to my regular habits.

What does that actually look like?

I’d say that 4 or 5 days before traveling I’d up all my minimums. 4 rounds of writing, 45 minutes on the rower for LISS, and additional 20 minutes of LISS on HIIT days, 45 minutes of meditation, extra mobilizations, earlier sleep times.

Then drop down to normals once I get to Aruba.

Here’s hoping it works!

Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem: Strategies

I have a few ideas on how to juggle the problem of multiple skill pushes:

The Cast Method - making sure everything is exactly the same, or minimal, while ratcheting up a skill. For example, increasing rowing from 20 minutes to 30 minutes while keeping everything the same. This method is usually based in fear for me because I don’t want my whole routine to fall a part (like it has in the past). Another better method MIGHT be…

Sandbagging - I initially viewed this method to implement habits, but I think it could be used as a safe diagnostic tool to discover where the breaking point is. Take two or more skills, push them, and as soon as things start to get wobbly, drop back all skills to normal levels except one. I believe that this will also solidify that one skill’s advanced practice.

Fracturing - Cycling practice. When I had a daily practice of 1 hour of cardio at the gym, I usually did an hour of recumbent cycling. But it was pretty boring. It was actually easier to break it up and do half on the cycle and half on the treadmill, or into 3 with the last 1/3 on the elliptical. I feel this would really work well with practice that involves an extension of time.

Gamification - NanoWriMo, the Flash diet, I feel this is fantastic for 30 day challenges. I actually think it’s better for pushing skills than it is for making skills habits. 

Ritual - I keep meaning to write a massive post on rituals. The idea for me is that these small things ease the transition between the normal day and the place in the mind where difficult things happen. For example, when I was trying to establish a non-bracketed habit of recording my food, I made tea. I got to the point where I really enjoyed the process, and so I enjoyed the quiet time before bed where I recorded.

I did the same with writing for a while, and it’s something I still need to fiddle around with. Personally I think Ritual is like a proto- or ur-game or motivation - it just helps to lower that starting threshold, whether it’s starting or pushing a habit.

Changing multiple skill variables to maintain equilibrium- I mentioned one example of this already - my 8 week HIIT cycle, where it folded really well into my already established rowing habit. I think it worked because though it was more intense it wasn’t longer - equilibrium was maintained so there was no real load to the system. I think I have more problems increasing my base time. I like the idea of this best.

The Dragon Ball Z Kung Fu Method - Artificially intensifying practice in order to then lower it to higher base levels, but nowhere near the levels set during the initial push. 

In the cartoon DBZ and in many legendary “iron” kung fu trainings a practitioner would weigh himself down, or in the anime, train at weighted artificial gravity. After getting thoroughly used to the weight, they’d take the vest off and then would be able to fly, have preternaturally fast reflexes, or be incredibly light on their feet.

When I did NaNoWriMo, where some days required 13,000 words, going back to my normal writing quotas was incredibly easy. But I haven’t deliberately done this technique very much, so it would be interesting to practice this.

Where does this leave us?

So while my normal “Cast Methodology” relies on a natural growth in willpower to lift the extra load, gamification and ritual seem to lighten the new weight. Sandbagging and the DBZ Method both use comparisons in feeling and temporariness to advance practice. Changing variables and fracturing appear to cause as little load as possible. 

And fracturing also uses the feeling of doing multiple things to fool the mind into thinking things are going faster - it’s like hanging out with a friend. You go to one place for an hour, and it may be tedious, but go to three places in that hour and it feels like you’ve done a lot more and you know that person more. Depth of experience or relationship in this case acts as a stand in for depth of practice.

I still don’t know what skills I plan on moving forward, but this at least gives me a bit more clarity on my options.

photocred: chess by Ruocaled, ritual by rahul rekapalli, shaolin by Sven Laqua

Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem: A Rudimentary Skill Push Scale

Based on previous behaviors in this project, it appears that Skill Pushes come in several flavors or vectors:

-Classes
-Time (meditating for 10 minutes to 30 minutes)
-Reps (flossing one tooth to flossing all of them) 
-Deliberate practice (focusing on problem areas and working them)
-30 Day Challenges (like my no bread challenge or NaNoWriMo, or even the 8 week HIIT thing I recently completed - “30 Day″ is just a catch all)

When I think about it it becomes pretty clear that there is a difference in difficulty or weight with these pushes. Assuming Tiny SkillPushes ™, from lowest system load to highest I’d organize them like this:

1) Reps
2) Time
3) Classes
4) Deliberate practice
5) 30 Day Challenges

Why? When I think of increasing my meditation by 5 minutes versus doing 5 more pulls on the rower, I’d pick the latter. The same is the case with adding another glass of water in the morning or going from flossing 1 tooth to all of them. I think it just has something to do with the active nature of added reps versus just ENDURING more time. Enduring is just more painful (to me).

Those two are definitely easier than classes, where you have to do all sorts of other things like interact with people and do homework. And that is preferable to deliberate practice where you have to essentially come up with your own class. There is a big difference between doing a module where you give over some agency to a program, versus poking and prodding to find what your weaknesses are. When I used to play the violin I used to absolutely hate doing this, and it’s probably why I never got really good at it despite having played for over a decade. 

Lastly, I find 30 Day Challenges to be a huge drain on the entirety of the system. When I do NaNoWriMo, I usually reduce other behaviors to minimums, though it’s getting easier. Also challenges are challenging and are not tiny pushes by their very nature.

As an aside, classes used to be incredibly difficult for me. But incorporated as part of an established habit, I sort’ve go on autopilot. Homework? No problem, because I no longer do everything at the last minute. I automatically start doing something, so simply processing what another person tells me to do (rather than trying to figure out where my effort has to go myself) is exponentially easier. It’s also an important reason why all this self-help stuff should be incorporated together as part of a whole system.  

But why was my 8 week HIIT program so easy? I think it’s because I was mixing variables. It was a part of an established routine which is based on time - 30 minutes. The HIIT was more intense, but it was for a shorter time.

I think skill pushes can mix and match these variables. If I were to go to a meditation retreat I would consider that a “Challenge” - but it would be a challenge because it’s increasing time of practice to several hours a day. At the same time, I’m presumably not doing ANY of my other routines while on retreat. It’s also not forever, while things like flossing would be an increase for GOOD. Though presumably a retreat would make a time push from 30 minutes to an hour look like nothing.

photocred: scales by Hans Splinter, violin by Jason Hollinger, doodle by Allie

Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem

There’s a problem looming on the horizon.

Until now most of my habits have been quite simple: a solid meditation habit, a steady exercise habit, nano-habits for identity clusters like drinking a glass of water or recording food or sleep.

But I’ll soon be at a point where most habits will need to be pushed - and I have no idea how to juggle that.

I’m not without some knowledge. I’ve pushed meditation time wise to 30 minutes. I recently completed an 8 week HIIT progression in rowing, I’ve taken classes in writing. But since there were so few of these I’ve had quite a bit of space to maneuver. I think when I have a wall of behaviors where the only thing to do is to push - mobilization, eating, writing, meditation, exercising, getting up early, etc.  - it’s not going to give me a lot of wiggle room.

I could do the same thing as I am doing now. Keep everything in a cast or reduce daily minimums to conserve willpower while I shift one skill into a different gear. But certain habits are crying out now (or will be soon) for a push. For example, in meditation, it feels as though 30 minutes just isn’t enough, and many books talk about “getting the dosage high enough” to progress. Which means that though my 30 minutes gives me good basic practice, I’m not really reaping more rewards like I would with flossing. One could argue that all exercise is like this - our bodies just adjust and you have to adjust with it or face diminishing returns.

I think one thing I can do is analyze the differences between types of skill growth. Is drinking two glasses of water really going to cause me as much system wide stress as adding more writing? I’m guessing not. What about moving my bedtime curfew from 1:20 AM to 1:00 AM? Should I do this now, even if it’s not fully a superhabit?

I’m also curious to test the limits of all of this. I have a sense sometimes that I’m giving myself too MUCH wiggle room, and tightening and compressing the whole system will give me more forward acceleration. My fear is that everything will collapse, which is a legitimate concern. But I have a series of behaviors that are already in place to prevent complete system wide failure (habit recording comes to mind - I’m always going to recover even if it takes a few weeks). I also have some ideas on how to mitigate such a collapse - like sandbagging, which could actually help the skills that aren’t dropped.

This is all so vague, and I don’t really know anyone at all who is discussing the pushing of skills in multiple behaviors. In the next post I’d like to try to clarify some of the terrain from just my basic intuitions.

photocred: storm by Augie Ray, gears by Gillie Rhodes, speed limit by jatin_kumar

Formalization of Stretching and Bedtime Curfew Habits

Stretching

I pulled my hip badly and am still recovering. I’ve been reading The Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza the guys behind Mobility Wod.

I’m pretty sold. If meditation is process oriented skill for all mental interactions in life, then their description of mobilizing and stretching is the process oriented behind-the-scenes skill for all physical activity. And it’s especially necessary for someone like me, who has gone from one injury to the next constantly over the course of decades. Plus, it’s just good for you.

They seem to know what their talking about, they have tons of exercises online that progress, so….

Implementation Intention

I’m going to start tomorrow with simply researching and attempting one or two stretches. I’m still learning and reading, so I’m hoping a lot of stuff will clarify itself. I’ll do this after my writing and before my exercise/rowing.

Mental Contrasting
Positive: It will help brace me for better movement and hopefully prevent injuries that I’ve seemed to constantly get into in the past. It will prevent those long periods of healing where I lose all progress.

Stumbling blocks: I don’t see any except that I’m new to this and will have to read a lot to get to a point of proficiency. But starting small will allow me the time to form a routine and learn at the same time. Luckily it seems so far it will be a habit I can do without specialized equipment in any location - so travel won’t be a problem.

Bedtime Curfew
Another small habit I’ll introduce to my greater Early to Rise project is setting a specific time, closing my computer, and heading to bed to read. I have a tendency to just stay up for no good reason. My sleep recording suggests that I generally get a set amount of sleep, I just need to shift over the time period (which is not at all what I expected - I thought I had problems getting to sleep and that I slept too long). So

Implementation Intention
On average, from the data I have from my Sleep Recording, I tend to go to bed a little before 2 am. If I’m going to keep with making small changes, I will intend to go to bed at 1:20 am. At that time I’ll close my computer and read.

Mental Contrasting
Positive: I hope this will help me wake up earlier, thereby increasing both the feeling and actuality of my productivity.

Stumbling blocks: Initially feeling like I have to stay up because I haven’t had enough time to do anything during the day. I’ll initially feel like I’m cutting short my day by going to bed earlier while not getting up any earlier. At this point, keeping it nice and easy with going to bed at 1:20 am - I don’t see there being any problems with the few times I stay out late since I don’t really do that anymore. I don’t foresee any travel problems except very occasionally. I do worry that I might have problems actually getting to sleep, but I think that’s a problem for a different habit.

Formalizing Meal Prep Sunday

A month or so I came across a subreddit called Meal Prep Sunday. It was exactly what you’d imagine - people were making all their meals for the week on Sunday in an effort to automate their eating routines.

I have repeatedly had problems with such automation. One reason involves what I described before in posts like “Syncing with Significant Others” - Lydia and I just have different eating times to our schedules, and if we are off, the likelihood of just cheating increases. The cheating is less about craving and more about convenience. It’s also just plain hard to stick to eating well.

The last three weekends we’ve been trying out meal preparation on Sundays. We bought a bunch of glass jars, we cut up all our vegetables (which is super easy now that we have a good food processor) and I make a stock. We only do lunches right now - either salads or soups - and that alone is working out fantastically.

I see this as a huge step forward in my eating. I can also see this fitting into a larger series of food habits progressing forward. To have a half step like this makes the thought of doing a Whole 30 Challenge almost like an afterthought rather than a true struggling challenge. It’s as though these counterintuitively small habits are foreordaining future successes (as described in “Towards an Identity Model of Habits: Part III”). 

This strategy is, to me, a different one compared to most normal habits, where I’m striving for the next level of mastery and automaticity. In this identity model it feels almost like the reverse - nail the small bits and whatever 30 challenge isn’t about enduring - it’s an afterthought, it’s finishing school, it’s icing on the cake. 

This is really important, especially for eating, which we don’t really think of as a skill that can be fully mastered. Until now I’ve usually thought of it as binary - either I’m not eating right or I am. Now it’s progressive, and I’ve never really seen that - I’ve heard of people talk about it like it should be implemented in small ways, but I’ve never seen the full progression, and that’s really important for people starting out, or people like me who are just horrible at it.

Meal Prep Sunday also marks the first real non-daily habit I’ve gone after. I’m formalizing it here in this post, and am very curious just how slow it will take to crystalize. It’s also a messy habit - it involves a bunch of routines, and I’m really curious if this is the proper way to encode it for maximum long term success.

Implementation Intention:
When I first get up on Sunday, I’ll work with Lydia to make a stock, go to the store to get veggies and proteins, and put the meals together.

Mental Contrasting:
-Positive: As I said before, I think this is a very solid half step towards mastering eating for life. This change in identity foreordains success with energy levels, general long term health, and weight loss.

-Stumbling Blocks:
Doing anything on Sunday can interfere with this habit. If I travel, there’s really no way to do this, though to be fair I’ll probably be eating out anyways. If I want to meet people up or do a day trip that involves weekends or just Sundays meal prep will be thrown into disarray. Compensating would really work well with getting up early. This just underscores that good habits have a tendency to support each other just as bad habits support each other, making it incredibly hard to make global behavioral identity shifts.

Secondly, there are a lot of behaviors here. The implementation intention isn’t really precise. What is the “if”? I’d say either when I get up, or after my weekend morning routine - so after I do my pantry check, water & bacon, and note down my sleep times, I do this. Ok, fine.

But what is the “then”? Do I go to the store, do I start chopping? Do I just get all my jars out?

Eternal Recurrence of the Habit Former’s Soul

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A few days ago I was bemoaning my lack of social connections in this city. I am, or used to be, a very social person, and I miss having a solid community after a few years of hopping around from place to place. Now that I’m in a city I love, it’s just not happening.

This wasn’t a normal frustration based simply on not having friends. It was about feeling behaviorally undercut - that I couldn’t develop those connections because I had so many other things to work on that should have been taken care of already.

Then I had a weird sense of deja vu, a sensation I’ve been experiencing more and more during the course of this project - I had felt that particular set of emotions before. When I was in Brazil, slowly and painfully developing my recording habit, I bemoaned the fact that working out and trying to get in shape just wasn’t happening.

Since summer has officially begun in Barcelona and the siren call of the outdoors is singing loudly to me, I recently bemoaned why I can’t already just be an outdoor person. I’ve sensed that feeling  - the undercutting - when waking up late, feeling rushed, and knowing that I should have already become a morning person. It’s a weird sense of guilt of not already doing something, like when I feel like I’m not being enough of a traveler here in Europe. I’m working on things, I know, but the guilt wells up when I see people coming for a week and really soaking up the culture in a way I’m not ready to do yet.

But when I set that feeling aside and work on nailing the small behaviors I get somewhere. When I run around from one pull to the next I make absolutely no progress.

Suddenly I felt really happy - I’m nailing my eating, which I bemoaned before. I’m nailing working out, which I also bemoaned before. I have no doubt I will get around to mastering the shift to becoming a morning person, and outdoors person, and eventually a social person again. 

But this time around, I will bring all my other habits to socializing - it won’t be staying up late nights, or eating whatever, and having friends with whoever happens to be nearby just because it’s convenient. It will be me becoming the specific type of social person I want to be. 

That’s a place I’ve never been before.

photocred: Stairwell by mark, chess pawn by Ahd Photography

Implementing a Wakeup Habit

As of last week both my small eating habits became superhabits. My plan was to either start a wakeup plan, advance in eating by doing a meal prep on Sunday, or start a walking/being outside habit. 

Lydia and I just got our city bike share card, and had a fantastic day cycling along several beaches, checking out a food festival, and exploring a park. It got us really excited and we sat down and decided we want to become outdoorsy, that we had to do it because of how easy it was. The main problem is that most difficult of freelancer dilemmas: waking up early.

We’ve both been dragging on getting up, and it’s always been on my list in order to cram more things into the day. But, as with eating right, I’ve attempted this habit many, many times and failed. So, as with eating, I’m going to tackle this as an identity based habit.

In my main blog post on how to construct such a megahabit - “Towards an Identity Model of Habits: Part III” - I talk about several methods to hit the problem:
-Social Identity
-Certifications
-Affirmations
-Greasing the Groove
-Counterintuitively Small Habits
-Quantified Self
-Falling in Love
-…and Miscellaneous Advanced Options

I think, when surveying options, the main thing to remember is that for these types of habits, the one thing you don’t want to do is to yet again attempt the habit you’ve tried to introduce before. We seem to think that THIS time it’ll be different, that this time if we really believe and clench harder, things will change, when we’ve seen our methodology fail time and time again. The answer lies in attempting new strategies.

I have always attempted this habit by just setting an alarm early and buckling down inside and just DOING IT. That has never worked. I’ve more recently tried Flux, a program that changes light on my computer and setting progressively early times to just get to bed. Those worked better, but eventually failed. 

The method for identity habits should be the inverse - enacting smaller, less directly connected behaviors and building upon them so that when it comes to do the obvious, direct behavior, it’s almost like an afterthought.

Look, it’s not as though we can’t force ourselves to get up early. If I have to be on a plane, if I have an interview, if I have a job, it’s done. But that’s not what I’m talking about by these deep habits. I don’t want to wake up early, I want to be a Morning Person.

So THIS TIME, I’m going to start with three small habits. The first is recording (from the quantified self option). But I don’t like all the fancy apps and gadgets that attempt to pinpoint REM cycles based on body movements and whatnot. All I want is to keep it simple and record what my wakeup and bed time was for the day before. This is great, because I can build the recording into my food recording superhabit.

The next thing I’ll do is drink a cold glass of water as soon as I wake up. After looking at dozens of websites on how to wake up early, this has been one of the few consistent pieces of advice (I’ll consider this taken from the “counterintuitively small habits” category”).

Thirdly, I’m taking a cue from the “Fall in Love” Category.  One other great piece of consistent advice has been to do something that makes you excited to get up. Krissy Brady from Lifehack writes:

One thing we tend to lose as adults is the feeling of freedom we had as kids. When we had no sense of schedule, deadlines, goals, or pressure, we were always emotionally available and our imaginations made us feel like anything was possible. 

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/10-simple-strategies-wake-early.html

A lot of websites circled around it, but this is my real issue. I use to LOVE getting up in the morning as a child, and somehow, I’ve lost that. I was thinking about what things I’d love to do that give me that same sense I felt as a kid. Going to the beach, definitely, but it’s too long. Other websites talk about having no pressure mornings, but for habits and willpower, nothing beats tackling your hardest task at the very beginning of the day. And then the most ridiculous thing came to mind: making bacon.

As a child bacon was a treat. My mom made it only a few weekends, but those were the days I’d wake up early, I’d go biking, I had long mornings drenched in sun and anything was possible. It somehow encapsulates that precise spot of childlike glee. And because I’m eating primal, it’s not even cheating. Hell, I could use the cals - in Brazil I only got over a long plateau after I started munching on chicharrones. It’s easy, it’s a treat, it’s ritualistic, it’s in my home and doesn’t take too much time, and I can drink a cold glass of water while I’m frying it up. Done.

So my implementation intentions are:

After I record my food, I will record when I went to bed the night before and what time I got out of bed that morning. I will record this on the same spreadsheet I record all my other habits. 

As soon as I get up I will make two slices (let’s not get too crazy here) of bacon. While I’m doing that, I’ll drink a cold glass of water. I will then grab my coffee and do my pantry check.

Mental Contrasting:

Positive: Waking up early will allow me the feeling of being a child, the feeling of unlimited energy and potential in the day. I’ll be able to take my time in all my tasks, from working out to writing. Afterwards, I’ll be able to get out and explore my city, which also gives me childlike glee. And it’ll give me the space I need to do more.

Stumbling blocks: I will forget what time I went to bed - I’ll have to have a place to note that down, and I’ll have to remember to write down what time I woke up. I’ll also have to remember to get bacon at the store - OH WAIT, it’s on my pantry check (finally some habits are building off others)! If I’m traveling I might not have bacon or a place to cook it on - though if I’m traveling I’m usually waking up early anyways.

Girl waking up by Gabriela Camerotti, vintage alarm clock by H is for Home, glass of water by Gioconda Beekman, bacon by Jazz Guy

An Identity Approach to Alcohol - Part II - Potions, Pleasure, and Skill

Alcohol as a Potion

What ratchets everything up is that alcohol erodes that self control. I think I just don’t think about this enough.

Imagine the opposite. If there was a potion that magically imbued you with a top up on willpower with no real downsides, why wouldn’t you drink it?

By this logic, why would I drink a witch’s brew that leaches self control every time I sip at it? And because of my progressively lower tolerance, that factor is progressively increased. It seems totally and utterly counter to this project more than any one thing.

I never drank until I turned 21. When asked “why not?” I would reply “I have little enough control over my life as is, why would I want to give up more?” What changed my mind was a fusing of two distinct sides of my self. Socializing becomes one with drinking, and I think this is quite normal in adults. As I delve into habits I realize just how fused some of them are, and that improvement involves an uncoupling.

Hedonism

How do you socialize without a drink in hand to lower the awkwardness and anxiety of interacting with new people? I had this conversation recently with a friend who was quitting for a month - he had done this the last few years and was thinking of making it permanent. 

It started with him waking up with to a bad hangover, and being struck with the visceral realization of it simply being chemical. Why would he choose to feel bad based on a few hours of fun?

The Greek hedonists talk about how certain sacrifices are needed to extend and deepen the joys of life. We could choose to go on a drug and booze fueled bacchanalia, but for how long would that last before we cut short life? How many conversations are forgotten? How many true relationships do you have rather than a filler person that’s simply there? I think I haven’t truly explored what fruits that trade off would entail.

For my friend, it just wasn’t worth it. Sure, he said, he might have moments of awkwardness, the moments of feeling like an outsider at social situations. But in knowing a bit of skill acquisition in social dynamics, I know that’s a pain period that gives way to true social skill - after all, I interacted plenty enough with people before I took a sip of alcohol.

Years ago I was talking to another friend who was having problems socializing. He was reading quite a bit of existentialism, and we were talking about feelings of isolation in crowds  -  in the midst a party. I told him that when I felt that rising isolation I imagined the party as a ritual. In order to gain connection  you have to wait, you have to sip the libation of the rite in order to gain its rewards. It was a combination of all of it - a bit of drink, waiting in awkwardness, and then it usually comes together. It was more of a begging thing, you see. I wanted my friend to stay out, I didn’t want him to be alone and sad like I had so often been.

I’m now beginning to see many sides to that dance. I’m beginning to believe another sacrifice can be made -  greater awkwardness in lieu of the drink in order to gain even more - deeper connections that last beyond the rite.

Skill

Oddly enough pickup artists are perhaps the greatest advocates of not drinking in social scenarios  Initially the subgroup focused specifically on seducing women, but it has grown to cover all elements of social behavior, from business networking to forming a social group in a new city, for the purposes of being a more whole, fulfilled person. Pickup artists treat socializing as a skill to be learned like any other. 

Most adults never learned social skills in a methodical manner. We happen across our skills, and so very often we grab for the glass as a crutch to lower inhibitions and loosen tongues. To become truly skilled is to execute behaviors without any such aids.

In this manner I see actually learning social skills methodically as an answer to the awkwardness. Focusing on skill sets rather than any given interaction also means that awkwardness becomes a pain period on an ascending path of refinement rather than you as a person being odd. It’s less personal. And it works a lot like vipassana, where precise noting of the details of a painful experience pushes you to master it.

Potion by Roberto Milloch, Dionysus by Derek Key, monks meditating by Renee Barron

An Identity Approach to Alcohol - Part I

Intro

At several points in this project I’ve dabbled with the idea of giving up alcohol completely. This point reared its head again a few nights ago when I came back home after drinking more than I usually do for an outing. I managed to make a pepperoni mushroom and blue cheese pizza with a herbs de provence crust from scratch, which was funny, messy, and also not at all in my eating plan. I woke up late. I was slow and less than optimal with some of my habits. I almost completely forgot to do one. I had a hangover and drank coke to make myself feel better.

Of course drinking “too much” for me isn’t really an accurate description. Nowadays if I go out my limit is usually one drink, maybe two. Anything more and I’ll start to feel it in the morning. I had a few extra at a nearby craft beer place nearby, so I wasn’t exactly smashing windows and starting fights.But the more I think of it the more I realize that drinking alcohol is a very subtle habit that sinisterly winds itself, much like eating, through many parts of my life in an often detrimental manner for my purposes of self change. 

A Tangled Web of Identity

In moving towards an identity model of self improvement, I’m seeing interconnections between certain habits, and the futility of trying to treat them piecemeal rather than as a matrix. One subtle winding of alcohol starts with my social life. When I meet up with people it’s usually at a bar, especially abroad when I don’t know that many people very well.

This all usually occurs at night, often precluding morning activities with morning people. Morning people tend to be outdoor or active, and it’s hard to get the gumption to get out when you’re sleeping the last night off.

This is about percentages. Of course there are hard partiers that go on morning hikes. But is it as likely? My intuition says no. If I’m shifting a paradigm, drinking seems to be, upon analysis, very much like eating in its impact on other behaviors.

Future Projections

How does alcohol affect me as a developing person going into the future? Socializing as a skill should be done without alcohol, according to all the social dynamics gurus. Financial control would advocate lowering expenditures, a complete eating habit would advocate dropping most types of alcohol, advanced meditation starts set meditation periods onwards to life in general, which requires full time control. And again, in general the movement should include the types of people I associate with, namely migrating to ones that have more control of their lives, not less.

wine glass by Alex Ranaldi, knots by Olivier ROUX, human evolution by Bryan Wright