Flawless Clean Eating: 30 Days into Tally Clicking Food

Mastering eating.

The concept never occurred to me until I ran across a thread discussing this gif:

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John Stone describes how anger kicked off his transformation. It not only fueled his external change, but let him accomplish it in an almost inconceivably detailed manner. The discipline to record daily pics across so much time was levels beyond anything I had ever heard of. And looking closer, I saw that he had also recorded every meal he ate for about 6 years. 6 YEARS!!

I know that bodybuilders and athletes get strict when approaching a competition, but this…this was MASTERY, a goal so dim and far off it may as well not even exist for us mere mortals.

But somehow I’ve never felt closer to nailing eating than in the last 30 days. Here’s my data:

Urge to Eat Badly Across Time (30 Days).png

QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS

After day 22 there was a dramatic drop in my low urge days, which is exactly when my carb flu passed. The average number of urges per day has been 10. This is very interesting considering it’s nowhere near as many as I’d have thought. And little facts like that are very useful going forward and in describing this process to others.

How does this stack up with other vice removal-style changes on the same time frame?

Urge to Smoke Across Time (30 Days).png
Urge to Drink Beer Across Time (30 Days).png

Cigarette urges almost entirely disappeared within a month (though the drop off in urges occurred earlier). Conversely, urges to drink beer came up again the day I started this current project. I can’t see a pattern in these three behaviors, but I am curious to see if there is one long-term.

QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS

The story beyond the numbers is more turbulent. Carb flu was horrendous. It lasted 2 weeks, from days 9 to 22. It felt like a deep, yawning pit of exhaustion. I had a complete inability to think clearly, accompanied by weird body temperature fluctuations, light sensitivity, and incredibly low willpower. I started needing midday naps.

I couldn’t work out, and I attempted doing lighter exercises like yoga. I wanted to start recording my weight, taking pictures like John Stone, and get a starting blood test - none of which happened because I was so fuzzy headed.

GREATER CONTROL

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Despite all this, the control I exhibited was shocking, and it really showcases the benefits of what I’m calling a “craving model” of vice removal vs the traditional “action-oriented” model.

Every willpower breaking scenario came up during this time frame. I traveled to Bryan-College Station for a very emotional get together. I had a late night burger at 1 am, completely clean, with no bun and with yucca and plantain fries. I had crazy control in social situations, refusing beer and food when it was offered to me by friends. I went to my absolute willpower Kryptonite - Ninfa’s, a Mexican chain that I grew up eating. My food arrived late and I sat there, watching people eat, staring at a basket of chips and salsa without partaking as my friends sent food I couldn’t accept my way. And when my meal finally came, it came on a fried crunchy tortilla bowl.

I didn’t eat the bowl.

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I watched a friend eat a delicious looking burger and fries in front of me at a bar. I ordered chicken soup that came with tons of noodles (despite not being in the description) and ate around it. At a few points I’ve ordered salads with croutons and just absentmindedly ate around them.

Lydia went on a press trip and also exhibited perfect control. Making correct food choices is, I believe, more difficult for her than me, yet at one point she slit a gyoza and only ate the insides. This occurred while having free food shoved at her from PR reps at all sides.


STRATEGIES

Amidst all the challenges, a few strategies emerged.

Steering people towards places with better food options definitely helped. For hard dates, looking up the menu to see if they’ve got good options is always wise. And when we independently had to go to a place with limited options, we both made sure to eat breakfast at some place clean beforehand. Moving my keys and phone to my other pocket was prudent so I could have easy access to my counter during problematic meals.

I also believe that not avoiding difficult situations is generally a good thing, because with food, control needs to be exhibited everywhere. Practicing this method requires wading through a lot of difficulty.


ACTION VS CRAVING MODELS

The traditional method of controlling food is summed up in “Eat X, do not eat Y.” It has horrible adherence stats. Nearly everyone fails.

The craving model is a shift over in emphasis from the actual act to the mental movements that begin the chain of events leading to bad eating.

This is clearly superior in terms of adherence. But it also unearths so many behavioral threads that aren’t always exposed. During that last 30 days, I felt inundated with ads on unhealthy eating, ads I never really noticed before. There were ads that would just pop up on Youtube, or Instagram, or Facebook, often ones you just couldn’t skip past. They’d come out of nowhere, and they’re crafted to hook you. It’s honestly a wonder there aren’t MORE obese people.

The tally clicking technique forces you to confront those cravings in your natural environment. Even though there are people who go monastic, it’s really difficult to isolate yourself so totally. And it seems to embed a probably future break in willpower if you revert to a normal atmosphere.

The craving model mechanically injects automatic self-monitoring at an incredibly high level. Lydia and I both experienced this even in sleep. We’d notice an urge in a dream, remember it, and next morning click it. My mind will at times just go alert, as though listening and asking “was that an urge or not?”

This shift from actions to monitoring urges occurred naturally, and it makes this project bizarrely effortless. I tend to become a bit irritated when I have more urges in a day, and I have to take a step back and remember there was never a moment where I thought I’d just give in to the urge itself.


UNCOVERING TRIGGERS

This shift unveiled a number of new connections and hidden triggers.

Popcorn came up a lot because I’m so used to thinking about it as a clean, highly enjoyable snack. There was a separation between general hunger versus an urge for something non clean. I was able to recognize antagonizers and stressors - like movie theaters and bar food. Layers of un-matting included appreciating the smell of really good food (picking up glorious smelling garlic naan and driving with it back to my parents house!) versus I having the urge to eat it. Or discussing and appreciating that food could taste or look good, without the craving to consume. This happens a lot during many cooking videos (which I enjoy watching). Again, this reflects a technique where behavior change doesn’t come from environmental change.

These are connections I simply had no idea of 13 years ago, when I first started seriously trying to control my diet. I’ve counted at least 8 iterations (not including sub-iterations) on the methods I’ve tested, all of which ended either in failure or limited success.

This “Mark VIII” build is the first time we’ve ever eaten flawlessly clean for an entire month, almost absentmindedly completing a Whole 30 Challenge (minus the booze).

In a recent conversation I advised a friend on how to start the program. An important part to understand is that this build isn’t just about the tally clicking. It rests upon many previous versions. I created a once-a-week habit of grocery shopping that I still do. I use the Novelty Effect to randomize my meals. Those both provide a steady base. I’ve also rested it on top of the usual implementation intention, mental contrasting, and recording. Those, problematically, didn’t help me while living my life in general, with interruptions like travel, or eating out. This does.

It is interesting to note that the main stumbling block is the small stuff - setting up a spreadsheet or carrying my tally counter around, or even just having easy access to it. Potential version 8.1 improvements would include taking pictures as though on a “flash” diet, or giving a mental “atta boy!” after a click. Or incorporating a general gamified attitude when actions are especially difficult, like picking out croutons from a salad. Doing it with a partner or group would also add a layer of Socializing for extra adherence. I’m also looking into knitting row counter rings to increase accessibility of the tallying mechanism.

But it’s still quite effortless. I can see myself easily keeping this up for 90 days and beyond. In the future, I do want to tackle all alcohol. It’s very interesting how much of a crutch and how habitual it is. I have an urge whenever I cook. It’s a social lubricant. It’s an easy go to. There are really odd networks of what consists of a satisfying night out, of just relaxing at the end of the day.

And that idea of needing something - or of holding on - is bothersome for me.

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This is sort’ve the root of the craving vs action difference. For one, it’s as though people are only suffering through it by clenching - holding on to dear life until they can cheat, or until they’re done with the program. And that’s really how I felt before. I was forcing myself to do something that was doomed to fail - and it did.

In the I Ching, there’s a saying - “the beginnings hold the seed of all that is to follow”. I think that’s true. The hallmark of really well crafted self-help technique is that it just feels effortless. It’s a work of fine engineering that not only attacks the root of the problem, but works amidst the turbulence of every day life. It feels like it can be sustained forever.

That’s how I’ve felt in the last 30 days. We’ll see how the next 60 go!

2018 Year in Review

This last year has contained a huge change - moving back to the States after a decade abroad. It’s been really light on travel and publishing, but incredibly heavy on new techniques and theories which have already had a gigantic impact on this entire project. Here are the highlights:


Habits
-Formalized a flossing habit
-Added Olympic weight lifting to my exercise habit
-Experimented with habit removal by successfully removing drinking beer

Personal Records and New Highs
-Completed a 90 Day No-Beer Challenge
-started and successfully ushered a flossing habit from tiny habits all the way to a habit terminus, a habit that is totally complete
-With easy access to group meetings in the States I had my first social discharge of a habit by joining in on a group meditation.
-Took meditation to a new high by meditating throughout the entirety of a horror series (The Haunting of Hill House) and thoroughly enjoyed it despite hating horror because of the fear involved
-Solved a decades old issue - shin splints - with the help of Kelly Starrett’s mobilizations. Running is something I’ve always wanted to do, yet I’ve always stopped because of some kind of foot pain. No more!
-Passed 4 years of meditating, writing, and recording.
-Passed 3 years of consistent exercise
-Went from 35 lb dumbbell clean and presses to 55 lbs in 11 weeks (missing 3 sessions)

Publishing
-Finally completed my book proposal and query letter and started pitching it to agents.
-Changed my book idea, and started working on a second proposal

Theories and Experiments
-Created a fully 3 dimensional moveable model of a full habit, something I don’t believe has ever been done before.
-Created a grand unified theory of behavioral change and self help
-Mapped the terrain of quitting
-Created a full model of the process of writing

New Techniques
-Created a Deep Work Protocol based on Cal Newport’s work
-Created and tested Structured Randomness, applying it to meal planning
-Created the ultimate guide to writing
-Figured out how to efficiently overcome the problem of limited natural progress, applying it to meditation and working out.
-Learned to gain entry into jhana through anger and anxiety
-Learned how to use noting the self to get to 4th jhana
-Threaded different types of meditations together to reach deeper states
-Experimented with and got to within a hair’s breadth of mastering sleep.

Learning
-Started reading Daniel Ingrams highly expanded second edition of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha
-Learned about and practiced Mindful Scrolling, a new meditation technique
-Started reading James' Clear’s book, Atomic Habits

Attempts and Failures
-Ended a social media habit that had already gotten to super habit status
-Attempted GMB fitness
-Attempted a 30 day strict paleo challenge

Travel & New Experiences
-Traveled to Valencia
-Visited Italy (Bologna and Florence). Saw the original instruments of the old scientists as they tried to experiment and quantify temperature, gravity, and electricity, which was really exciting giving it’s exactly what I’m trying to do for self development.
-Traveled to Houston and Albuquerque
-Moved back to the States, and successfully moved into central Houston
-Hosted 5 people
-Stuck with a ban on travel, passing up trips to Greenland, Nunavut, Grenada, Barbados, and Portland
-Tried 3 different meditation groups - the Chinese Jade Dragon Temple, the local Zen center, and an insight meditation group
-Went to a writer’s group meeting
-Started pitching top tier outlets like the NYT

The techniques section has some amazing stuff. I have huge plans for the next year simply because I now finally have the methods to accomplish them. I want to:


-Quit drinking
-Remove negative self talk and totally transform my base mental code
-Master eating
-Master pitching
-Get published like a madman

That might seem like a lot, but as one wise 3 year old would say, It’s just 5 things

Happy New Year!

Habit Terminus: A (Successful) End to Flossing

Five years ago when I first started my battle for solid habits, I bought into the tacit assumption that self improvement – for whatever you’re going after – lasts forever. And since there was always something more to do and more to add, that appeared self-evident. Yet here I am at the very end of my flossing habit. I’m calling it a habit terminus.

Habit Terminus - the point at which there’s nothing to do but rinse and repeat, and even the rinsing and repeating is automatic.

Here’s the data I collected on the full habit.

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Or if we’re being a little fancier - a 3D graph of the entire habit with SRI, habit load, and time (hopefully this displays for you)!

While I’m very happy to finally be at the end of any habit, it begs the question, how exactly do you know it’s the end? How and when can you call it?

My first automatic reaction is to resort to old school, pop science thinking. It’s been about a month. The 21-days-makes-a-habit adage originally came from Maxwell Maltz’s 1960 book, Psycho-Cybernetics (a book I’ve had on my shelf for over a decade and have yet to read), and applied to one behavior - plastic surgery patients getting used to their new faces. I’m very skeptical about these kinds of vague, hand wavy metrics, but I will return to this later in the article.

The second stand out thought is just to take the Self Report Habit Index (SRHI) to assess whether or not the full behavior - “Flossing all teeth” - is automatic.

Taking the SRHI like this was interesting. 

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As you can see by the chart, these 5 questions were kind’ve….weird.

  • It makes me feel weird if I do not do it

  • It would require effort not to do it

  • I would find it hard not to do

  • This task is typically “me”

  • I have been doing it for a long time


For the first 4 questions, distinguishing how I would react to flossing all teeth vs doing the previous iterations of them (20, 10, etc..) was difficult to clearly forecast. So I answered them all with “Undecided”.

The last question - “I have been doing this for a long time” - was just not true, especially in comparison with the duration of the habit itself. Hence the “disagree”.

This doesn’t really tell me much except that the SRHI needs to be modified or replaced with a better diagnostic tool to properly assess the situation.

Which leads to the third method, to focus in on the habit load rather than the habit as a whole. Rather than resorting to time or automaticity of the habit, I could sort out some sort of rudimentary scale for how unnatural or “heavy” the number of teeth flossed was - like what many doctors use for pain (“on a scale of 1-10, how painful is this”). This zoomed in approach avoids differentiating between the automatic nature of flossing 2 teeth vs flossing all of them.

This brings up another question - how many days does it take for a habit load to normalize? And how do you assess this in such a way that is efficient and not burdensome?

I’ve called this problem the Law of Limited Natural Growth - a properly created habit using BJ Fogg’s TinyHabit system, naturally grows a little, then plateaus.

One method is to raise the bar with challenges. I’ve had success with this in writing, (after a really intense NaNoWriMo) and with not eating sugar after a dietary challenge (I believe it was Body for Life). There are severe problems with this method - you’re overexerting yourself in the willpower department, and that’s never a good thing for other habits you’ve got going on. The first few times I did NaNoWriMo, I either ended up dropping habits completely or dropping them down to really low daily minimums.

The second and most successful method I’ve used to date is modulation. By that I mean slightly modifying the habit across time in one session in order to bypass boredom. This has worked particularly well for timed habits, like meditation and cardio. I have a few theories as to why this works, but I do not see it as viable with more straight forwards habits like flossing.

The method I used here was simply to raise the bar slowly. I flossed 6 teeth, then 10, 20, and then all of them. That worked, but I couldn’t tell WHEN I should up the bar.

When I was in high school I was obsessed with long distance running. The cross country coach sent out a progression to get beginners up to speed over the course of a summer, building from 1 mile to 9. Programs like Couch25k or NonetoRun do this as well, but as of yet I’ve never seen why the progression intervals work. I’ve never found if they are based on studies or just general coaching instinct. And sadly, the progression didn’t work for me at all.

Going forward with flossing I plan on changing to regular string rather than the weird flossing plastic handled things I use now, and I’m curious if that affects the habit. I’m also curious how travel affects it. I once theorized that the final test of any habit was doing it under duress like travel. 

But most importantly progress should feel effortless, and I felt I wasn’t doing things efficiently, especially when it came to upping the number of teeth per session. There were definitely points at which my habit could have broken because it felt strained to do 20 teeth versus 10. 

As I was combing through the data I decided to check the intervals in which I naturally progressed from one habit load to the next higher load. Here were the results:

6-12 teeth = 21 days
12 - 20 teeth = 15 days
20 - All teeth = 21 days

There’s that pesky 21 days! Maybe there’s something to pop science after all…

2017 (ish) Year in Review

I’ve been a little behind with this post. This has been the most turbulent year I’ve ever had, with immense amounts of travel, and a lot of setbacks. Nevertheless, the tests and experiments have yielded pure gold, techniques I can see myself using for the rest of my life. I'm including a few months of 2018 here (up until now) so i'm cheating a bit - but here are the highlights:

Habits
-Created a once-a-week habit and mapped it out using the SRHI
-Pushed meditation by successfully cross training it, adding gratitude, tantra, and metta training
-Created a social media habit

Personal Records
-Passed 4 years of daily recording
-Passed 1,000 days of daily writing
-Got back to my habits in record time (1 day off) after travel
-Improved the functional skill of my mental state through meditation

Publishing
-Wrote an article in Tricycle Magazine on behavioral change and meditation. This was subsequently shared by JSTOR, and listed as Tricycle's top list of articles in 2017
-Wrote quality Quora answers that garnered hundreds of views
-Connected with one of my favorite travel writers, one of my favorite meditation instructors, and got an offer to submit to Quartz
-Moved my website over to a new site

Theories and Experiments
-Experimented with Personal Kanban and used Trello to improve my workflow
-Had a breakthrough with the editing process of writing
-Experimented and succeeded with a new method of removing a negative habit using a tally clicker
-Conducted a sleep experiment using my own sleep scale
-Found a willpower scale
-Conducted another travel sandbagging experiment
-Progressively analyzed, read, and experimented with countering moments of ego-depletion and procrastination, and then came up with a protocol that seems to have cured me of these issues even with regards to difficult tasks.
-Used Cal Newport's concept of "deep work" to come up with a deep work protocol that works like a dream.

Learning
-Read: Cal Newport's Deep Work and So Good They Can't Ignore You
-The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad
-Peak Performance by Stulberg and Magness
-Personal Kanban by Barry and Benson
-Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss
-Lots of guides on the Getting Things Done method
-A lot of details regarding cross training meditation, specifically Dr. Jeffery Martin's Finder's Course
-Culadasa's The Mind Illuminated 
-Started a Udemy course on the writing process
-Completed a Gotham Writer's course on querying agents for book publication and wrote and revised my own query letter

Attempts and Failures
-Phased out a Pantry Check and Food Recording Habit
-Attempted and failed to complete a 14-day mobility overhaul
-Attempted and failed to complete a Whole Life Challenge
-Attempted a 30 minute research and blogging session at the end of my writing to push the habit
-Attempted a skill push with planning meals
-Paused my social media habit

Travel
-Road trip through Southern France (Toulouse, Narbonnes, Nimes, Albi)
-Road trip through the Costa Brava
-Visited the Catalan town of Vic
-Visited Valencia
-Camped through the entirety of Iceland
-Visited Italy (Bologna and Florence)
-Attended my 20 year high school reunion
-Hosted 6 friends
-Attended a conference in Chicago
-Traveled through Hawaii (Honolulu, Kailua Kona, Hilo, Kawaii)
-Visited South Carolina
-Visited the States (Albuquerque and Houston) two or three times

I really thought I didn't do much this year, but looking back it really amazes me that I was able to do this much while traveling an incredible amount and being sick a record number of times (I think I got sick 4 or 5 times). Lydia and I also decided to move back to the States during this time, and went through the process of selling our stuff and moving everything (a bigger post on that later). 

Seeing what I've done despite massive interruptions makes me feel secure in the process I've developed - there is no way I could've stayed the course before. I'm also really eager to see what a year of stability would result in. Here's to 2018!

Formalizing a Social Media Habit

All of my work projects have basically been crying out for me to use social media. I've had magazines reach out to me, only to back off once they knew my social media game wasn't that robust. Book publishing is like that as well, and it's understandable. I've been putting off using social media professionally simply because to me, for some reason, it feels like showing off rather than being recognized because of the quality of your work. 

Despite my reservations and my lack of knowledge, I don't think that this is any different than any other behavior. First thing's first - start a habit.

Implementation Intention

I've already started today - When I'm done with my writing sets, which now include blogging/research, I'll do a small habit - 10 minutes - of either research on how to use social media or actually start sharing stuff.

Mental Contrasting
Positive: This will help me get my message out to the world. It will also help me better accomplish my goals of publishing. But perhaps most importantly, it will allow me to connect with other people who are doing similar things to me. What I want is to be a part of a community of like-minded experimenters and eventually help a lot of people. 

Stumbling blocks: There are a lot. I've always felt like I'm trying to be a part of the cool kid's table, professionally speaking. I feel like the world is conspiring professionally to keep me out of that crowd. I feel powerless, like it doesn't matter how good I am, I'll never get the recognition and respect I want. Social media appears to me like a waste of time with limited ROI. I could theoretically waste all my time on my phone, and I see that scattered potential in some of the people I know around me. I'm afraid that I'll get addicted to it and fall into a sink hole of time where my actual content gets worse and worse. In addition I feel that my inability to grow my online social presence will continue to keep me back in my work.

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.