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:

-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

-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.

-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

-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

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. 

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. 

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.

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 

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. 


  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

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.

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.

-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. 

-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.


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?


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?



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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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):


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


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.


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