Seeing the Forest: The Importance of Metrics in Preventing Blindness in Self Improvement

I’m approaching almost 2 years of recording my habits with the SRHI.

One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s really difficult to see how much I have improved when I’m constantly working on these tasks. In the midst of all this detailed tracking, it’s easy to lose track of the larger growth. You can’t see the forest for the trees.

When you can’t see the big picture, you feel like you’re in a never ending slog, where no matter how hard you try, you cannot prevail. And that can cast a long shadow on the entire endeavor. And that shadow is a really bad thing because the emotional equilibrium is a huge part of long term habit formation.

The truth is that every foot gained is a success. And that’s where good metrics come in. A metric allows you to actually consistently prove to yourself that you are making progress. And it is something I feel we are all horrendously bad at.

I know that the best metric tool for meditation is a stop watch. Yet it took me forever to actually obtain one. I know that the best metric for fat loss is regular measurements of my body. But I constantly avoid doing it.

I’ve talked to several people about this and it seems to be a constant problem when people start a new behavior. I mentioned this in a previous post (Day 651 & The Little Details Make all the Difference - Metrics and Implementation Intention) where I extract a maxim:

Tools and data pertaining to metrics are invaluable to self improvement, but are almost always forgotten

But it’s more than that. I just talked to Lydia and she described how she decided this week to start using a stop watch to counteract stalled progress in meditation. Instead she just hasn’t meditated this week.

There’s something in us that doesn’t just overlook metrics - we go out of our way to deliberately NOT do it.

Counteracting this strong subconscious protocol requires us to bounce back hard.

I remember when I first started this project it was so difficult to keep track of my habits - I had to force myself to record them, and that one habit managed to make a world of difference. Perhaps a similar protocol is required for metrics.

My reworked maxim for metrics is now:

Tools and data pertaining to metrics are invaluable to self improvement, but are almost always willfully omitted. 

Brittleness and Elasticity in Habits

I had to get up early for an appointment today. The person didn’t come on time, so I sat around waiting for him - he was about, oh 2 or 2.5 hours late.

It completely threw me off my my game. I was on the computer, on Reddit, plunking around, waiting, so my initial START of my habit chain didn’t happen. And after I met the guy…I just didn’t do anything until the end of the day.

I’ve talked about what I’ve loosely termed Habit Elasticity in a relatively recent post (”Day 617 & NaNoWriMo”) and an older post (”Day 169, On the Cusp of Habit #3 and Habit ‘Elasticity’”)

I defined it in the latter post as the “snapping back in place” ability for established routines

I’m hoping that there is an elasticity to habits - that once a habit has “set” it is easier to get back into the rhythm. Which is great for 750 words. But I don’t know if my exercise habit has fully set. If it hasn’t, I’ll rely on the SRHI to know when to move on to flossing…But once the stressful period is over, my habits snap back.

I referred to this elasticity in the context of turbulent swaths of time, but it could just as easily apply to instances where the implementation routine doesn’t go well in the frame of a day.

Why did automaticity fail to execute today? The “if” of my if-then protocols didn’t occur, namely “when I wake up, I get on the rower” - instead I did other stuff. Because the first part didn’t discharge, the rest of my behaviors didn’t go off either.

In a daily manner my habits as they are constructed are quite brittle - any deviation and they shatter. But it’s interesting that this does not occur with my golden standard of habit formation - brushing my teeth. 

I’m good at toothbrushing - If things don’t go according to plan I just pick it up after the interruption no problem.

I think there are some reasons for this. Either:

1) Brushing my teeth isn’t a chronological implementation intention - it’s tied to the feeling of dirtiness/cleanness of my teeth. Therefore I’m being reminded of the need to brush my teeth constantly, during the interruption and afterwards. Chronological implementation intentions don’t have this benefit. (One a side note, it may be informative to come up with a catalog of different types of implementation intentions.)

2) Brushing is far more of a habit and is much more highly tied to my sense of self during a day. I’ve talked to athletes who have this - there’s just a nagging sense of something missing if they don’t work out. It’s more than just “having to do it”  - the activity is part of their daily identity and is lacking when the activity isn’t discharged.

3) A combination of these two things.

Clearly it’s something I need to evaluate in my habits.

Oddly enough I almost feel that sense of inevitability in daily habit elasticity with recording, especially nowadays. It is the longest habit I’ve kept up in this project, and I feel like I got practice doing the habit irrespective of a particular implementation intention in the last several months. Perhaps cross training habits like this - implementing them strictly, then loosing those strictures - helps with this.

Downshifting

The last few days I’ve been pretty lacking in self discipline. It inevitably occurs, and the most important thing is to get back on the horse when you feel better after some rest. I’m getting pretty good at that.

But are there ways to continue with behaviors?

In an older post - “Day 546 & Theorizing on Springiness in Mastery Cycling”-   I talked about what I called a shelf (Though I want to call them ledges now, because it reminds me of the rock climbing porto-ledges which seems more apt for climbing towards a far away goal). I describe this as a basic minimum dose that you can rest on while dealing with other behaviors.

For example, with TinyHabits a basic mini dose for working out may be 2 pushups. Great - it’s normal for you to do because it’s so easy. But you will want to stretch that task - 3x10 pushups, then cardio and pushups, then weight lifting and cardio and pushups.  You have to get to a ledge on which you can rest your behavior as a habit.

Why?

Because if you are stacking multiple habits that need a push to mastery you run the risk of continually being depleted of Will/Endurance/Grit if your previous behaviors can’t rest somewhere (assuming you are trying to have a regimented system where you’re running several behaviors to mastery rather than just one at a time).

What does this have to do with ego depletion?

If you want to squeeze out every last instance of a behavior by treading the line of too much willpower depletion and just enough, I believe enacting the previous daily minimum would do that.

Think of the ledges as gears and periods of, for whatever reason, high willpower leakage as being a higher inclination. When you know that’s what is happening, downshift - go to the lower instance of the behavior.

For example, I’m currently trying to shift from my tiny rowing habit of 5 minutes to 10. It’s been going fine - I’ve actually been doing 15 minutes in the beginning of the week (which is one of the reasons I’m probably slacking today). When I feel that I’m exhausted, I can downshift to 5 minutes of rowing and other lower instances of other habits.

There’s that oft repeated saying in self-help - “2 steps forward, one step back”. I haven’t tried this yet, but to me it seems like the practical application of this. 

Syncing with Significant Others

Lydia and I had a bit of a clash yesterday, at least from a habit/regimentation perspective.

She wanted me to take care of something, but it was, unfortunately, right when I do my writing. Since it’s a time based habit now that I’m pushing it, any interruption becomes problematic. I don’t do as well as I could, and if it messes up it also has a tendency to unbalance any other habits that are linked to it in the bookend.

Delays in the if-then protocol of the link then also prevent the next habit from forming efficiently. For example, if I have to take care of something after my writing habit, then my meditation habit suffers if I’ve implemented it as taking place “right after my writing is done.”

This started to get me angry and frustrated, but I got over it and realized that this problem has been bubbling up for a long time. Often times Lydia wants to eat before I do because she gets up earlier. Being out of sync pushes me subtly to hurry up my habits even when she’s not pressuring me.

She’s pretty good about not pressuring me, and we have tried to eat separately, but I feel the push nonetheless. A subtle push like this prevents me from doing quality work when I’m in my habit, which won’t at all help when I’m transitioning more and more to the quality of the work rather than it’s regularity. 

So how can I tackle the problem? Here are a few ideas:

1) Wake up earlier. I describe the benefits of this in my post “Early to Rise - The Habit of Getting Up Early” but an added benefit is that helps sync you with your significant other or roommate. It affords you greater control because you can shove more uninterrupted, un-rushed time to work. I’m reminded of one of my favorite children’s authors, Lloyd Alexander, who developed a habit of getting up at 3 am to write.

2) Have multiple chains. Rather than having an unending series of constantly expanding chains starting from wakeup, make space in those chains. For example, right now my chain is like this:
  
wake up ->rowing->drink a glass of water->writing->shower->meditate->record->eat

There are options here. I could do random stuff after rowing because writing is tied to drinking that glass of water. I could do the same thing before my shower because meditation is tied to the shower. There is flexibility here.

I could also start making a chain right before going to bed.

3) Complete autonomy. Address the issue and come to a mature understanding that I’m out of the picture until after I record. It’s very easy to NOT do this because it’s not like I don’t have absolute flexibility. But that way of thinking leads to an erosion of habits.

4) Focus even more on the implementation if-then link. The link - the joining of trigger and action - is the most important aspect of habit creation. So if I have to take care of something halfway into my meditation, that’s ok. As long as I continue and record right after finishing in order to protect that “joint”. 

It is, however, wrecking havoc on my eating habit because usually that’s the thing that becomes unchained, preventing me from anchoring it at any one trigger.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this. I’ve been informally coaching a few other people and it’s amazing how the subtle pressures of those you live with can impact this habit formation system

Properly (Re)Implementing and Eating Habit

“What do you wanna eat?”
“Idunno, what do you wanna eat?”

And so the conversation goes. I number of studies have shown that decision making of any kind tends to drain willpower. It’s called Decision Fatigue and John Tierney (who co-wrote THE book on Willpower with Roy Baumeister, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”  has an excellent article on it in the New York Times:

“Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?”

Personally I have lately found this to be incredibly true. It just exhausted me because it would continue on and on, and it was a daily occurrence. So my current attempt at re-implementation an eating plan isn’t so much about getting eating down - it was about preventing this fatigue.

When I first started recording my “good eating” habit it was almost 2 years ago when I was in Brazil. I had, almost by happenstance, started eating really well. Why not record it? 

A couple of reasons. I never actually did any of the techniques that encourage automaticity. No TinyHabit, no mental contrasting or implementation intention. And although it lasted for quite a while, it inevitably imploded. Automaticity just wasn’t occurring.

This really came to my attention with my rowing habit which continues to have amazing automaticity. I believe this is because of a very precise if-then protocol. When looking at the two habits side by side it makes complete sense that eating wasn’t happening. The initial formation of my eating habit had failure built into it.

Here’s what my plan looks like so far:
1. I have an eating schedule. I know exactly what I’m going to eat on which day so I don’t have to make any decisions. 
2. The first meal of the day is bookended and based on a habit chain. I have my morning chain of habits. As soon as I’m done with my meditation, I eat no matter if I’m hungry or not. That’s my implementation intention.
3. My first meal is what I consider “clean” - that’s my TinyHabit.
4. All meals are a combination of cooking and take out. Another element of my TinyHabit
5. The greatest pitfall of eating clean is, for me, having stuff to cook. I also have grocery trips scheduled. This is a part of my mental contrasting.
6. Mastering the automaticity of that first meal is my first shelf. Trying to figure out a set if-then protocol for my second meal is a challenge - it appears to be a floating habit - sometime after my chain of habits, yet far before sleep…I’m currently at a loss on how to anchor an implementation intention, but that would be my second step. My third would be to make that second eating time utterly clean. My third would be to schedule clean refeeds. All of this is my plan to push for mastery. It also sets up what actions are defined as success.

I’ve only been doing this for a few days and haven’t started recording it. I think of it as a test run. I have several other questions I need to hammer out - how does this react to travel? I haven’t yet gotten into a routine of going to the grocery store automatically - should this be separately recorded? What about eating for the sheer pleasure - is this too strict? I definitely want to include exceptions for special meals - a connoisseurship card.

However, I already feel this immense sense of relief not having to go through the rigamarole of deciding. 

Recharging Habits

Since finishing NaNoWriMo my writing habit has been lax - automaticity has been difficult to achieve. A part of that has to do with improper transitional planning - I knew exactly what I had to do during my 30 day challenge, and after it ended I was left swinging in the wind. 

Another aspect is a lack of a proper implementation intention. It had been eroded by my recent travels, and for NaNoWriMo it had changed. My unstated implementation was “write A LOT” - which I did. But shifting gears to a normal schedule my if-then protocol was gone. And this is very noticeable when compared to my very new rowing habit, which has a crisp if-then (as soon as I get up, I row), a fact that’s reflected in rapidly soaring SRHI scores.

I switched up my routine yesterday and today, immediately writing after rowing. It just feels more automatic. It appears that the closer I have a task to waking up, the more charged the habit gets. Why? I think it has to proper implementation - the further a long in the day the more willpower stores are depleted. Also more tasks come up later in the day. I need to eat, I need to go to the bathroom, I need to cook. All of those tasks are not precisely pinned down - they change, making the implementation sloppier.

That usually doesn’t matter so much - but after various forms of degradation (travel, a 30 day challenge, getting sick), it starts to make a big difference in automaticity. 

A while back I talked about the potential that all long-term habits may need a “re-charge” once and a while. Scott Young, in his post “Why is it So Hard to Create Permanent Habits?” describes this train of thought.

In the post Young talks about how many habits have to be restarted. We want to think they will be permanent, but they often aren’t - habits for him are a medium-term strategy. They are, in his terminology - “metastable” - they lower thresholds of action in some ways, but not all ways. And because of this, they often have to be restarted depending on the changing action you are doing in the habit. 

This idea of metastability conforms to my experience as the reason why I’ve found few habits have had permanent lifespans. Inevitably, the habit breaks down because of a temporary lifestyle change: a vacation, an illness, needing to move or work overtime. These create shocks which are often enough to break the behavior, increase the decision cost, making it no longer automatic when you return to the habit. 

http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2015/03/25/permanent-habits/

His full post is really interesting, and I’d like to analyze it fully in a separate post. I agree that shocks will destabilize habits. But I think proper mid-range planning can compensate allowing you to “shelf” some habits at lower daily minimums (which he mentions) or, in this case, “recharge” them by rotating them in a daily regiment. 

I also think that tempering a habit comes with these periods of unstableness - there’s my quarter mark theory, there’s a dip in the graph before a superhabit is formed - without a metric to determine habit strength or a habit of tracking habits it’s hard to see whether a habit is lost, or if it’s still there and going through a weak patch.

Rowing Habit Thus Far

image

Rowing achieved a 71 on the SRHI on day 22. This is all the data I have so far. If it continues to be locked in in this manner, rowing will be the fastest habit I’ve ever developed.

This means either:

1) My ability to form a habit is changing
2) The proper execution (excellent implementation intention, TinyHabit formation, and mental contrasting) was so good it sped the habit up
3) This habit piggy backed on my previous bodyweight exercise habit
4) It’s not really a habit yet.

We’ll just have to wait and see. But it may just be a counter to the impression I got from Lally’s experiment on disproving the 21 day myth of habit formation, where it was suggested that physical activities are some of the hardest habits (in terms of time) to form.

Research into Getting Up Early

In my last post - “Early to Rise: The Habit of Getting Up Early” I talk about how of waking up early has many positive benefits and probably deserves to be a foundational habit above Eating in a habit hierarchy.

I’ve been researching a lot about it. I was curious if there was anyone who had really nailed down this habit. Although there are many books out there, a lot of the advice is, according to the reviewers, common and not really new. 

I’m also currently reading a book called Wake Up: The Early Routine That Will Change Your Life by Jeff Finley, and so far he’s got a lot of good advice that uses a lot of the base science that I base my own project on - studies in Willpower, references to Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and other self help gurus that I have found helpful in the past. I also found a great post by Nathaniel Eliason entitled Wake Up Early and More: The Only Sleep Article You’ll Need.

A couple bits of advice kept reoccurring through my reading:

-Incremental changes over time are better to ingrain the habit - people suggested changing your alarm clark by 15, 30, or 60 minutes per day.
-Morning and evening routines need to be implemented - Getting up is a function of how you go to sleep
-You should have some time before bed where you are not looking at a computer or tv screen
-Have a morning routine
-Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up
-Figure out some sort of trigger-action-reward system to get you out of bed, like Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit

Some additional things I want to look more into are:
-Drinking a calming tea at a set time at night
-Using Flux, a program that switches the spectrum of light on the screen to help transition to sleep mode.
-Nidra Yoga - a yoga based methodology for achieving deep states of sleep (a forum post on the Dharma Overground suggested THIS SITE, which has a lot of seemingly good explanations and links as to how exactly to practice it.)

I’ve done some of these things - I have flux and have used it. I have a morning routine, I’ve started drinking tea and having a cutoff point for the computer. I do meditation to get to sleep now, though the type I do has thus far caused me to have an unrestful sleep.

Getting up early clearly does have several components - my question is how do I implement this in terms of a TinyHabit, implementation intention, recording, and general protocol? Waking up early may not be as difficult as mastering eating, but it’s definitely difficult, especially for a night owl like me.

But in my reading it is very interesting to see how many people seem to give waking up early primacy to the importance of the habit, and how it connects to so many other foundational habits.

Early to Rise - The Habit of Getting Up Early

Up until now I’ve considered my big 5 foundational habits as Eating, Exercise, Writing, Recording, and Meditation.

But I knew that getting up early was something I wanted to nail as a habit. I’ve never had problems with it when I have to, but I have normally - as a freelancer, I don’t strictly NEED to.

And that’s interesting in and of itself. If you’ve been forced to do something your entire life, can it truly be called a habit? It can be - I remember when I worked in an office I’d start getting up early on the weekends. On the other hand I know of many high school athletes who had to not only get up early, but were forced to exercise. For the overwhelming majority, it wasn’t a behavior that stuck - it barely lasted past the first year out of college.

I believe habits implemented just by yourself are horrendously difficult. I also think they have the benefit of being truly yours.

When I was a kid my mom harped on me on many things, and oddly enough her voice has now become mine. Many of those behaviors are on my list of habits I wish to form, including this one.

But getting up early foundational?

When I describe a habit as foundational it means I view it as one that has overarching benefits long term, whose solidity positively affects other habits I’d later implement.

Learning calligraphy, for example, isn’t very foundational - it’ a cool enough skill, but it’s not necessarily a base for anything else, except perhaps general artistry. Eating right, or exercise, however both contribute to general well being, promoting energy and drive for any other behavior I might want to add to the mix. Meditation is even more central because it promotes emotional control to a process like habituation, which is itself fraught with mood swings. Recording provides an anchor for all skills, and writing is just a personal important thing to me.

So why sleeping? I’m finding more and more that getting what I need to do done earlier makes me feel freer. I’ve currently gotten into a bad habit - mostly due to jet lag - of staying up late and getting up late. What I find is that I’m constantly rushing. And this prevents me from doing the little behaviors that contribute to a good habit. Like what?

I’ve been meaning to post a video of myself rowing to submit to a forum so I can make sure my form is right. I’ve been meaning take body measurements so that I can see fat lose as it occurs. I’ve been meaning on taking daily pics of myself to measure progress.

Lydia gets up earlier than me, and she wants to get out earlier as a break. That’s fine - it’s something I want to, because getting out get’s me into the sunlight and generally boosts my mood. But if I can’t finish what I have to do quick enough I take shortcuts. It’s not practical when living with someone else (I’d like to do a post completely on how other people’s habits can bolster or break down habits, much like habit harmonics).

Also, although I stay up later, I don’t really do anything except putter around on Reddit. And if I intend to do anything social, or go out, that window is just closed down - the window of bookending for the “morning” becomes very small.

Lastly, there’s just something good about finishing habits while there’s still daylight. And there’s something immensely satisfying and relaxing about having the rest of the day before you.

The real question is: just how foundational is this?

 I feel it adversely affects my mood - I feel like I’ve wasted the day as soon as I get up late. I feel it adversely affects my eating, because by the time I get up, Lydia is already hungry because it’s lunch. If I had to make it into a hierarchy I’d say it’s either on par with meditation or exercise. My meditation isn’t really affected. My exercise is a little because I don’t measure myself. It affects my recording because I don’t really have time to do it before needing to go out. 

The reason why this is important is because I’ve just collapsed my eating habit. I’ve just started my rowing habit, and that’s going really well. I’m faced with a decision - should I managed my sleeping first and THEN add eating?

If I go back to an old post - “Sandbagging Continued” - I describe how Lydia suggested a method to evaluate the importance of habits. I called it a sandbagging ratio, which is how much habits give vs how much they take to implement.

I definitely believe that getting up earlier is easier to implement when compared with eating. It gets a little complicated to habits of instance - I have to manage what I do at night as well as the morning. But it definitely beats regulating everything that goes into mouth despite changing scenarios.

In my next non recording post I’m going to go through suggestions I’ve read on how to get up early and how to implement it.

Fluidity in Mid-Range Planning

In my NaNoWriMo book I repeatedly explain the need to have steps for progression. It’s simply a part of good planning for habits, something we rarely do.

Case in point, I haven’t done this for writing. I had a flurry of writing, accomplished a lot, but now I’m at this point, stuck because I don’t know what to do next. That should have been conceived and written down somewhere long ago. But this is natural, especially in the “pushing a task to mastery” portion of a mature habit.

Lydia suggested that not only should this list be somewhere written down, but it should also be listed in order of importance. And it may very well be that some tasks, as they come up, go to the very front. It should function like a flow chart, preventing this paralysis that I’m in write now.

For example, I’ll list out what I want to accomplish while writing.

-Improve writing by lowering the gap between intending to do a work writing article and the fear that prevents me from actually starting
-Pitching the articles I have ideas for professionally
-Working on weak points of writing - for me it’s inputting research and reportage that makes, for me, a professionally written article
-Learning how to pitch with skill, pegging current events to sell the pitch

A few points - a lot of these things can and should be broken up. It would be great, for example, to get to the point that the time it takes to do an article as I do them now lowers. So - one sentence of work writing, then a paragraph, then half of a task, then a full article per day, rough draft, to a full article completed with editing.

The other point is that there are always going to be things that get in the way, especially in this task. If I have an article commissioned, that will have to go to the top of the list.

The problem is how to organize this with clarity.

How To Form an Eating Habit Revisited

A find it interesting that though there are many articles on how to form a habit, there seems to be few articles on how to take the scientific approach of willpower and habit formation and apply it to eating.

In my NaNoWriMo book on this project, I took some time and theorized on how I’d be able to do this if I were advising someone starting from scratch.

To do this there are a few protocols I’d apply:
1) Implementation Intention
2) Sequenced habit chains, or “bookending”
3) Start small - “TinyHabits”

Based on this, my advice would be to  start small - and one small start is focusing on one clean meal a day. I’d also advice to make this automatic by having a clear cut implementation intention that’s in a chain of habits. I start out my days rowing, then I take a shower, then I meditate. I’d tack this on to the end of that chain.

The problem with my habit as it stands is that it’s fuzzy. My habit is essentially “eat clean.” That doesn’t really promote automaticity. Automaticity grows from having a clear time or sequence - an “if-then” parameter in the  mind. By not having it clear cut it promotes confusion - an unclarity in the forming habit.

It’s also all or nothing - if a Tiny Habit is ludicrously easy so that you feel like you’re more likely to do it, then having an all or nothing approach doesn’t really promote clean eating. It can’t be Tiny.

Nor does it incorporate how I prep for eating.  A nested habit would be beneficial for this- something like - on Saturday I go shopping for the week, and then I eat. 

My advice would be to fully master this as a habit, then move on to the next step.

The extension would be really difficult because there’s not really a bookmarking point for, say, eating at 6 pm. It would have to be an if-then based on time of day.

If I were talking to someone else, I’d of course start with smaller steps - removing soda, for example. But that’s not really something I have a problem with anymore - I generally drink almost nothing but water. 

I was talking to Lydia about this and she presented a counter argument. Articles have come out that suggest that things like gluten and sugar act almost like heroin in the brain, causing us to want to eat more. Her question was - would you apply this strategy to a heroin addict, or would your first step be to have them replace the drug fully? In methadone clinics heroin is replaced, then cut down.

So the analogy would presumably result in replacing wheat/sugar with substitutes, and then lowering the substitutes. Of course this is only from the Primal point of view.

I really don’t have a solution to this, except by looking at the past, seeing what I’ve done, and seeing how I’ve failed. I’ve gone the all or nothing approach, and it has clearly failed. My tendency now is to do something different, which seems to be to try to the piecemeal approach.

I do know that automaticity for my clean eating has been all over the place, and at least a portion of it has to be because I haven’t used the tools for habit formation at all in this particular habit. And it hasn’t just resulted in “fuzziness” in eating - it actually has a tendency to mess up other habits.

When I’m not pro-active about eating (pro-active being striking at a prearranged time versus “whenever I’m hungry) eating becomes an interruption in the habit chain of my morning. I believe that striking first allows me to incorporate it into the fold. And if I do this, I have yet another solid portion of the chain to implement another habit - writing or recording, both of which have been adversely affected.

I definitely think that other techniques I’ve used have really helped - especially the Flash Diet, which supercharged my eating during my 30 No Bread Challenge. I feel this can be incorporated into my progression.

Rowing

I’ve been really disappointed with my fitness regiment. I’m at the point where creating and maintaining a habit despite moving countries and travel isn’t that much of a problem. But despite this, I really don’t have a good training habit. Which is extremely frustrating.

My bodyweight training regiment progressed - I was able to do more and more exercises that I haven’t been a able to do before or never could do (typewriter pushups, full bridges). And I do want to continue that, but not before I lose my belly. Which means cardio.

I’ve toyed around with doing things like kettlebell swings in the past, as well as bodyweight HIITs, like my burpee habit. I liked those because I could do those anywhere, which comes especially in handy while traveling. But those weren’t really ….satisfying, and I finally realized why.

I can’t really step down easily and do LISS cardio with these. And since I am in one place for a long time, why not take advantage of that to at least lower my fat ratio before transitioning to bodyweight training?

I wanted a machine that worked out my entire body and had ease of transitioning between HIITs and LISS - and that was a rower (I’ve done HIITs on stationary bikes and don’t really like it - plus it’s only lower body). Crossfit gyms usually have a rower for conditioning, and what ever you think about Crossfit they do emphasize total body exercises, so that’s a plus in my mind.

After researching online, I went ahead and went with the more expensive gold standard - the concept 2D rower 

image

And it arrived last week! It was easy to put together, and stores really well. I’m collapsing my bodyweight training and starting a rowing habit. So I’m setting the implementation intention and Tiny Habit as “rowing 5 minutes as soon as I get up.” 

image

Part of my mental contrasting is what to do if I do travel, but I think I’ll just do stretching, or burpees.

I foresee several “shelfs” - 1) 5 minutes of rowing per day 2) gradual extension to 30 minutes 3) interspersing 2 HIIT workouts per week on it 4) Extension of LISS rowing times.

I’ve only gotten on the machine twice, but so far it feels good. Let’s see how it goes.

Sandbagging Continued

I’m suffering through an paralysis by analysis these days in taking up my habits after a long absence and in continuing forward with the Mastery phase of my project.

And this is understandable. I feel this project has gone through phases: gamification, habituation, recording and habituation, and now pushing skills towards mastery. At every point where I felt a need to shift things up, I’ve felt dead in the water.

My main question is how I should shuffle habits that need pushed when in reality - they all do. I’m not taking about extraneous habits that can be dropped. they’re all important, and they all exist in a core family. Meditation, eating, and exercise all have far reaching benefits that extend through out any endeavor in terms of energy, general health, and mental stability. Recording is how I keep track of the project as a whole, and writing is something I have to do for work. 

If I want the “thing itself” for any of these, I feel like I’ll be endlessly dithering around with the other, especially with the knowledge of how pushing a skill towards mastery tends to cause severe strains on the overall system of willpower that sustains other habits. 

I’ve talked about methods of getting around this before - particularly with the notion of “shelfing” - getting a habit up to a self sustained “next level” then cycling to another skill to push.

Talking over it with Lydia the other day, she suggested using sandbagging, which I talked about a long time ago. Essentially it’s reaching further than you think you can, and letting go of tasks that don’t need to be worked on now. Since NaNoWriMo is this month, and I’m writing for that, there’s going to be a extra load because I’m not used to writing that much daily. On top of that, I’m going to have problems because I’m re-engaging all my habits after an absence.

The question becomes - what habit, in a core group of habits like this, should I drop? Her answer - what’s going to give you the most bang for your buck?

You can make a sandbagging ratio - of habits based on how much they give vs how much they take to implement. Going through it went like this:

-meditation is easy to implement (only takes a few minutes, is a single task per day) yet mental stability seems to strengthen every endeavor. HIGH PRIORITY

-Exercise is a little more difficult. It’s also a single task, and though it has an initial draining factor (i.e. tiredness) it provides more energy. 

-Eating - incredibly difficult to implement - it’s a continuous task along multiple scenarios. Has a great bang, cause it helps regulate energy levels.

Therefore eating is the first bag that could be dropped during this time, even though I hate to do it. I’ll start recording today, and just consider eating as a soft goal for this month.

Notes on Travels - Conference, Cardio, Writing

A couple of notes from my time off.

Conference
I attended a conference on travel writing and got a chance to run over my ideas with the editor of a men’s magazine on my ideas. I got through my travel ideas fairly quickly and then decided, what the heck, why not throw out some ideas on this habit project. I noticed the magazine had a lot of stuff regarding fitness with fitbit type accessories playing a role, and I thought this project might be an interesting discussion.

It was - the editor perked up and we ended up talking a lot about it, and he came up to me asking more about it. I was welcomed to continue the conversation, and I’d like to. I don’t know how to really pitch such an idea on such a large body of work, but it would be nice to have this website in a nicer format that’s more welcoming to visitors. I’ve talked about this a lot, but I really need to do it before continuing.

Cardio
In China I talked to a friend who’s really into fitness and it really emphasized in my mind the concept of getting “the thing itself.” The “thing itself” is accomplishing the real goal. It may be better to start with habits and progress oriented thought, but let’s face it, we’re still looking at our goals with one eye on the prize.

For cardio it’s losing weight and getting that body we desire. It’s great generally speaking to have a habit of doing pushups, but the reason we start the habit is the end goal. I have to wonder how much further I’d be if I had made a simple 1 hour cardio habit on a stationary bike in one place - how much further would I be to my “prize”? A lot. 

It’s definitely a delicate balance. I haven’t been able to really do that with the nomadic existence I’ve been leading, but now that I’m in a place for a set amount of time, wouldn’t it behoove me to think a little more about that final goal? 

To that end I ordered cardio equipment - namely a concept 2 rower. Why a rower? Because I can easily do both a LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) and HIIT cardio, and it’s a whole body workout. There’s a reason why Crossfit employs this rather than stationary bikes, etc.

I feel it’s a bit like cheating. I want my exercise routine to be anywhere, but I slack off a lot at this point in my fitness from doing only HIIT bodyweight workouts. It’s a big drain on my mental facilities, and it really messes with my food intake because I crave carbs - and I’m not at the point where I can do completely clean refeeds in my food habit.

Writing
I am completely at a loss with writing. I have the option of discharging all my writing debts and/or entering NaNoWriMo to write a book. I have several book ideas, but at the top of the list is a book on this project. I don’t have all the variables and meta-program nailed down, nor do I have the “prizes” that are the real practical proof of the validity of my theories.

But I believe it will help me nail down what’s missing in terms of research or interviews.

Conclusion
Stepping back, all of this confusion is being caused by the changeover in emphasis of this project; namely, going from habituation to mastery.

I have no problem starting and sustaining a habit. I have no problem going back to habits after time off. But the optimal methodology by which to push multiple habits towards mastery and obtaining “the thing itself” lies outside my grasp. And that’s not a bad thing - it shows I’m pushing new ground.

Back From Travel

I spent the last month (maybe a week or two more with planning/decompressing) going on a whirlwind trip around the world. 

Barcelona->Xiamen, China->Beijing->Tieling->Dali->Vancouver->Vancouver Island->Vancouver->Winnepeg->Churchill->Winnepeg->Barcelona.

Whew!

This trip completely chewed up and spit out all my travel protocols when it came to all of my habits. I did get a lot of walking in, and though I tried to have one clean meal in China when I had my own place, it was quickly destroyed later in the trip.

I’ll be posting updates regarding my thoughts and starting back up tomorrow (Monday), a week since getting back.

Recent Progress in Meditation

As far as I can tell, I can consistently get up to 3rd jhana.

I have also been able to enter 1st jhana through Vipassana - this happened about a week ago while going to sleep. I was totally not expecting it, but luckily Lydia happens to be reading the MCTB, and confirmed that Ingram says it’s possible. I’ve repeated this in formal practice.

At night I usually watch some shows, and while watching them I’ve been able to enter into first jhana and extend it for the duration of the show. A few days ago I did this for two 45 minute sessions. 

I’m beginning to understand why meditation teachers warn against this - jhanic bliss is incredibly addicting, especially knowing you can get into it in informal moments through vipassana.

BUT, it could tie in to being very useful for relaxing at the end of the day. Before starting the project I was looking into hobbies and things that could get me to de-stress - I talk about this a little bit here. Some meditation guy theorized “wouldn’t if people, instead of going out for a drink or whatnot to relax, came home and blissed out in jhana for an hour?” Well…that’s completely within the scope of my skill at this point.

                                                           –

In the last few weeks I’ve dredged up old ideas on this blog that have connected anew with what I’m doing now, and this is another example. At the very beginning of this project I started a habit I called “dynamic meditation” - where I used specific techniques to counter any instance of negativity I felt during the day. Here’s a post where I discuss this - I say that it “feels like cheating.”

That’s not quite detailed enough - it felt good -really really good. There was this feeling of immense freedom and I was grinning all the time with a pleasurable sensation in my heart. It actually felt really similar to 1st jhana accessed through vipassana, and in fact I think it was very close to it - which is pretty cool!

My old protocol was very close to what I’m doing now. My theory then was that moods were static - if depression welled up, I’d have to counter it. Buddhist meditation theory, however, suggests that simply not feeding the emotion will allow it to pass if it’s treated skillfully, as all mental phenomenon do. And this is something I now understand in my own head as I do vipassana these days.

The other thing I’ve been working on is trying to penetrate the mindstream. I’m trying to accurately and specifically note physical, mental imagery, and emotions. I’m attempting to go further to pinpoint when a thought begins and when it ends. And I’ve also found a different category of phenomenon - thoughts before they fully coalesce. Back when I was doing “dynamic meditation” I got good at observing negative emotions before they crystalized and got good at nipping them before they manifested (also noted in the previous link).

This is really good, and I’ve read about this in some of the advanced Buddhist books I’ve been scouring lately.

The problem I feel right now is that I don’t know the progressions for Vipassana - everyone basically says to keep noting more and more rigorously, and that will result in Stream Entry. Samatha Jhanas (single pointed jhanas) are clearer in term of progression right now. Keep concentrating, and you’ll hit these jhanic stopping points. The problem there is that I can’t seem to progress past 3rd Jhana. 

But I’m in a good position - meditation is a regular habit, which I’ll continue as I search for the answers.

An Answer to Vortex Forces and the Necessity of Relaxation

After work today I was incredibly stressed. 

I was done with the day of doing things and all I could think of was what more I should be doing. This is something I’ve had problems with many times in the past. As I thought more about what I should do, it became framed in my mind as something I should do. And since I didn’t have energy to actually do it, in my mind I felt like I had failed in the day.

Or in other words, I had excess energy, vortex forces were in effect which caused drag, collapsing into a depletion of willpower/endurance.

A long time ago I wrote about the necessity of finding hobbies. What I really need is any activity that relaxes me. Video games, reading, cooking, anything that can get me away from thinking about what, in my mind, needs to be done. Anything that gets me out of my head, where I’m constantly saying “ I need to be doing more.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about this in his autobiography - that sometimes holding on too tightly can cause you to fail. 

Tonight I downloaded a video game. I got some Valerian root tea, initially to help with sleep, but it did relax me a lot. I cooked. And that was a good start.

I think that planning it out in advance is key. Usually I just start wasting time on reddit and looking up random stuff. Which is fine. It’s just for ME, that doesn’t get me off of the habit project. And not having readily available go-to’s doesn’t help.

Hobbies are great - but they have to be ones that I don’t want to include in this project. And that’s problematic, because I do want to do so much. Many things are “sticky” for me - they get me thinking immediately on how I can master them, and I think it’s why I’ve steered clear of so many. I need some that I can essentially throw away (I discuss this a bit here). 

Cooking seems to be one of those, but it can be very exhausting. Programming was actually super relaxing when I was following lessons on Code Academy. General learning on Khan Academy was also relaxing. Right before I started this project I took a lot of notes (I’ll have to look them up) on relaxing, and one thing I discovered was that I genuinely enjoy learning…it de-stresses me.

Having my mind off the project seems like it’s a huge key TO the project. That forgetting, the time off, actively knowing when enough is enough, seems to work to reduce this drag. And some people even seem to consider relaxation as a willpower manufacturing process.

In any case, it’s great to see old ideas, like this and my recent post on Pavel and Mircrocycling, come back into the fray once again.

The Problem With Recording Mastery vs Habituation

It’s a bit difficult. 

Today I’m recording my bodyweight exercise habit. I’m pushing it from the “shelf” of doing two typewriter pushups a day to the “shelf” of also doing tabatas and pull up type exercises across the week.

So what do I record? My typewriter pushup habit is easy to record - but when I do my tabatas I have less automaticity, because it’s understandably daunting.

I’ve been recording it as a whole - which caused a dip in scores. And it makes me think that each shelf is almost like making a different habit, something I’ve jotted down in the past.

This really kicks home with my writing habit - my new shelf is to just open my project and type a word. Usually I do more, but once I do that it’s a check and a win for the day. This has resulted in me being much more automatic - jumping a rapidly shrinking chasm. My question is - when do I move on?

It’s easy if I’m recording my writing - I’ll know it once I get back to full automaticity on the SRHI scale. And that’s good because there’s a concrete methodology for knowing when to push that habit or another habit. But it is a bit clunky. Streamlining the process will hopefully come with time.

This is, I feel, one of the key aspects of this projects many other habit/self help/mastery gurus don’t cover - the fact that progressing over multiple skills can be problematic, as can switching from habit formation to skill mastery.

I absolutely believe both are key - habits get you in a steady extended practice and mastery depends that practice. Working out the kinks in fusing the two are the real problem.

Daily Shelves

If I were to create my own DiSSS protocol for mastery, the most important thing would be the question “Where am I going?” - in my parlance the question is what’s the next shelf I can rest my practice on?

Record Keeping - stable
Fixed Meditation - I have no idea
Bodyweights - a weekly schedule where I transition from push/pull and bodyweight tabatas
Writing - being able to easily write or edit work writing every day. Or maybe one article per week.

Daily Minimums

To continue from my last post, I’m going to set forth daily minimums for each habit:
Record Keeping: Don’t take the SRHI, just record if I did the action or not
Fixed Meditation: 10 minutes of meditation
Exercise: 2 typewriter pushups
Writing: Opening up my next project and writing one word.

When I look at all these, these are all very do-able. To be more accurate, the key is to make them so ridiculously small that you can’t NOT do them.

I think about the hardest of these right now - writing. It might too minimal, but honestly that process of just opening up my next project takes me so much effort to do. If I’ve done that, I often do a lot more. I have to ask myself - on a completely depleted day, could I do it? The answer is yes in this, and with all the other minimums.

UPDATE: The writing thing is working really well. I’ve always had a severe problem starting writing. With my “50 words of anything” in the beginning of the writing habit, I busted past that initial starting fear. This resulted in me on some days busting past 13,000 words a day and finishing NaNoWriMo in a week instead of a month. 

Great.

When I switched to “doing a bit of work related writing” as my minimum I stalled out bad. If I analyze it in the micromoments, I get up, and I  feel fear. I feel like I don’t want to do this because I’m thinking of how much I need to catch up on and do. I hinge it on my entire career and life. It takes an immense amount of energy to get over that initial hurdle to just start. It’s like getting up the energy to leap a chasm where you think you might not make it to the other side.

Now with this new minimum, I still wake up with that fear and dread and the desire to not do it. But as I feel that in my mind I’m automatically going to my workspace, opening up my files and starting.

That chasm gets smaller and smaller. And that’s really the key of TinyHabits - it makes that chasm get smaller until it isn’t a problem anymore, it’s just automatic. 

And this specific TinyHabit is making that automaticity occur like it’s never occurred before. 

The last thing I’ll say is that this is so hard to do.  It’s hard to see doing something so small as being successful. You WANT to do more. But the key isn’t output, it’s fighting that chasm. If I had worked on this years ago, I might’ve been at a different spot now, because it’s that workflow that’s the key to eventually getting that output.