An Identity Model Implementation of Eating

As I said before I’ve already started this informally. I don’t allow any “unclean” food into my kitchen and I do a pantry check every day to make sure I have enough clean staples in my fridge so that I can make a few snacks and meals. In case anyone is curious they are:

-ground beef
-canned tomato
-”picas” - chorizo, deli meat, olives, maybe cheese

Yesterday Lydia and I were completed depleted - her because of a particularly heavy work schedule, me because of bad sleep and an intense HIIT. We were both completely giving each other permission to cheat - “let’s just order some pizza” and comments like that. We were suffering from “decision fatigue” and trying to decide was just becoming painful. Usually that means we’re ordering in - and not anything clean.

What happened was nothing short of miraculous - we made Om Nom Paleo’s “Garbage Stir-fry” (which I know sounds horrible, but is really good, filling, and easy to make when you’re in a pinch).

I’m not joking about the “miracle” part of that last sentence. I was ego-depleted, which, according to all of Baumeister’s experiments, results in lack of self-control. Together things get worse. I wrote about the problem of “Syncing with Significant Others” which I feel causes something similar to habit dissonance, drastically magnifying problems in the decision making process. Furthermore, there was no habit in place, no implementation intention, no gamification or quantification of self going on.

But that counterintuitively small habit of doing pantry checks meant we had the ingredients. And we had this general feeling of knowing that we shouldn’t cheat. It almost made it so that it was easier to just eat clean. I have to analyze this more, but the salient point for this post is that pantry checking has already paid off.

So I made a list of small habits that pull from the pool of Identity-centric formations I posted in my recent post, “Towards an Identity Model of Habits: Part III”:

-Recording everything that goes into my mouth
-Not bringing cheat items into the house for cooking
-daily pantry check
-calorie counting
-ritual of the same meal or snack once a day
-tea ritual with recording food for the day
-grocery store trip
-Some kind of paleo primal certification
-joining a clean eating club in my city
-joining a virtual version of the above and taking part in the community
-weekly meal planning session
-daily meal planning
-after x number of drinks we auto ask for check
- or order a water between every drink
-flash challenges - bread flash challenge
-no drink flash challenge
-recording what you spend on food
-travel protocol
-going out protocol
-connoisseurship checklist

That’s just a rough list…I think since these are small I can do two at one time and be safe.

Depletion and Why I Missed Day 547

On Day 546 I did Tabatas after not doing them for a while. I did not adequately understand the impact that would have on my daily habits.

The rest of that day after recording, depletion hit me. It hit me physically, but it no doubt affected me as a hit to my willpower - several studies have linked glucose depletion with willpower depletion.

The next day (547) I was utterly sore and tired. Nothing got done.

This was to be expected  - the “physics” of this system seems clearer and clearer. What’s necessary is to plan in advance and prep what a course should have been. 

And really the main problem was my first habit in my regiment - writing. Writing takes a lot of will for me to do in this phase of mastery. That should have been something I should have planned to do very minimally. But right now, I don’t have minimums clearly stated as I did before (e.g. 50 words).

A few days ago I wrote to my Dad, who is trying to start a new healthy eating habit. At his request, I sent him a few solid suggestions on what to do to stick to it. The relevant ones were Recording, TinyHabits, Implementation Intention, and Mental Contrasting.

What I’ve realized is that I don’t really strictly do these, and I should. In order to continue progress, I need very clear daily minimals - TinyHabits. I need to know in advance what’s going to mess me up in order to plan around it - that’s Implementation Intention. I don’t have a solid if-then protocol of when I’m going to do anything, which is Implementation Intention. And not having that results in a slapdash daily regiment (I have a tendency nowadays to record more towards the end of the day after a huge break, which doesn’t help in solidifying my recording habit). 

I think the problem is that I think that these habits are all done - I got to superhabit level on all of these. But with the introduction of mastery - pushing habits to new levels - it’s essentially introduced turbulence to each of them. I have to start thinking of them as new in that vector.

Another element in the mastery vector that’s missing is mid-range goals. The idea is to push a behavior so that it’s solidly at the next shelf, rest it, and work out another behavior. So 2 pushups became 3x8, that transformed into harder variations, and finally now I’ve shelved it at 2 typewriter pushups. Having a very clear knowledge of what the next level is allows me to naturally work for it.

What’s happening in meditation is a perfect example of doing it wrong. I made all sorts of progress and now I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m meditating every day, it is sometimes good, it’s sometimes bad, but I don’t have direction.

These are serious deficiencies that lead to a hamster wheel state I absolutely hate: The feeling of having toiled and worked over long periods of time and not having concretely accomplished anything.

Right on Schedule: Emotional Breakdowns a Week into New Habits

Yesterday was rough, and today started really rough. Ego depletion, rapid surging of worry and insecurity, a difficulty keeping my emotional state steady. I feel totally overwhelmed. 

Last week I had tons of energy. My sleep was great, my wake ups were great. Lydia noticed I had a restless energy about me, and she stated that it had happened before. Apparently there’s a trend I have that when I start a new habit, I get excited - I want to do more AND I then get into a slump afterwards - a feeling of being up to my eyeballs with work and a sensation of drowning etc.

I just went back into my logs and did find this trend to be true (when I recorded my emotional states). There are several habits where I had fantastic sleep, energy, and emotion in the first week of a new habit, followed by a depression and bad sleep, followed by a stabilization. 

This is really interesting and really REALLY important, practically speaking, and is exactly the reason why I wanted to record all this - to spot trends. In knowing I’m going to go through this I can distance myself from it and understand that it will take a period to stabilize it. It also makes forgiveness and setting really low completion thresholds a la TinyHabits incredibly important.

Why is this the case? My tentative theory is that Endurance reacts slower than Willpower. Willpower, according to the studies, depletes immediately - you do a task designed to deplete willpower (don’t eat that donut!) and then do an unsolveable puzzle and the time it takes you to get upset and storm out of the room on the latter task becomes noticeably less. 

The Endurance load only settles after a time - it has to by definition because it’s willpower across time! But it only settles to affect daily emotions later. 

As to why I feel all energetic in the first week ….well that’s beyond me!

A Practical Discussion on How to Reach Harmonic Consonance with Multiple Habits

Right now I have several superhabits. My eating is about to achieve superhabit status, I’ve dropped my work habit, and my dynamic meditation is already at the habit stage.

So why am I having days where my willpower/endurance is utterly drained?


There are probably several reasons that involve sleep and eating - I’ll brainstorm other variables later. But one main reason is that I’m pushing a lot of my habits and trying to break out of plateaus in superhabits. Here’s a rundown:

Bodyweight exercises - I’m trying to push the number of reps and I’m including other exercises like squats and reintroducing tabatas.
Fixed meditation - I’m switching from basic meditation to first bringing up negative emotion and then quelling it
Eating - I’m at the verge of a superhabit here. I theorized that right before gaining superhabit status there’s another danger zone. And danger zones are where endurance takes a hit.
Writing - I’m trying to write things that are really difficult for me, specifically research-based writing.
Dynamic meditation - I’m extending my sessions from 20 minutes to an hour. This has largely happened naturally, but I might have pushed it a little too fast.

Those are at least 4 drains of my willpower/endurance. Of COURSE I’m barely getting through the day. But how do I solve this?

Ideally what I imagine in graphic form is a series of constantly shifting willpower/endurance drains, where some habits are reined back and one is put into overdrive.


(apologies for the bad sketch)
So in the top left is stage 1 where the second habit will require more willpower for one reason or another. And in the top right in stage 2 willpower requirements are shifted to the first habit. The bottom two are the same habits with regards to work or improvement. Ideally willpower gets you past a hump and when willpower normalizes, you can use that excess on busting past plateaus or whatnot in other habits - BUT output remains the same as when you were expending more willpower.

So right now I want to improve writing. I want to form a nested habit of research-oriented writing. But really it’s not a full habit - writing isn’t a big deal, it’s getting over the automaticity of starting research-oriented writing. If I were to record this, I wouldn’t do the full SRHI - I’d probably just include automaticity questions, and I’d think of implementing a Greasing the Groove strategy to get it done faster.

While I’m leaking willpower/endurance for this, I should dial back all other habits to maintenance mode. So bodyweight exercises are just at pushups and bridges. Meditation, I’m just doing basic meditation, for dynamic meditation I’d do 20 minutes.

Once I’ve successfully overcome the fear of research-oriented writing and I can do the task fluidly, I can bring it back as one slot in a greater writing habit and cycle it along with pitching, writing improvement, narrative first drafts, etc.

I think I once called this process “crutching” because it reminds me of leaning on something in order to maintain forward motion.

I think this process is very interesting because it’s this intersection of regimentation, habituation, and mastery of a skill that things all get really dicey. Either you lose a habit, or your skating along, or everything collapses.

Relaxation as Willpower

Self-Discipline in 10 Days has given me a lot to think about - it’s probably the best book on discipline I’ve ever read.

One small thing it did was equated relaxation with willpower.

Now, I have often thought about the relationship as indirect.

When I’m afraid I’m not relaxed. And when I’m afraid I cannot focus - it’s times like those where self-sabotage and procrastination really kick into high gear. By relaxing you are better able to think clearly - you clear the of fear, and you have enough wherewithal to make a decision to act.

I don’t know if relaxation really relates to more willpower in a scientific sense. Certainly a number of studies have showed, via depletion tests like unsolvable puzzles and Stroop tests that subjects tend to get tense and irritable.

But I don’t care - I think it’s just plain useful to think of relaxation as willpower because it means a lot of the stumbling blocks disappear when you use it to “summon” more will.

Using basic relaxation methods (a few deep breaths, relaxing tension points like jaw muscles and my shoulders) as an automatic method to combat times when I feel my will is being depleted works, and should be implemented along with other methods, like repleting blood sugar and watching funny youtube videos as a matter of course.

Breaking Points and Ego Depletion

I’m currently reading a book entitled Willpower by Tierney and Baumeister. In it the authors term the erosion of willpower as “ego depletion”.

A few days ago I exerted a lot of willpower through abstaining from alcohol in an environment highly conducive to drinking for me, doing Duolingo, writing on 750words, my own work, meditating, and reading. The next day I was completely and utterly depleted.

So I looked online to see what recharges ego-depletion. Sleep and glucose (like a candy bar) work, but neither was helpful in the situation - I couldn’t sleep and I don’t want to go to sugar when later on I’ll be incorporating working out and nutrition to the program.

One suggestion was to watch funny youtube videos. So, I attempted it, timing myself, and using a rudimentary ego-depletion scale (1-10) to see how it affected me over time. After 5 minutes of watching a favorite standup comedian, I felt I had gotten to about a 4. After 12 minutes, I was up to a 7, and after 20 minutes I was up to a 9.

Later that day I felt more depleted, but had a piece of cake, which immediately got me writing my daily 750words.

Although I didn’t complete my Duolingo and meditation for that day, I did accomplish more than I thought I would, given my level of mental exhaustion.

Clearly, watching funny videos has to be incorporated into my program.