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

Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem

There’s a problem looming on the horizon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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. 

Notes on Travels - Conference, Cardio, Writing

A couple of notes from my time off.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A New Beginning?

I feel like I’m in the same spot I was before. The first time I updated this project was HERE, when I added new behaviors without forming them into habits. I began again by occasionally taking the SRHI scale in order to focus on habituation, but stalled out again HERE. Afterwards I started to not only think in terms of habits, but started recording the SRHI every day to keep myself on task.

Every single time I’ve done this, I’ve gained more insight and more fluency at behavioral change. I’m hopeful and confident that this will occur again.

I’m at the point now where my project is stalling completely again - not because I cannot sustain a habit, but because habit formation is getting in the way of concretely and efficiently getting tangible goals.

I think the best way to get around this problem is to refocus on families of skills that bolster each other. Initially two families came to mind: 1) Eating habit and working out and 2) meditation and writing, since fear seems to be a big issue with me and writing.

The problem I run into is that I know that vortex forces will be an issue - I’ll feel like I’m neglecting one side of myself. If I focus on writing I know I’ll feel horrible not eating correctly and vice versa. The way to end feeling horrible is self confidence and faith, and ability to realize the truth of how I can’t do everything at once - but in this system that’s not a vague factor, that’s a direct result of meditation.

There seems to be no way to win, and I’m beginning to appreciate the reason why few people are masters of more than one thing.

Progression Dilemma Part 2: Pros and Cons

What’s the best option? Let’s list out the virtues of each path:

OPTION 1 - Establishing All Habits
Steadily working on things. Better regimentation. Circle of support. vortex forces are not in play (because you’re doing everything!). Accrual of long-term benefits, like writing “two shitty pages”, allows for great benefits simply because you’re doing it every day even though it’s in incredibly small amounts. This latter benefit only occurs in some skills…like writing or fixed skills like flossing.
Cons: Glacially slow progress. Incredibly difficult to regiment - overwhelming. problems with house of cards, problems with time, problems in willpower - you have to do ALL of it in one day. Vortex forces might actually be in play on another level because you aren’t progressing in everything - there will be times when the impatience in some skills will affect you. Depletion forces in play.

OPTION 2 - 1 Skill Progression
Pros: fast progress. lots of willpower
Cons: no support. no regimentation practice. Vortex forces definitely in play.

OPTION 3 - Family of Skills
Pros: Fast progress - arguably the FASTEST progress due to skills backing each other up (ex, diet AND exercise) Seeing fast progress helps with motivation, saves on vortex forces. Saving some on willpower, therefore fewer depletion forces. Targeted relevant support. A little regimentation practice.
Cons: Vortex forces in play (a little). downside of regularity to prevent things like writer’s block. Accrual of long term benefits a la two shitty pages not in play.


Option 1 is definitely out - there’s just too much going wrong for it. I think the best option is the third - it seems to have the best of both worlds - the only real thing wrong with it is a lack of small accrual in certain tasks. 

What does all this mean for the future of the project? It’s something I’ll discuss in my next post. I think the important thing to remember is that these are three phases. Regimentation, habituation, and mastery. I think clarifying what success means and separating out these three vectors is critical for any further progress and discussion.

What is good for habituation isn’t necessarily good for mastery. And making decisions like that are what’s crucial for continuing this project - it also definitively signifies a turning point in this blog. What started out as a project on habituation has definitely outgrown its starting parameters. 

And that’s a good thing.

One Skill or All - The Progression Dilemma of Mastery

This is going to take me a while to unpackage, so get settled in.

Lately I’ve been feeling….Idunno….conflicted as to the continuation of this project.  This project started out about habits - I have no problem with habits now. Yay!

The problem has to do with skill mastery. Mastering the thing itself. What’s that mean? It means losing weight. Being able to smoothly execute writing projects at a high level. Maintaining equanimity and progressing in meditation. And though progress is coming slowly, I have to wonder when looking to my peers…is this progress fast enough?

My buddy James has focused all his energies on eating - he tracks calories and he’s lost a LOT of weight in the last year. Now, I  don’t want to do it exactly like he does, but in terms of HIS goals - he’s succeeded. I can’t say the same for myself. 

Although I’ve lost some weight and I’ve made fantastic long-term behavioral changes I haven’t gotten the THING ITSELF - the end goal, when I feel like I should have. I can expand this out to another guy I know who got into bodybuilding - immense payout from focusing on one thing. Writing a book, huge breakthroughs in meditation - they are not there. 

Should I be focusing on one habit at a time? To clarify - the problem doesn’t come into play with habits - only with habits that require that added mastery step. Mechanically repeatable tasks accrue merit just by doing them at one level - flossing comes to mind. But most tasks aren’t like that - they require upping the ante a lot.

Certainly all the literature suggests I should focus on one thing. The oft-repeated advice is that it takes 10,000 hours or 10 years to gain true mastery of a craft. I’m certainly not talking about that level of skill. I’m talking about a year. But something bothers me about this approach and I think it’s because I want the self sustaining relationship of related skills.

Eating well and exercising tends to go together. Meditation can help deal with all frustrating situations. There’s a urge within me to do all things because they’re like a circle that supports everything. 

The problem is that it often feels like I’m stuck doing 2 pushups. Yes the habit is there, but the benefits aren’t. And it’s really hard to be constantly pushing all skills.

There are a couple of ways to approach this.

1) Get basic habits in all my basic tasks. Focus on just habituation, then start pushing mastery in each of them.

2) Engage one skill from habituation to a decent level of mastery. Then move on to the next skill. This seems to be what most people attempt doing.

One of the other things I’m scared of is that engaging completely in one skill will take too long, and I will have in fact then abandoned my project of mastery in all skills. But this only comes into play if going after super mastery with 10 years of practice - I’m not after that (yet).

But perhaps it’s not either or. Perhaps an ideal is to focus on the benefits of both. I want to focus on few tasks but I want the benefits of a circle of skills. So why not deal in families? Why not focus on groupings? Meditation and writing would go well together because they both deal with deep seated fears. Exercise and food complement each other.

3) Engage in sets of skills. Groupings that support each other.

I think the additional key to either way out is to understand that pushing skill mastery depletes more “energy” - endurance, willpower, what have you. And though you want to push all skills, you have to avoid being ripped a part by depletion forces. This means exercising restraint and focusing on fewer things - you have to let some things go to push mastery.

Habit Exhaustion, Stalling, and Growth Cycles

My habits, from an automaticity SRHI standpoint, are AMAZING. 

But from a regimentation and mastery standpoint, they’re shaky.

I’m having more difficulties moving from quality practice from one task to the next during a day. The reason is emotional - I feel like I’m not progressing towards Mastery in any given habit. So despite the length of time and the strength of my habits, it’s not paying off enough for me.

The best example is eating - I initially got a great ROI - I lost weight, etc. Now, despite having it solid, I’m hovering around the same weight, while my buddy, who’s been counting calories, has lost tons of weight. I have to remind myself it’s not about the result, it’s about getting good at the process, yet it still bothers me.

Lydia suggests that I should pick one or two specific habits to enter a growth cycle - the problem is that I feel that ALL of them need to be grown - it’s similar to picking a new habit. I feel I need 20 of them. And I feel it’s important to define that emotional state because it’s the cause of a lot of failure - the need to do everything at once, preventing any improvement on anything despite tremendous energy expenditure (emotionally or work-wise). I’ve always referenced it as “life ADD” - but we’ll call it something else. A compulsive urge to multitask and overcommit. I wish I had a good term from engineering for this, because more and more I”m seeing this whole system in terms of locomotion - aeronautics or something, with thrust, drag, acceleration, etc.

And there’s a cloudiness involved with this. I can’t see past the urge to overcommit, but when talking about it I realized that a few things are ok. Eating is ok - I need to clean it up, but it won’t need much additional willpower. It just needs to redirected, as does my fixed meditation. The two things that might actually make the most changes are bodyweight exercises, because it tends to affect mood, and dynamic meditation, which also effects mood. That’s what Lydia says anyways.  I have to think about it more.

A Robust(er?) Model Of Self Improvement - Part II


This model is a sketch. I think there are a lot of variables that still need to be honed. But here’s what I came up with.

Regimentation is a daily practice with specific problems. You have to overome fear, you have to avoid procrastination, etc. You have to have daily recording sessions. You have to manage Willpower.

Habituation is a mid-range practice. You need to avoid danger zones, set up things like TinyHabits. You need to weather disruptions like travel. You need to manage Endurance.

Mastery is a long-range practice. You have to bust through plateaus to continually increase in skill.

Above is a rough graph of what this might look like. One plane is time, another is the SRHI, and another is GRIT. This is a real map of my meditation habit along time and the SRHI. I totally fudged it for Grit because I’ve only taken the Grit Scale three times.

Grit is what I’m using as a stand-in for the path to mastery since it’s defined as Endurance + getting over things like setbacks and plateaus. Habituation doesn’t care about plateaus. You can have a solid superhabit of playing the violin but not ever improve your skill at it. Grit seems to be the best scale for improvement, and it’s ability to predict success is one of the reasons why Duckworth was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant.

Is it the best scale for this? I’m not sure. How does it play into Endurance? I’m not sure. But this graph seems to me the best model for all three variables - regimentation, habituation, and mastery.

Writing, Tinyhabits, and Scaleability

The last few days my emotions have been all over the place. I’ve had loss of clarity, loss of focus, and today I have yet to do my new writing habit.

This all makes sense - I predicted that my emotions would be unstable during this induction phase of a new habit. But what I’m beginning to think is that I haven’t quite set up my new habit well.

The whole point of making a habit tiny is to lower the threshold for fear and paralysis. Such a habit should be ludicrously tiny. When I started burpees I did 2 burpees - an easy amount. I never had a point where I said - wow I don’t want to do the work today - it was only 2!

Although 200 words seems like it’s very small, it’s obviously not so in my mind. A habit should be tiny enough to completely negate the initial static mindset I have that prevents me from even opening up my word processing software.

When this happens, the basic most simplistic action becomes ingrained as a habit. And then, like BJ Fogg says, it will grow.

So I’m dropping my daily word count from 200 words to a measly 50.

I agree with BJ Fogg that such a habit will NATURALLY grow. But I believe at some point you hit a plateau. At some point you don’t have to work and you have to force it. And that’s where scalability comes in.

I do meditation every day, but I don’t push it. Bodyweight exercises grew from a tiny habit, and then seamlessly merged into plank progressions, and that will merge into general bodyweight progressions, the later 2 examples of scaling.

I want my 50 words to do this. I want it to naturally grow to 500, then 800, and then scale it so I do a rough draft of an article, then a fully edited article. I think this way of viewing the lifecycle of practicing a skill encompasses not only habit formation but its eventual mastery.