A Note on Scaling

I’ve been thinking a lot on what I want my writing habit to look like, and I feel my final picture is one that will have cross over to most other habits.

Habit formation is the focus of this project, but it’s not the entire end game. Mastery of skills is. And so scaleability of tasks and pushing for constant improvement to bust out of plateaus is key.

When I think of my writing habit, it starts with fear. I’m afraid to just write due to various reasons. So step 1 is simply overcoming that initial fear response. Train and train until the response is action to the task rather than putting it off.  To do this I implement a small habit. Small sized habits - like doing 2 pushups or writing 50 words - make it ludicrous to NOT start or do the task in a day.

Step 2 is making it so that the task - writing in this case - isn’t just something I have to do in a day. It’s like breathing. It’s like brushing my teeth. It’s a part of my daily routine. And an advanced version of this - the superhabit - means that it would take more effort to not do it than to do it.

This is all well and good, but this can, for some tasks, land you squarely in a cycle of churning mud in place. Do 50 words, but they can be crappy words. You need to push past, and this can be done in various ways. For bodyweight exercises its doing more. I went from two burpees to 24. And this is step 3 - extending the habit. I did this with burpees by simply recording them. By recording, I was forced to distance myself and look at what I was doing. Naturally you want to slowly do more.

In writing I’m doing this naturally. And I’ve started to emphasize this by recording how many words I do. And I will continue to do this, and it’s a great thing right now. But very soon I will need more than just quantity. I’ll need quality.

So enter step 4. With working out it’s following a version of a scaled strength plan. So instead of just adding to the number of pushups I can do I mix it up. I do back bends and abs. I do more and more difficult exercises. And this is exactly what I will need for writing.

I envision a plan where I have one day where I work on transitions. One day where I work on pitches, and one day where I work on specific chinks in my writing armor. Maybe for one month I work on one thing, and then I move on. Maybe I take a class. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it has to be targeted.  It can’t be just taking a general easy class, because then complacency rises up - it’s easy to write 50 crap words, but improvement doesn’t come through anything but uncomfort.

I’ve tried a version of this with eating - I challenged myself to not eat bread for a month. Could I do more? Yes. What about other habits? Could I improve in recording? Absolutely - I can memorize the SRHI and take it in my head. Meditation? Sure.

The picture I have in my mind is being tossed into a module. I might have craziness happening in my life as a whole, but at X time I’m tossed into a totally dark room with nothing but the next preplanned module that forces me to grow. The room is completely unaffected by the outside world or other adjoining rooms. And the training, for the set duration of time, is perfect for my abilities at the time - not too easy, not too hard, but just right to force me to grow. Then I’m tossed back out into the real world and can totally forget that room. That, to me, is my mental image of proper training and regimentation.

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.

The Next Habit: Writing

Today 3 of my 4 habits reached “Superhabit” status at 80 and above on the SRHI. They feel pretty effortless, especially after getting used to my new unrecorded habit in the last two weeks of starting new duties at work. Two weeks ago I felt endurance depleted, but now I feel very solid, and it has been reflected in my scores.

I think it’s time to attempt a new habit. I thought about a simple habit like flossing, or going back to dynamic meditation. In the book Do the Work Steven Pressfield talks about fear and procrastination pointing to what you should do next. For me, that’s writing - I tend to avoid it like the plague.

My first attempt with this habit was with 750words.com over a year ago! According to my records, it was my longest running recorded habit at 175 days - though I had severe problems with consistency. I officially scrapped it at the end of Feb 2014.

In this new iteration I need to combine all the things I’ve learned so far. I need a solid implementation intention - an if-then of a trigger and the action. This will merge with the idea of “bookending” - doing something as a chain when I get up in the morning. And I need to include BJ Fogg’s notion of a TinyHabit. It also has to be scaleable - I should be able to naturally evolve and add to it.

My bodyweight training is, to date, the most efficient habit I’ve formed - a quick, steady rise to habituation with no real “danger zones." 

So, with all that in mind, my habit will be to write potentially publishable material every day. 750 words isn’t "tiny” so I’ll be writing 200 words a day. And these bits of writing cannot be diaries or meandering thoughts - they have to be something I could actually form into full pieces.

I currently wake up and meditate, then do bodyweight exercises, then record, then start work. I will put writing 200 words right after I record my habits and before starting my real work. This means I will have to off-set the recording of this habit for the next day.

I also need this to be scaleable. So I will first start with 200 words. Once I get good at that, I will extend it slowly by word count, then until I can proof a full basic article of 800 words and have one article ready to publish per day.

In my original 750 words project I would end each session by brainstorming what I would write for the next day. This is also a great practice.

This is going to be really difficult. It’s hard to do this psychologically because I fear it. Also I’m moving to a different country in one week. However, I want habits and habit formation to work irrespective of location changes, so I’d like to start now. I’m also curious if 200 words is tiny ENOUGH. The idea is that it has to be utterly easy - almost ludicrously so. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m nervous, scared, and a little excited - let’s see how this works out!