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. 

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. 

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. 


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.

Forming Record Keeping as a Habit

Lydia wants to start record keeping in order to cement her habits. She’s been trying to keep up with a habit by skipping over the recording, and she’s admitted that it doesn’t really work well for her.

When I started this project for real (the third time), I decided that I was going to begin only with record keeping. In my mind, forming a habit of recording habits is the trunk and roots of a tree of skills. And though it seems tedious to JUST do that, it’s the process that, when properly cemented, is where all other branches of the tree arise.

But Lydia’s hesitancy is understandable. I don’t want to advise people to sit there for 2 months doing nothing but recording nothing…just recording the process of recording. It makes sense theoretically - record keeping is something that takes very little time but is often overlooked - like most quality habits. Flossing, doing crunches, etc take very little time, but over time are dropped. Even the researchers have problems getting their test subjects to take the SRHI regularly.

As we were talking I further backed up forming the record keeping habit slowly. There is a maddening tendency while doing it - you have so much willpower right NOW, but you feel like you’re doing nothing. The problem is that willpower really doesn’t matter. Going to the gym once and having a fantastic focused workout doesn’t matter at all if it’s not extended for a long time. Endurance is the key to lasting change.

The other argument is that once it’s developed it’s yours presumably for life. So yeah you might take 2 months to develop it, but isn’t that worth it if you’re going to resting other habits on top of it? Isn’t it worth it if it’s cemented forever?

Despite all this, it still doesn’t sit well with me, especially when it comes to giving advice. “First, go record recording for 2 months” just doesn’t fly off the tongue. I can hear people just ignoring this first step anyway - god knows I would if I heard that a few years ago. Is there any way to compress two habits - one of recording and another habit - so that it at least feels like you’re doing something in the beginning?

I’m all for adding two habits at once if they’re both tiny - the endurance threshold lowers so it’s easier to keep it up to make them both habits. Lydia suggested automating the recording process. A lot of what takes time is adding up all the scores - what if it was all automated?

That level of programming knowledge, though basic, just happens to be far more advanced than what I can accomplish.  Lydia is working on a simple spreadsheet that will tally scores.

But what if you could go further? Say a click-able list of questions that tallies your score and automatically records it onto a spreadsheet with all your habits with a date stamp. And the date keeps rolling - so if you don’t do the questionnaire it continues to mark it as an absence - oddly enough a big problem I’ve had is counting and making sure my missed days are accounted for. I often get quite confused trying to straighten out my numerical mess ups.

If you could have a streamlined system like this I believe the habit would be successfully “tiny-fied” - and adding it together with something like doing two pushups a day would be feasible. And furthermore, it would be palatable as an overall program for general self improvement.

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 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!