Experiment on Sandbagging and Travel: Part II

Conclusions (Did it work?):
I’d tentatively say…yes, but it’s hard to say without doing a control. I’ve never gone to the gym while traveling, and I’ve never had that much control over food while traveling. Doing an advanced HIIT was incredibly. Meditating during conferences, writing on the plane and during freetime at a conference…incredible, things I wouldn’t have thought possible for me.

Is it directly because I artificially sandbagged the system beforehand or have I just improved in general? I really can’t say. I did however learn several interesting things.

What I learned:
Patterns: There seemed to be an odd pattern or sense of balance for what I did and didn’t do. If I had excellent control over eating, I didn’t do meditation. If I exercised, I didn’t do writing. I set up a rudimentary scale counting each full completion as a 1 and a partial as a .5 out of 5 elements - eating, writing, exercising, food, and meditation. Here’s how it came out:
Day 1 - 3/5
Day 2 - 3/5
Day 3 - 3/5
Day 4 - 3/5
Day 5 -  0  

Despite the Reproducability Debacle, in my experience, the idea of Willpower as one depleteable resource seems to constantly prove itself true.

Challenge: I also got this odd sensation that this felt so much like a 30 day challenge, and everything that could be applied to them could be applied to this. Like 30 Day challenges, flash diet type exercises seemed to spur on my control. It also strongly felt as though it was its own progression. That is, the art of doing things while traveling is its own skill that progresses.

I can’t point to any data, but that’s how I strongly felt - like a new habit, you kind’ve scrabble around to get a hold of it for a bit at first, and only then do you actually make progress. Which is interesting because now I want to travel again to test it all out and grow more!

Possible strategies:
1) Flash diet everything. Take a pic of everything that needs to be done.
2) I feel gamification, even a pen and paper one, would work really well here. The competitive spirit really seemed to work mentally to doing stuff. There was this girl whom I’ll talk about more, who worked out every day early in the morning, and after talking about it with her she asked if I was going to show up at 5 am like her. I didn’t, I showed up at 7, but the challenge got to me. That should be harnessed.
3) Record. I failed miserably at this. Jotting down notes at the end of the day or at the beginning needs to happen. This is difficult because there were some days where I had to struggle to crawl into bed to pass out instantly. They had us running around a lot.
4) Wake up early…I managed to do this for two workouts, and that NEVER happens.
5) Eat regularly. Several breaks in willpower occurred after not eating. It’s easier to have control with everything, especially food, if you’re not quite ravenously hungry.
6) Implementation Intention! I did not do this and I knew better. Going in not having a plan makes you default to unproductive behaviors.

I think this was an excellent experiment. And I will be able to do this again. I believe the best thing is to add just one thing. I did the sandbagging, it worked to an extent. If I just add an additional strategy, just one, it might contribute to the overall progress of this skill.

Photocred: lab notebook by Calsidyrose, all other pics by me and my insta account

An Identity Approach to Alcohol - Part II - Potions, Pleasure, and Skill

Alcohol as a Potion

What ratchets everything up is that alcohol erodes that self control. I think I just don’t think about this enough.

Imagine the opposite. If there was a potion that magically imbued you with a top up on willpower with no real downsides, why wouldn’t you drink it?

By this logic, why would I drink a witch’s brew that leaches self control every time I sip at it? And because of my progressively lower tolerance, that factor is progressively increased. It seems totally and utterly counter to this project more than any one thing.

I never drank until I turned 21. When asked “why not?” I would reply “I have little enough control over my life as is, why would I want to give up more?” What changed my mind was a fusing of two distinct sides of my self. Socializing becomes one with drinking, and I think this is quite normal in adults. As I delve into habits I realize just how fused some of them are, and that improvement involves an uncoupling.


How do you socialize without a drink in hand to lower the awkwardness and anxiety of interacting with new people? I had this conversation recently with a friend who was quitting for a month - he had done this the last few years and was thinking of making it permanent. 

It started with him waking up with to a bad hangover, and being struck with the visceral realization of it simply being chemical. Why would he choose to feel bad based on a few hours of fun?

The Greek hedonists talk about how certain sacrifices are needed to extend and deepen the joys of life. We could choose to go on a drug and booze fueled bacchanalia, but for how long would that last before we cut short life? How many conversations are forgotten? How many true relationships do you have rather than a filler person that’s simply there? I think I haven’t truly explored what fruits that trade off would entail.

For my friend, it just wasn’t worth it. Sure, he said, he might have moments of awkwardness, the moments of feeling like an outsider at social situations. But in knowing a bit of skill acquisition in social dynamics, I know that’s a pain period that gives way to true social skill - after all, I interacted plenty enough with people before I took a sip of alcohol.

Years ago I was talking to another friend who was having problems socializing. He was reading quite a bit of existentialism, and we were talking about feelings of isolation in crowds  -  in the midst a party. I told him that when I felt that rising isolation I imagined the party as a ritual. In order to gain connection  you have to wait, you have to sip the libation of the rite in order to gain its rewards. It was a combination of all of it - a bit of drink, waiting in awkwardness, and then it usually comes together. It was more of a begging thing, you see. I wanted my friend to stay out, I didn’t want him to be alone and sad like I had so often been.

I’m now beginning to see many sides to that dance. I’m beginning to believe another sacrifice can be made -  greater awkwardness in lieu of the drink in order to gain even more - deeper connections that last beyond the rite.


Oddly enough pickup artists are perhaps the greatest advocates of not drinking in social scenarios  Initially the subgroup focused specifically on seducing women, but it has grown to cover all elements of social behavior, from business networking to forming a social group in a new city, for the purposes of being a more whole, fulfilled person. Pickup artists treat socializing as a skill to be learned like any other. 

Most adults never learned social skills in a methodical manner. We happen across our skills, and so very often we grab for the glass as a crutch to lower inhibitions and loosen tongues. To become truly skilled is to execute behaviors without any such aids.

In this manner I see actually learning social skills methodically as an answer to the awkwardness. Focusing on skill sets rather than any given interaction also means that awkwardness becomes a pain period on an ascending path of refinement rather than you as a person being odd. It’s less personal. And it works a lot like vipassana, where precise noting of the details of a painful experience pushes you to master it.

Potion by Roberto Milloch, Dionysus by Derek Key, monks meditating by Renee Barron

Towards an Identity Model of Habits: Part I

My buddy James is a vegetarian.
I am not a morning person.
I’m a reader of fantasy books.

Remember those statements, ’cause I’m going to reference ’em later.

In the last few years I’ve been experimenting with various models of self improvement. Before I officially started this project I assumed that motivation was a significant catalyst for self change. After seeing it as a perennial problem (I can get psyched up for gym going starting on New Years, but it peters out pretty quickly, and the cycle repeats next year) I switched to other things.

I dabbled in gamification, because I saw its addictive properties as lowering willpower thresholds. Like motivation, it worked, but only for a while.

I’ve since focused on habits for the last two years, and though I’ve had a great deal of success, they’re only foolproof in relatively basic and linear behaviors. When things get complicated that paradigm just isn’t enough.

How are they not enough?
The linear model – what BJ Fogg advocates, of starting a Tiny Habit, reaching that hook point of automaticity, then naturally increasing difficulty, repetitions, or length of time until you achieve mastery – doesn’t seem to fully work all the time. Or rather it really falls a part when you’re pushing habits to mastery, which I see as another vector of effort (regimention/willpower and endurance/forming a habit being the other two vectors).

That vector involves plateaus in skill and the maddening frustration of constantly doing a task that is at least slightly above your current level.

It also runs into trouble when you’re dealing with families of skills. I advocate this not only because families can support each other, but in a world where time is of essence (we die, our bodies wear out), skills that have an accrual across time are necessary to start now to gain the benefits of daily minimums across time. If I start a habit of cardio 30 minutes a day, I may not master it. I might not get my goal of a six pack until I nail my eating habit. But for as long as I’m exercising, I’m accruing secondary cardio “points”.

Pushing skills in the vector of skill advancement throws a huge wrench into the equation because of habit harmonics. A dissonance starts – extra effort in one skill affects the solidity of other habits.

But the biggest problem with my current model is that it doesn’t attenuate in more complicated behaviors.

Let’s go back to the original three statements.

My buddy James is a vegetarian. When we go out and eat he avoids meat. In all scenarios. After the bars while tipsy and ordering pizza late at night, when going to a restaurant with friends with crappy vegetarian options, even in one place that had amazing pork tacos.

I do the same thing with fantasy books. It’s not as though I decide to read them – I HAVE to read them. It’s not even a choice. I need to have those few minutes before bed to scratch that itch and if I don’t have at least an option loaded on my Kindle, I start to get all itchy. The world is not right.

The inverse is important to analyze – I’m not a morning person. My waking up early is either a fluke or a deliberate preparation if I need it. Morning people are morning people because they enjoy it or they just are that way – it’s totally independent from fluctuating conditions. If they’re out late the night before, they still wake up early.

For all three – it’s an identity that’s welded in. It’s not what you do, it’s part of who you are, which not only makes it stronger, it also is able to somehow adapt incredibly well to changing conditions. Choice is also almost entirely scrubbed out of the equation.

For me this becomes an issue with eating and getting up early. All the other habits I consider foundational are easy. Working out – no problem, barring travel, it’s once a day at a certain time. Same with writing, meditating, and if I add flossing or recording finances. It’s a matter of if-then protocols – implementation intentions.

For eating that gets insanely complicated – it’s multiple times a day, across changing circumstances, etc. I believe it’s the reason I’ve had to scrap the habit several times, even when I’ve maintained it for close to a year. It just never stuck. And this is a big problem – eating is incredibly important for health, energy, and weight loss. It also has the biggest impact for whether I can socialize well later in the program – I don’t want to go out to meet people and, because of lack of willpower, blow out a previous habit of making good food decisions.

mask by 派脆客 Lee, tack by Zaheer Mohiuddin, welder by Per Hortlund

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.

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 Robust(er?) Model of Self Improvement - Part III

Assuming that these three variables are correct, the next question for me is how to express this as an equation.

I asked Lydia’s father, Bill Schrandt, who is a mathematics teacher, about how one can express a line through 3 dimensional space.

The ensuing discussion got into vectors, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, and projectiles and rocket motion. What I got out of it was that it’s much easier to deal with expressing planes, and much much more difficult to express a line - much less a curved path in 3 dimensions. This is something I’ll have to look into in more detail.

But another way to go about this is to figure out how all these values and variables work together outside of a graph.

And he agreed with me in that this all sounds very similar to basic physics - friction coefficients are needed depending on how much willpower a task takes. TinyHabits allow you to cross over danger zones because there’s less of an Endurance load on repeated habits. Willpower reacts differently across time…it sounds very much like a kinematics problem in physics.

So here are some of my basic relationship thoughts with regards to coming up with a habit equation:
-Endurance is Willpower across Time just as velocity is distance across time

-SRHI has a reciprocal relationship to Endurance. As the SRHI for a task approaches perfection (84) Endurance needed decreases and approaches 0

-We can reverse engineer an Endurance scale. If the SRHI is 12 (minimum) then the Endurance load is at a maximum of 72. If the SRHI is at a maximum of 84, then Endurance is at a minimum of 0. 0-72 scale for Endurance.

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.

Power of Habit and the Number of Games

I read the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg a while ago. One of the  things it discussed was the research going on related to self discipline and will power.

Basically it says that self discipline is one skill that can be worked out like a muscle. So working self discipline in one arena will inevitably help you out in another arena. But, it also acts like one depleteable resource - stretch yourself to thin, and all endeavors collapse.

What does this mean for this project? I have a number of skills I want to explore gamification with, but I don’t want the whole house of cards to collapse on me. So I’m going to be adding skills one at a time slowly.

This week I’m just really focusing Duolingo and I’ll add another skill after a week. I’m curious how slow or fast I can add skills before suffering any sort of strain to the addiction of playing these games.