Gotham Course on Book Proposals Complete

I forgot to mention that a week or two ago while traveling I finished a Gotham Writers course on Nonfiction Book Proposals. Specifically for a book on habits and this project. As with NaNoWriMo I was able to successfully fold in work on this class with my writing habit.

I got some great feedback on how to hone my pitch and my message. But on a personal note it is a huge block I overcame. Since leaving graduate school in 2004, it’s the first course I’ve fully completed. I’ve had a huge block in my mind for completing course work - it’s caused me to leave incomplete, let’s see:

Yoga Teacher Training
CELTA (Certification for English Language Teachers for Adults)
SCUBA open water certification
2 Coursera Classes
A MediaBistro Course 

And I’m sure there are a several more. Anyway I was able to work through that block with a surprising amount of ease that I lay at the feet of quality habits and regularity. I worked on my course every day, which is worlds and worlds a part from my usual M.O. of procrastinating till the last minute.

I think when change comes, it’s sometimes unnoticeable. It’s why it’s important to note change, so that when we come up against something else we think is insurmountable we can just point ourselves to a string of past victories and believe that what we did before can be done again. But we have to know those victories are there.

So good job me.

I’m in a better position now to see what needs to happen going forward for this book - it’s a lot of work, but I’ve got a much better handle on it all. And now I’m thinking….what other course should I take?

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. 

Great.

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.

Timothy Ferris, Rapid Skill Mastery, and My Writing Habit

Timothy Ferriss talks here about how to become world class in any skill within 6-12 months.

It’s a great talk and it touches on a lot of things I’m about - minimalism, and optimizing progress. And it talks about complex skills that are composed of a number of smaller skills. Conglomerate skills that have a tendency to easily frustrate people because there’s not something you can latch onto. Cooking was one such skill for Ferriss, and the reason why he called his book on mastery The 4-Hour Chef.

His methodology is DiSSS.
Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes

Deconstruct a complicated task, focusing in the first 5 sessions to avoid basic mistakes people make in the task. Select the minimal skill that the majority of the larger skill relies upon (the Pareto Principle), question sequencing with the knowledge that in many cases doing things out of order might be better, and up the stakes to increase behavioral change through motivational factors. He adds that repetition of deconstructed skills when it’s not for real (learning how to sautee with coffee beans on a carpeted floor) is key, as is the belief that it can be done, questioning best practices, and focusing on removal and minimalism.

My question: how do I apply this to writing?

After brainstorming and thinking a lot, here’s my protocol based on my key weaknesses when writing any given article:

Week 1
Research. I have a tendency to get bogged down, so I’m going to practice quickly researching articles. What do restaurants have on their menus? When were places opened. In a lot of cases it may just involve cutting and pasting in a list. I should avoid getting bogged down in research and general internet distractions.

Week 2
The majority of articles are good because of transitions which meld research fragments and personal descriptions to a storyline. On my writing blog I’ve already researched an analyzed a number of transitions. So I’ll just choose transitions that work between the research points - this is also sequenced out of order, per Ferriss’s advice. 

Week 3
Actually writing the middle adding personal descriptions to the research and the transitions.

Week 4
Doing the same for endings. 

Week 5
Editing

The idea with all this is that beginnings are actually not really key. I can take a lot of articles and write them from different high points in the action. But the other things are, in my opinion, key points starting from research and descending.

My plan is to ATTEMPT to do this similar to a newbie mission - 2 articles in one hour, for 2 hours. Depending on how fast I get, I want to expand that to 3 per hour for 3 hours. The key is to do this quickly yet well, working on broken up skills in order to gain familiarity and to be able to execute each part with no hesitation because I’ve done it so many times.

I believe that I will be able to pare this methodology with habituation, which is why I’m not including the Stakes aspect to this. I might be wrong, I might need it, but we’ll see. This skill pushing will constitute completion of the instance of habit exercise, i.e. a “check” for having completed my habit of writing for the day.

This might not work. I might have to do each task until it becomes the new ratchet point, and I have NO idea how long that will take. Do I need to do each part longer? Is this the growth phase, and after this 5 week cycle will I have to come up with a new daily minimum? Probably. Do I need to record the writing habit again until the daily minimum becomes a superhabit? Will Ferriss’s skill mastery methodology trump my own habit heavy methodology? I have no idea…but I’ll find out.

Nested Habits

I was talking about pitching for work. I want to make it into a habit where I just continuously pitch because publication schedules are so slow, it only works if there are continuous pitches being thrown out. So even if smaller amounts are being answered and even smaller are positive, I’ll have a steady stream of work. Like juggling.

But I’m wondering if I need to treat some of these things as almost separate habits. For example, I have no problem writing 50 words. I have no problem writing a first draft of 50 words a day most of the time. But sometimes I falter. 

The last couple of days I’ve been trying to do a very specific article - a listicle with no narrative that has a lot of research involved. This rips me out of the flow of words constantly - so 50 words isn’t as easy as a 50 word narrative. Pitching is the same way - it requires a lot of research so it’s slow going.

Now I don’t necessarily need to do this everyday, but to work at the habit, I want to be able to cover all types of terrain every day on a cycling basis. 

But these difficult executions may need to be nested. If I need to do listicles, maybe I should do it once or twice a week and do the SRHI for that. Because it feels like I’m starting another habit and the protocols of being calm and compassionate through messups as the will grows seems the same as starting a  new habit from scratch. 

Slacking and Superhabits

The last few weeks I’ve gotten the impression that I’ve been floating through many of my fully formed superhabits.

A lot of this has to do with my bouts of sickness and travel, where I have to slack deliberately in order to sustain the habit.

But now that I’m good, there’s been a slump. Specifically:
Fixed Meditation
I’m doing basic meditations. Relaxation, visualizations - these would have been difficult a while ago, but I need to PUSH. Bring UP bad emotions, then quell them. OR do some advanced stuff, like TUMMO. OR start doing what I don’t like to do, like single pointed meditation. OR do Vipassana for time. 

Bodyweight Exercises
I’ve been on type writer pushups - that’s awesome. But I’ll do 3, and stop. I can do reps like I did today - and it HURT. I should be used to that pain. I need a better cycle - I’ve started doing bulgarian split squats and that’s good. I need to push my bridges. I dropped my dragon flag progression because I don’t have a good stable spot, but that’s no excuse - I gotta solve that problem. And I HAVE to do what I hate, tabatas.

Writing
I’m totally slacking on the actual writing part of my cycle. I need to get back into that mentality of doing a first draft - like I can do no wrong. And then the next day NEEDS to be editing to a polished submittable piece. If I can get that cycle down, a HUGE weight will be lifted, because pitching is easy for me. So maybe I should just focus on that - forget everything else - first draft, then edit. again and again rinse and repeat.

Eating
I’ve been letting things slip here. But I don’t care as much - FINALLY it’s just coalesced into a habit. If I can keep it like that, I’m happy, and I can clean it up later.

Conclusion - this is something I’m going to have to constantly be aware of. Plateaus are a part of this business. Sometimes it may take something special to shake things up. Maybe I should do crossfit. Maybe I should drop everything and do writing/editing for a month. Maybe I should do a month of single pointed meditation. There is definitely a huge benefit to doing something like my No Bread challenge. 

Restructuring Habits

Although my super habits are down cold, my two non-habits - eating and work are pretty much in shambles. I’m not worried about either though - once I get into the zone in eating it gets consistent fast. And with work it’s understandable - I haven’t worked the last week for the holidays and that absence is affecting my SRHI score.

More worthy of discussion is the plateau I find myself in superhabits.

Writing is about to change. I want to alternate between writing and editing, and I’ve started doing this to good affect. I’m also considering adding another day of pitching and one day of blogging on the weekends.

I need to memorize the SRHI to continue on with record keeping, but it’s not that serious of an issue.

Lastly, I’ve plateaued in bodyweight exercises. I’ve started doing the one arm pushup progression against the wall, but it’s not that difficult and I’m not sure if I’m doing it correctly. Other exercises are stalling - my dragon lifts are pretty much the same right now and my bridges aren’t necessarily improving. 

I realize with this that though it feels like I’m flailing, it really hasn’t been that long. It just sort’ve feels like a long time because it’s the holidays and I’ve been traveling and relaxing because of it - the holiday effect. But I would like to throw more stuff into the mix - maybe start lower body exercises or whatnot. 

I’d like to start implementing my fixed meditation plan as I outlined in my book. It basically consists of practicing multiple arenas of meditation classifications. I’ve started doing a it a little bit but I want to make it cyclical - changing it up every day. 

This cycling idea started with bodyweight training and has seemed to just leak over to all my superhabits. I’m curious how it works. I’m wondering if it’s a good way to bust past a plateau. But I also think it’s completely like cheating. Up until the superhabit formed I’m normally doing one task - usually in Tiny Habit form. But once the “slot” coalesces not only does the actual amount of one task grow, but I can get several tasks for the price of one.

I’m ideally not just writing, I’m using the slot of writing to write, pitch, blog, and edit. I’ll see how it goes, but if it goes well things are about to get really interesting, and either way I’m going to welcome the changes.

Writing Habit So Far (From Start to Superhabit), SRHI over Time

image

This graph isn’t very clear cut at all in terms of backing up my Quarter Mark Theory. But analyzing it further there are two big gaps in progression. 

At around day 53 there is huge downturn - actually a gap in recording that occurred. That was during a week of travel to England and France. 

There is another one starting around day 72. This was during another travel to Germany where my computer completely died.

In both cases I wasn’t prepared - I didn’t go lo-tech and I didn’t have a solid implementation intention.

Before both and after both travels I quickly got back to the 70’s in the SRHI.

Does this blow my hypothesis out of the water? I’ll have to keep looking into it.

It is interesting to note that in the first iteration of my writing habit using 750 words, I got to the 70s on day 50 (though at the time I wasn’t taking the SRHI every day - it was more like once a week, if that). And this most recent iteration of the writing habit really did seem to stretch out a lot longer than I would have thought it would. I’m guessing this had to do with the travels and gaps in recording.

This graph might be particularly useful to try to analyze how gaps might stretch out a habit. AND it could be useful to analyze how long it takes for regular habits to become solid superhabits over 80 on the SRHI.

Day 290 & Writing Habit Update - Am I Ready to Declare Superhabit Status?

Day 290 Record Keeping
Day 259 Fixed Meditation 
Day 205 Bodyweight Exercise  (3 bridges, 3 dragon lifts)
Day 132 Writing = 80 (editing meditation book)
Day 305 Eating = 67
Day 62 Work = 65
Great sleep, great wakeup. 
Trying to work more on the dragon lift - the last part of the dragon flag. Though I can get up onto my shoulders it’s still difficult to maintain enough ab contraction to stay level  - I feel working on the dragon lift will help with that.

Writing Habit Update - Am I ready to Declare Superhabit Status?

Writing appears to have reached superhabit status.

I am concerned about making it official. I had a week of continual superhabit status writing (two weeks ago)- but that was because of NaNoWriMo. Now I’m doing mostly editing.

One side of me says it might be best to wait until I can take the SRHI for a week of regular writing.

The other side of me says - that’s just negative thinking! I kicked ass on NaNoWriMo - that’s not a walk in the park, that’s taking the habit to it’s limits! And editing involves a lot of writing as well - that’s a special project, but it’s also taking it further. And I’ve been 80 and above for almost a week on that as well.

I’m going to think about it.

Also - a great idea is to do alternating cycles - just like my bodyweight workouts. One day writing, the other day polishing and editing. That would be amazing. And if I can include pitching in the cycle I’d pretty much have my freelance work life taken care of.

Feeling pretty good about that writing habit!

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!