The way we make decisions is pretty interesting. Making decisions that are bad for us is easy and effortless. Think about how easy it is to decide to watch TV, eat some junk food, take a nap, and then play some video games. On the other hand, let's say that today you wanted to have a really positive day. To actually decide and convince yourself to prepare and eat healthy food, avoid watching any TV, power through your work even when you're feeling tired, and avoid wasting time on facebook is hard. Not impossible, of course, but just by thinking through these two scenarios, you can imagine how much more mentally taxing the latter is.
The trick to overcoming this is to make decisions once that will have an effect for a long period of time-- in other words, having a standard routine that allows for no variance. For example, I want to have a good sleep schedule. I can do what I tried to do for about 30 years, which is will myself to make a good decision on when to go to bed every night, which didn't work at all, or just say that computer is off at midnight no matter what, and I'm asleep by two no matter what. Now I don't get to make a decision every night-- I just turn of the computer, read, and go to sleep. All I had to do was make this decision once, and then train myself on it for a couple weeks before it became second nature.
Another huge benefit of rigid scheduling is that the schedules can be tweaked. I wanted to eat more Omega 3 fats. How do I do that? Well, if I just know that's a goal, maybe I'll go grocery shopping and figure out which foods are better, figure out how to prepare them, and make them. Or maybe I'll just dial it in by eating a couple more walnuts here and there and order salmon on the rare occasion I go to a restaurant. In my case, switching to eat more Omega 3 was simple-- I eat the same thing for lunch every day, so I just substituted a sardine sandwich and tuna sandwich for my nut/fruit sandwiches. One decision and my whole diet is improved.
Studies have shown that willpower is like a muscle. On one hand it needs to be exercised regularly to be effective, but on the other hand it's strength can become depleted through short-term overuse. If you're trying to eat healthy, exercise, work effectively, write, be financially responsible, and sleep well through micro-management, you probably won't be able to continue indefinitely. Instead you'll have a burst of a week or two where you crush it, and then you'll deplete your willpower and regress back to old habits.
On the other hand, if you conserve your decisions and operate through routine, you have willpower to spare. Let's say that I'm programming for SETT and I come to a problem where I can either write a sloppy patch or make the tough decision to rewrite something that badly needs it. If I've had to expend no willpower to wake up on time, eat healthy meals, and schedule my day, I have the willpower available to make the correct decision to rewrite. On the other hand, if getting to that point in my day was the product of a series of taxing decisions, I may be more inclined to just patch it and keep moving.
In other words, you can only make so many hard decisions per day. Make them count.
Back in the US! Had an amazing time in Japan, but also looking forward to getting back on my routine...
I think this is why changes done with a group are also such effective. Once you are accountable to Others, you no longer rely on willpower to go exercise, code, or whatever but have a peer relying and expecting you to do it.
But also to expand on your article:
The president first touted the necessity of daily exercise — a habit that I endorse wholeheartedly. But what he said next was even more interesting: "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."
I share President Obama's practice of "routinizing the routine." I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast each morning: a bowl of cold cereal and a banana. For lunch, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a diet soda. Each morning, I dress in one of a small number of suits, each of which goes with particular shirts and ties....Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. In the late 1990s, Roy Baumeister (a professor at Florida State University) and colleagues performed several experiments showing that certain types of conscious mental actions appeared to draw from the same "energy source" — gradually diminishing our ability to make smart decisions throughout the day.
No electronics before 12 is one of the hardest habits to develop because of the time difference I have with my friends.
Now you have another problem. Now you have to make new friends in your own timezone, preferably within your county. But how is this doable? Now you have another problem. You must become good at social interactions through finding common interests with strangers that you can relate about. But now you have another problem. All strangers are morons who like stupid sports like Foot Ball and Shooting Baskets and Golf and The Office. Which is an insolvable problem.
I have friends in my own time zone. Liking the The Office doesn't make you a moron, that's just your opinion.
Just read your new post and then ran into this puppy on a google search. Glad to see you have kept your focus for so long and you have stuck to your principles so hard! Also Any tips on the sardine samich? I have been eating sardines a lot but the idea of a samich is a little more intimidating, do you use butter or mustard or anything? mash em up? any tip is a good tip =) Also at gotta be good SF Sebastian was mentioning meals for 23 cents, do you know what he was hinting at?
A great analysis of how to make better decisions--thank you!
"Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly." Julie Andrews
This reminds me of one of Neil Strauss's latest interviews. He says that he plans a week in advance to have his meals delivered at the same time every day that he's writing. Making decisions about his diet robs him of energy that he could potentially use to write.
Like Ramit Sethi talks about all the time on his blog, we are all cognitive misers, and have only so much mental energy to make decisions. We can make only so many hard decisions, but we can also make systems to reduce the decisions we have to make. If you want to gain muscle and work out, don't try to accumulate willpower to decide to go to the gym. Put a pull-up bar on top of your bedroom door, and that system forces you to work out. It's not a decision any longer.
Behavior first, willpower second. Just like in pickup. Don't do this: decision/willpower first, then behavior.
Love the site and what you stand for Tynan. I found you through Ramit's site got you bookmarked now!
Tell me about it. Still trying to get back on my routine, shitstorm of stuff to get done for business/personally.
Btw, fantastic ajax login system - fastest login I've ever seen
The benefit of having your subconscious make decisions isn't so much that it's a better decision maker than your conscious mind (it's probably not), but that it can make decisions much much faster than your conscious mind. You don't have to spend your focus and energy making decisions that you already have heuristics for.
For example, when I play poker, many of the decisions are made by my subconscious. This allows me to make many good analyses per minute, rather than just a few, and to dedicate my conscious processing to the most important factors at hand. It's not that I couldn't do all of the processing consciously, it's just that I wouldn't have time.
In the same way that offloading work to your subconscious helps you make decisions and opinions faster, I've found that implementing protocols has helped me take action faster, and has been a key component of my recent increase in productivity.
When you think about it, most of what you do is the same every day. The way you wake up, eat your meals, go to sleep, approach your work, and utilize your free time all follow predictable patterns. If that's true-- why don't we optimize these things for maximum efficiency?
Two weeks ago, I wrote "Damn Inbox - I'm Not Doing Anything Until It's Empty" - and then I cleared it out.
Now the sucker is back up to 45 messages. How'd that happen?
I think here's what happened -
1. My email volume has been going up, and I haven't adjusted to a new routine for it. Before I'd go into my inbox, clear a third of it when I had free time waiting for something, and then do that twice more in the day, and it'd be empty at the end of the day. Now, I'm going to need to set aside more time for it.
2. I'm answering/replying/writing a lot more emails, so it feels like it should be empty - but then I'm leaving one or two messages there that weren't there at the end of the day. This is like spending more money than you've got coming in - it's going to catch up with you sooner or later.