It's scary making large sweeping promises, even if they're to yourself. There's something about long time horizons that churn our stomachs a little bit. If I asked you to give up sugar for the rest of your life, could you do it? Just thinking about it might make you uncomfortable. I almost never eat sugar and it makes me uncomfortable. If I ask you not to eat sugar just tomorrow, though, it's easy to agree.
Our brains can conceive of forever and they can conceive of just one day, but intuitively forever doesn't just seem like a collection of single days. It seems like something much bigger.
One of the tricks to sticking to habits is to not think very far ahead. Commit to something for a length of time that makes sense, but then stop thinking about that duration. Just think about today.
I have an ongoing bet with my friend Ben where I can't visit any non work-related site on my computer except during meal time. The duration of the bet is three months, but it could have been any length, really. I know that I can avoid visiting sites today, so that's all I really consider. If a day felt really difficult, I'd just think about each hour. Can I avoid those sites for an hour? Sure, that's easy.
The hours stack up into days, the days stack into weeks, and the weeks stack into months.
The interval doesn't have to be time-- it can be anything. When I'm doing a 20 rep set of squats, I don't think of my entire workout or even the set. I just think about each rep. Can I do this one more time? Yep. Good. Now can I do another one? Yep...
You could say that this is all semantics, which is true only if you don't internalize it. There are many different lenses through which the world can be viewed, and this particular one makes it pretty easy to stick to long term committments. If you know to use it when you're having trouble in that area, it's a nice little tool. When you're deciding on commitments, rather than executing on them, you may find it better to take a really long term view and ask yourself, "What could I do every day for years to give myself the greatest advantage?"
When considering my writing, I figured that writing every day would be a small time commitment that could lead to my skills advancing steadily. During the actual writing process, or the moments before I decide to write a post, though, I just think about this one day. Can I write a post today? Sure... I just did. Can I write one tomorrow? Of course-- it's just one day.
Photo is a somewhat freaky statue in a park in downtown SF.
Notice that SETT got even faster? We quadrupled capacity today...
I'm currently in the middle of a new habit to write everyday and publish on a blog for accountability. I called the project the "365 Challenge" because the goal is to write everyday for the rest of my life. I told myself the experiment was only for the month of July (I like 1 month habit experiments). But all I require of myself is to write one post each morning after I meditate. I don't give myself any expectations about tomorrow until tomorrow comes. So far, I'm 7 days strong. It definitely works.
hi ryan :) i like the idea... writing after you meditate. meditation can bring us such clarity. i guess i would ask, what is the goal of discovering you can accomplish your goal and commit to/complete the writings. Are you seeking confirmation that you can be dedicated to something continually? Are you seeking the goal of having the writings, and the process is not important other than staying dedicated to it so that you may accomplish the result? in my humble opinion, there is as much to be said to allowing your life to unfold without controls as there is to dedication and accomplishment. in example, if one day, you are on vacation, traveling... and within that day all of the other amazing plans and experiences you are having are so all encompassing and attention seeking, that you would have to force a break in those moments in order to meditate and write.... is there more intrinsic value to breaking that moment to write, or in continuing in the moment? Just thinking out loud... :)
Hey there. I definitely agree that we must leave room for spontaneity and serendipity in our lives. But that can't be an excuse to avoid building the most helpful rituals into our everyday. Most days, I don't have anything else happening in the morning. If I did, I would plan ahead to wake up earlier or just write later in the day.
For now, I'm building this habit because I want to change my self-identity. We usually don't believe something about ourselves until we see ourselves doing it. I want to see myself as writer and more generally as a creator.
Also, I meditate before writing because that was just the best spot in my current morning ritual. I didn't want to meditate after writing- I would be too tired.
trying to address life in intervals (aka being present) while simultaneously planning 2yrs ahead. interesting ;)
As imperfect humans constantly trying to stick new habits, we're all familiar with the concept of falling off the rails. It happens to everyone, sometimes as a conscious decision, sometimes through neglect, and sometimes through defeat.
You decide to run every day for a month, nail it for a week straight, and then you just stop. Maybe you give up sugar for a month, but then give in to temptation and eat half an apple pie in one sitting. There's this feeling when you know you're about to go off the rails of: oh well-- if I'm going to go off the rails, I may as well go way off. In fact, when I see people go off the rails, I most often see them go way off. It never seems to be a small violation.
Is this the best we can do?
It's important to understand what is happening when you go off the rails. At your best, you decided to make a change. You made a plan for that change and you actually stuck with it for some amount of time. As you begin to veer off the rails, you're taking your past progress and your unrealized future progress, and putting it at risk. You're pushing a stack of chips from the safety of your bankroll to the middle of the table.
"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system." -John Gall
I built a pretty good daily tracking template, and I evolved it over time. It's serving me pretty well now. I'd like to show you the evolution.
Version 0 - I realized that tracking my time would be a good thing. I started writing down just one or two things per day.
Here's what my first day of tracking looked like:
26 May - Success