The Smallest Interval

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…


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