Raptitude Experiment No. 8
I’m finally settled from my return to Canada, with a permanent apartment and a permanent job, so I feel ready to dig in and make some strides in the self-improvement department.
Self-improvement is about habit change, I know that now. But I have a poor track record for habit change. I have been ping-ponging between two different strategies, and neither has worked too well.
My old strategy was to summon all my enthusiasm, pick a day and try to change everything at once: begin exercising, meditating, staying organized, and practicing guitar every day. Usually I start this on a Monday and it lasts till about Tuesday.
It’s too much. There is too much of a sudden schedule adjustment, and the habits have a tendency to get in each other’s way. Any new habit makes ripples in your life that you can’t really predict until you’re doing it.
For example, if you’re in the new habit of working out with kettlebells after work, when you sit down to play guitar you may notice your hands are sore and tense, your mind is a bit dull, and it’s just not conducive to playing guitar. Your practice is an uninspiring one, and it’s getting late anyway, so you don’t do the next thing right either, if you get to it at all. Getting even the first day right is hard when you take on multiple new habits.
Many people suggest never trying to change more than one habit at a time. My problem with this is always the same: I have some initial success and then I can’t help but think about other habits I could be forming. I want to ride the momentum. If there are five or six habits I want to form, and I’m not allowing myself to begin on the second until I’m 30 days into the first, that means I can’t even touch some of those habits until I’m five or six months down the road, and that assumes that I’m successful in my first attempts.
I don’t know about you, but when I want to make a change, I don’t want to put my inspiration on hold for six months. In my life it seems I am either comfortable and complacent, or I want to make a dramatic change (a revolution!) in how I spend my time. Right now I want to make several changes at once, and I’m determined to find a way.
I have a suspicion, and I’m going to test it out.
There are five activities I want to make into daily habits:
Kettlebells — This has been intermittent for me since I got back. I was solid for four weeks, and during the week of my move I haven’t worked at all. I was on a roll, but it’s just as easy to get on a roll going the other way. Now I’ve been on a not-working-out roll for eight days.
Blog promotion — When I first started Raptitude, I spent time every day making connections with other bloggers, through comments, forum posts, and emails. I got out of the habit while I was traveling, and my growth has slowed. Time to make it a daily practice again.
Visualization — Productivity whiz Steve Pavlina is a gushing advocate of daily visualization, and I’m going to give it a try. You sit down and picture the sensory details of the fruits of your goals. In other words, you imagine your life as if you already have what you want, as if they exist in the present. Pavlina is coldly honest about what works and doesn’t work for him, and this is something that works. He claims that regular, pointed visualization of what you want has powerful transformational side effects. I’ll try it and report.
GTD — David Allen’s robust productivity system, Getting Things Done, is notoriously hard to implement, but I am still a fan. I have used it for bursts of productivity in the past but I’ve never brought it to a self-sustaining momentum. I’ve been able to record and organize everything I need to do, I just never sit down and work through my projects, I just let them sit while I attend to the things that are coming up soonest. That’s the habit I want to install this time: sitting down to work through my stuff, every day, before it becomes urgent.
Set out vital tools for the morning — This is a simple habit to create continuity between one productive day and the next. It’s just a nightly ritual in which I take a few minutes and set out what I’ll need the next day: any phone numbers or documents I’ll need, my GTD binder, and anything else I don’t want to forget on my way out the door.
If I were to jump into them all full-bore, it would be a struggle every day. They would be competing for my time and my patience. I’m going to try something different.
Low Standards to the Rescue
So here’s what I’m thinking:
Set low standards for each habit, and knock them off with ease every day for 30 days.
Low standards sounds like a counterproductive strategy. After all, this whole experiment is about expecting more from myself. But a low standard is a firm standard. It doesn’t invite fooling around before I’ve reached them, because they’re always within reach, each less than fifteen minutes from completion at any given time. My belief is that 30 straight days of getting some degree of my goals done is much better than intermittent successes, even if they’re bigger ones.
The idea here is to get my foot in the door, each day, for each of these activities. When I was running (before I started kettlebells) I knew that all I had to do was get my shoes on and get out the door. That simple, initial act represented about 1% of the effort I would expend, but nailing that simple task made sure I actually did it. Once I was running, the easiest thing to do is keep running.
If I keep the requirements of these daily habits small — laughable even — I can minimize the interference between these new habits, and I won’t need to carve a lot of extra time out of my existing lifestyle. By merely showing up every day, these habits aren’t battling for my time and I have no excuse for not doing them.
It’s a simple way to fend off the habit-defeating Broken Window Effect. Missed days — not modest output — are what kill habits, and this way I have no good reason to miss any days. I can’t even pretend I have a good reason, which has been my downfall before.
Here are my encouragingly low standards for each of the five habits:
Kettlebells: Get changed, do a three minute warmup, and do ten reps of whatever I feel like.
Blog promotion: Leave one thoughtful comment on another blog, make a forum post, or make a direct contact with another blogger.
Visualization: Spend ten minutes in dedicated visualization meditation.
GTD: Sit down, read through my projects list, and put ten solid minutes into moving one of them toward completion.
Set out vital tools: Leave my GTD binder open to the projects page in a place where I will see it in the morning.
And that’s all. I can do them all in half an hour if I need to. Once I’m engaged in each activity, I can obviously continue, but the hardest part — starting — is already done.
All I need is five checkmarks on my big board, every day, for thirty days. On any of those days, I can do more of each activity if I like, but not at the expense of getting those other checkmarks.
I’m practicing the art of simply showing up.
This experiment commences Wednesday, September 15, will run for 30 days, concluding on Thursday, October 14.
I’ll report my results for each day in my experiment log (to be posted under the experiments section tomorrow.)
Wish me luck.
Photo by zappowbang