Experiment Log No. 8 — The Art of Showing Up

I don’t think I’ve ever been to an appointment in my life where I wanted the other guy to show up. ~George Costanza

In this experiment I attempt to establish five daily habits at one time, by setting ridiculously low standards for how much of them I must do every day. Once they are established as daily activities, I can ramp up the amount I do each of them.

Here are the five habits. More info is in the original post.

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.

The experiment will run for thirty days, beginning Wednesday September 15, and finishing Thursday, October 14. I will try to update this log most days (but updating the log is not one of my five daily requirements!)

Experiment Log:

Day 1 — 15/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 2 — 16/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 3 — 17/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Today was a bit difficult, because I had a party to go to not too long after work. Not that it was difficult to get my tasks done, but I really rushed through them and I would not have done them if I didn’t make a commitment of doing them every day. Once I had done them though, I felt good and I like that I did not let a fully-scheduled day supersede my self-improvement efforts.

So far the experiment is going well, but I have noticed something I want to avoid in the future: on two of these days, I did all five activities in a burst at the end of the day. This didn’t leave me any time to do more than my minimums if I wanted. By the end of this 30 days I would like to have established regular times of day to do all of these things. I have to keep that in mind, rather than just try to get my 150 checkmarks in 30 days.

Day 4 — 18/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 5 — 19/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 6 — 20/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 7 — 21/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Day 8 — 22/9/2010

Kettlebells: DONE

Blog promotion: DONE

GTD work: DONE

Visualization: DONE

Put binder in place: DONE

Okay it’s been over a week and I haven’t slipped yet.

Getting these things done isn’t a problem. They’re very easy and don’t take a long time — that was the idea. But there are a few issues arising.

Most of these days, I have just been putting in the bare minimums, with no intention of really getting into these activities, and often I tackle them all at the end of the day. For example, I pick up the kettlebell knowing I’m only going to do ten swings. The idea was I would get my “foot in the door” with each of these activities every day,  so that I’ve done the hard part (starting) and continuing should be easy. But often the intention to do more than the minimum is never there.

That’s okay though, as I’m trying to feel out these habits and get used to taking these actions daily, minimizing my resistance to starting them. But I could easily see all 30 days going by, doing them all every day, but not actually having any of these become real habits.

One thing I am going to do in week two is try and do each at its own regular time every day, so that I don’t end up rushing through all five at the end of the day just to get them ticked off. I will do them at times when it is especially feasible to keep going. I have picked optimal times for each of these and I’ll try it out starting tomorrow.

I’ll get more into this later, but I am seeing tremendous potential in the visualization exercise, at least if I’m not drowsy while I do it. It really gets the ego and body into an aroused state, where I am almost aching to get to work. I will try making this a regular right-after-work thing, so that it will lead nicely into my kettlebell workout.

DISASTER!

Completely fell off the rails shortly thereafter. I had one bad day, then it was all over.

That taught me an critical weakness of this strategy. All five of these tasks are handcuffed together in a sense. If you miss one of them, it seems like doing the other four don’t really matter. And if you miss one day, it seems like next day doesn’t matter, because the idea isn’t to make great progress in each area (because the productivity standards are so low) but to make each on a habit.

So rather than resuming, I’m starting again. Tomorrow (Tuesday Oct 11) is day one, but I’ll do them today for practice.

One other thing I realized right off the bat is that simply doing them isn’t enough. They won’t become a habit unless I do them every day at the same time. So my goal will be to establish a routine day in which I have a designated time for each of these activities.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Well I’m continuing on, but I don’t feel like I’m getting much accomplished. I have missed the odd task the odd time, and it seems like it doesn’t matter. Getting a perfect 30 for 30 doesn’t seem like it will really be that helpful if I can’t make consistent, daily habits of these tasks. Here’s where I am with each:

Kettlebells: (Get changed, do a three minute warmup, and do ten reps of whatever I feel like.)

This one has been backfiring. The main problem is that if I just pick up the bell and do ten swings, I feel like I have an excuse to not work out. I think it is much more productive to make sure I do my regular whole workout four times a week. As long as I’m in the habit of my regular workout, picking up the bell every day can’t hurt, but it doesn’t seem to be helping anything.

Blog promotion: (Leave one thoughtful comment on another blog, make a forum post, or make a direct contact with another blogger.)

I’ve been dreading this because sometimes I have to search long and hard for a blog post I think I have something to say about. I don’t want to leave contrived comments or unnecessary forum posts. I am not naturally inclined to comment on blogs, because I don’t often have much to gain by it except for cold networking purposes. Still, I have found some cool posts and made some comments, but sometimes it becomes a chore. Yesterday I gave up and it felt right.

Visualization: (Spend ten minutes in dedicated visualization meditation.)

It’s been a long time since I had a good session. I think I’ve forgotten how to really get into my visualization. I just had a twenty-minute session and it was just kind of garbled and distant. I wonder what I was doing differently before…

GTD: (Sit down, read through my projects list, and put ten solid minutes into moving one of them toward completion.)

This has by far been the best one. I am now getting pretty intimate with my GTD binder and it’s not such a scary thing to look at any more. I can always find a useful way to spend my ten minutes and often I work longer. This was exactly what I needed to do to kickstart my GTD habit. I want to make this one almost automatic.

Set out vital tools: (Leave my GTD binder open to the projects page in a place where I will see it in the morning.)

Super easy but it doesn’t always serve its intended purpose. I lay it out each night with the idea that I’ll dive back into it first thing, but my morning routine doesn’t really support that. I don’t want to look at it first thing.

Overall, this experiment is not exactly moving mountains for me and I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s impossible to put your heart into these tasks when the point is just to get them checked off. It’s like five tiny but annoying hurdles in the hallway on the way to my bed.

In the mean time I can still focus on cultivating a GTD habit, which is paying off big time. Visualization also has great potential, if I can figure out where this current slump is coming from.

November 12, 2010

Well I’m done the thirty days, but to be honest I’ve only gone through the motions for the last few weeks.

The main problem is that showing up physically does not mean you are showing up mentally. Since there are five areas where I’m supposed to be showing up every day, I can’t find that vein of enthusiasm that made me want to work on these activities in the first place. Too much gear-switching.

Instead, I’ve grown to resent my quintet of tasks because they are obligations, and the benefit seems so distant. It is rare that I actually want to be doing any of those activites when it comes time to do them. So I do the quick minimum, usually without any heart in it, check them off and get on with my day.

So the technique hasn’t worked for me. There was seldom any intention to do more than the minimum, and simply dragging myself to do a token amount of something not only fails to inspire me to do more, but seems to inhibit my desire to do any of it. I think the real power in a habit change comes from a genuine working desire to see the benefits of what you’re doing, and when I’m only doing a token amount, it doesn’t really feel beneficial.

On the occasions when I’ve pushed myself to do more than the minimum, my enthusiasm has been undermined by the thought that I could not possibly summon the will to do the same for the other four. I think I’d be much better off picking one habit and running with it. That allows for undivided loyalty to one area of improvement. I always felt like I was betraying the others if I gave extra effort to one.

I don’t think this experiment has really given me any widely applicable insight, so I don’t think I will do a proper final report. Everything that can be learned from it is available here in this log.

I think there is probably a better application for the idea of easy minimum standards, but the way I went about it didn’t work.

So I’m calling this one D.O.A. right now. Glad I tried it though.

{ 2 Comments }

Matthew Christie March 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I like your idea of low standards. From reading your entire blog I feel that trying to do five things every single day is a little too much and has taken a toll on you and your goal.
I think if you do these five things, but on seperate days of the week you can get more time with each individual goal. Smart thinking doing each thing everyday, but after that becomes a habit, switch kettle bells to just three times a week and keep it at that.
Blog promation you can do on the same three days as the kettle bells.
The visualization seems to help you alot, so you should stick with that every day.

My point being- Break up the task that take alot of time to a few times a week(kettles and blog posting) insted of every day. Your not superman. Like your site says “Getting better at being human” Do things in a human possible way.

{ Reply }

Alexander Schwarz June 15, 2012 at 4:21 am

Have you heard about or tried the the concept of tiny habits by BJ Fogg? It’s really simple and effective if you want to revisit the topic of habits. See http://tinyhabits.com/

{ Reply }

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