Switch to mobile version

Raptitude Experiment No. 34 — A Day for the Highest Good

Post image for Raptitude Experiment No. 34 — A Day for the Highest Good

In this experiment I (and I hope you) see what happens when we live by a certain dictum one day a week:

At each moment from the moment you wake, do without hesitation the thing that most needs to be done at that moment, regardless of how appealing it is. Bring your full attention and whole heart to each such act as you do it, as though it’s your sole job on earth.

[Read the original post]

Or, if you prefer Marcus Aurelius’s more nuanced version:

Hour by hour resolve firmly, like a Roman and a man, to do what comes to hand with correct and natural dignity, and with humanity, independence, and justice. Allow your mind freedom from all other considerations. This you can do, if you will approach each action as though it were your last, dismissing the wayward thought, the emotional recoil from the commands of reason, the desire to create an impression, the admiration of the self, the discontent with your lot. See how little a man needs to master, for his days to flow on in quietness and piety: he has but to observe these few counsels, and the gods will ask nothing more.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations II.v

This is something I am doing regularly now, but I’ll make sure to do it on Tuesday, November 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29 because in the original post I proposed taking one day a week (perhaps Tuesday) to live this way.

I’ll record my experiences here, and I encourage you to share your own in the comments.

The Log

1 Nov 2022 (8:49am)

A quick note to anyone trying this today.

In the comments a number of people asked a good question I didn’t really answer in the post: how do you know what the thing that “most needs to be done” is?

I answered this several times in the comments, and here’s basically what I’ve been saying:

There are lots of ways to interpret the idea of the “right” thing. I’m talking about acting from a place of honesty about what you think probably is the best contribution you could make to the moment. Note that obsessing about what to do is not likely to be the best contribution. A way to simplify it is to question your motives — are you doing it because you actually think it’s right, or just because it’s convenient, or it makes you look good, or some other motive? This doesn’t have to be an elaborate thinking exercise, but just a quick check-in to assess where this prospective action is coming from, and to try to find an action that comes from the best place in you. This sense might have to be developed, but I think we all have it.

For the most part, you’re basically checking in with your conscience frequently about why you’re doing what you’re doing. I think most of us can tell immediately if we’re trying to get away with a compromise, or if we’re really doing what we know is best.

Another time-honored tool for self-guidance is to ask, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?” with so-and-so being a figure whose virtue and honesty you admire. You could use Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, your grandmother — whoever has always amazed you with their honesty and fortitude for doing the right thing.

2 Nov 2022 — Recap of the first Tuesday

Wonderful day, and I learned a lot. I got a lot done, and went to bed without remorse.

I had a to-do list for the day, and I did everything on it. That wasn’t precisely the goal of the day, but it was the result. Nothing came up that seemed honestly more important than finishing the list.

There were a lot of instances where I noticed the impulse to cut corners, to settle for doing a B-plus job. A lot of these instances were situations that come up a lot.

For example, on days when I don’t have time to go to the gym, I do a short dumbbell workout at home just before lunch. My standard is to do three exercises — nine sets in total. Quite often, the last exercise is something unpleasant, like squats, and I often bargain with myself to do it later in the day and just go ahead and have lunch — I’ll do those three quick last sets before dinner, I tell myself. Sometimes I end up fulfilling that halfhearted promise, sometimes I don’t.

I noticed this attempt to compromise, and did the last exercise anyway. Then, after doing the first two sets, I didn’t want to bother with the last one, and I already felt like I’d done enough. This is another compromise I often am tempted to make — who cares about that last set? I’ve already done enough. Maybe I’ll injure myself if I “push too hard.”

This is all self-deceptive nonsense, but I fall for it a lot because it really doesn’t seem all that important. I know that on any other day I would have sold myself short, not only on my intended workout, but on my own ability to properly do what I said I’d do.

The day was full of these sorts of encounters with my sneaky, ready-to-compromise-my-intentions self. I had the impulses to leave a few “harmless” dishes in the sink, to read a little longer and meditate a little less, and to indulge

I also had many, many instances in which my phone ended up in my hand due to habit, and instead of quickly checking my email or Instagram before putting it away, as I customarily do, I put it away immediately.

I by no means behaved perfectly, but that’s not the point. In each instance in which my conscience warned me against compromising my intention, I listened and did the right thing. That’s not to say there was no unnoticed self-deception, but I didn’t let myself do anything I knew to be less than the right thing to do. This was a little harder than living normally, on one level, but such a relief on another level. I didn’t have this sinking feeling (one I now realize I feel often) that I might not get away with the “probably good enough” choice I’m making.

Not least of all, I really enjoyed the day. I liked doing things with the “correct and natural dignity” Marcus Aurelius recommends. I did things one at a time, and felt comfortable making Thing Two wait while I did Thing One, feeling confident there was no better way. I also reverted to mindfulness whenever I noticed I was absorbed in aimless thinking, rather than indulge in it for a bit longer, as I often do.

Most of these little moral forks in the road were over small things, but the feeling of always taking the better fork whenever I noticed it was indeed a fork — that was no small thing. By bedtime I felt clear minded, remorseless, and proud of what I’d done, even though it was a modest day.

This morning I woke up and realized that I was no longer under any oath to do the right thing. I could take my time getting out of bed, and put on a Youtube video while I make coffee instead of mindfully meeting the cold and grogginess of getting up. I could eat a needlessly indulgent breakfast. The idea of exercising those freedoms felt deflating — am I really going back to the compromised version of myself so quickly? Why? Yesterday was great. I want more of that.

3 Nov 2022 — Thoughts about the day after

Yesterday was not such a productive day, which is interesting because I didn’t feel like I was behaving too differently than the day before. I still wanted to do the right thing, but I didn’t have a commitment to it. Doing the right thing returned to being an elective procedure, an option at each juncture, but I didn’t have to hold myself to it. And the day became one full of compromises and halfhearted follow-through, and in the end I wished I’d taken up the commitment again.

The difference seemed so small at each decision point — to do a thing a little later rather than now, to not worry about doing my best here, to “give myself a break” there… and the overall result was so mediocre. Not a disaster at all, but dramatically less rewarding and productive. I could see my outlook reflect this. Yesterday the future felt so bright because I knew I was making the best one I could, and today I felt the usual worry and uncertainty.

This difference brought a disturbing thought to the surface: the source of my worry about the future is not so much about what will happen to me, but whether I’ll do the right thing in response. I’m afraid the best version of me won’t show up when I need him. It’s possible that this is the central fear in my life, because that feeling was completely absent Tuesday.

The contrast between the two days was so obvious, it’s starting to seem like the “day dedicated to good” option is really the only sensible option.

Today is Thursday and I am doing it again. I will report.

Last week Tuesday went so well, and Wednesday was so comparatively “blah” that I had another Do The Right Thing All Day day on Thursday the 5th, and it also went really well. I kept my list with me all day, and referred to it constantly, until it was all done and then I felt naturally inclined to use my remaining hours well, because I was in such a good groove.

9 Nov 2022

The second official Tuesday was yesterday, and I struggled. In the intervening days I was living with varying levels of commitment to the original ideal, which meant accepting varying levels of laxity, and so by the time Tuesday came around, I had had an excellent week, but it had been a while since I had met the truly uncompromising standard I had aimed for the first Tuesday. I was doing “more than good enough” and I felt good about that, good about the future, but this is not at all the same as “doing without hesitation the thing that most needs to be done at each moment.” That way of being is its own animal, and I think I got it confused with “being better than usual.”

Yesterday (Tuesday the 8th) I felt quite tired and put-upon all day, and felt miles from the Stoic alignment I had kept on the 1st. By mid-afternoon I knew I wasn’t doing it, and so it felt like there was nothing to maintain. I finished up my work to a respectable standard but not the standard I had hoped. I say “hoped” instead of intended because I don’t think I quite began with the same pure intention I had the first day. I didn’t review the Stoic “mission statement” the practice is supposed to keep, and so I was just vaguely trying to do the right thing. I’m going to choose another day this week (before next Tuesday) to try again, emphasizing the proper spirit.

Still, this has been an amazingly productive nine days. Not a single day I’m not proud of.

10 Nov 2022

A quick thought I forgot to add yesterday. One element that’s easy to overlook, and may be at the heart of the Mode of Being afforded by this practice, is the “do each thing as thought it’s your sole job on earth.” I’ve been focusing on (as has most of the discussion) the “do the thing that most needs doing” part. It’s very hard to do that sometimes, but I think it is this second, more subtle aspect that enables you to do it.

To me, doing a thing — emptying an unfinished tea into the drain, opening a Word document, anything — as though it’s your sole job on earth entails a certain kind of attention. You’re not just getting the thing done, you’re attending to it as though the doing itself is important. You’re not daydreaming while you pour the tea down the drain, you’re attending to the pouring, with that “correct and simply dignity” referred to by Marcus Aurelius. It’s easy to lose sight of that aspect of this practice, and if you do, I think the result is the kind of day I had Tuesday, where I had little interest in doing the things I was supposed to do, I think precisely because I didn’t take an interest in the doing at all, just in the getting done.

16 Nov 2022 — Recap of the third Tuesday

This one went much better than last week’s, and I think I understand better what was missing.

In my last update I explored the idea that how you do things is as important as doing all the right things. Half of the instruction concerns the how rather than the what — ”do everything as though it were your sole job,” or “Do everything with a simple and quiet dignity”.

I now think this attitude towards doing, this way of doing, is more important than what you do. It’s a practice of the heart. The task needs to be treated like it’s important work, even if it’s just gathering the right spices from the pantry to make dahl. Doing the right thing cannot be accomplished just by logically identifying the right thing and then doing it with the habitual “get it over with” attitude. It has to be seen as the thing you’re on this earth to do, an act that fulfills your purpose. Otherwise it’s just a kind of grinding labor that you’re still conflicted about, because you can be doing it while simultaneously not really wanting to be doing it.

To achieve that elusive state of Stoic purpose and unconflictedness, we need to attend to the task as thought it’s the only thing that bears attention. Because really, it is — if there’s something more important, do that instead. If there isn’t, do this fully. Once you’ve identified what’s probably the best next action, the rest of the world is simply set aside to attend fully to it.

This takes a certain attentional effort. You have to bring your whole mind to the task, finding a certain dignified simplicity in putting the envelope in the mailbox, passing the salt, or whatever it is the moment calls for. We quite easily daydream or ruminate as we do something that doesn’t demand all of our attention — the dishes, rote spreadsheet work, etc. To do the right thing all day and go to bed remorseless, you need to appreciate the doing. It has to be enough for that moment. Splitting the attention by doing Task A while thinking about Task B makes for inner conflict. You’re unhappily doing the thing you should do with your body, while attending to something else in your head.

One way to keep your attention on the task, I’ve found, is to pretend it is literally the last thing you do. It is your last act on this earth, the last thing you get to do — sealing this envelope, wiping up this spill, sipping this water, typing out this sentence. When it’s the right thing to do, and you know it, and you honor the act by doing it with intention and awareness, it creates that dignified feeling that can carry you through a whole day.

So most of my day was like that. At the end of the day, I kind of drifted away from it. I had dinner and then sort of forgot. We had a D&D game, on Zoom because someone was sick, and I sort of shirked my duties there because I felt like I was “done” for the day. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. Even though it was a recreational activity, there are best things to do — to be a patient listener when someone’s talking, to take the lead when it is appreciated, and so on. These might be minor things, but it was very clear that by then I considered myself off duty. So when I went to bed, I didn’t quite have that remorseless feeling, because I saw the opportunities I had missed.

24 Nov 2022 – Recap of fourth Tuesday

Another good day. I was productive, but certain tasks (writing) did take longer than I thought, and in hindsight I could have been more efficient. However, there were no “crux” moments I noticed in which I was obviously choosing to do things in a substandard way, I just could have been more vigilant about how much was accomplished in each block of time. (I’ve been working scrupulously in 25-minute Blocks again).

Because I was absorbed in writing, a very mental and not very physical kind of work, I sort of got away from last week’s insight — bringing your full body and heart to each task, as though it’s the last thing you do. I suppose that’s why it felt productive but not exactly transcendental.

Still, on both Tuesdays and non-Tuesdays I frequently remember that attitude, and bring it to a single task here and there — emptying the garbage, chopping carrots, etc — which sometimes bleeds over into the next task and so on. That is really the key, and it seems to be just a matter of practice. It’s not identical to mindfulness, because it’s a kind of attitudinal thing rather than a cognitive thing, but it is definitely compatible.

One help in remembering this attitude was — don’t laugh — pretending that Marcus Aurelius was watching me. I pictured the old man watching me from above somehow, not knowing who I was, which was enough to awaken that hint of Stoic piety in me and return my mind and heart to the task. I respect the guy a lot and I’m grateful that his effect on the world was so resonant that it changes how I go about making dinner or dusting shelves.

30 Nov 2022 — Final Thoughts

Yesterday, the final Tuesday, was a home run as far as productivity was concerned. I did everything on my list, which is still a very rare feeling for me. Productivity, along with my ability to relax while I get things done, has increased throughout the whole month, partly due to this experiment and partly due to other factors (meditation going well, and the workload is more urgent these days).

Despite the raging productivity level of the day, I only felt the “Stoic groove” for parts of the day, when I was deliberately keeping undivided attention on the task. We don’t always need undivided attention to do a task, but it’s virtually always an option, and I think it’s the necessary ingredient to generate that beautiful Mode of Being/Doing that makes it all feel so light and rewarding.

Here are the main conclusions I’ve come to at this point, about this practice of Do-the-Best-Thing-All-Day-Long Tuesday:

There is an elusive mode you can find yourself in while you’re doing this practice, one that is very rewarding and self-sustaining, far beyond the everyday rewards of “doing your best” or “getting stuff done.” It’s a kind of perfect mental/emotional/somatic groove, which guides you to and through the next thing. It feels amazing. You’re free of a certain kind of existential pain, because you know you’re living the best you can right now; you’re naturally resistant to temptation, because few diversions seem better; the mind is quiet, because it’s devoted to the task; there’s a certain sense of piety, or devotion, or relief that you’re not only trying to improve your own lot but the Highest Good; and there’s a remorselessness throughout and at the end of the day, because you know you really lived.

How you do things is vital. The rewarding mode I described above (Eudaimonia? Ataraxis? Flow?) was elusive for me — sometimes I slipped into it (literally all day in one case) and other times I was going through the motions, grinding away at my to-do list.

About halfway through the experiment, I think I discovered what makes up most of the difference. At first glance, this practice appears to be all about getting the right things done — being honest about what you should be doing, and disciplined about doing it, and not backing off for a whole day. This is really just optimizing conventional productivity though. The practice we’re talking about requires you not just to do the task at hand in each moment, but to do it in a certain way (with no hesitation, with willingness, with undivided attention, as though it’s the last thing you do). This devotion to, or love for, the task at hand is what brings it all together, because it eliminates any divisions in your intentions — you can’t devote yourself to the task while you daydream, or wish you were doing something else, or resent your boss or the world or ponder whether you can justify a muffin as a reward when you’re done. All of that dilution of energy must be thrown out in favor of the task at hand. You need to get interested in the task, watch yourself doing it, watch your hands doing the work, and feel that sense of goodness flowing out of you into the world. That sounds dramatic, but remember that this is an expression of The Best Idea Humans Ever Had, and the stakes really couldn’t be higher.

This is why inspiration is great help, because it describes this elusive groove, this mode of doing that is so much more than our conventional modern way of “getting shit done.” I noticed, for example, that I derived a lot of energy from reading Marcus Aurelius’s version of the practice (Resolve firmly, hour by hour…!) than my own (…do without hesitation the thing that most needs to be done…). If I wasn’t checking in with Meditations throughout each Tuesday, or had never read it at all, I would be losing track of the right mindset constantly, as my habitual resentment and dread towards work took over the mind.

The “how” details matter, and great philosophers have done their best do describe them. Marcus Aurelius, in his version of the practice, lists five potential obstacles to dismiss during your efforts — the wayward thought, the emotional recoil from the commands of reason, the desire to create an impression, the admiration of the self, the discontent with your lot — and I think each needs to be ultimately recognized and addressed in turn if you’re going to do this consistently, because each can trick you in its own way.

You find this mode by trying things and circling in towards it. We all have our various familiar ways of “getting stuff done” the best we can, and you’ll inevitably begin this practice by trying those things. Ideally, you’ll start to notice which attitudes and modes of doing generate that certain elusive state, and you can sort of smell and taste your way to it, getting closer each Tuesday. Here’s how I described this iterative process in a comment:

. . . all of this experimentation is making me think that it’s less about trying to be the best version of yourself than it is doing things in a certain way (with full attention, with respect for yourself and the tools of the task / people involved, with a sense that this is why you’re here on this planet) and tuning in to the specific flavor of reward that this mode of doing creates. You get better and better at tuning into that particular mode of doing by noticing how it feels to do things in the whole gamut of ways (in a rushed way, in a deliberate way, in a half-distracted way, in a devoted way). You sort of zero in on that, with experience, in the way a chef zeroes in on the right taste for the soup, without having to think much about it or depend on a recipe.

After five Tuesdays, I’m just beginning to circle in to that mode of doing, just beginning to know what creates that self-sustaining reward flavor. But it does feel like I’m close enough to feel the direction of gravity.

Did you try this? How did it go for you?



Nick R. October 28, 2022 at 2:21 am

Already added this to my calendar!
Let’s see how it goes.

P.S. Aren’t Tuesdays in November on 8, 15, 22, and 29th?

{ Reply }

David Cain October 28, 2022 at 10:22 am

Whoops, yes you are right. Fixed.

{ Reply }

Magda October 28, 2022 at 4:12 am

Maybe those chosen mistyped dates/days are author’s way to keep us alert?

{ Reply }

David Cain October 28, 2022 at 10:23 am

I see that it worked!

{ Reply }

Simon Stanford October 28, 2022 at 4:18 am

Dammit there are 5 Tuesdays in November! It’s a trap!

{ Reply }

Sir October 30, 2022 at 1:14 pm

I did it while working and it went very well. When I returned home, I couldn’t decide what was the next best thing to do. Was it relaxing after a days work or was it some of my career related projects I must do because that is the only way for me to progress further.


{ Reply }

Sylvan October 28, 2022 at 8:14 am

Ok. I’m in for the 5 Tuesdays in November.

{ Reply }

Kevin October 28, 2022 at 6:43 pm

I love this! About a month ago I started reading “The Daily Stoic” and love that little bit of time I get to ruminate about what they teach. This goes along nicely. You are a genius. Thank you for sharing your love, gratitude, teachings!

{ Reply }

AnnieD October 29, 2022 at 8:51 am

I’m in. Thanks for structuring right thoughts, right words, and right actions into November for me. I suspect it’ll be a relief from the usual cacophonous dithering in my brain..

{ Reply }

Ashley October 29, 2022 at 9:13 am

I kinda started this yesterday (on and off – since it’s a new habit, I forgot about it a lot).

With a lot of stuff I should be doing, I have that initial feeling of “Ugh, I don’t feel like it” and then I ignore said thing. Then every time I’m reminded of said thing I just feel bad all over again. By the time I do that thing that I know I should’ve already done, I’ve suffered quite a bit. And wouldn’t you know, most of those things aren’t that difficult and don’t take much time to do, and make my life (and/or someone else’s life) a little better or easier in some way.

So with your post in mind, I had a few moments yesterday where I had that familiar reaction of “Ugh, I don’t feel like it” with things I knew would be good to get done, except this time – I just went and did the thing.

After just a few times doing that, I am starting to see that the best way to get rid of the bad feeling of “ugh I don’t feel like it” isn’t to ignore and avoid it, it’s to just do the thing, right then! And that circumvents all the other suffering (being continually reminded of the task, the conflicted miserable “pleasure” I would otherwise choose, etc.). And of course this has always been true, how did I not see this before (facepalm).

However… I also know that this idea extends far behind just applying it to doing chores. I know it’s a little naive to just think of it as a way to get unpleasant chores done (but for me it was a good start). So, I’m going to keep going and see just how far the idea goes and how else it impacts my life.

I didn’t wanna wait until Tuesday so I guess today, Saturday, is my day to try to live this idea for the whole day.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 1, 2022 at 9:03 am


Yes, it is amazing how much more we suffer in our efforts NOT to do the right thing than the suffering required to do the thing. It’s a powerful spiritual lesson — salvation is found in walking into difficulty, not circumventing it.

As you say there are very deep implications for this way of working in the world, but for now I think it’s worthwhile just to get a taste for the difference by doing it with chores and mundane things. Then we can apply it to the big stuff in life.

{ Reply }

Susan O October 29, 2022 at 9:27 am

I’m in. I wrote this in my journal for November as my intention and will add your statement and the Marcus Aurelius quote as reminders and for inspiration. Wonderful idea that goes along with the other work I’m doing on my “Self”. Thank you for this.

{ Reply }

Kay October 29, 2022 at 11:11 am

The post really moved me. Many moral things I’ve been trying to grasp are clearly stated in this blog post. I said, “I can do this!”…and so I did.
Exercise, I balked at. So I just ‘did the next thing’ (pick up the weights; now do a bicep curl…great, that’s #1, now do #2…)
It’s been working for these last 4 hours, I’ll see how this rest of the day goes…

{ Reply }

David Cain November 1, 2022 at 9:05 am

And that next thing is always a small thing isn’t it? “Becoming someone who works out regularly” is a huge thing, too huge to just “do.” But picking up the dumbbell like you said you would is a small thing, and through doing the small things you do the large thing.

{ Reply }

Kay March 6, 2023 at 2:54 pm

So true! I’m still at it, though like someone mentioned above, a new habit (or way of being, in this case) takes time to get established…I wander away, rope myself back in…this is the best way I’ve ever found to live life without regrets, excuses, justifications (I’m old too, tried so many ways)…I thank you for coming up with such motivating and inspiring words …

{ Reply }

Sir October 30, 2022 at 1:16 pm

I did it while working and it went very well. When I returned home, I couldn’t decide what was the next best thing to do. Was it relaxing after a days work or was it some of my career related projects I must do because that is the only way for me to progress further.
Hope gets posted in right place now.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 1, 2022 at 9:07 am

If you get really hung up on the right next thing, just pick something that you don’t have any obvious reservations about. The main point is to cease knowingly doing the wrong things. If both seem wrong, maybe there’s something better.

{ Reply }

Paul November 1, 2022 at 3:48 am

Hi David
I am in and started this moment to do-the-Right-Thing-at-Every-Moment-Tuesday.
Just made a visual in my agenda.

Thanks for the great idea and – I am reading “The Daily Stoic” – giving me a lot of profound thoughts to think about.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 2, 2022 at 9:47 am

How did it go Paul?

{ Reply }

Mel November 1, 2022 at 3:04 pm

When I read the blog post I thought that this experiment would be completely impossible with my low energy levels. But my brain sensed the rewarding relief and immediately put the idea into action and so I’ve been flossing my teeth regularly the last few days. ;-)
Today I found it interesting that the next best action can be to continue the current action instead of dropping it for something more “interesting”.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 2, 2022 at 9:39 am

It is surprising how it feels to do this. Something about it is energizing, like it’s a relief from a certain kind of fatigue you get when you know you’re not taking the best path through the day.

{ Reply }

Dani November 2, 2022 at 4:16 am

hi David!
first of all, thank you for the great inspiration! I’m in as well, and tried to do the write thing yesterday. it started off badly since it was a day with lots of unpleasant to-dos mixed with relationship issues. it’s not easy to do the next best thing when caught up in a fight first thing in the morning …then it got better when I finally was able to get those unpleasant chores done instead of mindlessly scrolling through the late morning. great feeling. later on I encountered other issues, like a defiant child that really tested my patience to do the right thing, also it really wasn’t easy to know what the right thing was in that moment. Later some more chores done beautifully, so already a big thank you to you that I got so much done yesterday :)
I was also wondering if doing the next right thing is a solution for procrastination but not so much for other problems like: how on earth can you know if pursuing a career is better than spending time with your kids or where the right balance is. is it maybe that this experiment is great for high potential people that strive for optimization and not so much for the lost, overwhelmed ones? still I really enjoyed the idea as a tool to get things done really effectively. I met a hairdresser the other day, single Mom with three kids and no time to herself. asked how she coped she said: don’t overthink, just do! et voila, your experiment in layman’s terms:)
thanks and keep up your great work!!

{ Reply }

David Cain November 2, 2022 at 9:46 am

Sounds like you had some real challenges and still managed to find a better path at many junctures throughout the day.

“I was also wondering if doing the next right thing is a solution for procrastination but not so much for other problems like: how on earth can you know if pursuing a career is better than spending time with your kids or where the right balance is. is it maybe that this experiment is great for high potential people that strive for optimization and not so much for the lost, overwhelmed ones?”

I consider myself to be in the “lost and overwhelmed” category. My life has been nowhere near optimal, I am not a high achiever, and I struggle with everyday things most people would consider easy. So definitely not, no.

As for the question of how know what the right thing is, that’s a function of wisdom, which is something we all have some amount of. As you deal with situations in various ways — both the expedient, self-defeating ways, and the upright, honest ways — you gradually gain a sense of what the right thing probably is. Sometimes you’ll intuitively know the right thing, and sometimes you won’t. But the more important thing is to make an honest guess at the best thing. It’s the honesty, not the knowing everything, that we’re trying to cultivate. Focus on noticing when you’re about to *knowingly* do the not-best thing, and do a better thing.

{ Reply }

Shannon D November 2, 2022 at 5:31 am

Just doing the better thing instead of procrastinating, mindlessly scrolling, made for a peaceful Tuesday with no work guilt. Great beginning to the experiment!

{ Reply }

David Cain November 2, 2022 at 9:47 am

Nice! The absence of guilt was dramatic for me. It sure says something about how much inner conflict we generate on a daily basis by knowingly doing the wrong thing.

{ Reply }

ANNA November 2, 2022 at 2:32 pm

Yes this feeling of no guilt was amazing. I hadnt realised guilt and worry had been pulling me down so much on the normal days.

{ Reply }

Anna November 2, 2022 at 2:23 pm

How annoying i wrote a huge summary of my day yesterday on the comments page of your article instead of here, and i cant manage to copy and paste it here. Anyway. I just said that it was surprisingly easy to override the urge to give up.. It was only a tiny weeny wall of pain that i had to jump over but once on the other side it was super easy. I cant believe ive been telling myself for all these years how difficult and impossible it is to have self discipline. It was however easy because of the commitmet i have made to the experiment and the fact that it is only for one day was a huge help.
Im pretty sure i cant keep it up for too long though. The day after was a disaster but a few things naturally leaked through to the next day.
I wish how i feel about myself wasnt so tied to wether i am a good or bad human that day!
Thankyou for this experiment!!!! Im looking forward to next Tuesday!!!!


Hello David,
Yesterday i was superwoman…. That person i have been struggling to be for years. A perfect wife, friend, mother, housewife. It was so easy to do actually. There were moments when limiting thoughts came to me to tempt me to give up and do some time wasting but it was surprisingly easy to override because i had made the pact that i would do this for this tuesday. The fact that it was just one day helped me to stay strong: Seeing this made me realise that motivation/willpower/self discipline is not this huge thing that is imposible to overcome. You have just a tiny moment that you push through then the its over and you are on the otherside where things are easy because you have started. The wall seems to get gigantic when i stop and think and look at it etc….
My day in brief…
got up at five
shower(washed shower down at same time) finished by cold water to wake me up
dressed and makeup.
journal morning pages
water and vitamines
started cooking
washing in and down
saw a friend
Cleaned lots
night routine… clear up, washing, shined the sink
bed at 10
It was an easy day though because i had my best friend and her family over to eat because its a national holiday here in France.

Unfortunately today (the day after) was like a hangover after a drug binge. I wasted a lot of time surfing, got minimum stuff done. Did manage a guided meditation but i quickly forgot the message i learnt. Had a raging argument with my middle child and i just felt really crap about myself.

Im looking forward to next Tuesday.
Im pretty sure i couldnt keep it up every day but maybe parts of it will leak into the other days of the week like the meditation i did the day after.

Thank you for this experiment!!


{ Reply }

Anna November 4, 2022 at 1:18 am

Thanks David for taking the time to copy and paste my other comment! ☺

{ Reply }

Nick R. November 3, 2022 at 11:26 am

“the source of my worry about the future is not so much about what will happen to me, but whether I’ll do the right thing in response. I’m afraid the best version of me won’t show up when I need him. It’s possible that this is the central fear in my life”

WOW! That really hit the spot!!!

{ Reply }

JJ November 5, 2022 at 5:09 am

Hmm.. just tried today. So far, the hyper awareness of monitoring the current activity and continually scanning for the next right move feels inorganic and makes whatever I’m doing sort of laboured and unenjoyable, even if it’s “fun” activity.

I think the advice is more effective as a motivator when you organically encounter situations where you know you’re doing the ‘wrong’ thing (for example, procrastinating going to sleep by watching endless TV). Then it’s obvious: “The right thing to do is prepare for bed so I’ll be better off for tomorrow. I should do that.”

But going around all day looking for the “right” thing.. my house is cleaner and I’ve accomplished a few things, even relaxed a bit, but it hasn’t been much fun. Seems like a lot of mental load for minimal gain.

Also, unsatisfying decisions due to the tyranny of choice – I didn’t overthink and just went with whatever seemed right in the moment, but there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t do that probably would have been more worthwhile than what I did. I’ve been wanting to complete a creative project, but it never seemed like the right thing to start today because I was always hungry and had to cook/felt my house should be cleaner/had some other trivial thing it genuinely seemed better to attend to first. Whereas judging from the past, I’m more effective if I can just go, “Yeah, I’m hungry and this environment isn’t ideal, and I’m ignoring other responsibilities, but I’m going to finish it come what may”.

By the way, ideas for other experiments:

– Do something each day that scares you

– Live one day a week like it’s your last (to foster gratitude for the present à la Groundhog Day)

{ Reply }

David Cain November 7, 2022 at 9:14 am

Yeah I don’t recommend going around trying to think up the optimal perfect action at every moment. You can’t do all your planning *as* you act. Instead, make a sensible plan for the day and execute it uncompromisingly. If the plans you come up with for the day seem unsatisfying and wrong for you (i.e. you know there is a better way to use your life) then you should schedule a sit-down with yourself where you decide how to want to use your life, or at least some long-term goals that are meaningful for you, then make short term goals from those, and then daily plans from those, etc. If you know you’re not using your days well then you can’t be doing the things that feel right, and there’s no reward or purpose to doing this at all. The point of this exercise is to pay attention to where the rubber meets the road. But you need a road first.

{ Reply }

Victoria Yazlle November 5, 2022 at 9:37 am

Thank you for this wisdom so simple and within reach. I’ll put into practice. Every time I read your posts, you land me. (I wrote this message with the help of Google translate)

{ Reply }

Anna November 9, 2022 at 4:09 am

Monday I was thinking about the next day and feeling really excited about the Tuesday experiment and I suddenly found myself sitting at the computer doing something I would have put off till the last minute because I absolutely hate doing it.
Today I also saw something on the grass that needs picking up. I felt the groaning can’t be bothered feeling come up but then this new voice came along and said ‘this is not a big deal, just go and pick it up and it will be over. ‘ I just picked it up and put it away where it needed to go. Other times I would have just left it and it would go on my list in my head of stuff to do. I really feel like my self discipline muscle is developing in my head because of this.
I’m looking forward to next Tuesday.

{ Reply }

Ashley November 9, 2022 at 6:49 pm

Like you I’ve been doing it at varying levels, having some better than usual moments here and there, but nowhere near living it full time. Probably way less than you. Even in the moments I’m intending to live it, I’m not fully doing it. It’s just too easy to slip into living how I always have. Sometimes I just think, well I’ll just start tomorrow, and make tomorrow the day I really do it all day! Tomorrow comes and it looks the same as today. Besides, to quote you, tomorrow is not a suitable day for doing things!

I’m going to keep trying. I especially want to focus on the “freedom from all other considerations” part while doing whatever it is I’m doing. Because I do tend to think about other things, or even just think about what I need to do next, while I’m doing something. The only time I intentionally stop engaging the mind in pointless rumination, is during meditation. I’ve done it occasionally outside of meditation, but it’s not something I’ve ever tried to do consistently all day. I’d like to see what that’s like.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 10, 2022 at 11:23 am

I think the freedom from other considerations part is the key. I just added an update on a similar point. The first Tuesday, I was really *there* for the task. I was not thinking about other things while I performed each task, I was trying to do the task as though there was nothing else to concern myself with. Doing that creates a certain exhilaration, a certain sense of alignment with Good that keeps you doing the next thing. Just trying to make yourself get everything done perfectly, while keeping your mind half in your normal mode of being… I don’t think that will generate enough motivation.

And about restarting tomorrow — don’t restart tomorrow, just restart now, and commit only to doing the next half-hour, or the next task, with that singular sort of intent. Waiting till tomorrow just allows the intention to drift further away.

{ Reply }

Ashley November 11, 2022 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for that update. I’m considering keeping a tally of how many times I restart in a given day (just the times I get completely off track) in the hopes that the number would be smaller by the end of the experiment.

{ Reply }

Shannon D November 11, 2022 at 5:45 am

Work can be stressful, but dispensing with the procrastination and time wasting has made me feel better about work; I have continued key practices of not perusing headlines and opening social media apps at work throughout the week. I knew they were bad habits that I could just stop. The part I am finding challenging is quieting the mind chatter. Being angry about things I cannot control reduces my focus and efficiency; looking in corners a lot!

{ Reply }

Calen November 17, 2022 at 1:25 am

I wonder if part of the reason that it is so easy to rebel against this way of living is that some part of us fears what we might lose if we were to devote ourselves to it.

I, for one, have a lot of ‘a priori’ ideas about what the right thing to do is. Most of them involve working hard towards a future that I’m not sure that I want, because of principles that I am not sure I care about. So when I first heard about this experiment I was thinking about implementing it in my own life and started feeling something like despair – because I imagined an entire day spent doing the right thing wholeheartedly was a day spent doing nothing but work.

Except that betrays a skewed and unhealthy set of priorities, because a life well lived isn’t all about work. So maybe living a good life is about maintaining that wise balance between work and play and bringing yourself wholeheartedly to both.

That’s what I think of when I think about this exercise you’ve laid out. I remember an admonition from the Bible; “Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, as though you were doing it for your real master and not just for humans.”

I’m not Christian anymore, as such, but there’s something in that scripture (it’s from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, 3: 23-24). He’s suggesting that we should attend to everything in life with reverence and an undivided soul.

On that note, maybe the part of us that acts can only be wholehearted if the part of us that plans makes sure to account for all of our needs so that we are truly living well. I can picture giving myself over far more completely to this simple, undivided, wholehearted way of going through my day if I can trust that my own joy and well-being has been accounted for in advance and is part of the plan.

{ Reply }

Shannon D November 17, 2022 at 4:44 pm

Very good point.

{ Reply }

Anna November 26, 2022 at 11:29 pm

I’m finding my Tuesdays more and more difficult to do. The day after, I half would like to carry on but a part of me forces me not to because it’s not Tuesday. A voice keeps telling me that I would be so exhausted keeping this up long-term that it’s just not possible. I think this must be because I have unfortunately missed the point and it has become a day where I have to just constantly force myself to work. I need to plan in some lesure time and practice accepting leisure time… Obviously not mindless, surfing leisure time but something like knitting or playing an instrument or something constructive.

{ Reply }

Gibraltar November 29, 2022 at 5:58 pm

Your original post really prescribed the need of Stoic principles for self-discipline. The experiment log has highlighted many psychological insights. The greatest insight for me is the connecting of two dots – that I’ve gleaned from your log and connected with my personal experience. The first being a compromised version of oneself when daily behavior is not in alignment with the highest good. The second dot is the central fear of not being confident that one’s best version will be available at a time when it will be most needed in the future. For me, these two dots are very much connected as when I’m compromised, due to less than ideal behavior, my projected future is also very much compromised. I’ve realized there are many subtle and hard-to-describe emotions that arise from this compromised state, and that these emotions play a role in my perspective of the past, present and future. Seeing the effects of Stoic self-discipline on the other end of the spectrum really makes it an enticing endeavor. Looking forward to complementing this discipline with your Block method. Any related insight would be appreciated.

{ Reply }

David Cain November 30, 2022 at 10:08 am

Trying to be your best self in any sense seems to be full of paradoxes. If you try your best to do your best, and fail, did you do your best? When you don’t try your best, were you really able to do your best at that moment. I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, but all of this experimentation is making me think that it’s less about trying to be the best version of yourself than it is doing things in a certain way (with full attention, with respect for yourself and the tools of the task / people involved, with a sense that this is why you’re here on this planet) and tuning in to the specific flavor of reward that this mode of doing creates. You get better and better at tuning into that mode of doing by noticing how it feels to do things in the whole gamut of ways (in a rushed way, in a deliberate way, in a half-distracted way, in a devoted way). You sort of zero in on that with experience, in the way a chef zeroes in on the right taste for the soup, without having to think much about it or depend on a recipe.

That reward flavor is hard to describe, but it’s characterized by a sense of engagement, freshness, quietness of mind, even a bit of piety/devotion, and an absence of any sense of inner conflict, such as that you’re wasting time or wanting to be doing something else.

I realize after writing this that one of the things the Block method does for me is it eliminates this sense of wasting time. While the timer is running, I am always aggressively zeroing in on the task at hand, I know what I’m doing is worthwhile, and there’s no inner conflict. This isn’t quite the same as that unrushed and dutiful Stoic sense, but it does get rid of some of the same problems.

{ Reply }

Gibraltar December 1, 2022 at 11:54 am

I am grateful for your insight. My takeaway from this is to calibrate my mind with the Highest Good by removing emotional/mental indifference to it. It would be an ideal to have a North Star pursuing satiation of the reward flavor one night at a time whilst enjoying the process during the day, with full engagement and without inner conflict. I aim to one day make this specific reward flavor a dopaminergic compulsion to make living by the Highest Good a “natural” disposition. I am not sure if this type of compulsion would be conducive or detrimental to mindfulness, but I’ll reevaluate once I (hopefully) get there.
Another anticipated benefit of zeroing in on the reward flavor is that it will provide better feedback and clearer personal accountability for daily behavior.

{ Reply }

Marion Clare December 5, 2022 at 4:44 am

I’ve observed that when I consider this way of being and living, part of me feels motivated and excited to try it and another, somehow older seeming part, is terrified of becoming too much of a ‘goody two-shoes’, it’s as though this part doesn’t want to accept that things can be different as it feels scary, like losing an identity. Like somehow living with near constant guilt, mental chatter and pain and circular regret and disappointment are really worth clinging onto…cos you know, that’s how I do life, always done it like this, so….” resistance to change is so interesting.

{ Reply }

Leave a Comment

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.