0194 – mvp model of personal development

Ugh, I just wasted a bit of time before writing this by going on reddit. I got a couple of little links and stuff out of it, but I’d have been much happier to have just gotten the vomit out of the way ASAP. Still, it’s 1020 am. I woke at 7-ish, went for a run, showered, made breakfast for myself and my wife, and now I’m getting started on this vomit. Ain’t too shabby. Let’s just keep going.

Why did I take a bit longer than necessary to start the vomit? What was the source of the resistance? (Btw, The War Of Art has been catalyzing and refactoring my thinking about procrastination and inertia and stuff like that, I highly recommend it. Wish I read it much earlier.) What stopped me from writing earlier?

I think it was partially a lack of clarity. I have a bunch of different ideas in my head all at once, and I think that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to all of them in my present state. So I waffle and procrastinate, as though I’ll have a better state later on. I know by now of course that isn’t true. The athlete will never wake up not aching, not sore. He has to play hurt. So let’s play hurt.

Yesterday I wrote about refactoring my decision-making system, but I didn’t actually get into the details. Let’s try and get some of the details out in this vomit. A couple of things are coming to my mind:

  • One is the way I used to play SimCity 3000 and certain football management games. I used to obsess about the starting point. In Simcity, I’d spend all the starting money building an elaborate system of roads before anybody even moved in. I’d then get slaughtered by the road maintenance bills, and soon lose control of the city. It took me a long time to properly appreciate this, funnily enough. I guess I grew up reading a lot of books, and I never actually DID many things of my own.
    • That makes me think about my first websites. How did I do it? How did I get my first website? I bought a book- some guide to HTML 4.0. One of the first things you do is you open up notepad, type <HTML><HEAD><TITLE>title here</TITLE></HEAD><BODY><P>Hello world!</P></BODY> </HTML> and save that as index.html. Hey, you just made your first webpage! Does that sound silly? Because it isn’t. Where there once was nothing, now there’s something. You now can do something even cooler than your first webpage- you can do your second webpage. And your third, and your fourth. That’s really how you do it, it’s as simple as that.
  • Another is the cupcake model of startup development. In 0178 I talked about “focus on the cupcakes”. I’d like to dig a little deeper into that. What does it actually mean to focus on the cupcakes, when it comes to lifehacking and behavioral change and whatever you want to call it? When it comes to living your life well, getting more out of life?

It’s very interesting and useful I think to apply the MVP model of product development to personal development.


I spent maybe a decade, maybe more of my time trying to improve myself by accumulating information, which is kinda like the base of the pyramid. It’s tiring, endless and ungratifying. This applies to all sorts of habit building. I focused wrongly on the bottom layer. (On hindsight, this is a lot of what school is about too, isn’t it? Maybe we do things way because that’s how we were taught to do things. What you really want students and learners to do is to experience a-ha moments themselves.)

What you actually want is get to the peak as fast as possible. Energy/willpower is a VERY limited resource early on in any new endeavor. Your subconscious will resist your attempts, because it is very happy at its current equilibrium. Hit the peak, though, and you unlock more energy for your pursuit.

What is the peak? In writing, it’s shipping/publishing something and getting feedback from others, and  changing your identity / self-perception in the process. Changing your beliefs. Deciding/realizing that you’re a writer. In cooking, it’s making a dish, eating it, smiling and realizing that you liked it. You want to get to that point ASAFP. In fitness, it’s breaking a sweat, getting an elevated heart rate, going home and showering and feeling the endorphins. CRITICAL.

Counter-intuitively, this means you should do the minimum research possible. Knowledge is good to have, of course, but it’s not without cost. And the costs are what kill you. That’s what makes a couch potato stay on the couch… opening 20 tabs on his iPad about 20 tips on how to get more fitter better faster quicker. More research = inertia, time-cost, expectations. The more you read up about something without taking action, the more self-conscious you’re going to get. I don’t mean “go unprepared/uninformed”. I mean that going for a walk is 100x more helpful than researching nuances of biomechanics.

You want to optimize for safety and survivability, to make sure that you don’t die or hurt yourself. But once you’ve got that covered, you’re going to learn more from the walk than from the research. The cool thing is that the early experience gives you valuable context to figure out what you should be researching next. This is a compounding advantage you won’t experience if you do the research without the context.

The critical lever might be identity/belief. What’s the smallest/fastest thing you can do to change your identity? That’s real leverage. For me personally, “I’m a picky eater / have food issues / don’t know how to cook” was a big, significant part of my identity. It probably still is. But today I cooked eggs, and they were yummy.

I got my wife to sit next to me and instruct me (I had to remind her several times not to take over- it was critically important that I perform every single step, from getting the plates to taking the butter out of the fridge), which made me feel less intimidated and afraid about the process. (If the idea of cooking eggs being intimidating sounds hiliarious, I don’t blame you. But I grew up without ever preparing food, without even really witnessing food being prepared.)

I’d like to cook eggs again tomorrow. I’d like to get better at it. I’d like to be able to crack eggs smoothly and efficiently, and feed myself every morning.

But that’s just one part of it, really.

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