0324 – draw bright lines and stick to them

For some reason I haven’t been able to stick to a daily habit. At 26 years of age, once in a while I leave the house forgetting to brush my teeth. (I then feel incredibly self-conscious and overload on breath mints and stuff, I’m not that horribly gross.) I do shower every morning and evening.

I suppose I have daily social media habits that ingrained in me. I check Facebook, Twitter and Reddit everyday. And Instagram. I did declutter and remove all of my friends at some point, but eventually it felt a little excessive and I slowly added people back. I’m probably about 20% as active as I used to be (except on Reddit, which is maybe where I’m most active right now, and where I currently might need some intervention).

What other habits do I have? I have a habit of checking my phone in bed, both before going to bed and when waking up in the morning. I should seriously quit that. This morning I didn’t check my phone until I was out of the shower, which I thought was a good milestone. After all, I can pretty much do all the phone-checking I’ll ever need between leaving home and getting to work. (Even that I’d like to eventually substitute with some audiobooks. I’ll check that out when I get home.)

I have a habit of lounging once I get home, turning on my computer and just sitting around online. I have lots of habits of turning on a computer or a device and just lounging around, and that’s a habit I should dearly kill.

I should tie simple habits to regular events, like going to the toilet, going to bed, waking up in the morning, leaving the house, getting home.

I do take my wallet, keys and phone every time I’m leaving the house. And my earphones. Is there anything else I could be “taking?”

I do think I should be eating more than I already am. I should boil eggs, keep them in the fridge, prepare them and have them as snacks throughout the day. I can and should put them in tupperware containers, slice them up and bring them to work with me.

I should shower at the gym after a workout, because I feel so much better afterwards (as opposed to walking home after a workout and THEN showering– the shower is more comfortable, but the walk is so unpleasant and deathly.

I should practice breaking down big problems into littler steps, and I should review my tasks every day. I have days where I don’t look at my tasks at all, which is okay if I intended it to be such (and it’s always good to look at things again with fresh new eyes), but it doesn’t help if I’m just avoiding myself.

Pause.

There are a couple of things on my mind from a couple of things I’ve just revisited and read– one is the Anthony Robbins idea that if you want to change your life, you need to change the story you tell yourself, and you need to feed that story by then using it as lens, and looking for evidence to confirm that belief, and to practice it like exercise.

The other is something I read by James Clear, talking about the Miranda rule, and the idea of a Bright Line. The bright line is about making decisions in advance with clear rules. Without bright lines, decisions are made by going into muddy case-by-case situations. While this might seem like a fun challenge in the abstract, in reality it can be exhausting and, worse still, often lead to the same undesirable outcome over and over again. Even if the right decision is made in a specific instance, far too much energy was expended on it, and we’re likely to make bad decisions down the line from it.

So by having clear rules about what can and cannot be acceptable, about having clear requirements and clear failure conditions, a lot of decision-making is externalized and a lot of energy is freed up to be focused on less trivial things. An example of a bright line might be– I’ll always publish a word-vomit before going to bed, except in the case of a life-threatening emergency. It might lead to some suboptimal outcomes such as me going to bed late the day before I have a meeting, but that little loss is worth the benefit of having a vomit published every single night.

These sentences sound strange and foreign to me. A part of me is laughing, but it’s not the “ahahahah this is totally not going to work” laugh that I hear when I make extremely elaborate plans with loads of moving parts. It’s a more of a slightly uncomfortable laughter. It’s a realization that if I do make these rules and I stick to them, a lot of my behavior will have to change.

But the drawing up of lines and sticking to them is the hard part. I’ve learened the hard way that I can’t suddenly change my entirely life by trying to do everything differently all at once. That’s what I used to do with my Simcity games– try to use up all my resources at once, building everything all at once– and then find that not only does the city seem lifeless and over-large, with no soul, too much central planning, etc, but the cost of maintaining it is to high and I can’t afford to pay the upkeep. My noble intentions would go to waste. THe only way to actually get the city to work was to start by building a little town that worked, then to use the revenue from that to expand.

And I think the important insight that I might be missing here is– that’s not just an unfortunate cost that I have to live with because I have limited resources. The city literally feels more signifiant and important to me because of the way I grow and build it. Iteratie development (now I’m reminded of a Facebook note by Boz, one of the early Facebook employees, talking about how they learned all sorts of important things by restricting access to Facebook in the early days.)

The same should apply to personal development. It has to be an MVP, it has to be closely studied and carefully guarded before you can expand it. Get one thing right.

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