How many times have I done this: catastrophizing. “Well, the diet’s blown. Might as well eat five doughnuts” (after eating one). “Well, my day is shot, I just spent 2 hours watching a twitch stream instead of doing work.” “Well, my workout program is junk now, I missed a day.”
More on Keystone Habits
In my discussion of the Tesla Technique, I talked about the importance of your environment in shaping your behavior. Right now I’m re-reading a business book called Switch: how to change when change is hard and that’s figuring strongly in my thinking. The authors, Dan and Chip Heath, describe three components of human behavioral change: the Elephant, the Rider, and the Path. The Elephant is your emotional side: powerful but not very good at planning ahead. The Rider is your cognitive side: weaker than the Elephant, better at planning, but with a tendency to overthink things. The Path is the environment. If you clear the Path it’s easier for the Rider to guide the Elephant to his destination. So which are you? Are you the Rider or the Elephant? Or are you, in some weird way, the Path?
Here’s something I re-discovered recently: the Five Second Rule.
Picture this: it’s 2001. A younger Daniel is dialed into his university’s modem bank, looking for information on how to talk to women. One message stands out: you have about three seconds to either approach a woman or you’ll talk yourself out of it. I then use that trick to reach out to women I’m interested in and start relationships with some of them. I fall in love, get heartbroken, fall in love again, and forget all about this three-second window.
Flash forward 16 years.
I want to talk a bit more about some meta-topics before we get to the experiments. Again, these are “best practices” that I’m trying to engage in.
Lately I’ve been working with something that I call “scaffolding”: shaping the environment so that doing the right thing is easier, if not automatic.
The Tesla Technique
I’ve talked a lot about the concept of “best practices” but how do you implement them? How do you turn a good idea for a behavior into a habit?
I call this strategy the “Tesla Technique” and it’s been adapted from a few sources: mainly the Tiny Habits program by BJ Fogg and The Power of Habit book by Charles Duhigg, with a little bit of Mark Forster, and GTD (Getting Things Done) from David Allen.
Let’s break the strategy down.
At some point in the last twenty years, the “Getting Things Done” (or GTD) system took the world by storm. I’m going to say it was sometime around 2005 – before Merlin Mann did his Inbox Zero speech at Google, back when Twitter was a startup called Odeo. “Getting Things Done” was (and is) a system for “getting control of your time and life” that promises a “mind like water”. Essentially, better living through time management. I’m not here to talk about what works (for me) in that pile of advice and what doesn’t. There are a lot of simple, actionable nuggets to talk about. That being said, the entire system has a tendency towards the baroque and over-complicated rather than the simple, in my opinion. Interestingly, I think this is more of a problem of the way that people implement the system rather than a problem with the system itself. David Allen’s original work, I think, is basically an extended way of saying “You really are trying to do too many things: you have too many commitments and you need to cut back”. But the entire process Allen outlines is the communication, and I think it’s worth people going through once in their life, just so they can see all the little interrelated commitments spelled out in an explicit way, realize that there’s no earthly way that they can do all of this right now, cry, and then get serious about cleaning up what a real commitment is vs. what is just something that they’d like to do, “someday, maybe.”
A lot of self-help approaches the idea of improving your life from a position of perfect knowledge. This is why “The Secret” and affirmations are weird to me: they require you to have a specific vision filled out in your mind before you can actualize that vision. I think that a more interesting, practical way to pursue life is to spend it learning rather than visualizing exactly where you want to be.
How do you fail constantly and still end up successful?
Though I don’t agree with Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) on everything, I do think that he has some interesting ideas.
Adams defines the difference between a Goal and a System in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (and also in his blog, here). A goal is kind of like taking a class that’s pass/fail that you don’t care about, but is required for your degree. You only have one way to pass the class, and that’s it. A system has more than one way of winning built into it. You you can either win in the obvious way, you can learn something, or you gain something just by participating in the process. A system has a bit more nuance to it, and almost has a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of structure to it.
What are Action Experiments?
The Opposite of a Thought Experiment. Or, if you like, the logical outgrowth of a thought experiment.