Set the Tone

If you’re the star quarterback of the football team then your routines are your linemen.  

Your routines are down in the trenches battling to control the line of scrimmage so you’re free to move the ball down field.  The linemen set the tone of the game.  They bring the heat.  They’ve got your back.  They provide the stability without which the offense would come crashing down around them.  A good set of routines will empower you to move mountains, will embolden you to reach incredible heights, and will free your mind to build a future you never thought possible.  Let’s start building.

Calm Good, Chaos Bad.

Fact:  Any calmness that can be wrestled from the chaos should be wrestled from the chaos.  

You owe that much to yourself, your loved ones and whatever causes you serve.  Right now you probably have a lot of different shit weighing on your mind.  Family obligations, bills, work projects, the economy being in the shitter, etc.  This can all contribute to anxiety and having a restless mind.

What you need is calm.  And a crucial first step you can make towards that calm is reclaiming your environment.  Having a messy kitchen, an unmade bed, or any other minor tasks takes away from your ability to focus on the bigger picture.  Deliberately build your routines and conquer the chaotic abyss.  Own your environment, don’t let it own you.

Routines Give Your Day Structure.  

Your morning routine lets you open on the strongest footing possible.  Don’t show up to work and react, attack it to the best of your ability.  Head into the day strong and be proactive.  

Your evening routine helps you to reset, review, and readjust so you can get a great night’s rest.  And, as anyone who has read Why We Sleep is now frighteningly familiar with, a great night’s rest is crucial to being happy, healthy, and at the top of your game. 

Be Deliberate

If routines are your offensive linemen then the humble spreadsheet is the weight room.  The spreadsheet is where you’ll be building, managing, and improving your routines.  

By writing your routine down and regularly recording the time of completion you introduce an element of deliberativeness into the process.  You aren’t mindlessly going through the motions.  You’re actively participating in a process that serves a specific purpose while also creating a historical record to examine if and when things go sideways.  You are conquering the chaos.

Build Your First Routine.

For the sake of this post we’ll be building an evening routine (I call it the PMR, short for P.M. Routine) to be completed before you go to bed.

Some people (like me) do their leisure activities (read, journal, television, whatever) first and then do their maintenance activities (brushing, flossing, shower, checking to make sure kitchen/desks/floors are tidy) immediately before they pop into bed.  Other people prefer the opposite.  It doesn’t matter which order you prefer.  Use this post to structure your evening maintenance activities.

Open up notepad or your word processor of choice and make a list of the maintenance tasks you currently do before you go to bed.  This is probably things like shower, brush your teeth, floss your teeth, and so on and so forth.  What we want to do is add a few high roi habits to that list that will help inch our living space away from being the chaotic clusterfuck it may or may not be and towards the place of peace and tranquility we know it should be.  

Here is a brief list to help:

Brush your teeth, floss your teeth, take a shower, check that the bathroom counter is clean, check that the kitchen is clean, make sure nothing is thrown on the couches, check that your desk is clean, make sure nothing is on the floor, add an X to X-effect tracker, Close the blinds, set thermostat to sleeping temp, lay clothes out for tomorrow, check tomorrow’s calendar, etc.

Not all of these will not apply to you.  Keep the list small and manageable.  You can add more later, right now you want to build momentum.  Consider adding one or two for the time being.

Build the Framework.

You can do this in microsoft excel, but for our purposes here we’ll be using google sheets.  It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s available anywhere with internet access.  

This is what the framework will more or less look like. I’ve blacked out the more nuanced entries we’ll cover next week. For now, just drill the basics and you can level up later.
Also, keep in mind the one day filled in was on a Sunday. Generally most/all of those 3s would be 2s.
  1. Create a gmail account if you don’t already have one.
  2. Go to https://drive.google.com/. 
  3. In the top left corner click “New” -> Google Sheet.
  4. Click where it says “Untitled spreadsheet” and enter in PM Routine 2020 (or whatever current year it is).
  5. In cell A3 put “Date”.
  6. In cell A4 put “Start stopwatch”
  7. List out all of the tasks you currently do prior to bed plus the 1 or 2 high ROI additions you’d like to add.
  8. Below your SMALL and MANAGEABLE list, put “Time”.
  9. Below “Time” put “End stopwatch and record.”
  10. Hit enter twice so that there’s a blank row and enter “Notes:” into the cell.
  11. Hit enter twice so that there’s a blank row and enter in “0 = Didn’t do it”.
  12. In the cell directly below “0 = Didn’t do it” enter in “1 = Kind of did it”.
  13. In the cell directly to the right of “0 = Didn’t do it” enter in “2 = Did it”.
  14. In the cell directly below “2 = Did it” and to the right of “1 = Kind of did it” enter in “3 = Already did it”.
  15. Hit enter twice so that there’s a blank row and enter in “Change log:”.
  16. Use the directional keys to go right one and down one and enter in “Date:”.
  17. Use the directional keys to go right one and enter in “Time:”.
  18. Use the directional keys to go right one and enter in “Entry:”.
  19. In cell C1 put “Sunday”
  20. Continue entering days of the week along the top row until you’ve entered Saturday in cell I1.

Boom!  That’s the framework.  Now you’re ready to fill in the cells.

How it works.

  1. When you’re ready to start your PMR you find the correct day, go down to the row with the first action cell (“Date”), and hit Control + ;.  This will enter the day’s date.  
  2. Once you have the date filled in you can open up a new tab, google stopwatch, and then hit start.
  3. Once you have done the action specified in that row’s action cell you hit control + shift + ; to enter the current time and then hit enter to jump to the cell below it.
  4. Go row by row and continue filling in the cells with a time entry in this manner until you reach the “Time” row.
  5. Once you’ve entered in the time for that row to give you a close approximation for the ending time you can stop the still running stopwatch and record the total amount of time it took to get through your PMR.

Key Take Aways

If you don’t do the action in the action cell at all then enter in a 0.  If you do it, but not to completion, then enter in a 1.  If you do it completely then you’ll enter in a 2 (for clustered tasks, covered below) or a time entry.  Finally, if you’ve already done it, then enter in a 3.

For example:  If you’re action cell is to “check that the kitchen is clean” and there’s a pile of dirty dishes there you can clean them (2 or time entry), clean half of them and leave half for tomorrow (1), or do nothing (0).  Ideally we want all 2 or time entries.  Realistically that’s not going to happen.  The main objective here is to create a historical record of what happened so we can diagnose systemic issues if and when they pop up. 

As you do this more and more the PMR will become second nature.  You’ll do it faster while thinking about it less.  When you start to cluster 3 or 4 of these activities together enter in a “2” for all but the final entry.  For the final entry of that cluster use control + shift + ; to make a time entry.

You won’t do this every night.  You’ll probably end up doing this Sunday night through Thursday night.  This is 100% fine (encouraged, even?).  Remember: life happens, we’re flexible.

Finally, you aren’t locked into whatever you put on the sheet.  That’s why you have the “Notes:” and “Change log:” section.  If you notice improvements or changes that you’re not quite ready to act on then write them down in the notes area.  Once you’ve made a decision then make the addition, deletion, or change and annotate it in the change log area.  Make the system work for you.

Use the change log to experiment and see what works best for you. This section will see more action when you first get started and little to none once you’ve settled in to a solid routine.

That’s a Wrap.

Boom!  Post number 7 on the journey for a better tomorrow is in the books.  We have a nice mix of both accountability posts for me and pragmatic tooling posts for y’all.
Next week we’ll break down the PMR even more and cover some of the more nuanced entries you may want to consider AFTER you’ve been drilling the basics for awhile.

See y’all next Monday,

Tag

Expanding the Tool Chest

Two Dates fucked three times.  That’s a mnemonic device (the m is silent) and the hilarious imagery of two brown wrinkly pieces of fruit making the beast with two backs helps with recall and retention.  Let’s focus more on what a mnemonic device is and later we’ll circle back to what this one is helping with.

Wikipedia defines mnemonics as:

“A mnemonic device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory.”

That’s a pretty good definition, but let’s get more substance.  The article continues with:

“Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information.”

Or, said another way, mnemonic devices make it easier to remember things.  

Vivid imagery, Rapid Recall

In Kevin Horsley’s book Unlimited Memory he encourages people to make their own “mind movies” by using the “The SEE Principle”.

“You can learn to enhance your memory imagination system by making your mind movies exciting and sticky.  The way to do this is with the “SEE” principle.

Use your S – Senses:  There are only five ways to get anything into your brain, and that is through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  When you utilize your senses you experience more of life and you remember more.

E – Exaggeration:  Exaggerate with humor; tickle your mind.  There is no scientific evidence to prove that learning should be serious.  Make your images illogical.  Have fun; create some positive exaggerated learning memories.

E  – Energize:  Give your pictures action.”

Two pieces of fruit fornicating tickles the mind something fierce.  But what information is this ridiculous imagery helping me retrieve?  And how is it translating that information?

The information being translated are the two most frequently used keyboard shortcuts for the Google Sheets habit tracking system we’re going to go over next week.  I kept getting the shortcuts for the time and date entries confused so I set out to make an acronym or some other mnemonic device to help make it stick.

How the information is being translated is a little less straightforward.  We all relate to information differently so some people might make the connections I did after only a few repetitions and it may take others a little bit longer.  If this memory aid doesn’t make perfect sense by the end of this post don’t sweat it, we’ll be circling back to it next week.  Ok, here we go.

Two and three are the total number of strokes in each as well as being in numerical order.  Date and time are the two descriptors and are in alphabetical order.  Stick a verb between them for some imagery and you’re in business.  Mind tickling imagery accomplished.

Or, to look at it in another way, in formulaic form:

[number][descriptor][verb][number][descriptor]

Alright, Let’s Break It Down Some More

First, we need a starting point.  The shortcut for Insert Date is Ctrl + ; and the shortcut for Insert Time is Ctrl + Shift + ;.  There’s no right or wrong way to go about deciding how you’re going to cook up this mental image for your mind’s eye to feast upon so what I usually do is just write down what I’m trying to remember on a notecard and stick it somewhere I’ll see it frequently.  Preferably I’ll see it when I’m doing the task related to the notecard (you’ll notice this tends to be one of my go-to solutions for environmental design).  Let the words simmer in your imagination and let the process speak to you.

After chewing on a couple different approaches, the double imagery evoked by “date” (being a piece of fruit or being in a romantic setting) stuck out the most.  The “mind-tickling” potential was there, and that was the main reason I didn’t try to make an acronym (a name mnemonic) or build some other association.

Over the course of the next few days, I tried all sorts of wordplay that both tickled the mind and was useful.  As is generally the case in these situations I eventually processed enough garbage to land on our x-rated gem.  Mind tickled, information transferred, device complete.

When is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

You might be saying to yourself wow that moron spent that much time doing what now?  Sounds like a lot of work. 

And to that, I’d reply if you’re investing time and energy into building mnemonic devices purely for reasons of efficiency then you might be better off without them.  Depending on your learning style or how frequently you’ll be using the information again they might not be worth the time and effort invested.  But, for a lot of people, the creative process is fundamental to learning.  For that reason alone it makes knowing and understanding mnemonics a worthy entrant into your habit-building tool chest, even if it doesn’t see a ton of use.

And, for this device in particular, four more reasons why you’ll want to hold on to it:

  1. You’ll be using it every weeknight once you’ve set up your habit tracker in google sheets.
  2. The time and energy to make it came at zero cost to you because I’ve already done the legwork.
  3. The time invested was pretty small.  I made the card and read it over a few times during my PM Routine.
  4. I’ve spent most of this quarantine alternating between licking my windows and eating a bowl of crayons.  I’ve tasted too many rainbows since March and every once in awhile it’s time for a nice change of pace.

Alright, that’s all we’ve got for today.  Next week we go over how to make a free habit tracking system using google sheets.
See y’all next Monday,

Tag

We’ll Do It Live

There’s something magic about journaling.  It brings structure to chaos.  It’s a one on one bare-knuckles brawl with your soul.  If you’re plagued by a problem or an experience that refuses to give you peace of mind then roll up your sleeves, put pen to paper, and start swinging.

I’m currently banging away on the keyboard but it’s mostly the same.  If there’s something I really need to work through then pen and paper it is but 99.9% of the time I’ll just type it out.

That brings us to here and now.  It’s Sunday and I’ve got nothing for tomorrow.  So far I’ve started on two different posts but have shelved both of them for a later date.  I’ve been doing a pretty piss poor job completing my PM routine (PMR) and it’s time to face the music.  This is how we fix it.  We journal through the problem.

Journaling Through the Problem

Journaling through the problem will be another tool in your habit-building toolset.  If you notice that you’ve been repeatedly running face first into the same issue then at some point you’re going to want to try a new approach.  

The next time you run into that issue write down what happened, why you couldn’t complete it, and what you’ll do next time.  If you’re writing it on a word doc then save it on your desktop where it’s clearly visible, labeled, and 100% dedicated to that problem in particular.  If you’re using a journal then use a highlighter, different color pen, shape in the margin, or anything to denote that that specific entry is focused on the issue you’re journaling through.  Keep adding new entries, rereading old ones, and trying new solutions (habit stacking, accountability partners, environmental design, etc.)  until your face has finally broken through that wall.

This post is a journal entry and y’all are my accountability partners.  I can already feel the initial wave of catharsis washing over my mind.  There will be a post for tomorrow, it will help y’all in your battles, and I’ll right this wrong that’s been wronging for far too long.  But first, let’s take a step back to take two steps forward.

Rally Time

Back in the opening salvo of this blog, you may remember that habit stacking and keystone habits were the two tools used to build that routine stack.  If you haven’t read it (one pineapple please) or those two terms are a little hazy here’s a brief recap of each.

Habit stacking:

“In James Clear’s excellent book Atomic Habit’s he outlines a concept known as habit stacking.  It’s a powerful concept but for the sake of brevity just focus on the formula:

                     After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

Keystone habits:

“Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.” – The Power of Habit

Fashioning the Lever

I’m not completing all of my PMR and I haven’t been for some time.  This issue has been on my mind for the last two ish months that I’ve been living in my new apartment and in the past week or two it’s been getting worse.  It stops here and now.

Look at all those zeroes. Absolutely pathetic.

I workout way too late.  I generally start at 6 even though I know that doesn’t leave me enough time to complete the PMR.  Not completing the PMR leaves me miffed.  A miffed mind is not a mind that will let you sleep peacefully.

No more, now I work out at 3 PM and start the PMR at 6 PM.

I just set an alarm for every weekday at 3 PM and 6 PM.  I’ve been effectively using one at 6:45 AM to prompt me to switch from writing to working so I anticipate these two alarms should work too.  I’m not super thrilled about having 3 recurring alarms every Monday – Friday, but we’ll see how it goes.

And, most importantly, I’m going to add a line to the PMR that helps me focus on reading and writing the following morning.  Writing (or Tagging) has rapidly transformed into something I deeply look forward to (even when I shelf a topic for another one).  Tying the PMR into a keystone habit (reading and writing) will give me something to work towards.   Change your mindset and you change the game.

Anchor your habits with a keystone habit however you can.

An important part of these additions is that they still allow for plenty of flexibility in the evenings.  Remember, life happens and we’re flexible.  Post workout I’ll knock out any remaining work tasks and If something is boiling over at/around 3 then I’ll just revert back to a late workout.   Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Boom.  That’s it, that’s the recipe.  Talked about it, now it’s time to be about it.

If you’re tired of running face first into the same wall then try journaling through it.  If you’re feeling particularly bold share that entry with an accountability partner.  Next Monday we’ll talk about using google sheets to manage your routines.

And that’s it for us today, I’m Tag thanks again for reading.  We’ll leave you with Sting and a cut off his new album.  Take it away.

See y’all next Monday 

Nuts:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic

Catharsis is a fun word. catharsis – the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Habit Tracker: Don’t Break the Chain!

Last week we discussed the importance of small wins and this is where the rubber meets the road.  In this post, you’re going to pick a habit, set a goal, build a simple tracking system, and then start casting votes for your new identity. 

In solidarity with the original Reddit post that kicked it all off start this background music, read a few of the comments (sometimes, especially recently, it can feel like you’re alone on this life journey.  But rest assured you’re not.  Not now.  Not ever.), and then reach between your legs and remind yourself that you’ve got a pair.  It starts now.

What it is.

The X effect, sometimes referred to as don’t break the chain, is a simple habit tracking system that fits on a notecard. It’s easy to set up and gives you some valuable information.  Right now your main concern is with simplicity and action.  You don’t need a home run, you just need a base hit.  This is the right tool for the job.

Why you should use it.

Building new habits can be a tough nut to crack.  As stated above simplicity and action is the name of the game.  You’ll have tons of time in the future to build up a more complex system that’s custom fit for you and your lifestyle.  

Right now you’re going to focus on those small wins and start laying the foundation for your new identity.  Doing the habit itself is rewarding, and putting an X on your card has been known to induce side effects including an increased outlook on life, heightened internal dialogue of habit domination, doing a happy dance, and having a big shit-eating grin on your face (warning: if the feel-goods exceeds four hours please don’t contact your doctor.  Hug, call, or text a loved one and continue to spread the cheer).  These side effects help to create a positive feedback loop of habit adherence.

Set Your Goal

To start you’re going to set a S.M.A.R.T goal.  Start with one goal and once you’ve built some momentum you can add more down the line.  Let’s define S.M.A.R.T:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

You probably already have a goal in mind but is it easy enough?  Remember, we want this to be easy and simple.  The goal is to start casting votes and building a body of work for your new identity.  Pick something you can fit into your daily life without any hassle.  This is how you build momentum.  

If you already have something in mind then go with that.  The goal needs to be relevant to you and your situation.  But, if possible, consider scaling it back.  If you’re completely lost and don’t have a goal consider starting with something like walking for five minutes, doing 10 push-ups (if you can’t do 10 push-ups don’t sweat it, it’s not a big deal.  Concentrate only on what you can do and work from there), making your bed, read 5 pages in a book, or journaling for five minutes.  If you end up doing more than your target goal then great!  But don’t adjust your goal, that can come later.  Remember, we want to build momentum.  Just because you had time and energy to go above and beyond one day doesn’t mean you’ll have them every day.  

The time-bound portion of the goal is to start ASAP (Today!  Tomorrow!  The very next available opportunity), limited to 60 days, and will aim for a specific time or place every day.  The start date will be listed in the top right corner, the total time is an implicit goal that goes with the system, and how your goal fits in your day will be explicitly stated.  

Here’s an example:

Every morning after I take a piss I’m going to take a walk for 5 minutes.

Boom!  Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.

Note:  If you don’t hit your target time or place but make it up later you still get an X.  Life happens and we’re flexible.

Be like Aristotle, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Jefferson and take more walks.

Key points:  

  • This sounds easy but make sure your goal isn’t anything open ended like “be more productive” or “don’t be sad”.  Be specific!
  • Aim for the first thing in the morning right after you take a piss or get some water.  If your goal is something like get to work 5 minutes early and clean your desk then disregard.
  • Look forward to knocking out that goal.  It’s way easier to get to bed knowing when you wake up you’re going to notch another win. 
  • Use environmental design to your advantage.  I’ll cover this more in depth below but put your card on your nightstand, on your home desk, on the computer, or on the fridge.  Anywhere where you’ll definitely see it.
  • Walking is vastly underrated.  100% pick a goal that is relevant to you, but I think a lot more people should make walking a daily habit.  It’s an incredible way to get some exercise and process your thoughts (also great socially if you can get an accountability partner to walk with you!).  If you’re not in the habit of walking don’t be surprised if your endurance isn’t great.  Start slowly and work your way up.

Here’s What You’ll Need.

  1. 1 Pen
  2. 2 index cards

Optional:  A second pen of a different color.

The first card doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to get done.  The second pen is if you want your X’s to contrast with the rest of the card.

Mandatory items and optional pen of a different color. Disregard the multiple fold in these. I was using them for something else and my other note cards were buried in a box. Your finished cards will only have a single fold going vertically down the middle.

How to Set Your Card Up:

Read these instructions in their entirety one time through and then execute them on the second time through.

  1. Turn the card so the blank side is facing you and the lines are facing down with the red line at the top.  Put your long form SMART goal at the top of the card, and then underline it.
  2. Turn the card over so the lined side is facing you and fold the card so that there’s a vertical fold running up and down the middle.
  3. While folded, take a pen and use the fold as a guide to make a straight line from the first blue line down to the second blue line.
  4. Unfold the card and put an abbreviated version of your goal in the top left corner above the red line. (Using the above example you’d put Walk for 5 Minutes)
  5. Put the start date in the top right corner above the red line.
    • If you can’t start today due to time constraints or a prior commitment, aim for the next available day (hopefully tomorrow!)
  6. Using the centerline as a divider you’ll use the following format for each side of the line:
    • The abbreviations you’ll for the respective days of the week are as follows:  S, M, T, W, Th, F, Sa.
    • The order you should fill them in is S, Sa, W, M, T, Th, F to help evenly space them across their designated side of the card.  (Don’t worry if it’s not evenly spaced, this technique is just getting it even ish.)
    • When you finish you should have the days of the week in the order that they occur while being evenly (ish) spaced.  If there is any confusion please reference the picture below these instructions.
  7. In between the 3rd and 4th blue line, on the left section of the card, and under the corresponding day of the week write your target start date.
  8. Continue filling in dates in sequential order until you’ve filled in 30 days.  When you fill one line up skip two lines down so that there’s a blank line between each line with dates on them.  Once you’ve run out of dates in the current month start over at 1 and continue in sequential order for the next month.
    • Pro-tip #1:  The 30th day will end two filled in rows below the top row and one day past the starting date.
    • Pro-tip #2:  If you don’t start on a Sunday only the middle line will be completely filled.
  9. Do a happy dance.  There is no right or wrong way to happy dance.  Let the imaginary rhythm take control and bust a move.  You’ve just completed the first step to building your new identity.
  10. Once you’ve completed the goal (even if it’s not at the target time) put an X over the date.  The right endpoints at the top and bottom of the X should touch the top and bottom blue lines roughly halfway between the current date and tomorrow’s date.  This way you can link the X’s together creating a chain.
  11. Once you’ve finished a card, store it somewhere for safekeeping.  We’ll want to use these in the future.
  12. When you’ve completed one card, start over and make a second one.
Feast your eyes on your new habit tracking tools.  Notes:  1) There’s no specific time because not drinking coffee is a continuous thing.  2) I journal on a word doc so there’s no writing on the back of this card.

Design Your Environment.

Environmental design is anything you do to alter your environment to make your habit easier.  

Seeing the card is a big motivator to stick with it.  As stated above one way you can do it is sticking your card right where you’ll see it.  Continuing with the 5-minute walk example you could place this card on a nightstand, desk, or on/in the lip of your bathroom mirror.  Put it anywhere you’re bound to see it.  You could set your walking shoes against your door so when you open it in the morning to take a piss you’ll have to move them out of the way first.  You could tell your mom (accountability partner anyone?) to smack you with a wooden spoon if you haven’t left by X time or to send you a daily text reminder.  Anything to help increase the odds that you’ll accomplish your goal.

Whenever I do laundry I take my dirty clothes bin and set it down right in the middle of the walkway in my apartment.  That way I have to walk over it every time I go to the kitchen or my room and am constantly reminded the clothes need to be put in the dryer or folded.  Environmental design will be a crucial tool in your habit building toolset, take advantage of it however you can.

Get Your Mind Right.

The most important thing to remember is to keep stacking Xs.  Again, if you miss one, two, or twenty days in a row don’t worry about it. Turn the card over, pick a spot right under the long form version of your goal, write the date, and then right what happened/why you missed the day.  Get back on the horse the next day and start a new chain.

Conversely, whenever the feel goods strike flip the card over, put down the date, and write down your happy thoughts.  They can be one or two words, emojis, or even entire sentences.  This is a form of mini journaling.  If you run out of space continue writing on another card, a sheet of loose leaf paper, or (preferably) a notebook.  Don’t stop writing just because you ran out of space!  Journaling can be a crucial tool for some people’s success, we’ll talk more about this in a future post.

 We’re using dates and not straight numbers 1 – 60 so we can better analyze days that went wrong and to take the emphasis off of doing X numbers of days in a row.  If you get down then give yourself time, forgive yourself, and then get your mind right and get back in the game.  You’re playing the long game here.  You’re.  Playing.  The.  Long.  Game.  Repeat that to yourself as many times as needed.

If you don’t have notecards go out and get them right after you’ve finished reading this post.  If you can’t get them then use what you have at your disposal.  Use a whiteboard or fold a sheet of paper into quarters and use that.  You can set this all up on google sheets but I’d recommend setting up on something physical so you can incorporate it into your environmental design.  

When you make an x do a happy dance.  You stacked an X and have earned the right to cut up the rug to your heart’s desire.  Lean into it.  Get hyped.  Embrace that shit eating grin on your face when you mark your X’s.

Community is important, make a post down the comments, get your mom/dad/motherly friend involved, or make a post on r/theXeffect.  By no means do you have to do any of these but it’s highly recommended.

Don’t Forget to Reflect

After you’re done with your third or fourth week take a minute to look back and analyze your progress.  If you’ve missed a couple of days are you noticing a pattern?  Maybe you have ballroom dancing class with grandma on Wednesdays and can’t squeeze in an X.  Most likely it’ll be sometime on the weekends because you were out drinking all night one weekend and had a wedding to go to on another.  It’s ok.  If you can’t make time then give yourself permission to take off Wednesday’s/the weekend/whatever.  Remember, you’re playing the long game.

You’ve got this.

Hopefully you’ve already made your cards, if not then commit to it and set two alarms on your phone to go off every day in the morning and the afternoon until you’ve completed your setup.  Do it now.  Right.  Now.

Regardless of whether your setup is done or not it’s already started.  You made the cards or you set the alarms on your phone.  Congrats.  Take a deep long breath in and slowly let it out.  Let a little bit of that stress that’s been eating you up inside go.  You can do this.  You just notched a small win.

Now, do another happy dance, smile, and then give someone or something (or yourself!) a big hug.  You’re on the road to conquering the chaos.

See y’all next Monday,

Tag

P.S. This isn’t the method described on the sub, if you glance at the sub you’ll see a wide variety of form and function.

P.P.S Don’t forget to store those cards for safekeeping.  We’ll need them later.

Nuts:

shoutout to u/Bombjoke.  You’ve changed more lives than any of us will ever know.

It all started here:  https://www.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined/comments/1x99m6/im_a_piece_of_shit_no_more_games_no_more_lies_no/cf9dz72/

X effect subreddit:  https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect

X effect sub wiki: https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect/comments/fx97d7/updates_and_spring_cleaning/

SMART goal setting: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

One Small Win for Man, One Giant Win for Mankind

Small wins.  You’re going to take back control of your life day by day, task by task, inch by inch, and small win by small win.  There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs, but you’re going to keep on showing up.  You’re going to keep track of your small wins and celebrate when you do well and analyze and make adjustments when you don’t.  But, above all, you’re going to stay positive and focus on what you can control and not get bent out of shape over what you can’t.  

Just.  Show.  Up.

Every day is an opportunity for you to show up, to keep building better habits, and to cast yet another vote for the person you’re becoming.  No matter what happens you’re going to show up and notch another small win on your belt.  Tired of being a soft-bodied bitch?  Good, get your ass in that gym.  Want to be someone who reads more?  Good, get a book and commit to a reading schedule.  Can’t find the time?  Carry that book on you wherever you go and make the time.  Can’t carry a book around?  Get the Kindle app on your phone, download a book, and replace some of your precious social media time with reading.  You are not helpless.  You are not worthless.  Every day you wake up rent is due on who you are and what you stand for.  Just.  Show.  Up.  Build better habits.  Notch another win.  Build a body of work that leaves zero doubt about who you are and what you stand for.

This is what James Clear has to say on the issue:

“…your habits are not the only actions that influence your identity, but by virtue of their frequency they are usually the most important ones. Each experience in life modifies your self-image, but it’s unlikely you would consider yourself a soccer player because you kicked a ball once or an artist because you scribbled a picture. As you repeat these actions, however, the evidence accumulates and your self-image begins to change. The effect of one-off experiences tends to fade away while [the] effect of habits gets reinforced with time, which means your habits contribute most of the evidence that shapes your identity. In this way, the process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.”

In his book Atomic Habits he says something along the lines of even if you have virtually no time for the gym just show up, get changed into your workout gear, and leave.  That counts.  You went to the gym.  You showed up and cast a vote.  And If you have 5 minutes then go knock out five minutes worth of squats.  Those five minutes are a blessing, take advantage of them and get five minutes closer to the person you want to be.

Quitting Coffee:  Eating a Shit Sandwich

Quitting coffee sucks.  It’s a lethargic, sleepy, nut punch that leaves you constantly yearning for a nap and wondering if life off the joe is worth the trouble.  Why be tired when I could instead be cracked out of my mind?  Why deal with sleep, exercise, or nutritional deficiencies when I can just drown them in a cup of pick-me-up and scatter my brain to the fucking winds?  Life sucks and coffee makes it bearable.  Except that life doesn’t have to suck and if you’ve haven’t tried sleeping while not on the bean then maybe you should withhold judgment until you’ve given it an honest shot.  To each their own in this regard but for me shitty sleep and being beholden to the insidious interests of Big Coffee was a cup too far.  If history does in fact in repeat itself then it’s only a matter of time before I’m back in the clutches of that sultry brown seductress.  She’ll have me riding high on a wave of euphoria until all of a sudden it comes to a crashing halt and I’m left energy-less and zombified at noon thinking about how I’m going to get my next fix.  But, until that day comes, each day is another vote for freedom.  Because we will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today kick our caffeine habit!

Community Helps

There are many different tools of the trade you can use to help foster change and community immersion ranks towards the top.  Here are three subreddits you can use to get started:

  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect/ – “People here are on a 50-day journey to create/break one or more habits by simply making a 7×7 grid on a card and crossing off each day with a fat-ass felt marker, because your willpower is like a muscle, and it gets stronger and stronger as you exercise it.”
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined – “Help others attain self-discipline, by sharing what helps you. Meet your goals and improve your life, Reddit style!”
  3. https://www.reddit.com/r/NonZeroDay – “For those struggling with motivation and procrastination, a place to share your daily progress towards your goals. In this sub, users post about how they avoided a Zero Day, share experiences, motivate and seek motivation.”

Just a word of caution for those of you who don’t frequent Reddit and a reminder for those who do:  Be careful not to get sucked into the shittier parts of Reddit.  Before I started to write this post I was out meandering through the wilds of Reddit (mistake!  THIS!  IS!  TAG! TIME!) and you’ll never believe what I came across.  Someone was wrong on the internet.  SOMEONE.  WAS.  WRONG!!!  Wham, bam, thank you mam, it was time to launch into action.  I read the article, zeroed in on where and why he was wrong, and started formulating my response.  Fortunately, it was at that time I took a breath and remembered what was at stake here.  Was I really going to respond to this guy and possibly get sucked into yet another online spat or was I going to unfuck myself, refocus, and start TAGing?  Your boy made you proud. I pulled myself back from the brink and got back to work.  The moral of the story is this:  Reddit can be awesome, but it can also be a massive time and energy suck.  If you don’t stay vigilant the juice from the front page of the internet isn’t worth the squeeze.*

When you are putting small wins out there you’re casting a vote for your new identity and making yourself a better person.  You’re making yourself a better person in this chaotic year when the world is in desperate need of as many good people as possible.  That’s something to be proud of, that’s something you can lean on on days when you don’t get a win.  There will be some shitty days, sometimes even a shitty wall’s worth of days in a row.  Keep plugging away, keep notching as many small wins as possible, and keep forging ahead.  Day by day, tasks by task, inch by inch, and small win by small win.  Keep the faith, you’ve got this.

If you find yourself up against a shitty walls worth of days you channel your inner Mongolian and tear it down.

P.S.: I’m almost done with next weeks post so it looks doing a post every Monday is actually happening this time. See y’all soon!

Nuts:

*Literally just got sucked into Reddit for ~12 minutes.  It was on the happy side of Reddit but that was still 12 minutes I should have been working on this post.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A blogger’s life for me.

If you’re serious about something build it into your weekday routine.  The weekends are volatile and everyone everywhere wants to fit as much as possible into them.  And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll build up these big plans to have a super productive weekend all week long only to all of a sudden find yourself staring into the bathroom mirror on Monday morning with a look of pure disgust.  You accomplished nothing.  Your dreams and goals, like a turd that didn’t flush, are waiting to be dealt with.  They’re floating at the top of your subconsciousness, wreaking of a life that could have been.

Here’s the Problem

Case in point:  Nothing has been posted on this site since June 8th despite the fact the original goal was to post weekly and then work towards twice weekly.  This lapse in posting shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me since it took a metric shit ton of time to get that first post up.  But, as I’m prone to do, I was riding high on a wave of optimistic momentum and was confident I could make weekend sessions work until sometime in the future.  Confidence misplaced, it didn’t happen.

Here’s the Solution

To ensure this doesn’t keep happening I’m going to front-load writing into the AM Routine and get it knocked out early.  I already had success doing that for a little bit but then life got in the way (call the whambulance) and then, clearly with very little success, I moved everything to the weekend.  Terrible idea.  Every Monday through Friday I’ll be writing at minimum for 15 minutes a day and will work towards increasing that period to a larger block of time.  That will be my fortress of solitude and writing will get done.  Hopefully the initial feeling of trying to sit down at the keyboard gets more enjoyable.  If not, I’ll just have to get used to the feeling of getting my nuts punted in because every Monday through Friday for at least 15 minutes I will be banging away on these keys.  I can’t think of the book off the top of my head but the “show up and throw up” phase of writing (the rough draft) is more like the “show up, throw up, punt your nuts in, and then sit on a pineapple” phase for all you Little Nicky fans out there.

Here’s the Vision

A year from now I hope we can all look back on a blog that’s been getting one or two posts a week, a comments section that is brimming with lively chatter, and a community that’s rallied around a shared set of value and goals that will help brighten these dark times.

There she blows.  Hopefully you like the cut of my jib.  I have no idea what I’m doing but come hell or high water Monday through Friday I will be manning the helm and beating these keys for 15 minutes a day.  For you, for me, and for Captain Ahab.

Now bring me that horizon.

Nuts:

(This is where things will go that inspired certain parts of the post/completely random things that need to be added because it felt right at the time. In this instance it was the line “like a turd that wont flush” that came from this scene in what is one of the most criminally under rated movies of all time.)

Rally Time

There’s nothing like the country shutting down to throw a wrench into your schedule, right?  I’ve worked remotely for some time so had you asked me before the coronavirus kicked off how much the quarantine would have affected me, I would have responded with little to none.  And, for about a week, that was more or less the case.  The gyms closed and I jogged, did push-ups, and, occasionally, did some pull-ups.  Then, after a steady stream of weaker and weaker excuses, sporadic workouts turned into not working out at all, I stopped reading because I’d sleep until it was time to get up for work, and then I gained the quarantine 15 as more and more of my diet was shifted to take out or uber eats.  It was time to shake things up.

It gets its fat ass back in the gym or it gets the hose again.

This is where it stops, this is the line in the sand.  A few weeks ago I got my hands on some gym equipment, purchased the average to savage 2.0 program, and then dusted off my copy of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  The right morning routines leave us feeling strong and ready to go out to conquer the day.  One of my favorites looked like this:

Wake up

Immediately go and relieve myself

Weigh myself

Drink some water

Put clothes on

Brush teeth

Floss

Make Bed

*Personal Task* (As dictated by GTD)

Get coffee (set the night before)

Read for ~two hours

Boom!  That was it.  That general routine went on for close to 6 – 8 months.  The above is the final version, it took some trial and error to get there.  At first, the priority was to read for 30 minutes before starting the day.   It was immediately apparent the first day that 30 minutes wasn’t going to cut it.  Quickly I bumped it up to an hour.  After some time at an hour, I decided to try out an hour and a half and finally settled in at two hours.  That may sound like a pretty easy progression to anyone who hasn’t tried adhering to a strict morning schedule, but the reality is that a shit ton of thought and effort went into each adjustment.  Initially, I tried to tweaking and hyper optimizeing the brief period of time between the end of reading and starting work but every time it quickly became clear that it was a lot easier to just go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.  Each one of those adjustments caused a short period of relative chaos in the evenings during the adjustment period.  I’ve always more or less winged it in the evenings and instead of learning my lesson the hard way after that first AM adjustment I just kept managing the transition period all willy nilly and after a few days would start early enough to get to sleep on time.  But it was all certainly worth it, carving out that time each morning for reading was worth it 100 fold.  After finishing a strong reading session of Flow, Deep Work, The Spartacus War, Lexington and Concord, Why We Sleep, or Getting Things Done I’d roll into the day brimming with energy and ready to conquer the day.

I started seriously reading in the second grade and anytime there’s been a reading drought in my life there’s also a general drop in quality of life (like during this quarantine, reading has dropped from an everyday thing to 2 or 3 days a week despite having more time than ever.  It’s crazy how some of us compensate for bad decisions by pulling time away from that which we need/enjoy the most.).

But, let’s take a closer look at the mechanics of the routine above.  Everything on that version of the routine minus three things happens regardless of anything else:

Make Bed

*Personal Task*

Read

                Two things that I have a bad habit of not doing but love the feeling of having them done and the one thing I love doing more than anything else.

Definitely me. Definitely not a free stock image + sorry photo editing skills.

The Rally Time Tools

In James Clear’s excellent book Atomic Habit’s he outlines a concept known as habit stacking.  It’s a powerful concept but for the sake of brevity just focus on the formula:

                After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

And in Charles Duhigg’s legendary The Power of Habit he goes over a crucial concept called Keystone Habits.   Here is a snippet from the book on the power of Keystone Habits:

                “O’Neill (the then CEO of the Aluminum Company of America) believed that some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization.  Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives.  These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate.  Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.

                Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.  This book’s first section explained how habits work, how they can be created and changed.  However, where should a would-be habit master start?  Understanding keystone habits hold the answer to that question:  The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”

Habit stacking and keystone habits and are the tools needed to break out of this quarantine slump.  Let’s take our game to the next level and build both an AM and PM routine.  Let’s get to it.

AM Routine:

Wake up

Piss

Weigh myself

Record weight

Drink some water

Put clothes on

Brush teeth

Floss

Make Bed

Put gym numbers on board

Workout

Shower

Get dressed

Finish filling PM x effect

*Personal Task* (As dictated by GTD)

Journal

X effect Sheet

Move green folder (This is an environmental design trigger; we’ll have to go over that in another post)

Work

PM Routine:

Start timer

Shower

Teeth

Floss

Bathroom sinks

Gym shorts on the counter (environmental design trigger)

Set out socks, shirt, sliders, and shoes

Couches

Check floors

Check kitchen

Computer Desk

Get gym numbers (from Average to Savage 2.0 google sheet)

In

Set Next Actions for tomorrow

Journal

End timer and record

Read

Coffee

X effect Sheet

Move green folder (environmental design trigger)

Bed

Boom!  And just like that, we have our AM and PM routines set.  The secondary habits are grounded by the keystone habits.  That might seem like a lot but the reality is that most of the secondary habits get done anyways, none of the secondary habits take up that much time, and the keystone habits are activities that I need to do to feel fulfilled.  By deliberating carving out time for the keystone habits I can both do what I love most and add on a few high ROI auxiliary habits that I might not normally get to.

That’s going to be it for this post.  Be on the lookout for a future post on how these routines are going.  Post your morning routine down in the comments.  If you don’t have a morning routine have you ever thought about making one?  Would you be open to giving it a shot?  Let me know in the comments section and I’ll see you down there!