I would like to share some of the knowledge and own experiences I gathered in the past ~6–8 months. It will be a long post (15-20 min), but I hope I'll manage to express all my ideas properly and I really hope it will be useful to you.

I always relied on motivation. I always was a procrastinator. I always had my share of both super productive periods and super slacking periods. I worked at a company where the first 1–2 years were extremely productive, but the next 2–3 not so much; without much details, I knew I was plateauing myself, yet I didn't leave until long after that.

I delayed personal projects time and time again, ultimately meaning some ended up never launching at all. I kept losing sight of my true goals and life-long desires due to meaningless daily struggles. But lately, I've been trying (and succeeding!) to rely less on motivation and more on willpower, habits and discipline.

As a small preamble about how an established habit works, at a macro level:

A cue appears — a smell, a time of day, a visual, literally anything can be a cue, a trigger.

The brain craves for the reward and anticipates receiving it. Weirdly enough, this is the moment our brain gets the shot of dopamine, not when actually receiving the reward.

We perform the routine — smoking, compulsive eating, procrastinating, etc.

The brain receives the reward and ties it even stronger to the cue — the relaxing sensation of a smoke, the sugar intake from whatever we ate, the pause from work, etc. The same goes for good habits, of course.

Before we being, there are three points I'd like to get through, in case this becomes too long and you won't finish it:

Stop consuming time-wasting websites, at least at work; work when you're at work and do your best at it; no job is too unimportant as to not give your best; you give your best for yourself, not your employer; you deserve to do your best.

This includes social media, and reason for this is that everyone puts online their best version of themselves and we tend to compare ourselves with others. People don't really put their failures on these platforms, so we end up comparing our real selves with a projection of others, a distorted reality of them. Comparing with others is detrimental in and of itself, but in this case it's much worse; the comparison isn't even real.

Start reading. It frees your mind of your problems, at the very least; it occupies it with whatever you're reading, instead of your problems. And then, there's the obvious benefit of learning, exercising your mind and gathering information; good information.

The road of improvement started with reading Mini Habits, by Stephen Guise. His tip is to build your first mini habit by reading the book: read 2 minutes per day. And it worked: with one or two exceptions, I haven't missed a single day of reading in the past 6–8 months. And that goes for all other mini habits I created.

Now, what's a "mini habit"? As Guise puts it, it's something "stupid small", that you literally can't fail doing; it's too easy to fail. Want to work out? Do one push-up. Is that too much, sometimes? Lie on the floor. Is that too much, as well? Get down on your knees. Is that also too much? Go stand in the middle of the room. Make the step smaller and smaller until it sounds stupid; until it is stupid.

Why? Without going too much into details about the book, the hardest thing to do, generally speaking, is to start, so that's why you're doing something stupid small: to be easy to start and requires close to no willpower.

Say you start by lying on the floor: you made your first step. You'll now have two choices: you either do your push-up, because you're already in position and the "new" first step is now the actual push-up, or you either still don't feel like it and keep laying on the floor. That's OK. It really is. You made progress. As small as it feels, compared to yesterday, or the day before that, it's still progress.

Just do the same thing tomorrow; and the next day; and the next; and for however much time it takes for you to move onto the next step. Eventually you'll reach that point — be it after day or a month — but you've accomplished another step forward, your first push-up ... or more. The same logic applies for doing yet another step and another and so on.

Usually, after you do your stupid small step, you won't really stop there, so don't be afraid, and don't ask "where will 2 minutes of reading per day lead me?", because most of the time you'll end up doing more. Mentioned in the book as well, the first law of motion goes: "without external forces, objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest". The same applies to habits, too.

Going from doing nothing (being at rest) to stupid small (being in motion) requires very little external force; and after you're in motion ... it's much easier to stay in motion than to stop. On the other hand, take the "worst case" where you always read just the 2 minutes and never feel like doing more: that still adds up to 700 minutes, or 11.5 hours, or about 1.5 books per year. That's still better than 0. That's close to what I've read my whole adult life until last year.

System changes:

I decided to read for 2 minutes a day and I ended up listening to 8 books in 6 months. I found something that works for me (listening vs reading), and I kept doing it — listening has been found to be the same as reading, anyway (with slight differences).

I decided to do 1 weightlift/day, which in time turned into 1–3 x 20/day and now turned into deciding to go x2/week at the gym on top of the daily routine.

With very, very few exceptions, I haven't missed a day of neither.

The next book I read was The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. From this book I learned about how the brain works, how habits are formed, how habits work, why they work, why they're hard to change, why they never really disappear. This felt more like an "here's how things work" book, but I loved it just as much. I won't go into details about it, because there would be many intertwined things to express here.

I do want to point out one thing: keystone habits. What's a keystone habit? It's "just" a habit, but one that sparkles a chain reaction of other good actions/habits in our life. We all have our own keystone habits. For someone, exercising might trigger a desire to eat better, make them be more productive and crave for a healthier lifestyle altogether. For someone else, reading might trigger a desire to be more productive, to learn more, be more creative and crave for the same healthier lifestyle altogether.

The Last book I'll mention is Atomic Habits, by James Clear. It brought a lot of closures to concepts read earlier, it clicked with me and I learned a ton! Clear kind of continues where Duhigg left off, by explaining how to build new habits or lose bad ones by improving a tiny bit every day.

One of the ideas I took out so far was also present in the other two books: we shouldn't rely on motivation to act. Feelings and emotions are extremely volatile and can't form any basis for any long-term behaviour. Willpower and/or habits are much more reliable (once formed).

[My own example] For instance, most of the time we feel "too tired", we're actually not in the mood and the brain is trying its best to make us not do the task in front of us. How many times have you felt exhausted, started doing something (anything, even gaming), then ended up losing track of time for a few hours? That definitely means you weren't exhausted "enough" and still had energy. You just needed to push through your brain trying to convince you not to do it.

[My own example] As another instance, when we're not in the mood for something, that's just our brain craving for what it's used to, what's easier to obtain and what's more energy efficient — for example, working on our side-project means high energy usage compared to watching our favourite TV show. You'll find — at least sometimes — pushing through the initial "I'm not in the mood at all" feeling will make you get over it rather quickly; the brain has something to focus now and, as we saw above, objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Of course we are all more productive when we're in the mood or motivated. But we should prefer to be even 20% productive when we feel crappy than ... 0%. Do not rely on motivation. Do not wait for motivation or the right mood.

Motivation boosts are helpful, for sure, but they're just patches; they don't address the real issue and don't help on the long run. Build better habits by starting small (so it can be easier) and let them drive your behaviours automatically, in the direction you want to. Habits require zero energy, they're automatic. That's their purpose: to conserve energy.

Mindset changes:

I started trying to change my mind every time I wasn't in the mood for something. During the day I would sometimes lay down for a "quick nap", but I would actually end up forcing myself out of bed and, what do you know? I wasn't that tired. It started working more and more, until I wouldn't even think of laying down anymore.

I started forcing myself to wash my dishes right after eating and to make my bed right after getting up; with time, this spilled over to other mundane things that I usually used to put off for later, but also into my daily working time.

One last argument against relying on motivation: ~45% (!) of our daily life is driven by habits and as much as ~90% (!!) is done subconsciously. I didn't quite believe it either, and it still baffles me, but just take the time one day to observe and you'll be amazed on how much of it goes by on auto-pilot.

Another idea from Atomic Habits is that small changes add up to big results. How so? Not in the way described in Mini Habits, but through compound interest. Starting at 100, 1% per day means an increase of 1 today, but 1.01 tomorrow, 1.0201 the next day and 1.030301 the next. It adds up to ~x38 in a year; you start with 100 and don't end up with 465, but with ... ~3800 (it depends on the programming language used to calculate it

dec 27 2018 ∞
mar 17 2019 +