It’s this time of the year again: holiday season. We are buying crap for other people that they don’t need, we are gorging on food that will make us sick and we will all pretend to be one happy familiy, just this one time of the year. Aren’t I the cheerful type… But inevitably, as New Year’s Eve comes around, we will get to the point where we have seriously had enough of it. All this mindless consumerism leaves a shallow aftertaste. You can only stand your crazy relatives for so long and if you eat one more heap of Swedish meatballs you will probably throw up at Aunt’s Molly’s feet. Serves her right, you never liked her Pecan pie.
No, enough is enough. Now is the time for change: Loose weight! Stop smoking! Start reading! Find a boyfriend! A change-embracing, resolute mob will storm the fitness studios of this world, buy the latest eSmoking gadget, order a bunch of self help books from Amazon and create a profile on match.com. We’ve got this, I can feel it! This year is going to be different!
However, time is really a buzzkill… February comes around, and you really start to miss smoking. March shows up on the doorstep, and that great TRX class that you went to 3x / week is not really that much fun anymore. And you swear to God, if April offers you the same meager bunch losers to go on a date with, you will seriously consider asking that cute lesbian at the Tattoo parlour out.
Welcome to ‘The Cycle of Radical Effort!’
For my readers who are not yet familiar with my self-invented jargon, let me sum up what the Cycle of Radical effort refers to: huge projects of personal change, after an initial growth spurt, have a close to 100% tendency to falling apart in the end. Sad, but true…
So Drillman, what’s the solution?
As you are probably aware of by now, I’m a huge believer in habit building. Instead of tackling a huge change project with all your available energy and willpower, why not let it take care of itself over time by adopting the right habits? This process, which I refer to as ‘Incremental Change’, consists of the following six steps:
- Get your energy management straight; when consistently working 14 hour days, adding any new habit becomes pretty much impossible.
- Identify a key area you want to work on, e.g. fitness.
- Come up with the absolute minimum action required for you to get you to that goal, e.g. do a set of barbell squats every day.
- Start doing
- Hold yourself accountable by making your habit public, e.g. posting a pic of you squatting every day on Facebook
- And last but not least: add the element of PUNISHMENT
Now, this last one we haven’t really talked about yet, but today is the day!!! You see, Incremental Change is like a pyramid: At the base, there is the problem of Energy Management. If you get that straight, you have a realistic chance of advancing to the next level. Now you can do you some thinking, such as what you want to really work on and which absolute minimum action to choose. And with every level of the pyramid you climb, it becomes more likely that you actually will be successfull. But of course, people being people, hardly anyone ever finishes the ascent: We usually stop around 4, satisfied with our relative success at this level.
But not us, oh no. Here at nicholasdrillman.com we like to be different, don’t we? So every day, we post sexy pictures of ourselves in shorts, with heavy iron weighing us down, to finally get to the holy grail of Incremental Change:
Friends of mine have mused that I really only like to include this in my habit building process because I’m a closet masochist (which might or might not be true…). But seriously, it is a crucially important component of habit building. Here is what’s going to happen when NOT including punishment in your habit building:
Life will simply get in the way.
Some days, you just don’t feel like doing anything. Maybe, despite all your Energy Management, you only slept for two hours last night and now even the bare minimum of one set of squats seems too much to carry out. You’ll just do it tomorrow. Which, at first glance, really shouldn’t be a big deal… One missed day of squatting will not hinder your progress by any means. It really won’t! The problem is a psychological one: As soon as you give yourself permission once to stray from your set course, you will do so again. It might take a while, even several weeks, but the day will come where you skip your set of squats again – because in your mind, there is already a ‘precedent without consequence’.
And this is how it always starts, the beginning of the end. You miss another day and then another. And after a while you decide on a 3 days a week workout schedule, so you don’t waste so much time driving to the gym every day. And then you have that big project at work, so you miss your Wednesday workout. And so on. And you know what’s at the end of all this? Suddenly it’s December again! And you are like, “ah screw this, I’ll start over again in January.” Right, because it worked so well last time…
This is where self punishment comes in. It actually takes into account that, sooner or later, you WILL break the habit – in a sense, you are even allowed to do that! But WHEN you do so, you will get a serious lashing that will make you think twice about doing it the next time, keeping the missed days to a minimum. It’s pure genius, I know.
The key component here is that you chose a punishment that will actually hurt – if the punishment is not harsh enough, who cares about it? The go-to option I recommend is good old money. People just HATE wasting money. It’s so effective, that you can usually tell beforehand if someone is serious about a new habit: If a friend tells me, “Oh, I’m going to do XY for the next 30 days” and I respond “Burn 20$ for every day you skip and post a video of yourself doing so,” most of them won’t. Which tells me sure as hell they also won’t do XY for the next 30 days – subconsciously, they are already planning for failure.
So Here is What We are Going to Do
As seeing is believing, your favorite self-improvement blogger is going to act as a shining role model: I will religiously stick to my current list of habits (s. below) or otherwise pay 10$ for every single time I skip a habit. So for example, every time I don’t do my daily writing for this blog, I’ll note that down in an Excel table which I will post together with my next Monthly Habits Report. All the 10ers I have raked up will then go to a person or a charity which I really dislike. I haven’t decided which one yet, but I have a few candidates in mind… I will also document this, so there is no wriggle room.
Okay, now that the ground rules are covered. Here is my current list of habits I’m struggling with (all daily habits if not otherwise noted). I compressed and reworded them a little bit further from my last Monthly Habits Report, so the whole thing becomes more measurable:
Sleeping (Mo-Thur, Su):
- At least two hours before bedtime turn off all electronic devices (computer, cellphone, etc.)
- At least two hours before bedtime dim the lights in my apartment
- About an hour before bedtime read some fiction to relax
- Go to bed no later than 1:30 am
- Wake up without an alarm
Eating for Health & Energy:
- Take my supplements (vitamin D, fish oil, etc.)
- Eat a Paleo diet
- Only buy organic produce
- Eat fish once a week
Eating for Fat Loss:
- Weigh myself
- Eat smaller portions
- Chew longer
- Drink lots of water with meals
- Keep cheat meals to once a week
- Do two 24 hour fasts per week
- Turn off the internet and my cell phone for 23 hours a day
- Take a long walk (45-60 min), on all non-training days
- Go through my inbox, my tickler and my action pending items and update them
My PhD Thesis:
- Work on my thesis first thing in the morning
- Work on my thesis again later in the afternoon
- Write at least a few sentences for a new article
- Do a basic bodyweight / kettlebell routine 3 times a week
- Do some mobility work & foam rolling 3 times a week
- Train BJJ 3 times a week
- Do at least one approach
- Throw away one thing that I don’t need
Going Location Independent (moving to Russia for 3 months):
- Learn at least one new word of Russian
So from today on, I will work with this list of habits until I post my next Monthly Habits Report here at the beginning of January. If necessary, I will then re-evaluate my list or simply go on with it. And of course I will pay the fine that I agreed on paying… i.e. 10 € for every single habit I skipped! I might be a poor man come January… But I will at least have put my money where my mouth is. Reading and thinking about self-improvement is all very nice and inspiring – it doesn’t mean shit though, if you don’t take action.
So, dear reader, what about you? Will you put your money where your mouth is? Or will you just entertain yourself with good intentions? Let me know in the comments!