At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called On Turning Pro, about my new mindset for the new year, one of discipline and responsibility. The post really struck a chord, even though it wasn’t specifically about running or diet (but the ideas in it could, of course, be applied to fitness and food).
This is the first of several follow-ups I’ll write about my progress. If I were writing this post at the end of January, which I had every intention of doing, I would be celebrating a month of huge success at what I set out to do.
As it is, I’m still celebrating success, but of a different kind — this week, I finished writing my book! There’s still lots of revision and editing to be done, but the hard part — the sitting down, facing the Resistance, and writing — is finished. The cost of finishing, unfortunately, was abandoning many of the healthy habits and disciplines I had developed in January.
But I’m not deterred. The idea of the meta-habit (perhaps better called an “anchor habit”) is a comforting one — rather than feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of having to restart 10 or 12 different habits, I know that all I have to do is get back to my daily habit of reading and listening to positive material, and the others will fall into place like dominos.
I’m excited for things to return to the way they were before the huge push to get the book finished. Reading over the journal I kept in January, I’m astounded at how much I learned about myself in so short a period.
I learned way more than I can fit into a single post, but I figured I’d start with the five most important lessons I learned during this month of dedication and discipline. I hope you find them useful, in some way, for your own life.
1. Keep a journal.
I started a daily journal at the suggestion of Jim Rohn, and it’s perhaps the most valuable habit I’ve adopted so far this year.
The key to sticking with it, for me, is brevity. You can’t possibly record all that you did each day, so be satisfied with jotting down just one to three highlights. For those days when I don’t have much to write about, I answer three questions:
- What did I learn today?
- What did I improve today?
- What did I enjoy today?
(Thanks, Tony Robbins, for these.)
I keep my journal in a Google document so that I can access it from any computer and easily add notes and quotations that I come across throughout the day.
The best part of a journal, for me? Writing things down forces you to notice unconscious patterns in your behaviour and thoughts. A huge one for me was the realization that as soon as I drink a beer or a glass of wine, I become pretty much worthless, at least as far as willpower and discipline go. Implication? Don’t have a drink until I’ve finished positively everything I plan on doing that day.
2. Cultivate the art of letting small, bad things happen.
In order to do big things, you have to let small, bad things happen. –Tim Ferriss
Oh, I was letting the bad things happen before. The difference between then and now is that then, I would fret about them. Now I understand that small, bad things are a necessary tax on doing things that matter, and I accept them as such. For me, this permission to let the small things go wrong has been unbelievably liberating and stress-reducing.
Example: for three years after starting No Meat Athlete, I answered every single email I got. I didn’t want to piss off or disappoint a single potential reader (and sneezer, as Seth would say) of my blog. I sunk hours and hours each week into my email inbox … to the detriment of the actual work, the stuff that matters.
Writing this book made me realize that those small, one-on-one interactions aren’t nearly as important as writing blog posts or, in this case, a book. I’ve let go of the idea that I can please everyone, but with the result that (hopefully) I’ll make stuff that helps a lot more people than I can ever do with email.
It’s not just email, and it’s not just work. This little idea has changed everything.
3. Recognize the distractions and addictions that are — to be blunt — ruining your life.
Again, I’ll point to email. It was my main digital addiction. I imagine that Facebook and TV are bigger ones for most people, but email was mine.
In short: Email is where I learn about new opportunities, so it’s fun for me to check it. Although I quickly learned that it was stupid and unproductive to leave Gmail open while I was trying to work, email remained my little reward when I was done. Soon, the addiction worsened, and checking email became my default behavior.
Just got in from a run? Check email. Finished reading a chapter in a book? Check email. Finished a walk with the family? Check email. First thing in the morning, last thing at night? Check email.
Checking email became the reward for everything else in life, my home base. The state of checking email was my steady state, the state I always strived to return to.
Centering your schedule around something so meaningless is a recipe for emptiness in your life.
To break free of it, you just need to learn to sit with the urge. Recognize when you’re feeling that pull to do the empty, addictive behavior, and just be okay with not doing it. Sit there. Or better, start that other, important thing — you know, the one you always say you don’t have time to do.
It doesn’t take long before the previous way of doing things — think about it, treating email or Facebook or TV as your reward for hanging out with your family? — seems pretty ridiculous. Once you’ve recognized these addictions for what they are, you can confine them to neat little time boxes, enjoy them for a few minutes each day (or just kill them entirely), and all of a sudden there’s plenty of space for richness in your life.
4. Read (and re-read) Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic.
I’ve never really “gotten” philosophy — I’ve always wished I were a philosophy guy, but just never could get into it.
Seneca changed that (again, a recommendation from Tim Ferriss). Letters from a Stoic is the only book which I’ve read and then immediately re-read as soon as I was finished. It was that much of an eye-opener.
Letters from a Stoic, and stoicism in general, offers a practical philosophy for living without fear and, basically, for happiness. The highlights (for me) include the idea of “rehearsing” poverty or any other situation that you fear so that you become hardened to it, an advocacy of minimalism over the pursuit of material things, becoming comfortable with the idea of mortality, and learning not to value anything obtained through chance (“Fortune”) over that which has been earned through deliberate effort, since such gifts are taken away as quickly and easily as they are bestowed.
No exaggeration here — Letters from a Stoic has been a more effective treatment for anxiety than any therapy or medication I’ve ever tried.
Start with one letter and see if you like it. You can find free translations online, like these, but I found it worthwhile to pay $1.99 for an ebook (I bought a hard copy the second time I read it, since it just seemed like a hard copy type of book).
5. Eliminate fear of rejection, by facing it head on.
I’ve been pretty successful in implementing the first four lessons above. This one, though, I’ve only just gotten started with — for me, it is by far the hardest.
I had read about “Comfort Challenges” (where the goal is to intentionally do something that’s uncomfortable in public, to get over the fear of what others might think), but I always found an excuse not to do them — mainly, “This just isn’t me.”
But as I’ve learned more about myself, I’ve come to see that when something is this scary and so out-of-the-question, it’s a sign that I need it more than anything else.
I only got through Step 1 before Bookmageddon took over my life, but now that it’s finished I’m ready to attack the next steps. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.