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Daily writing ritual
Deep Work Session
259 out of 288 (89.9%)
Summary of my Performance this Month
- Holiday! - The numbers are worse this month because I had a four day trip to Taiwan which messed up few of my habits, especially the green shakes and deep work.
- 78 day chain of daily meditation - this is my first run at meditation where I've lasted over a few months without missing a session. Making good progress on this front
- Struggling with book target - my 5 book per month target was missed mainly due to what I've been reading rather than a lack of consistency. I managed to read consistently (everyday) in April, but the books are very detailed accounts of complex topics that take me quite a long time to digest and finish.
- Levelled up my pool game - practised pool 18 days out of 30 during April and ended up winning a few competitions as a result. Deliberate practice seems to be paying off. The downside is that my sleeping schedule took a hit.
Key Points for April Review
Waking Up Early - my Keystone Habit
Poplarized by Charles Duhigg in his book "The Power of Habit", keystone habits are those that have a positive cascading effect on the rest of your day such that positive action more easily follows.
For example, James Clear (one of the self development authors I follow), has mentioned a number of times that working out is keystone habit for him:
“When I worked out, I wanted to eat better. Even though I could have rewarded myself with chocolate bars and ice cream, I felt like eating real, healthy foods.
I also slept better. And when I was awake, I seemed more productive. Especially in the hour or two after working out, when my mind seemed to think clearer and my writing was crisper. Thoughts flowed easily.”
- James Clear -
Clearly, it's worth taking some time to consciously identify what your keystone habits are because they represent a high point of leverage for success.
You can focus on the most important things such that success is likely to follow.
For me, I've come to realise that waking up early is one of my keystone habits.
When I wake up early, I'm more likely to meditate. I'm more likely to hit the gym regularly, read, do my writing and even do my deep work sessions.
If I wake up late, however, the opposite is true. It's a real struggle to get myself going. Not only do I take a hit psychologically, because I always feel like I'm in a rush against time, but I also seem to feel lethargic and have less energy.
This realisation really came to light to me during April because I spent most of the month on a nocturnal schedule similar to that of a hamster in order to play all night pool matches against other players in here in Manila.
In "the home of pool" I've been taking advantage of the plethora of extremely talented local players that are only too happy to part me from my money. It's great practice for my game, but these matches are nearly always throughout the night.
At the worst point, I would wake up at 1800 local time, spend five hours doing my habits and work and then head to the pool club at around 2300. Often a game can run through until 06:00 the following morning at which point I'd retire home, hitting the sack at around 10:00.
Trying to keep up with my self development work while living this "hustler" lifestyle on the side didn't work well. At the time it was an absolute battle to get through my habits and resulted in quite a number of slip ups.
Getting up late really seems to hamper the quality of my day.
Learning point:- I'm going to attempt to keep a consistent sleep schedule (something I've always struggled with) and wake up early over the coming months.
Drinking vs Meditation
Last month I said "I'm going to give alcohol a miss in April".
Well, long story short, that didn't happen.
Some of the best times of my life have been spent just hanging out with a bunch of friends, playing pool, enjoying their company and having a beer. And that's why I find it quite hard to completely kick it on the head.
I'll go to meet a bunch of friends with the best of intentions. I might even decline the first few rounds. But inevitably at some point in the night I'll give in and have a beer. I'll then usually have a couple more too.
In April, this happened with more regularity than I'd like to admit.
What I've come to realise is that the morning after I've had a few beers (I'm not talking about much here - let's say a few small bottles of lager) my meditation sessions suffer.
It's harder to focus on the breath, the monkey mind is more active, takes longer to settle and my resistance to the practice is far greater.
Of course, this makes perfect sense. In a way you can consider meditation and drinking alcohol as polar opposites.
Drinking alcohol floods the brain with dopamine triggering the release of dynorphin, a natural painkiller that numbs our ability to feel pleasure. Net result:- we need more external stimulus to feel enjoyment.
Meditation practice teaches us to pay attention and increases or sensitivity to sensations in the body and ultimately our ability to enjoy. A meditation master, in theory, can derive enjoyment from merely paying attention to the breath. Net result:- we need less external stimulus to feel enjoyment.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I need to kick alcohol on the head. But it's my wonderful vice and I haven't quite found a way of doing it permanently yet.
Despite these difficulties, I'm sticking to the social media account diet. I'm more productive and haven't lost anything meaningful. Those mindless news feed browsing session are not missed!
Daily writing ritual
Deep Work Session
270 out of 296 (91.2%)
Summary of my Performance this Month
- Struggled to get enough exercise again. My recent lack of movement and training is now starting to show in my physique!
- Didn't get through many books this month. My reading time was vastly reduced for a few reasons that I'll cover below.
- Kept up with pretty much all my other habits consistently.
Key Points for March Review
Consistency is Hard
Not going to lie: many times in the past month I've thought something along the lines of:-
- I'll just have a day off
- I won't bother meditating today
- I'll skip the shake because there are no greens in the freezer...
These thoughts can be quite alluring, spring up out of nowhere and can derail even the most determined worker.
While these thoughts are common, I've noticed that it really doesn't take much effort to shut them down. The most challenging part is to recognise them in real time as and when they appear in consciousness. Once aware, the battle is mostly won. It's then merely a case of deciding whether to follow the narrative in your mind or whether to let the unproductive thoughts and feelings pass.
Once you've made the decision to not follow the narrative, it's amazing how quickly a new and more positive chain of thought can arise. I can literally go from feeling like I can't be bothered to feeling energised and motivated in the matter of a few minutes.
Recognising the impermanence of thought and reminding myself of this particular trait in real time is perhaps the best anti-procrastination hack I've ever come across.
I've come to accept that, while I can reduce their frequency, I'm never going to stop having negative thoughts altogether. But that doesn't matter. The real skill is deciding which thoughts are useful and should be followed, and which to let go.
I can thank meditation for this particular insight... Sometimes I'm so anxious to end my meditation session that it's almost unbearable. I just want to stop the practice, move about and do something. Yet, by focusing my attention elsewhere, within minutes the anxiety passes.
So, when I'm sat at my desk and every sinew in my body is rebelling, I recognise what's happening and I just get started. Within minutes I'm usually free.
Alcohol is a Headwind
I'm doing my best to qualify for an international pool (billiards) competition that takes place each year in Asia. With that comes many long nights of practice and money games against the best players I can find. An unwanted side effect of being a "shooter" is that most pool table resides in a bar so you're never more than a few words away from having an ice cold beer in your hand.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I'm a raging alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination. My drinking habits would likely be considered tame by most standards. But I definitely enjoy a beer. That beer sometimes leads to a few more.
That's definitely played a part in my downfall this month.
It's clear that you can be successful and still drink liberally. There are too many real-world examples of this to deny. But there is a price to pay.
For me that price came in the form of more difficulty getting into a state of focused attention. Whether it was my deep work sessions or meditation, things just didn't come quite so easily.
I spent some time last year learning about the physiological effects of alcohol consumption and discovered some theories as to why this might be the case:-
- Alcohol numbs our ability to feel pleasure.
Drinking alcohol stimulates a dopamine release, which we enjoy in the form of pleasure. At some point the brain realises that things are out of wack, and in an attempt to maintain homeostasis releases a natural painkiller called Dynorphin.
This means we need more stimulus to feel the same amount of pleasure.
It's the same physiological process that causes heroin addicts to keep increasing their dose in the search for that blissful experience they got from their first hit. They'll never get there and instead take extreme amounts of heroin just to feel normal.
Apparently, just one drinking session can cause this kind of pleasure numbing effect for up to 10 days. In other words: enjoying alcohol even just once can have a negative effect on your ability to enjoy life for the next week and a half.
For me, this effect was incredibly noticeable.
It was harder for me to "get into" my book while reading. Took longer to get focused when writing and left me more distracted when meditating.
These activities are enjoyable in a healthy addiction free mind, but they can't compete with overloaded neuro-transmitters caused by pleasure inducing drugs.
- Alcohol damages our pre-frontal cortex.
I'm not qualified to speak in any great detail about the physiology of the brain, but there seems to be quite a bit of evidence to suggest that pleasure inducing activities (drinking alcohol, watching porn, taking drugs etc.) can reduce grey matter in the pre-front cortex.
This is the part of the brain that's responsible for willpower and self-discipline.
In short: drinking alcohol seems to reduce our willpower, which in turn means we're less likely to make good decisions and delay gratification.
It's clear that drinking alcohol comes at a cost.
I can't produce content, videos, software, continue to study and learn and do the things that I want to do without the ability to focus. Each time I drink alcohol, I compromise my capacity to do so. In other words: I voluntarily add a headwind to what is already an ambitious path.
It's for this reason that I'm going to give alcohol a miss in April.
Daily writing ritual
Deep Work Session
224 out of 237 (94.5%)
Summary of My Performance this Month
Overall, a very productive month. Happy with the outcome.
My main area of struggle right now is physical exercise - I'm not moving enough. Approaching the age of 35, I'm only too aware that if I don't keep my body active now then I face an uphill battle recovering an ailing physical body in a decade's time.
To make this problem worse, I'm barely getting my heart rate up to a decent level by engaging in cardio. The exercise that I do is mainly weight training, which doesn't bring any of the benefits of an elevated heart rate.
In March, my primary focus will be on solving these two issues.
My current thinking is to join something like CrossFit. I'm not a massive fan of the training protocols there, mainly because it seems like everyone who does CrossFit gets injured in one way or another, but it does make training enjoyable, social and convenient.
Once I "get into it", I'll be far more likely to hit my exercise goals while being part of a group of like minded people. I'll probably make a few more friends while I'm at it, too.
The only real downside is that I'll be considerably poorer. But you can't put a price on health, right?
When I first heard of meditation, I went through a phase of "what is this nonsense?". I just didn't get it.
As time went by, I kept getting exposed to the idea of incorporating a meditation practice into my daily routine. I still didn't really get it, but I saw that many people smarter than me were incorporating this into their lives and espoused the various benefits of it. So, I started to learn more about it.
As I went through the evidence and actively learnt more about the practice, I then came to a point where I started to understand that it was worth doing and became sold on the scientific evidence that supports it. But I wasn't ready to take it on. I knew it would be extremely difficult for me to do, and felt like I had to get my other stuff in order first. It wasn't a top priority for me.
I'm happy to say that this month, I finally got everything in a row (and, if I'm honest, the courage) to fully jump in and commit to meditating each day. Hats off to Sam Harris for his great android app "Waking Up". Through 10 minutes a day, his guided meditation series has helped me stick to the practice and open my mind up to new ideas.
I'm surprised to say that I've found it a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated. The practice has helped me to punctuate the rigours of everyday life with bouts of mindfulness; an exercise that's helping me to paralyse unhelpful thoughts through mere attention.
This skill has been especially useful during periods of procrastination. Consciously meditating on the transient nature of thoughts and where they arise in consciousness has helped me during periods where I experience resistance.
During a meditation session I might feel the urge to move but then, instead of instantly reacting, merely "watching the thought" leads it to disappear in a few moments. This feeling, when I want to move during a meditation session, is exactly the same as the feeling I get when I sit down to work, but start to procrastinate. I've been using the same mindfulness technique to get myself to start working. It's incredibly effective.
I already recognise the benefits of meditation and will continue to practice it indefinitely.
I haven't really looked at the science behind cold showers much although there does seem to be some promising research around cold exposure and an improved immune system. I'm mainly just doing it as an experiment.
My thoughts about this so far:-
- My first cold shower really sucked. It's got better now, but I still don't enjoy them
- I recognise that there has been some kind of physiological response from my body because I find cold exposure far more tolerable than I did previously
- I love the feeling that I get after (not during!) a freezing cold shower in the morning. I feel awake, my senses are heightened, and I'm ready to tackle the day.
I'll keep on doing it for the time being.
All Other Areas
In terms of productivity, things have gone well:-
- I wrote 26 specifications documents for my software company. This has led to a far more organised development process than last year. All this was achieved in 2 hours or less of deep work per day.
- I got through 7 pretty interesting books, including a binge read of the top procrastination books. I want to put together a course on procrastination at some point, so am doing some background research for that.
- I didn't miss a day with my daily writing ritual (including weekends).
Daily writing ritual
Deep Work Session
155 out of 186 (83.3%)
Summary of My Performance this Month
In terms of work productivity, this has been a really good month. Probably one of the best I've ever had.
I've managed to get through and take notes on 7 books while doing at least 2 hours of focused work per day. This has resulted in me creating 33 specifications documents for my team. That's really helped us get ahead in terms of planning and the development team seem to appreciate the clarity and direction.
The daily writing ritual, something that I've been doing for the best part of three years now, is already a very consistent part of my daily schedule. No surprise to see that I only missed a day. And that was due to sickness.
I fell behind a little bit on the health side of things, only hitting 7 out of 12 gym session and 17 out of 31 green shakes. Both of these things have suffered as a result of travelling back to England from Asia, where I didn't have a blender or a gym membership. Note to self: in future sort both these things out on day 1, when I land.
January Reading Summary
Here's a quick summary of the books I read in January:-
The Wisest One in the Room (recommended)
Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross
This book will open your eyes to the cognitive biases that we all have. It will elevate your consciousness so you're one of the few people that don't fall prey to the most common pitfalls that they can cause.
Atomic Habits (recommended)
I like this guy. He writes a lot of good stuff often on similar topics that I'm interested in. Somewhat similar to my own habit system, this book will highlight the power of small habits and teach you how to stick to them.
The Slight Edge (recommended)
Simple productive actions, repeated consistently over time. That's the essence of the slight edge. Jeff turned his life around from beach bum to starting one of the largest solar companies in America, hit rock-bottom again, before bouncing back. He attributes his success to the Slight Edge. What's your personal philosophy?
Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now (recommended)
Social media companies serve the advertiser at the expense of the user (you and I). Jaron has a very strong and hard-hitting set of reasons that will make you think twice about using such "BUMMER" (Behaviours of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent) platforms.
If you don't have time to read the book, this 20 minute interview covers his most important arguments:-
The 1% Rule (recommended)
A 1% improvement every day leads to a 3700% improvement over the course of the year. Simple disciplines compound over time to create huge results.
The code:- Fall in love with the process, do it every single day, celebrate your commitment, track your metrics and data, master your craft.
Simple, but powerful concept, similar to both Atomic Habits and the Slight Edge.
The Miracle Morning (recommended)
I can attest to the power of having routines and rituals to make sure you day goes well. I find that if I start my day off badly, then it's really hard to correct my trajectory later. This book is all about having a super productive first hour of the day.
Hal lays out 6 things to do, as soon as you wake up, to create your "Miracle Morning": meditation, affirmations, visualisations, exercise, reading and writing.
If you've never had a morning routine before, this could be a life changer for you. While I haven't done the template that's laid out in this book, I have consciously been following my own morning routine and have been amazed at how effective it is.
I recommend giving this book a read and either following the regimen that he recommends or creating your own personal one. Commit to it for at least 30 days.
The Five Second Rule
The only book that I don't recommend this month; not because the "5 second rule" isn't a useful tool in certain situations, but mainly due to the unnecessary padding that comes with it. I'm pretty ruthless when books contain too much fluff.
The rule is designed to thrust yourself into action before analysis paralysis stops you from taking action. It reminds me of the "3 second rule" in pickup:-
The 3-second rule is a guideline that many guys into Game use when they see an attractive girl. It simply means that upon seeing that girl, they have 3 seconds with which to open and interact with her. The main reason for the existence of this rule is to get you to approach quickly.
Useful tool if you find that you commonly can't get yourself to do the things that you should be doing. This video below sums it up quite nicely:-
What Could Have Gone Better
My trip to England, to visit my parents, is always a particularly challenging time of year because I don't have the streamlined environment that I usually have:
- My workspace is smaller and more cramped
- The chair and desk available to me are poor both poor ergonomically
- The internet barely reaches so the office, so disconnects regularly
- The gym is a 20 minute drive away and costs an arm and a leg (because I'm not a member)
- ... wah wah wah. Cry me a river.
Noticing that things weren't in order made me really appreciate the power of having an efficient environment to support my daily disciplines.
There are a few things I could do to increase the chances of sticking to my habits:
Use Implementation Intentions
- I will go to <<name of gym>> at <<time>> on <<day>>
- If the internet fails too regularly at home then I will go to <<name of local coworking space / coffee shop>>
Having a plan in place, before I even touch down, will help me to get things done, even when the environment isn't ideal.
While sometimes boring and mundane, showing up every single day has been the single most powerful factor for results making in my life so far...
- The two relatively successful companies I've co-founded have been a result of dogged persistence rather than any kind of entrepreneurial brilliance.
- In a somewhat different domain, my progression to a 400lb squat came about from sheer determination rather than genetic ability. It took me the best part of half a decade and countless jugular popping training sessions to take these chicken legs to the "intermediate" bracket of official strength standards.
- My first successful online site only blossomed after 12 months of posting mostly every day and my ability to put together a half decent video only started to appear after a hundred, or so, less than stellar appearances.
I could reel off further evidence, but it's increasingly clear to me that small, but consistent, daily progress over (often) years is the most reliable way for me to create results in my life.
Of course I'm not the only one who's noticed this phenomenon. Plenty of successful people have written books attributing their success to the same thing:-
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The 1% Rule by Tommy Baker
- Peak by Anders Ericsson
- The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
- The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Consistent daily focused effort is boring but extremely powerful.
And that's why in 2019 I want to take it to more of an extreme than I ever have before.
Consistency will be the key theme for my entire year.
Aren't you already consistent?
I've had periods of consistency in some areas. Usually I'll have two or three of these per year and they'll last anything from one to three months.
In other areas I'm doggedly consistent. I've been pretty much working out at least three times per week for 15 years, for example.
It's not a bad foundation, but now I'm shooting for the sweet spot of well-rounded consistency across many disciplines at once...for a year.
"What would my life look life after one year if I executed, every single day, without failure?"
That's the question I want to answer at the end of this year.
What does this mean, specifically?
It means doing the following, every single day:-
- My daily writing ritual (this is made up of answering questions about the type of person I am, writing down my goals, writing some affirmations and providing status updates on where I'm at with my objectives)
- At least 2 hours of deep, focused work. At the moment, I'm filling this time by writing specifications documents for my software company. In the future, though, this activity may be replaced by something else. The important thing is that I focus my attention on something, without distraction, for at least 2 hours daily.
- Reading personal development books while taking notes. I have 59 books to get through this year in order to complete the personal development challenge I set for myself a few years ago. That's five books a month.
- Consuming a healthy, green shake. My daily shake that consists of kale, spinach, almond milk, frozen berries, banana (or some other kind of fruit), turmeric, black pepper, ginger and flaxseeds is often the daily task that gives me the most resistance. This power shake, inspired by a great book "How not to die", will hopefully keep me alive for a while.
On top of these daily habits, I'll also be aiming to:-
- lift weights three times per week
- practice my pool game (billiards) three times per week
- create two self development videos per week (from March)
- bring back my habit of daily meditation
- create one blog post for Warrior Habits each week
These commitments are all on top of any other stuff I need to take care off while looking after the two companies that I co-founded and just generally living my life.
Monthly Consistency Reports
This year will be the first time that I've introduced a monthly "consistency" review to my schedule.
I think this will be a worthwhile additional practice that allows me to "total up" my consistency score for the month, while giving me a chance to journal and reflect on how the previous month has gone.
I'm a bit of a track-a-holic. But it's one addiction I'm happy to have. I've noticed that tracking is crucial for keeping me focused so these monthly reports are going to be key to keeping me on the straight and narrow.
My "Consistency System"
For a few years now, I've been developing my so-called consistency system. This system comprises of a number of things that I deliberately do, most of them (not all) every day, to execute my habits even on days when I really don't want to.
This system involves
- A morning routine
- A daily writing ritual
- A system for dumping ideas and tracking daily tasks
- Making sure I have a streamlined environment
- Various tracking mechanisms and scorecards
- A daily schedule/routine with triggers and rewards
- Minimum commitments
- Implementation intentions
- Emotional kickstarting techniques for bad days!
- Journaling when I'm overwhelmed or notice some interesting thought patterns/emotions (CBT type stuff)
- Living by a philosophy or Code of Conduct that I've created for myself
I'm confident that after a few years of practising these techniques, I'm at the point where I can keep myself consistently productive for an entire year.
Of course there will be ups and downs, blips in the road, unforeseen circumstances and life will likely get in the way every now and then. But the important thing is to not drop the ball for long.
I aim to hit all my habits every single day, but accept I'm being slightly idealistic. In absence of a home run, I'm focused on making sure I never miss twice.
Embrace the Boredom
I've come to realise that too many people, myself included, are operating at the whim of whatever emotion bubbles its way up to the surface of consciousness. It's a dangerous place to live, perfectly captured by Jonathan Haidt's infamous metaphor.
- You don't feel like working so you procrastinate.
- You're bored writing so you lose interest and find something else to focus on
- You're scared of what they think so you don't contribute to the meeting
- You're afraid of failure so you postpone the launch
Mel Robbins calls out it perfectly in her book "The Five Second Rule":
"I don't know when we all bought into the idea that in order to change you must 'feel' eager or 'feel' motivated to act. It's complete garbage. The moment it's time to assert yourself, you will not feel motivated. In fact, you won't feel like doing anything at all."
When feelings take precedence, nothing gets done. Waiting to feel good, motivated or positive about a change or action that you must take is a recipe for procrastination and a life of inactivity.
While, on the surface, I'm aiming to be more consistent, at a deeper level I'm aiming to make the emotionally hard decision more often than I've ever done before with a bias towards action.
Notice the feelings, accept them, and do it anyway.
This practice, and I use that word "practice" deliberately because it's a skill that can be learned, is very difficult at first. But, just like anything you practice, it gets easier with time.
This is quite a serious challenge for me.
The last time I tried something similar to this, I worked my way up to an unbroken chain of 43. Not bad, but nowhere near a whole year.
Since then, I've developed my thinking and my system. I feel ready to take on this new challenge.
I'm intrigued to see if I my system is mature enough to pull this off. I'm also curious what I can produce and what kind of results a year of consistency might bring.
I'll document the whole process on this blog so stay tuned for my monthly updates.
Imagine you're 4 years old and I put in front of you a big, white, juicy marshmallow.
I then tell you this:-
What would you have done in this situation?
Me? I'm pretty sure I would have gobbled that marshmallow up the second the guy left the room. Unfortunately, that wouldn't have bode well for my future.
Allow me to explain...
This scenario above is one of the most popular experiments that's ever been done. Researchers were testing to see which children could wait for a bigger reward and which would go for the immediate reward.
The actual term that's used to describe the ability to favor a long term reward over a short term one is delayed gratification.
Here's where it gets interesting. Researchers followed these children over the following forty years to see how their lives unfolded.
And the results?
Those children that were able to resist the marshmallow (delay gratification) tended to do way better in their life.
Specifically, they had:-
- lower body mass indexes
- performed better in exams (had higher SAT scores)
- were less likely to engage in substance abuse
- better social skills.
In short:- you can predict the likelihood of success in children by their ability to wait for a reward rather than take the immediate payoff.
The Longer Term Reward vs the Short Term Payoff
What does this study tell you?
It means that when it comes to getting results, patience really is a virtue.
If you can train yourself to resist immediate temptation in favor of a bigger reward in the future, then you'll likely be very successful.
Examples of how this might play out in real life:-
- Fitness - When you get home from work and you're tired, you are able to make yourself hit the gym because you want to have that rock hard body in a few months, rather than slouch around on the couch in front of the television.
- Entrepreneurship - When you're three months into starting a new business and you don't have any results to show for your hard work, you persist and grind it out until the results start coming in, rather than quitting.
- Finances - When you receive your salary each month you tuck away 10% into a savings account because you know that the money will accumulate and allow you to invest further down the line, rather than buying things right now.
- Health - When it comes time to eat lunch at work, you eat the healthy salad that you've prepared in advance at home, rather than eating the unhealthier options at the staff cantine.
Of course making yourself do this stuff on a regular basis is difficult, but this is equally a blessing and a curse.
If you can get good at doing what is difficult to most people, then you'll stand out from the crowd.
Can Delayed Gratification Be Learned?
Going back to the marshmallow experiment...
Were the children that resisted the marshmallow able to do so because they had some kind of gene or natural ability? Or, is this trait something that can be learned?
This particular question peaked the interest of the researchers and so they repeated the experiment with a new set of kids but with a subtle change.
Before offering the marshmallow, they separated the kids into two groups.
They preconditioned the first group to wait for a reward by promising a bigger box of crayons in ten minutes. After the ten minutes was up, the promised was fulfilled; they received the crayons.
They did the same with the second group with one key difference: they didn't fulfill their promise. The kids didn't receive the crayons. These children were preconditioned that waiting for a reward wasn't worth it.
And the results of this experiment?
The kids that were preconditioned to wait resisted the marshmallow, on average, for four times as long as the children in the other group.
So what's the significance of this?
It means that one of the most critical life success factors of delayed gratification is something that can be learned.
What Does this Mean for You?
Your chances of having a happy and successful life can be measured by your ability to favor a bigger reward in the distant future to the immediate payoff.
Of course, the devil is in the detail. How do you actually do this?
I'm still trying to figure all of this stuff out myself, but here's what I have so far:-
- Form positive habits (includes details on optimizing your environment, small immediate rewards, why habits are so powerful, tracking your successes, minimum commitments... all of which is pertinent to helping you take the path of delayed gratification)
- See things through
- Manage your willpower
- Take decisions out of the equation
Aside from these practical elements, I believe that there are a few stages you need to go through to really implement this type of thinking into your life.
- Sell yourself the benefits of delayed gratification - you really have to be sold on the idea that delaying gratification will have a huge payoff.
The marshmallow experiment is a great start, but if you really pay attention you can see a ton of evidence in the real world that the bigger results come from a commitment over a sustained period of time.
Read autobiographies of successful people, look at how successful companies were built, read about deliberate practice and the 10,000 hour rule ask people who are ahead of you in the field you're trying to pursue. In all these instances you'll see firm examples of delayed gratification and how it was critical to success.
- Make this trait one of your values - once you've been sold on the idea and you're under no illusion that this trait is critical for your happiness and success, make a conscious decision to have it as one of your personal values. Bring this new consciousness to your daily decision making.
- Start small - rather than jumping in all at once, getting overwhelmed and failing, choose one area of your life where you will display this virtue and build up over time.
- Set up a system to support you - don't fall for the trap of just trying harder. Design your life so it's as easy as possible to do the things that you need to do and as hard as possible to fail.
So, in summary, marshmallows teach us that if we want to increase our chances of having a happier and fulfilled life, then we need to develop the skill of favoring a reward in the longer term future over an immediate pleasure.
How is your ability to resist the marshmallows of life?
This book is all about how we can transform boring and meaningless lives into ones full of enjoyment through a concept called "Flow" and optimal experiences.
Here's a breakdown of the key points that I took from this book:-
Why We're Unhappy
Most of us have no idea what things we should focus on in order to live a happy life.
1. We Strive after the Wrong Things
We tend to chase things that we think will make us happy, only to achieve these misguided goals and be left with the stark realization that we've been chasing the wrong thing all along.
- Acquiring new things - houses, cars, clothing, jewelry
- Mindlessly chasing wealth
- Endlessly climbing the corporate ladder
We achieve our goals, celebrate and feel good for a while. But then that all too familiar empty feeling returns.
How do we respond to this? We set new goals.
"I thought I needed the car to be happy, but now I realize that it's the house that I really need. Once I have the house and the car, what more could I want? I'll definitely be happy then"
We somehow manage to convince ourselves that, even though we've been chasing things to be happy and not managed it our entire lives, this time will be different.
So we forever strive for new levels of achievement in the hope that, once attained, we'll find the happiness we are desperately searching for.
This endless loop has been labeled the hedonic tredmill. We're running and chasing as hard as we can, but we don't get anywhere, similar to a running tredmill in a gym.
On top of this, we are so intent on focusing on what we want to achieve that we are unable to derive pleasure from the present moment.
2. We Have Inner Conflicts
The normal state of the mind is a state of chaos and disorder that is neither useful nor enjoyable. Our attention jumps about all over the place, often on things that have little to no meaning, without any cohesion or strategy.
Often our attention comes across a new piece of information that we interpret in such a way that it is in conflict with an existing goal. This puts us in a state of "psychic entropy" and is known as disorder in consciousness.
This can leave us stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. We have a goal of moving in one direction, but we have some kind of lower emotion such as pain, fear, rage, anxiety or jealousy that's pulling us in the opposite direction.
Sometimes we can resolve these issues, in which case we emerge relatively unscathed. But in most instances the conflict persists for a prolonged duration, depleting our willpower, and leaving us unable to invest our attention on pursuing the original goal.
Here's a practical example of this phenomenon:
John decides to create a business because he's always wanted to be his own boss. He has a grand vision of building an awesome company that will not only offer real value to the world but also help him provide a great life for his family. He's excited by this prospect.
However, John hasn't had any experience running a business before and is anxious that this will be just another failure for him. He's also unsure of his ability, because he's never really experienced any success in his life before. These worries and anxieties are crippling him and urging him to quit and cut his losses.
John's attention is now split between these two opposing and conflicting forces. One force is encouraging him to push on and build the business, and the other is urging him to quit.
Because of this conflict, it's extremely hard for him to be productive because he's constantly procrastinating and finds it really difficult to focus on the stuff that he knows he should be doing to grow his business. While John does get himself to do his work some of the time, and occasionally is very productive, he is really inconsistent. He'll often go through periods where he wants to quit, can't find a good reason to work and is battling negative thoughts.
Eventually, John gets tired.
He is unable to invest his attention on his business anymore and quits. He surrenders his grand vision of owning a business. He simply couldn't get himself to take the prolific and relentless action needed to get the company going because of his inner conflict.
When he finally gives up, order in his consciousness is restored and he feels a sense of relief. The conflict is resolved.
Many of us have many of these conflicts at the same time in our consciousness. They drain us, leave us unhappy, jeopardize our goals and prevent us from ever reaching peak experiences, otherwise known as "Flow" (more about this later).
3. We Lack Meaning
What are we doing what we're doing? What's the point? What's the bigger picture?
Most of us go to work because we need money to pay the bills. Despite spending a third of our waking lives at work, we feel no connection to what we do. We do what is expected of us because we need the reward - our salary at the end of the month. We don't care beyond the fact that we get paid. Our work is simply a means to an end.
When we clock off, we can enjoy our free "leisure" time where we try to use our minds as little as possible. For most of us, this means mindlessly watching television. For others it might mean going out, getting drunk, doing chores or some other kinds of fun activity.
At some point, we inevitably wake up and ask ourselves - "where has my life gone?". We look back realize that we have nothing worthwhile to show for it. If we're lucky, this our mid-life crisis at 40. Some of us, though, only realize when it's too late.
This realization leads us to "find ourselves". We pack our lives into a suitcase and travel around the world, or do a road trip, or some kind of nondescript journey of discovery until we arrive at a beautiful discovery...
We need to contribute. We need meaning. We need purpose.
So, to summarise - what are we unhappy? Because we're stuck on the hedonic tredmill, we have inner conflicts and our lives lack meaning.
When We Feel the Most Happy
An experiment called the "Experience Sampling Method" was performed on hundreds of adults over a period of a week to answer the question - when are people happy?
- Participants in the study wore a pager for an entire week
- The pager beeped 8 times per day on a random schedule
- Upon receipt of each random signal, participants respond to questions about their objective situation and their subjective state at that moment
- The questions were designed to figure out their levels of contentment at that particular point in time.
The results of the study revealed the following:
We feel the most happy when we are able to direct our attention wholeheartedly on a goal. All our psychic energy is pointing in the same direction. We don't have any conflicts, we don't have any distractions and we engage ourselves fully with the task in hand.
During this time, we are "in the zone". We forget ourselves. Our perception of time is lost and we often do these things at great cost just for the pleasure of the activity itself. We are so engaged that nothing else matters.
Lower level emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry, jealousy are all non existent. We focus so heavily on the task in hand that we lose our perception of self.
In short: everything is in alignment and there are no conflicts. This is the polar opposite to our default state of psychic entropy. This is a peak experience state of consciousness that's called Flow.
People who frequently experience flow in their lives are happier. The good news is that we can learn to get flow into our lives more often.
How to Achieve Flow More Often in Our Lives
Flow is a state that can be encouraged through conscious effort both internally and externally.
In other words, we can learn certain personality traits that are suited for flow (internal) and change the environment around us so that the conditions for flow are more readily met (external).
The Autotelic Personality - Our "Inner Game"
How we react to the things that happen to us is a crucial piece of the happiness jigsaw.
While we can't always control what happens to us, we can control our interpretations and response. Interpretation is a skill that, if exercised and strengthened, can free ourselves from the everyday ups and downs of our environment.
"The ability to take misfortune and make something good come of it is a very rare gift. Those who 'possess' it are called survivors and are said to have resilience or courage."
The key point is that two people can have the same thing happen to them yet react in completely opposite ways. One person may derive engagement, happiness and liberation while the other may suffer intolerably. The only difference between the two lies in how they interpret the event.
I'm sure you've met someone who has an amazing ability to take a positive event and somehow shine a negative light on it. The type of person who receives a promotion at work but, rather than celebrating the success, complains about how long it took to happen. This kind of person will often be wallowing self pity, anxiety and other negative emotions. This person has developed the skill of interpreting events in such away that she is often unhappy.
Well, the opposite is also possible. We can train ourselves to interpret even seemingly terrible events into positive flow experiences. The type of people who are best at doing that have what's called an autotelic personality.
Here are the main traits of someone with an autotelic personality:-
- Highly curious - autotelic people have many interests and often spend a lot of time thinking about and deconstructing them. Things that most people take for granted puzzle them; and until they figure them out in an original yet perfectly appropriate way, they will not let them be.
- Low Self-Centeredness - autotelic people don't spend a lot of time focusing on themselves - They don't fix their attention on lower emotions such as anxiety, fear and jealousy, to name but a few. Instead they are immersed in the world around them; other people, ideas, events, things.
- Intrinsic motivation - people with an autotelic personality often do things for the sheer satisfaction of doing rather than for any kind of external reward. They do these things because they derive enjoyment and external motivation like money and success isn't their key motivational drive.
- Autonomous and independent - autotelic people lead extremely grounded lives and are more resilient to the ups and downs of external forces. They are self-driven and don't concern themselves with seeking validation from other people.
- Non materialistic - autotelic people tend not to care much about material possessions because they derive their satisfaction from their frequent periods of flow. They are also less likely to chase superficial things like fame or fortune.
- Don't require much in the way of comfort - autotelic people have the ability of transforming regular, ordinary experiences into optimal experiences of flow without relying on comforts. Even a situation that may seem uncomfortable to most of us can be transformed into a period of enjoyment for a highly skilled autotelic person.
Viktor Frankl is an extreme example of this: Despite being held captive he was able to transform an extremely uncomfortable situation into one of freedom and serenity.
Here's a great quote to illustrate this:-
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."
Autotelic people consciously turn their external world into flow experiences by making everything a bit like a game. They turn things that might seem unenjoyable to most of us into a challenge that they can attack.
For example, a worker on the production line of a factory who is one small cog in a large machine has to do the same repetitive movement hundreds of times per day. Most of us would consider this job boring, tedious and unenjoyable and would spend the majority of our day wishing the time away.
Yet, an autotelic person might approach this job in the same way that an olympic athlete approaches the 100 meter sprint. He knows that it usually takes 43 seconds to prepare each unit but is hell-bent on trying to find more efficient and faster ways of working to set a new record. While on the assembly line he is constantly analyzing every movement he takes to find new ways of optimizing his performance - he is constantly trying to push the barrier.
Let's break down what's happening here. A seemingly mundane and repetitive task has been interpreted in such a way that it becomes enjoyable:-
- He sets goals - his goal is to try and beat his existing 43 second record for a unit
- He is immersed in the activity - he's pushing himself to operate at the edge of his ability by trying to work a bit faster which requires all of his concentration and focus.
- He is paying attention to what is happening - he's questioning every movement to try and find ways of optimizing them.
His interpretation of events, something that is completely under his control, is transforming almost certain boredom into full engagement and flow. These autotelic personality traits can bring us far greater periods of enjoyment in our life.
Here are some more examples of the difference between "normal" thinking and autotelic thinking:-
- Working in a noisy environment with screaming kids - our normal reaction might be one of anger, annoyance and disdain towards the noisy group of people. We could, however, see this situation as an opportunity to practice our concentration and ability to focus.
- We've been waiting in line for 30 minutes - we might get distressed, focus on how much time we've wasted and start to get angry towards the company/organisation for not having an efficient system. We could, however, consciously notice this feeling of anger emerge, question it and work through in our minds the usefulness of it.
- Our job is to cold call people every day - we may start to get tired and bored of people hanging up, being rude and feel a lack of engagement with what we're doing. We could, however, consciously create some kind of test to systematically change our sales pitch and the time of day we call people to gather data. We can use this data to, over time, incrementally improve our performance and increase our conversion rate. It becomes more like a game for us.
Of course there are an infinite number of ways to approach any of these scenarios. What intrigues me, may not intrigue you, it's subjective. The main point is that we can consciously look for deeper meaning in all that we do and transform everyday events into periods of mental engagement that we enjoy.
Changing our External Environment to Create Conditions of Flow
Aside from cultivating an autotelic personality, we can also purposely manipulate our environment such that they are optimised for engagement.
To increase the chance of reaching a state of flow, certain conditions need to be met:-
- We confront tasks that are at the right level for our ability - brushing our teeth, by itself, is not going to be conducive to getting into a state of flow. This type of habitual activity is so easy for us that we have hardly any kind of mental engagement with it, it's automatic for us.
The opposite is also true, though. If we try to confront a task that is so far beyond the limits of our current ability that we feel that we have no chance of completing it, then we also tend to disengage. For example, as someone has never really rock climbed before, I can't go and climb an overhanging treacherous cliff and expect to enjoy it and get into a state of flow.
However, if we can find tasks that allow us to operate just beyond the edge of our existing ability such that it requires all our mental focus, then that's more likely to produce periods of flow. Rather than taking on a treacherous cliff, then, I should first attack a beginner level wall that's challenging for me and take on ever increasingly difficult challenges as my ability grows.
Of course, as I get better at rock climbing, I should commit to taking on increasingly difficult climbs in order to keep the difference between my ability and the degree of difficulty in balance.
- We receive feedback - we need to have as "immediate as possible" feedback for our performance. We need to understand how well we are doing, whether we are making progress to our goals and be left with a clear understanding of how we can improve.
Doing something without having any idea of how we are performing can make us feel like our work is meaningless and leave us with no sense of direction, like we're just floating along. Not only this, but we'll also not be able to grow, which is a necessary prerequisite for long term engagement, something that's called becoming increasingly complex.
- We have clear and actionable goals - we must know what we are working towards. This can come in the form of a larger end goal with realistic sub goals along the way. The main point is that we have a target, something that we genuinely believe that we can achieve if we apply ourselves to it.
One caveat about goals: they must be appropriately set. If we are set a goal and we don't really believe that we can achieve it, then we're less inclined to apply ourselves to try and achieve it out of worry that all our effort will be for nothing.
The simplest way to remember how to design your environment for flow is to design it like a game.
Let's say you're responsible for managing a team of customer support workers.
This type of role, where you're continually replying to customers all day long, has the potential to really bore the team. Imagine a setup where each member of the support team does some basic training to get them up to a certain level but then they're static. They don't really have any direction for growth and they're not really sure what their success is measured against. They don't have any way of seeing how well they're doing and therefore don't have any goals to work towards. They're simply replying to customers all day until it's time to go home. Every day is the same.
However imagine if you could turn customer support into a game:
- Every time a customer closes a ticket they are sent a survey to feed back what they felt of their customer service experience. This score is then sent back to the support team member, but added to reports that the whole team can see (to entice competition).
- Each support member is given a target satisfaction rating for each month. Each month there is a review on how well the team member has done and a new target for the following month.
- The team are also set customer satisfaction, time to reply and speed of resolution goals that the whole team can clearly see. If the team meets these goals, then they'll receive some kind of reward at the end of each month.
- All these metrics are recorded over time so that everyone can see the progress and growth that's being made.
- The customer support role is broken down into various individual skills such as communication, speed, customer empathy, technical knowledge and so on. Each month, the customer support agent should make their case to demonstrate how they've improved in each of these verticals and is given a rating that corresponds to how well they're doing.
- Every week, one member of the team must give a presentation to the rest of the team showing them something new that they've learned.
By taking time to design a customer support "game", each member of the team will have much more chance of engagement in their work.
In short: we can optimize both our internal and external environments to experience flow more often in our lives.
Why Flow is so Important to Cultivate
At the fundamental level, cultivating this sense of flow is important because people who manage to achieve such peak experiences regularly are happier and more fulfilled. But what does this translate to in more specific terms?
People who experience regular bouts of flow:
- lead more vigorous lives
- continually learn new things
- are hardly ever bored - can make jobs and tasks richer in their mind
- can take in stride things that come their way
- are in control of their emotions rather than being solely dependent on external stimulus
- enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult
- have order in consciousness (don't suffer from the psychic entropy problem described above)
The key point is that people who have the ability to get themselves into a state of flow can interpret pretty much any situation, even those that most of us would be unable to derive any satisfaction from, and interpret it in such a way that it's an enjoyable and engaging experience for them.
The Challenges of Flow
Most people are able to teach themselves the skill of achieving flow in everyday situations. It's a skill that pretty much anyone can learn.
However some people experience difficulties fully engaging with the world around them.
One way this can commonly manifest itself is if someone has excessive self consciousness such that they are "stuck in their heads". For example, someone might be:-
- constantly worried about how other people perceive her
- afraid of creating the wrong impression or of doing something inappropriate
These type of people are so worried and anxious about how they are perceived that they can't turn their focus outwards onto the external environment.
Other people may find it difficult to get into a state of flow because of attention disorders. Perhaps they have chemical imbalances in the brain such that they're constantly in a state of psychic entropy so their mind is never fully in alignment.
Key Takeaways from this Book
There are a few key points that this book really drives home:-
- We are responsible for our happiness. We can develop the ability to transform pretty much any experience into a positive one if we take the time to learn the skills of an autotelic personality
- Treat things like a game. If we ever find ourselves bored or disengaged with our work or any kind of activity that we're doing then we should look for ways to turn it into a game either internally in our own head, or externally by manipulating the environment around us.
- Work has a bad brand. Studies show that people tend to be happier at work when they are busy and engaged than in their so-called leisure time perched mindlessly in front of the TV.
Look at the videos below of famous YouTube channels. On the top, you'll see their first video ever uploaded (or in some cases, the earliest that I can find), and on the right you'll see their latest one.
Why have I done this?
I want you to pay close attention to how bad their first video was relative to their latest one.
Just look at how far all of these people have come over the past few years.
They've all taken something that they weren't very good at, focused on it, practiced and improved over a long period of time to become the successes that they are today.
This is important:-
If you believe that you aren't talented enough to achieve something then you have a false limiting belief that is holding you back.
You can become good at anything through hard work and deliberate practice.
Let these guys below serve as your inspiration.
Decide what you want to master, and practice it. Not for a few weeks, not for a month, but for an extended period of time.
As time goes by, you'll start to notice that you're improving. Soon people will start making rash judgments about how talented you are without realizing the full story.
Most important of all, though, you'll start to realize that becoming great at things is just a matter of deliberate practice and persistence.
Now, with over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, look how Ralph Smart started out.
Here is his first video published January, 2008:
And here he is today, in August 2017:
Check out the improvement that Owen from RSD has made in his video presentations. Bear in mind that in the "before" video, this was nowhere near his first video created.
Here is his first video published March, 2010:
And here he is today, in August 2017:
Check out the comments on the first video from people that are shocked to see how much he's improved over the years:-
Shane is my friend and business partner for the last 6 years or so. Notice the crazy improvement that he's managed to make with his own video skills:
This is from January, 2010:-
And here he is today, in August 2017:
I've personally witnessed this growth over the years. He's also created a great post about this called The Grind.
Ramit is a best-selling author and I've actually purchased not only his book but a number of his courses (Success Triggers, and Finisher's Formula).
This is from January, 2010:-
And here he is today, in June 2016:
The strongman and self development coach, Elliott Hulse, who currently has 1.7 million subscribers in 2017.
This is from November, 2008:-
And here he is today, in August 2017:
Omar has one of the most popular fitness channels on YouTube today, but his first videos were a far cry from his most recent!
This is from 2010:-
And here he is today, in August 2017:
So here are just a few examples of people that didn't have raw talent, and started off pretty unskilled at creating videos, but ultimately practiced and got really good at it.
If you take the time to look for it, you'll find millions of pieces of evidence, just like these, to back up this notion that you have a lot more control over our ability than you think.
There are countless stories of sports stars, famous authors, inventors and even US presidents, who didn't believe in their ability to achieve.
One of my missions is to try and equip as many people who doubt themselves as possible with the growth mindset. The best way of doing this, as far as I can tell, is to stack pieces of evidence in a pile in front of you so that, as the pile grows, shades of doubt are cast on your limiting beliefs.
At some point this stack will reach a tipping point, and you'll be convinced that with deliberate practice, deep work and good old-fashioned dogged determination, you'll be able to do things that you never previously thought possible.
And then you'll look back and won't even begin to fathom how you came to those old limiting conclusions that were weighing you down like a ball and chain.
So, to the tipping point we go.
More evidence coming shortly.
This book is all about how you can leverage the concept of deep work to become a more prolific creator, create value and be more successful.
- What is Deep Work?
- The Arguments for Deep Work
- What it Requires
- Method / Approaches to Deep Work
- My Concluding Thoughts
What is Deep Work?
Distraction free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to the limit.
It's based on the following formula:-
High quality work produced = time spent x intensity of focus
To engage in deep work requires full concentration and immersive thought. You're captivated and completely focused on the thing that you're working on without disruption.
An example of deep work is locking yourself in a distraction free environment on a regular basis to produce a creative work that you're fully engaged in.
The opposite to deep work is shallow work. Such activities involve:-
- Operating reactively rather than proactively
- Chatting, answering phone calls, instant messaging
- Browsing the web
- Doing menial day-to-day tasks
- Answering emails
- Formatting documents
Shallow work has no real value, is easy to replicate, noncognitively demanding, often distracted and makes us look busy. It's also an incredibly common default state for most people in the modern day world.
The Arguments for Deep Work
There are 3 main arguments for Deep Work:
1. Learn Faster - If you can engage in deep work when learning new skills then you'll learn faster. Deliberate practice is arguably the best known method for getting good at anything and Deep Work is a mandatory component of deliberate practice.
That's to say, if you're practicing something and you're not in a state of Deep Work, then you're not practicing deliberately and thus not to maximum efficiency.
2. Be Successful - deep work is a hard skill to attain and pretty rare. Most people don't regularly engage in a state of deep work in their day to day lives yet those that do will thrive.
To thrive in the modern era, you need to be able to master hard things and produce at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed. Both of the aforementioned qualities are a byproduct of doing regular periods of deep work.
3. Lead A Rich Life - the road to a meaningful and purposeful life is paved with regular periods of deep work.
Deep work will amplify your ability to create something of value and contribute to the world.
Furthermore, deep work is one of the most enjoyable periods of engagement (otherwise known as "Flow") that humans can engage in. Studies show that people who regularly experience flow are happier and live more fulfilled lives.
So, in summary, by engaging in deep work, you'll be able to pick up new skills faster, thrive in the modern day economy and live a life rich with productivity and meaning.
What it Requires
A conscious and deliberate decision to integrate deep work into your life.
Regularly practicing deep work is difficult and should be ingrained as a habit so that you're consistently able to get into this state.
Method / Approaches to Deep Work
Decide on your depth philosophy - there are a number of different ways to integrate a deep work practice into your life, and you should decide which method works best for you.
- Monastic - basically involves cutting yourself off from the rest of the world indefinitely. A few proponents of this approach are Neal Stephenson (the science fiction author) and Donald Knuth (the computer scientist) who are both pretty much uncontactable, even through the likes of email.
Their philosophy is that they have a choice: they can either spend their time being distracted by the various forms of communication, or spend their time focused on creating. They commit themselves to the latter.
- Bimodal - an oscillation between periods of being isolated in monastery like conditions and periods of shallow work.
One example cited in the book include Carl Jung, the psychiatrist, who spent part of the year doing deep work in the woods and other parts of the year running his psychotherapy practice in the bustling city of Zurich.
Another example is ex Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, who would schedule two "think weeks" for deep thinking and strategising during his busy tenure.
The key point about the modal philosophy is that both periods of deep and shallow work are long and uninterrupted.
- Rhythmic - this involves scheduling part of your daily routine for periods of deep work and is probably more apt for most of the population.
One example given in the book is the author Anthony Trollope who created a daily ritual of getting up at 0530, had a coffee, read his previous day's work and then engaged in 2.5 hours of writing during which he aimed to complete 2,500 words.
Another example is the prolific writer Stephen King who tried to write 2,000 words in the morning and spend his afternoons doing other things that needed to be done.
This particular approach lends itself well to creating a daily habit of engaging in deep work. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you're going to go deep.
- Journalistic - this is all about just grabbing every moment that you can in order to engage in deep work.
The example given is Walter Isaacson who would retreated up to the bedroom when the rest of his friends and family were relaxing on the patio. "He'd pound away on his typewriter for twenty minutes or an hour and then come back down relaxed like the rest of us."
This is the least reliable and most difficult of methods to jump straight into. The ability to switch your mind from shallow to deep work mode doesn't come naturally and requires practice. Therefore, this is probably not the best philosophy for someone who is need to working deep.
The Chain Method - Jerry Seinfeld made this technique, that's used to maintain discipline, famous. It's since become popular among writers and fitness enthusiasts.
He keeps a calendar on his wall. Every day that he writes jokes he crossed out the date on the calendar with a big red X.
"After a few days you will have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. your only job is to not break the chain". (This technique is also a part of my habit system)
Create your Ritual - "Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants" - David Brooks.
Build rituals to support your goal of going deep often. Your ritual should address:-
- Where you'll work and for how long
- How you'll work once you start to work
- How you'll support your work (food, coffee, walking, organisation). This needs to be systemized so that you don't waste mental energy figuring out what you need in the moment.
Finding a ritual that sticks might require experimentation, so be willing to work at it.
Make Grand Gestures - this technique leverages the psychology of serious committing to the task at hand and involves putting yourself in a new location, sometimes at great expense, for the sole purpose of deep work. By doing this, you increase the perceived importance of the task, which will reduce your mind's instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.
Some examples include:-
- JK Rowling, the famous author, checked into the five star Balmoral hotel near Edinburgh Castle when she struggled to finish "The Deathly Hallows".
- Bill Gates - famous for taking "Think Weeks" during his time as Microsoft CEO during which he would retire to a cabin for the sole purpose of reading papers and books
- Alan Lightman, MIT physician and novelist, retreats to a tiny island in Maine to think deeply and recharge for 2 and a half months each summer. The island doesn't even have an internet connection or phone line.
- Peter Shankman, entrepreneur and social media pioneer, noticed that he was extremely productive while flying so booked a round trip business class flight to Tokyo and wrote during the whole voyage.
Don't work alone - for many types of work, collaborative deep work can yield better results - it can push your results to a new level.
The 4DX Framework - planning and big goals is one thing, but execution is another. A framework called the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) can help us execute efficiently. The four principles are as follows:-
- Focus on the Wildly important - the implication is that you should identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours
- Act on the Lead Measures - focus on the points of high leverage that will cascade down into other areas.
Lag measures are those that are influenced by lead measures.
For example, if you're trying to improve customer service, a lead measure might be "the time it takes for a customer to receive a response" and a lag measure might be "customer satisfaction scores".
- Keep a Compelling Scorecard - people play different when keeping score. Example- scorecard of how many deep hours people do on a daily basis.
- Create a Cadence of Accountability - public meetings where team members must confront their scoreboard, commit to specific actions to help improve the score before the next meeting, and describe what happened with the commitments they made at the last meeting.
Embrace Boredom - Clifford Nass, Stanford communication professor, did some research that revealed that people who multitask all the time can't manage working memory, are chronically distracted and initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand...they're pretty much mental wrecks.
If every moment of potential boredom in your life is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the "mental wrecks", it's not ready for deep work.
In short: when you have those moments where you don't have anything specific to be getting on with, embrace them and stop yourself from switching your focus onto the nearest distraction.
Quit Social Media - identify your personal and professional goals and determine if social media is giving a substantive positive impact on you reaching them.
Consider quitting social media for 30 days and asking yourself the following questions afterwards:-
- Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
- Did people care that I wasn't using this service?
To master the art of deep work, you must take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.
Drain the Shallows - treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.
- Try scheduling every minute of every day to show that your estimates will prove wrong and to show how often you'll be interrupted with new obligations. Will help you appreciate that a deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect
- Ask your boss for a shallow work budget
- Finish your work by five thirty. Adopt fixed schedule productivity.
- Say yes less - "Yes" is the most dangerous word in one's productivity vocabulary.
- Become hard to reach - create a sender filter and set expectations of response low
- Do more work when replying to emails - limit the amount of back and forth required to get things done.
- Don't respond - don't feel bad about it.
The main challenges of deep work are:-
- Fighting desires and distractions - especially if your brain has already been primed to engage in shallow work for many years
- Willpower fatigue - our willpower is like a muscle so pushing it to hard can lead to burnout.
My Concluding Thoughts
This book helps shine a light into the mindsets and approach of people that are prolific creators.
We all know we should focus is important, but it's become a bit of a cliche in productivity circles. "You should focus" is overused and doesn't really mean anything, but Deep Work brings a whole new level of clarity to the term.
I like how Deep Work is complementary to other extremely important concepts for high performance: habit building and deliberate practice. Those three, together, seem to be the ultimate cocktail for high performance.
The book also inspired me to create a script for putting my computer into "deep work" mode.
My full set of notes can be found here.