Monthly Review: March, 2019

Reading sessions

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Books read

2 books.  Monthly target = 5 (12 points)

Daily writing ritual

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Green Shakes

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Deep Work Session

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Gym Sessions

8 sessions out of 12 (21 points)

Meditation

370 minutes in 31 days (31 points)

Cold Showers

31 in 31 days (31 points)

Flossing

28 in 31 days (31 points)

Pool Practice

20 Sessions (20 points)

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...
  • etc...

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:-

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

10 Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Last month I read this great book by Jaron Lanier.  

Prior to reading his thesis I felt that I had strong and psychologically healthy convictions for having social media in my life.  It helped me stay in touch with friends and catalogue my memories, artefacts that I'd enjoy reminiscing about in the future.  I wasn't addicted to the platform and didn't spend half my waking hours mindlessly browsing through news feeds; how much harm could it be?

160 pages later and I was utterly convinced that I needed to remove all social media from my life.  

This quote from the book summarises it pretty well:-

"This book argues in ten ways that what has become suddenly normal - pervasive surveillance and constant, subtle manipulation - is unethical, cruel dangerous, and inhumane. Dangerous? Oh yes, because who knows who's going to use that power, and for what?"

Having read the book and had some time to digest the arguments, It's now extremely clear to me that my interests and the interests of social media platforms like Facebook are in complete conflict.  

The business model of free services in exchange for data seems like a great deal for the user at surface level.  Who cares if Facebook knows how old you are, what your favourite film is and what your political orientation is?  You get to stay in touch with all your friends, share stories, images, see what's going on in the world and enjoy all the features that the incredible platform has to offer.  Pretty good deal, right?

When you dig deeper, though, the plot thickens.

Jaron explains that Facebook is really one huge manipulation machine with the goal of modifying the behaviour of its users for profit.  

Let's be clear about this: Facebook's goal is to satisfy advertisers.  You are the product.  The more you can be manipulated by ads, the more profitable they become.  

Even worse, the manipulation machine is available for hire to anyone that will pay for it.  Even those that want to rig an election.

A common rebuttal is that "ads don't affect me" or "I'm in control of my behaviour, I can't be manipulated".  It's an understandable position, one I've also been prone to.  We feel like we are in control.  

The problem is that such platforms are investing millions of dollars into mind hacking research.  They're devising algorithms that manipulate users below the level of conscious awareness.  They're manipulating you in ways that you're not even aware.

In his fantastic book "Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious", social psychologist Timothy Wilson describes in great detail how much of our behaviour operates beneath awareness:-

  • "It is clear that the adaptive unconscious is responsible for a good deal of our behaviour, and in these instances the reasons for our responses are impossible to access directly."

In one chapter entitled "Knowing why", he mentions that we sometimes  "act under suggestion but then make it up rationalisations to explain why" and even that "a small percentage of the population can be easily hypnotized and end up doing things with no conscious awareness of why". 

We feel like we're in control and are the authors of our lives, but often our thoughts, feeling and emotions bubble up from our adaptive subconscious originating from seeds planted externally.  What's more, when we make decisions that seem right to us, we often confabulate to rationalize why we made such decisions.

Facebook, and other social media platforms with the same advertisement model, are actively researching how to plant these seeds, even if they are in direct conflict with the best interests of you and your life.

So, in March, I deleted Facebook.

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Monthly Review: February, 2019

Reading sessions

28 days out of 28 (28 points)

Books read

7 books.  Monthly target = 5 (28 points)

Daily writing ritual

28 days out of 28 (28 points)

Green Shakes

28 days out of 28 (28 points)

Deep Work Session

28 days out of 28 (28 points)

Gym Sessions

8 sessions out of 12 (19 points)

Meditation

187 minutes in 17 days (19 points)

Cold Showers

16 in 16 days (16 points)

Flossing

22 in 26 days (22 points)

Pool Practice

8 Sessions (8 points)

224 out of 237 (94.5%)

Summary of My Performance this Month

Overall, a very productive month.  Happy with the outcome.

Physical Health

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?

Meditation

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.

Cold Showers

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). 
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Monthly Review: January, 2019

Reading sessions

30 days out of 31 (30 points)

Books read

7 books.  Monthly target = 5 (31 points)

Daily writing ritual

30 days out of 31 (30 points)

Green Shakes

17 days out of 31 (17 points)

Deep Work Session

29 days out of 31 (29 points)

Gym Sessions

7 session out of 12 (18 points)

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)
James Clear

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)
Jeff Olsen

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)
Jaron Lanier

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)
Tommy Baker

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)
Hal Elrod

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
Mel Robbins

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:

  1. My workspace is smaller and more cramped
  2. The chair and desk available to me are poor both poor ergonomically
  3. The internet barely reaches so the office, so disconnects regularly
  4. The gym is a 20 minute drive away and costs an arm and a leg (because I'm not a member)
  5. ... 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.

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2019 – The Year I Challenge Myself to be More Consistent

Monthly Reports and Scores
  • January (155 out of 186 - 83.3%)
  • February (224 out of 237 - 94.5%)
  • March (270 out of 296 - 91.2%)
  • April (259 out of 288 - 89.9%)

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

  1. A morning routine
  2. A daily writing ritual
  3. A system for dumping ideas and tracking daily tasks
  4. Making sure I have a streamlined environment
  5. Various tracking mechanisms and scorecards
  6. A daily schedule/routine with triggers and rewards
  7. Minimum commitments
  8. Accountability
  9. Implementation intentions
  10. Emotional kickstarting techniques for bad days!
  11. Journaling when I'm overwhelmed or notice some interesting thought patterns/emotions (CBT type stuff)
  12. 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.  


Crunch 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.

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