The hard thing about simple things
Habits, open eyes and a little physical thing I'm making
The decades arrive with the surprise of a towering iceberg suddenly appearing out in the bay. Yesterday you could see out to the sea for miles. Today, a faceless wall of ice stares into your eyes. Opaque and merciless.
The blue horizon is still there, behind it, somehow.
presumptuous writing about productivity, you'd have to be insane not to sign up
Habits have always been difficult for me. I'm very aware of their might. The capacity to turn anonymous days into the arranged atoms of great things. Any computer could calculate for ever and arrive at the same conclusion: habits are good*
But I really struggle with them. My cycle is a known one of dejection, hope, mania and avoidance. It really seems to start with dejection, which might be telling.
The other day I watched an youtube video of Mark Manson (the author of that book that made it mainstream to curse on book covers) and he made a great point: self-help books don't tell you anything that hasn't been told before by philosophy, religion, etc.
They just package it in a different way. And here's the kicker:
The product of a self-help book is not the advice, it's the package. The package is what makes it seem new. The package is what feed the illusion that maybe there's an easy way to do hard things. There isn't. Hard things are hard. Even when they are easy to understand, they are hard to do.
Habits are in the same group of things of checklists and calendars. Of course they work, how could they not? Do good things often, do them in ways where expertise accumulates, deal with irregular things by explicitly marking them down.
There's nothing groundbreaking about this.
But it is hard. Hard to keep doing. Hard to resist against the thousand distractions. Hard to win over the siren songs of apps, workflows or whatever types of coffee are supposed to to make you win.
Remember, the days are short but decades will visit you regardless. Their icy, ragged cliffs a reminder that had you started sooner things would have been different.**
Think of a surgeon. Now think of her not operating with a metal scalpel but with a conceptual one. An imaginary blade that slices through mental growths. This kind of exists today, but just picture it as common place in the future.
In that future, science will discover a place in our minds that seeks the promises of bullshit. (chatGPT suggests I name it Phantasmacaptivus Nodulus). Imagine for a second the ability of cutting it off, leaving one with not appetite for being suckered.
That will be the end of self-help books.
And the beginning of something else, much more aware, open-eyed and alive.
Habits make sense. Habits are hard.
I tend to fail at habits when I forget I was trying to follow them. I do something for a few weeks and then I FORGET I WAS TRYING TO DO IT. I fall off the wagon, as they say.
The iceberg smirks subtly at this, and a house-sized shard of blue is plunges into the ocean.
I spoke a little about the idea of failure modes in a previous post. If I know my habits falter when I forget I add them, I should make them visible (everybody knows this) and I should also make their progress tangible (common knowledge as well).
I should make them few (not a surprise) and perhaps flexible in their shape (read 10 minutes still allows for me reading for 2 hours but is easier to achieve consistently).
It will surprise no one that as a person of few conscious habits, I'm not a person of ritual either. But I want to have that anchor (in the past few weeks I've experimented with the simple habit of walks. I like it).
With all of this in hand, I put together the simplest habit tracker I could:
old picture frame
some lines and icons drawn on the glass with a sharpie
3 sets of dot stickers
I've decided to abandon megalomaniac efforts of total personal transformation and just humble down on three little things every day: sweating, reading and writing. Sweating is definitely the hardest for me, no doubt.
I like the fact that the glass is easy to clean, to change months or remove the stickers for the next one. It's a great prototype and also a step in the direction of making this all very easy to start.
When I had this idea, I already had a few pages of Industrial Design sketches of wood and marble contraptions, stuff much less likely to see the light of day. So this is progress.
I'll keep you posted on how this experiment goes…
…but only if you sign up, of course.
*you know exactly what habits I'm talking about, stop being cheeky.
**things would absolutely be different. Not 100% sure they would be better.