My Habit-a-week Project

For purposes of this page, I’m defining habits as immediate responses to some kind of internal or external stimulus/trigger. I’m also not going to talk about routines—which are kind of a subset of this definition of habits. Routines, as I’m modelling them, are cyclical in nature, happening daily or weekly. Habits, here, usually happen many times daily, although the amount will vary by day. I’ve written a bit about that in Routines vs Reflexes, where the latter term refers to what I’m calling “habits” here.


With that said, for 2014 I’ve undergone a project of habit-shifting. During my 2013 Review, I realized I had dozens of habits I’d like to create or change in 2014, but rather than falling into the typical new years failure mode of trying to making 50 changes all at once, I considered instead trying to make 50 changes in 2014… serially. That is, one per week.

I know people say it takes a month (or 66 days) to form a new habit. This makes sense to me. However, these people are usually talking about daily habits, which I’m calling routines. I have a theory, which I’m testing with this experiment. The theory is:

A habit whose trigger occurs many time daily can be entrained much faster than a daily routine.

This is based on the fairly well-known Hebbian learning principle “cells that fire together, wire together.” If they fire together more often, they’ll wire together faster.

Table of Contents

Explanation: checkmark means success. X means failure. Tilde ~ means that it had some effect, but wasn’t a full success. A clock icon means that it was good for a bit but then I fell back into old habits.

  1. Lowering the Lid
  2. ⌚ Straight Gait
  3. Intentional Tabbing
  4. Perspective-taking
  5. Filler Killer
  6. Befriending my Judger
  7. Pausing before responding
  8. Yes, and…
  9. Eye contact
  10. Transparency & Trust
  11. Hands Off Face
  12. Cutting Corners
  13. Pausing Distractions
  14. Pomoeditation
  15. About You
  16. Revealing Patterns
  17. ⌚ TagTime
  18. Expressing Appreciation
  19. ⌚ Learning & Using Names
  20. Curiosity & Model Exploration
  21. ⌚ Logging Expenses
  22. What am I practicing?
  23. Duration Tracking
  24. Focus Blocks
  25. Revealing Broader
  26. Journalling
  27. Navigating Chocolate Urges
  28. Conscious Storytelling
  29. Growth Mindset Reframing
  30. ⌚ Feldenkrais Roll
  31. Calibrating Interpersonal Energy
  32. Single-tasked writing
  33. (1-month hiatus due to travel)

  34. ⌚ Limit Pre-clearing
  35. Anticipate connection
  36. Email Contexts
  37. Tracking Attention-eaters
  38. Intentional Tabbing Redux
  39. It’s your time.
  40. No complaints.
  41. Everything in its place
  42. Improv into out-of-school-offers
  43. Self-talk
  44. Surprise journal
  45. Updaytes
  46. Notice Acts of Speech
  47. Testing my limits
  48. TDT Practice: Food

Descriptions, explanations, and progress reports

1. Lowering the Lid

My first habit is the lowering of the lavatory lid, so chosen because I share a bathroom with a housemate who experiences a raised lid with rather intense anxiety. Another part of why I chose it is it seemed like a simple, isolated way to test-drive this mode of habit installation.

Report at week 3: I only actively focused on this for the first week. For the next two weeks it was in a kind of meta-habit mode, where I was habitually aware but wouldn’t habitually do it. Now it’s moving into actual habit-mode, without much further effort on my part. Bonus: I now think of this habit-change project most times I go to the bathroom.

Report at week 7: I now do this totally unconsciously, including in unfamiliar bathrooms, and while I often am reminded of my habit-change project while using the bathroom, the physical habit is so ingrained that I sometimes find myself checking to ensure I did actually do it.

Report at week 16: I no longer feel any need to check to ensure that I did this. It’s just totally my default behaviour now (this has probably been true for many weeks at this point).

2. Straight Gait

My second habit to shift is to fix the out-toeing in my gait. For most of my life, my feet have usually had a ~90° angle between them while walking and often while standing.

Report at week 3: Now they mostly don’t. I’d been trying to tackle this since age 15, but this “trying” always felt just like one of many things I was trying, so I didn’t pour sufficient focus into it. Huge win.

Report at week 6: Still going strong. I’m more aware of my gait and my foot position while standing still, and it tends to be a healthy ~10-15°.

Report at week 17: I think my gait has stayed good but I’m not much more conscious of it than I used to be, while walking. I’m a little more conscious while standing etc.

3. Intentional Tabbing

My third habit is to briefly note my intention aloud every time I open a new browser tab. If this sounds crazy, I’ll tell you that I have actually done this successfully for a few hours at a time when I really needed to focus but the task to focus on was a scattered one like processing my email inbox, but I think it could be valuable to have this as more of a default.

Report at week 4: this didn’t go so well, in large part because I was doing tons of work early in the week where I totally got into flow and (a) didn’t think of this and (b) would have experienced a net-negative effect from doing it. So I didn’t practice.

4. Perspective-taking

My fourth habit is perspective-taking. Blog post here. Unlike habits 1 & 2, I’m not intending for this to entail a complete 180° shift in my behaviour here, but rather to build new affordances for taking others’ perspectives when I’m interacting with them or systems they interact with.

Report at week 5: since the cues for this are hugely varied, it was hard to remember to do it, and I didn’t do enough pushing to make it work. I think there’s been a slight shift. I’ll report back later with whether this grows or attenuates.

Report at week 7: it seems like there’s been basically no change here.

5. Filler Killer

For week 5, I’m going to try eliminating unconscious use of filler words. I sometimes use them intentionally for dramatic effect (including in text-based conversation) and I’d prefer not to lose that, but I think I can probably ban them altogether for awhile, then put the intentional ones back in.

Report at week 7: this seems to have mostly worked… I’d guess I’ve cut out 80-90% of fillers, and I often notice the others right after they leave my mouth, which means that I’m probably going to gradually eliminate them as time goes on. How I did it: constant vigilance + making a practice of tallying when lecturers/classmates used filler words during my public speaking class.

Report at week 17: they aren’t quite gone, and actually I’ve noticed that sometimes my umms and uhhs have been replaced with “you knows” and “sort ofs”, which isn’t an improvement but it is interesting. I do feel more conscious and deliberate in my use of pauses and fillers when speaking now. Also, I just published a post on how to remove words from your idiolect, including filler words.

6. Befriending my Judger

My habit for this week is to befriend my inner judger, based on this thing by Steve Bearman about befriending your inner critic. I’ve been frustrated for some time by my intuitive judgemental responses to various stimuli, often due to stereotypes I don’t consciously endorse. However, undoing the associations isn’t going to work, because I continue to be bombarded by these stereotypes. Instead, I’m going to try being compassionate with myself and being curious about what this judging part of me is trying to do… how it’s trying to help me or keep me safe.

Report at week 8: This one has been interesting. I definitely notice the judging thoughts more than before, and when I do I think of this habit intention… but I don’t feel like I’ve made much progress in terms of shifting my actual response or my feelings around it. We’ll see how things play out.

7. Pausing before responding

A different housemate of mine of mine pointed out that I often respond to her the moment she’s finished speaking, which sometimes causes her to feel like I wasn’t really listening to her. This connected with some other patterns I didn’t really like, so I thought I’d experiment with pausing for a moment before responding to people, unless in a context where everyone is talking really quickly/interruptively.

Report at week 8: I had kind of a weird week, so I ended up not practicing this one much, even though this housemate said that she was interested in helping provide me with feedback on this stuff.

Report at week 12: see week 12 report for habit 8 below.

8. Yes, and…

This is an extension of the previous week’s underlying purpose: to have people feel like I’m responding to them appreciatively, rather than defensively. Based on the theatrical/improvisational principle where people riff on each other by building on what the others have put forward. Things stagnate quickly if they don’t do this. The real-life analogue is that often when people are saying something, there can be a tendency is to try and refute what they’re saying. This is the “Well, but…” I sometimes have a counter-tendency, which is to disengage and say “Yeah, whatever…” As of now, I’m going to try to make my default response be a kind of “Yes, and…” response.

Report at week 12: Not sure if anything much remains of this. I have noticed an increased awareness of my own defensive responses, but it doesn’t seem directly related to the yes-and. Although, this happened today in a conversation with the housemate mentioned in week7… where a few words into responding to something she’d just said, I noticed that I was in a SNS kind of state and I actually interrupted myself and said “hang on, I need to PNS for a moment”. (these terms are the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous systems. More on my autonomic nervous system, including a video.)

9. Eye contact

So, eye contact is a thing. The goal for this week is to make myself more conscious of the eye contact I’m making, and to become more comfortable with making eye contact, both while speaking and while listening. There are lots of reasons to not make eye contact in various situations (see a particularly interesting status-related one here); my goal is to make my own discomfort never be one of those reasons.

Report at week 12: This one still has an effect, 3 weeks later. I’m noticing myself making more eye contact and being more aware of it, which is cool.

10. Transparency & Trust

[Written week 11] I’m honestly not sure exactly what I was thinking with this one. I left my choosing really late and picked this as I was tired and falling asleep. The idea was to pay more attention to my sense of where trust existed for the possibility of being more transparent.

11. Hands Off Face

I’m going to stop unconsciously touching my face with my hands. Two reasons for this: touching your face with your hands regularly has been associated with greater risk of viral disease (via doorknobs etc.) and because this kind of self-touch can often indicate nervousness. By avoiding it, I communicate both to others and to myself that I’m comfortable and confident. There’s a really cool TED talk presenting research on how much this self-signalling matters.

Report at week 12: this one is tough! I’ve become much more aware of face touching and much better at inhibiting it, but a week wasn’t long enough to fix this. This doesn’t really surprise me, given how nuanced of a habit it was. However, I am now more aware, so that might (like with earlier habits) ultimately translate into behaviour change over the coming weeks.

12. Cutting Corners

For awhile now, I’ve sometimes spotted myself doing something that is not going to have any impact. Like fixing a tiny bit of punctuation in an informal email. Or folding a piece of paper that’s going to be thrown out. I’ve noticed myself doing this, and done it anyway. Hm. This week, I’ve decided, I’m going to cultivate the habit of not doing things that won’t have any impact, and cultivate the identity of being someone who does this.

Reflection week 15: This didn’t really go anywhere. I found myself really resistant to cutting all of the corners I noticed, which was not many. In retrospect it would have been helpful to spend some more time brainstorming where some corners might have been found.

13. Pausing Distractions

I was going to do something posture-related, but then I had this tiny profound takeaway from something one of the speakers at the Gotta Be Good tour said. They remarked something about pausing distractions (literally, in the case of youtube videos) and resuming them later. This offhand remark made me realize that I’ve been wasting a ton of time because when I notice myself distracted by something of medium value, I’ll often try to finish it before moving on. However, this often leads to more distraction. This week, my goal is to shift this so that when I notice I’m doing something that isn’t what I set out to do, I shelve it for later rather than trying to finish it now.

Reflection week 15: This worked some days but not others, depending I think on my stress levels? It was a pretty stressful time, with exams.

14. Pomoeditation

I didn’t plan this week out very well. But I ended up starting something new that isn’t quite a habit as defined above. I’m going to put it here since it might as well go somewhere. Basically, I work using the pomodoro technique most days, and I’ve decided that during my very first pomodoro break of the day, I’m going to do a brief mindfulness meditation.

Reflection week 17: This has worked really well. I’ve meditated almost every day since then, for at least a minute or two.

15. About You

I started reading Selling for Success by my friend Fel Spahr, and in the very first chapter she hammers home the point that people really want to be listened to—not just in sales relationships but in all relationships. I’ve noticed certain patterns in myself lately that I’m going to try to nudge. I’m also trying to start more friendly conversations with strangers to help me practice this.

Reflection week 18: I don’t think I made this one specific enough. I might try something similar soon though.

16. Revealing Patterns

The backstory for this is in my post Trust-powered feedback loops. Basically, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t yet maxed out my ability to be vulnerable about my own internal patterns, which means that I’ve got some room for increasing my personal growth rate as well!

Reflection week 18: This has been really powerful for me. I’ve explored sharing patterns not just with Jean but with other friends and family, to mixed but mostly very positive effect. It has accelerated several of my friendships by quite a substantial amount.

17. TagTime

Stochastic ping-based timetracking app by the folks behind Beeminder. I used this really consistently last fall, but had managed to fall out of the habit for various reasons. The point of this week is to start doing it again.

Reflection week 21: as I reflected in a recent post, this was the easiest habit for me to install, because it had such a clear trigger and response, and because I’d done it before.

18. Expressing Appreciation

After learning that lots of fairly popular writers etc don’t actually get that much direct feedback on their work, and that they really like it when people reach out, I’ve decided to start sending someone a quick note any time I experience an insight or personal growth as a result of reading something. (If you found your way here after receiving such a note… hi! thanks for checking out my blog :D)

Reflection week 21: I had this one marked as a fail, but I just finished reading a novel and found myself almost absentmindedly writing the author an email to tell him about my favourite scene. So apparently this sort of worked!

19. Learning & Using Names

The classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie recommends learning and using peoples’ names as much as you reasonably can. Since this week is the E Co-op launch week, I know I’ll be meeting a lot of people and so I’ve decided to make a point of learning and using their names. I’ll also practice on other people I meet.

Reflection week 21: this worked quite well that week—I learned the names of nearly every other eCoop student, of around 25, as well as some other names. Since then it does feel habitual to put extra effort into recalling and using others’ names as well.

20. Curiosity & Model Exploration

This one emerged organically. I was having trouble thinking of what I wanted to do this week, but then I realized I’d been doing a lot of deliberate pushing on my comfort zone in terms of trying to understand what people are talking about—in particular, when they’re talking about subjects that make me uncomfortable. I decided to make this the explicit focus for this week. Basically this consists of paying attention to when I feel like I don’t understand, and then curiously and passionately seeking understanding. Mostly in a conversational context.

Reflection week 22: I became much more familiar with the question, “can you give an example?” this week. But I’m not sure how much progress I made on the actual skill. So I think this one had some effect but wasn’t a resounding success.

21. Logging Expenses

Not much to say here. Whenever I’ve just paid for something, I’m going to note the expense in an app on my smartphone, so that I can keep better track of my cashflow. I used to do this, but have fallen out of the habit. So now I’m getting back in! Perfect timing, as I’m spending this week in Montreal and am making many more transactions than I would usually (often food).

Reflection week 22: this worked wonderfully. I now have a strong compulsion to pull out my phone and log my expenses after each purchase. It’s usually triggered by receiving a receipt, but I also do it when I buy something and notice I didn’t get a receipt. I also made sure that if I notice I have a receipt in my pocket that I haven’t logged, I do so the moment I think of it.

22. “What am I practicing?”

“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle. This habit is a bit meta. The impetus comes from a model of development which notes that practice makes permanent. That sitting in a lecture doesn’t teach you the skill of reasoning about a subject but rather the skill of nodding along when someone talks about the subject. That reading a textbook doesn’t make you better at solving problems, it makes you better at reading a textbook. Now, you need to do a certain amount of framework-building/scaffolding, in order to do the practice. But ultimately you want to spend as much time as possible working on the actual skill, not just something that looks related. With this in mind, I’m going to try to install a regular thought of “what am I practicing?” using my Pebble smartwatch vibrating every 5 minutes with Colt Wilken’s Tangible Time app. I’m not sure exactly what I’m hoping the long-term shift will be from this habit, but we’ll see!

Reflection week 24: I found this mildly interesting, but didn’t see much of an impact from asking myself this question every 5 minutes—in particular, there are probably better questions one could ask, like “why am I doing this?” or “will it matter in a year that I did this? a month? a day?” That said, I kind of enjoyed the every-5-minute-vibration.

23. Duration Tracking

Planning fallacy is a thing! It shows up both in long-term plans (multi-year projects) and in trying to empty your todo list. I’ve decided to tackle the latter by recording stuff in a spreadsheet. Using a stopwatch app and this spreadsheet, I’m predicting how long it will take to do something then tracking the time it actually takes. Everything from “update /myhabits”, where I’m on minute 7 of an estimated 13, to “put laundry in washer” to “reply to ben’s email”. This is designed both to give me a better sense of how I’m spending my time and how I’m able to predict durations using outside views.

Reflection week 24: I honestly thought this might be a bit of a chore. That I would try it for a week and it would be interesting but ultimately too much overhead and too burdensome. Instead, even on the first day it became clear that it was a really fun way to work. There’s a kind of racing against the clock. There’s increased focus because I know not just “what I’m working on” but “what my next milestone is”. I get more dopamine hits because I’m tracking things smaller here than I would on a proper todo list. I’m more aware of other habits because I’ll also track things like “post X to facebook” or “read that blog post on safecalls”. In short: I love this. It’s my favorite thing since pomodoros (which I also use).

If you’re thinking of trying it though, you definitely need to have a spreadsheet and timer open, otherwise you won’t do it enough. I keep them on my second screen, and it’s one of the best uses I’ve ever had for a second screen. Email me if you’d like me to turn my sheet into a googleSheets template.

24. Focus Blocks

The rationale for this one is outlined in my recent post on the Complice blog: What kinds of distractions are good for your productivity?
Essentially, some kinds of distractions (“divergent” ones) make it hard to get back into productive work, and other kinds are actually helpful for keeping your energy stable throughout the day. In the post, I challenge readers to set up a context where they’re going to totally avoid all of the divergent distractions. I realized though that while I used to have this as part of my routine, I don’t anymore, so I’m going to reinstall it this week. This has both a routine component because it has a structure/context, as well as a “reflex” component because I need to cultivate a new state of mind during the focus blocks.

Reflection week 28: This one has been mixed. My particular context at the moment (managing a couple of interns) has made it really hard to focus most of the day. Although I guess that’s all the more reason to do more of it later. I did do a weekend-long focus block, which was pretty awesome.

25. Revealing Broader

Like my earlier Revealing Patterns habit, but doubled-down and including a lot more people now.

26. Journalling

At least once daily. This is more of a routine than a reflex but I’ve had enough trouble with it that I decided it needs at least full week of focus to get it locked in. And in theory, I could be journalling multiple times in a day. I’m doing this as a kind of co-challenge with my friend Sandy.

Reflection week 42: This required a beeminder goal to make it really happen, but it’s working now, and it’s been really good.

I wrote almost exactly a year ago about my chocolate addition. I’ve been at a much better place with it lately, but I’m still not behaving the way I think ideal-me would. What’s interesting is that I do have enough willpower (or whatever relevant capacity) to totally avoid chocolate, but I don’t want to do that. So, today, as I ate my sixth chocolate chip cookie in as many hours, I reflected that I had so far been unable to apply the cognitive control skills I’ve written about before to my patterns around eating chocolate.

What I realized is that I seem to be lacking a framework for deciding which path to take. I’m aware of the choice, but hadn’t found a good navigating principle. For this week, I’ve decided to try something fairly simple: if I find myself thinking that it might not make sense to eat chocolate for any of these reasons, I won’t do it:

There are more things I could list there, including explicit references to decision theories, but I think that the above are sufficiently concrete that I should be able to properly answer/assess them.

Reflection week 29: This worked pretty well! My chocolate seems to be lasting longer, and I’ve gotten very little uncomfy—and once, when I did, I put the other half of the cookie back!

Reflection week 42: I haven’t really thought of these specific rules, but I can say that my chocolate consumption does seem to be better now, and I don’t think I’ve eaten an uncomfortable amount in the last few months.

28. Conscious Storytelling

I’ve noticed patterns in myself where I would take whatever people where talking about and tell a story that was (usually) somewhat related, without serious regard for their experience of me telling the story. I want to be a lot more conscious of doing that, and to talk with people about my awareness of it, if I feel that makes sense.

Reflection week 29: Another of the ones that had an impact on my thoughts but it’s not clear exactly how it has manifested. Which I think we could have predicted, to some extents.

29. Growth Mindset Reframing

I’ve been doing this a lot lately already (and I’m presently writing a blog post about it) so I figured it might make sense to take an explicit week to focus on it. EDIT: the blog post: Two Ways to Make Your Language More Conducive to Growth Mindset

Reflection week 34: This has been a success. I’ve caused some other people to start doing it too 🙂

Reflection week 42: I now do this so much that I find myself constantly, habitually, unconsciously speaking this way, and mentally translating what I hear from others that is fixey.

30. Feldenkrais Roll

Coming from the book Mindful Spontaneity by Ruthy Alon, I’m wanting to take a new approach to sitting or standing from a laying down position. Rather than tightening everywhere and levering myself vertically like a sit-up (or getting up via a kip-up, which I actually did for several months) I’m going to bend my knees, roll onto my side, and gently raise my body up to sitting. It’s hard to describe without a visual. This is part of a broader intention to become more aware of my body’s structure; I’ve chosen this as an arbitrary specific tangible thing to focus on for this week.

Reflection week 34: I don’t do this every time (my futon is not very conducive to it, tbh) but I am generally aware of the strain on my spine caused by sitting up vertically and I suspect that this awareness has some positive impact on my body.

31. Calibrating Interpersonal Energy

I had two people share with me in the span of a couple of hours the observation that I was interacting in a way that was offputting to people. There are a number of ways to model this; energy flow makes figurative sense to me.

I want to improve the quality of the experience people have around me.

Reflection week 42: I’ve made some intermittent progress with this, and had some new insights this week about how breathing might be able to help me here.

32. Single-tasked writing

This comes in part from Val at CFAR, who gave a brief presentation on attention at the Effective Altruism Summit. He remarked that email is really bad in lots of ways, so one thing I’m trying to do is that once I start responding to an email, I either have to finish that before dealing with the rest of the email or I have to forward it to a future self to deal with. But I can’t abandon a half-draft just because I see there’s a new thing in my inbox.

Reflection week 34: I’m not perfect at this yet but better than I was before and still keeping it in mind.

Reflection week 47: Still not perfect at it but still better than before I tried it, and I think that it feels solid and that as my noticing skills grow, it will itself improve. This custom style I just wrote hides the unread count, making it easier to focus on responding to emails. Yay for environmental wins!

One-month hiatus due to travel

I was travelling (in San Francisco) and also preparing for a week in the desert at Burning Man, and my computer was broken (don’t buy a Dell)… which made it hard to stay on top of this. So I took a break from mid-Aug to mid-Sept. During this time, several of my other habits faded a bit too, but I think I can probably get most of them back. That said, it might make sense to take a week just to strengthen/revive old habits. But not this week, because I’ve got a higher priority…

33. Limiting Pre-clearing

I’m reading the book Eat That Frog right now, which is based around the following premise:

“You will never be caught up.”
“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

So what I’ve decided to do is to stop trying to get little things out of the way before I do the biggest things. The only exceptions are when it will make me more productive at the specific bigger thing I have to do, or if there’s a huge comparative advantage to doing the little thing sooner. So making a tiny tweak to my software development environment is an okay pre-req to coding, but despite part of my brain protesting, I can actually be very productive on my computer when my room is very messy. So I have to do that later, after I’ve done the most important thing. Or, if I really feel I have to, I’ll set a timer for a couple of minutes then totally stop when the timer goes off.

Reflection week 34: This has been awesome. Some of my most productive days of the year were this week.

34. Anticipate Connection

Conversation with my housemate and mentor Jean yielded a cool point of intervention, which I’m taking on as my habit this week: before I enter the public space of the house, mentally preparing myself to have open, connective experiences with the people who might be there, and considering what value might be present in what’s happening in the space. This doesn’t necessarily entail spending any more time in the space, but points at a different way of interacting.

Reflection week 40: This had some effect during the week, but didn’t produce the specific enduring behaviour of thinking about connection before entering the space.

35. Email contexts

I’m trying a new experiment with my email, which I conceived of in August and am finally implementing. Essentially I’m using the app, aka, to postpone having to deal with certain emails. However, where before I would kind of randomly fling something out into the future and hope it landed with a Malcolm who was ready to handle it, my new plan is to create specific, pre-scheduled weekly contexts for doing certain kinds of things: watching videos, reflecting abstractly on my life, meditating, making food decisions, making money decisions, etc. This way I get more focus and also better decisions in the long run, and it makes zero-inboxing easier because I don’t have to pause and deliberate about when to send this email to me.

Reflection week 40: This sort of worked! I still delegate these things to the contexts, though I haven’t been that good at keeping the appointments with myself. It’s nice to have all of my meta emails to deal with at once though, or all of the videos from my MOOC courses etc.

36. Tracking Attention-eaters

Attention is a resource at least as valuable as time, so I’m going to try to free up more of it by rescuing it from creatures that devour it. I don’t know what those are yet, so the actual habit is to start paying a lot more attention to attention itself. Where are my thoughts continually wandering? Which parts of my environment are disrupting my flow?

Reflection week 40: I had my second maniac weekend, during which I seriously cleaned up my room and put almost all of my possessions in my closet. This was awesome and I want more of it, but it’s hard to get during hectic weeks. This week’s habit, “everything in its place” is designed to address this though.

37. Intentional tabbing redux

I tried to do this one back in the winter and failed miserably that first time, but then I heard from a friend who said that (inspired by this page) he tried it and that it was awesome. So I’m trying again.

I will say (aloud for the first week, when in private) why I’m opening each new tab. Perhaps not when in hyperfocused software development mode.

Hm, one thing I’m reflecting is that I also probably want to be focused a lot more of the time, either on development or email or whatever. Spend less time in a “what am I even doing?” state. I’ll work on that though, and I think this may actually be a nice stepping stone.

Reflection week 40: Failed again, damnit! But my computer broke shortly thereafter, which might have killed the nascent habit at that point anyway.

38. It’s your time

Inspired by Nate Soares, this week’s mission is to shift my thinking around my time a little bit. I’ve already moved in this direction a fair bit organically.

“It’s your time,” I’ll tell myself, if I find myself feeling an urge to do something unproductive. “You have the choice to do that.” There’s a concept called psychological reactance which suggests that people hate being told what to do so much that they’re more likely to do something if they feel like they don’t have to. I suspect I can apply that to myself, even self-awarely. Because truly, it is my time. How do I want to spend it? I get to decide, each moment.

Reflection week 40: This line of thinking continues to permeate many of my thoughts around time, though it’s hard to say what impact it’s having on my behaviour.

39. No complaints.

This one is kind of a continuation of last week, but I expect it to have both higher reliability (in terms of behaviour change) and higher validity (i.e. it produces effects that I want).

I had a realization this week that I have been burning way too much energy (and creating way too much cortisol) complaining about things. Usually things I’ve felt were unreasonable requirements of my degree, or bad design. I’ve decided to stop, altogether.

This decision felt strangely liberating. It reminds me of a thing my friend Robin said to me: “You might think discipline sounds restricting. But if you have no discipline, you’re a slave to your urges.”

Note that giving up complaining doesn’t mean I’ll cease giving feedback. I love feedback. I just want to do it from a place of curiosity, rather than defensiveness.

Reflection week 40: This has worked awesomely well. In situations where I’ve found myself wanting to complain, I’ve instead several times found myself saying, “good thing I gave up complaining… otherwise I’d be tempted to waste a lot of time on this” which has been really good for reinforcing the pattern. I’m really enjoying it.

40. Everything in it’s place

This habit is simple: with my possessions, especially my clothes, put them away immediately and habitually, rather than having to explicitly declutter every few days. I think I might still do regular decluttering, but this way I’ll actually be able to make more progress towards minimalism & fewer possessions, rather than just fighting to maintain stability/sanity.

I think this has the potential to be a great example of shifting from a routine-based approach to a reflex-based approach… this whole habit-shifting project is about having better default behaviours. Just for this week though, I’m thinking I might also do some extra decluttering, (a) to reinforce the neural pathways that notice that stuff, and (b) to reinforce the sense of how clean of a room I want to have most of the time.

41. Improv into out-of-school offers

“Offers” here in the drama-improv sense of being an opportunity another actor sets up for you to act into, and “out-of-school” here, in the sense of feeling adult, grown, ready. I still have another 6 months of literal school, but I’m trying to get myself out of the mindset of “still just being in school”, or in other words the idea that “it’s still a trial run” or “it hasn’t really started” or “it’s not the real world” or “I’m not ready”. I’m trying to notice and take advantage of opportunities not to think that way.

42. Self-talk

I realized (about a year ago now!) that talking to myself was a really effective way to hold onto my thoughts, something I’ve often struggled to do when introspecting for long periods of time, in particular about difficult topics that my mind would naturally tend to drift away from. I’m finally consciously trying to create the habit of doing more of it!

Reflection week 44: this is going well! I’m noticing I’ve also developed more of an ability to simulate conversations with myself without actually speaking out loud, though it can start to sound echoey, because it’s hard to tell the difference between the simulation and the verbal loopy thoughts that sometimes precede it.

43. Surprise Journal

Following the lead of Julia Galef, cofounder of CFAR, I’ve decided to start keeping a surprise journal (link is to FastCo article).

Reflection week 44: This… didn’t work! I didn’t have a clear enough sense of what “surprise” feels like. I’ve emailed the CFAR alumni mailing list for ideas, but yeah. Twas interesting.

44. Updaytes

One of my partners expressed that they’d like to hear more from me in the course of the day, with just whatever’s going on. I’m not sure that that’s something that makes sense for me, but said I’d give it a shot and see how I found it 🙂

Reflection week 44: 🙁 …this didn’t really happen. I think I didn’t do enough trigger action planning. Like what probably would have worked a lot better would be to have the thought “thing just happened to me!” prompt the idea of messaging my partner about it. I think this has produced a slight improvement, but not a marked one.

45. Noticing Acts of Speech

Blog post about this coming at some point. Basically, I had this realization that the information carried by speaking is often more than the actual content of what is said, and I want to train myself to pay extra attention to that.

46. Testing my limits

I was doing a workout on the balcony of my parents’ place (I’m home for xmas) and I didn’t have a good spot to do pullups. So I thought I’d try hanging off. I couldn’t do pullups from the railing though, because the floor jutted out too far. So I thought I’d try hanging from the ledge itself. Once I got down there, I was like, “shit. can I even get up?” I was swinging back and forth, and my hands were hurting. I doubled down and decided that I wasn’t sure, but I wouldn’t let myself fail for psychological reasons. I tried out a mild life-or-death narrative, like, “You’ve just GOT to climb this. You need to make it up, then you’re safe.” Mind, my feet were only about 2 feet off the ground, so this wasn’t actually dangerous. (But if this style of motivation sounds cool to you, check out this post.)

And I did it. But it was hard. I skinned my elbows, even through my sweater.

There was something really satisfying about being very unsure that I could do something, trying, and then succeeding. I want to do this more. To notice things that feel like they might be impossible, try them, and find out if they are. Well, for now. Growth Mindset.

Reflection week 47: Haaaa. This one ended up seeming really dangerous. I mostly thought of it when navigating physical spaces, and I ended up doing things that, well, weren’t super dangerous, but where I had to be kind of hyperconscious of whether or not I thought I could actually do it, because the risk of failure was actually too high. So that was silly. But it did prompt me to try hitchhiking at one point when I was on my way up a long hill.

47. TDT Practice: Food

This one emerged really organically. I had been thinking a lot about timeless decision theory, and I noticed myself instinctively starting to use it when choosing what (and whether or not) to eat. I feel at this point that I want to start seriously employing TDT in my decision-making, and thought I’d do a little bit of a dry-run right now.

The way my TDT-inspired works, in this context, is that rather than saying “I can never have this” or “I’ll always do this” or setting up any kind of rule, I merely make decisions in such a way that I would trust the algorithm (i.e. decision-making process) I just executed to be the one I would run in all future similar decisions. So I open the fridge, and I have this image in my head of tens of thousands of future!Malcolms who will open the fridge, and I imagine them all doing approximately the same thing that I’m choosing to do.

It’s neat to do this over christmas, because I have a lot of opportunities to snack, and to drink eggnog, and I have to simulate not just future!mes, but future!mes at christmas.

This whole thing seems connected to the “being out of school” thing I mentioned in Week 41. It’s about recognizing that yeah, the kinds of things I do today will likely be similar to the kinds I do tomorrow, etc. On both object and meta levels. I mean, I will change—of course I will! This whole page is about change. But this page is also about reflexes (the kind of habit that isn’t a routine). And ultimately, when it comes down to it, modelling myself using timeless decision theory is basically applying an generalized form of “reflexes”. It’s not about having a specific pass-fail habit (e.g. this complex list of rules for chocolate consumption in week 27) but rather just considering in each moment, “if this were the area in which I were installing a reflex right now, would I like to install what I’m about to do?”

That said! Like the rest of what I’ve done here, this takes a lot of attention, so I’m not going to try to apply it to my entire life all at once. I’m starting with food.

(There’s another question which comes up here, which is: was this entire year of habit-installation a waste if I’m going to just replace it with something more nuanced? My impression is that, on the contrary, the skills I’ve gained in working on this will make it way easier to take a TDT-based approach. One such skill is simply noticing. Read Brienne Strohl’s excellent How To Train Noticing)