I’m as cranky as I can get right now: Over the course of the whole week, I was awoken by the sound of drilling and hammering due to some serious construction going on at the top of my apartment. If that wasn’t enough, the little hipster next door thought it was a great idea to host all his skinny jeans wearing friends this weekend for an epic electro party marathon. Initially, I tried NOT to be the party police and let them go on. However, when they started throwing shit against the wall, I put on my best “Rickson Gracie is not amused” face, went next door, and cut the party short – which gave me at least some slight emotional satisfaction.
Being tired and cranky obviously sucks, but there is a much bigger cost , more than just the emotional discomfort: You tend to abandon your positive habit routines. So, instead of going to the gym and doing your workout, you skip the day. Instead of eating healthy, you order that family pizza from Domino’s. Instead of working on your PhD thesis, you watch the whole damn second season of True Detective.
It’s easy to be like “Oh, fuck today, I’ll be a good boy again tomorrow.” This would maybe even be okay if days like this only happened once a month or so. But if you are honest with yourself, there are quite a few days, sometimes several weeks in a row, where you constantly feel tired and are not keeping on top of things, for whatever reason. And it’s not just that you lose a lot of potentially productive time during these periods. Even worse, you create a dangerous precedent: If you allow yourself to stray from your positive habits whenever you feel like it, your habits will very quickly lose their positive impact on your life. They will start to feel all boring and burdensome again and eventually, you will just drop them altogether.
That’s why you must NEVER break the chain.
Easier said than done when you are running on an almost empty tank because of serious sleep deprivation. What to do? I employ a principle that I call “Just Touch On It.” The idea behind it is simple: If need be, you can meet your daily habits by doing the pure minimum. So, instead of doing a 2 hour monster workout at the gym after a shitty 3 hours of electro music infused sleep, you just do 10 minutes of bodyweight exercises at home. Alternatively, you at least open the books for your PhD thesis and read a page or two, before you stop for the day. You get the idea.
It sounds like you are accomplishing nothing this way. However, you are wrong: Oftentimes, you end up doing more than you initially planned, simply because you are already doing it. This way, you trick yourself into doing productive work despite you feeling tired and lazy. Self-manipulation can be such a beautiful thing.
Of course, there is also a time and a place for what I call the “Quota Approach” to habit building, e.g. writing a page a day, walking your daily 10,000 steps, eating fish once a week, etc. By sticking with a certain quota, you are constantly getting a good chunk of work done and generally see a lot of progress. But the danger with the quota approach is that you are more tempted to abandon it when your energy level is running really low. The smart habit builder henceforth combines the two different approaches: You have a quota version of your habit for days when you feel productive and well rested. Then you have a “Just Touch On It” version of the same habit for those days where you “feel like a freight train,” as Fred Durst so eloquently put it. This implies being able to listen to yourself and your body, and correctly assess your potential for that day.
As you can see, habit building makes things that are difficult to do a little bit easier – but it’s by no means an easy thing itself. Nevertheless, you should always be skeptical of people promising easy solutions, as there are none. There are only intelligent solutions. But that’s an idea for another article.
Talk to you soon. Meanwhile, I’ll try to get some sleep.