There is a certain type of habit I have never talked about on this blog, even though it is what people commonly think of first when they hear the word “habit.” I call this a “mindless habit” or “micro habit,” simply because it is so tiny that other people will hardly notice it. An example would be placing your keys always in the same place at home, so you don’t have to run around like a headless chicken when you need them.
As I said, this is what comes to mind first when people speak of habits. Consequently, habits have this kind of everyday, petty convenience type of connotation – a little trick that is useful, usually time saving, but not life altering in any way.
This is usually the place where I publish an overview of my current list of habits and then go on to give an account of how compliant I was with them during the previous month. Not so this month! I was travelling for most of December and for the first time didn’t get an Airbnb but stayed with friends instead. Naturally, I knew this would lead to me spending more time on social activities with my friends and since I didn’t want to stress myself about it, I gave myself permission at the beginning of the month to cut myself some slack; as long as time away from my habits was spent socially, not on watching TV or some other stupid time waster.
To my own surprise, I stuck with the majority of habits, no matter how much fun there was to be had. I’d estimate on any given day in December, I got at least 80% of my usual habits done, many days even 100%. So I might stay with friends again in the future, as I now kinda proved to myself it can work out without dropping the ball on your habits; something I was afraid of beforehand.
Anyway, so since this report doesn’t stick to the regular format and since it is the end of the year, I thought I would write what I’ve learned from one year of habit building and publishing these reports instead. Let’s get straight into it:
Have you come across situations when you are about to do something right and then someone interferes, and changes your mind? Maybe you are about to leave the house for the gym but then your roommate convinces you to play videogames with him. Maybe you are about to order the chicken salad at TGI Friday’s but your brother thinks you should treat yourself to a burger. Maybe you are planning to go to bed early for once but then the girlfriend calls and off you go barhopping.
From a personal development point of view, this is the kind of situation where the rubber hits the road. It’s one thing to read all these inspiring self-help books and come up with all these great resolutions for change. It’s a very different thing when everyone around you is doing shots at the bar and you are miserably holding on to your water.
There is a question that I have been asking myself for many years, one that is most commonly asked in business, but applies to other fields as well: Should you try to find out about the needs of the market and cater towards these needs? Or should you follow your personal inclinations, hoping there will be a market for those inclinations eventually?
Or the short version: Give the market what it wants vs. shape the market around you.
I have answered this question differently at different times of my life. When I first became self-employed, I was strongly leaning towards the product-market fit option, i.e. give the market what it wants. For example, I purposefully converted my pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym I was running at the time to a Mixed Martial Arts gym – based on the prediction that in a few years, MMA would be all the hype here in Germany, just like back in the States.
I, like most people, struggle with balance in my life. And it really is a rather difficult subject, especially if you are the ambitious kind: You want to make progress with your chosen career or your studies. You want to start your own business on the side. You want to workout and look good. You want to eat healthy and lose weight. You want to sleep more and get sick less often. You want to network and meet interesting new people. You want to practice an instrument, learn a language, make a habit of reading more or whatever else strikes your fancy.
How are you supposed to fit all of that into one day? It seems a very stressful, if not hopeless endeavor.
I despise people who use the term “holistic” with a passion. Just Google it really quick and see what comes up: “Holistic Healing.” “Holistic Bodywork.” “Holistic Skin Care.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “Holistic Pet Care.”
Basically, “holistic” functions as the battle cry of the new age nutcases of this planet. They use it as a vague description for an alternative, more wholesome way of going about things, without really knowing what that entails. Kind of like the same type of person keeps bringing up the word “energy” in conversations, without any concrete meaning attached to the word.
Despite this obvious abuse, the idea of “holistic” can have a huge, measureable impact on your life and your productivity, if you drop the hippie-sentiments. The true concept behind the word is actually a profound one: Any alteration of the elements of a given system will have a significant impact on the system as a whole; either strengthening the system or weakening it.
This sounds rather bitter and like I constantly run into people that leave me behind angry and regretful. However, the absolute opposite is true: I almost exclusively spend my time with people that leave me happier than before. But this is only because I have gotten much better over the years at radically cutting out people who are just taking value away from me, without offering anything in return.
This still sounds rather bitter… How do I get this straight?
I just watched several episodes of “The Tim Ferriss Experiment,” a web series where bestselling author Tim Ferriss attempts to master a different skillset for every episode within just 4-5 days. In the series, he starts playing the drums to perform with legendary rock band Foreigner, he studies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with world champion Marcelo Garcia and he goes surfing with big wave legend Laird Hamilton.
I like the general concept of the show and I like Tim Ferriss as a person; heck, I even wrote a psychogram on the guy. However, I am very critical of the underlying premise of the show, which is also the central argument of Ferriss most recent book, “The 4-Hour Chef“: Everything can be hacked. In essence, Ferriss argues that by applying unusual learning strategies like “deconstruct your subject first” or “starting with the end in mind” you can significantly shorten your learning curve, cramming years of practice into just months or even a few weeks.
Back when I was in high school, I met a teacher in training who would eventually become one of the most important people in my life. At first, he just assisted our regular teacher in explaining the inflected forms of Greek verbs to us (yes, I studied classical Greek, and yes, it was quite the torture). But eventually they let him teach his own classes and this is really where his star started to shine – because not only would he teach us this dusty language, but also the very exciting basics of classical philosophy.
It was not just that I was fascinated by philosophy in itself – it was also the personality of my teacher that got me so fired up. Here was a man who truly thought things through, who held himself accountable for everything he thought and said. But that was only half of it: My teacher M. also LIVED according to his own philosophical maxims, not just indulging in mind games like so many other academics. He would adapt a lifestyle and daily routine that was in sync with his preferred philosophical teachings – Platonism and its offshoots – while rejecting most of the values and “achievements” of modern life.
It never fails to amaze me: People get all hung up on very fine-tuned productivity techniques like GTD, but tend to completely forget about the basics. However, in terms of importance, the basics are where it’s at – they will provide you with much more bang for your buck than the most recent tips on lifehacker.com.