We are the accumulation of our long term habits.

If you have long term bad habits, the best thing you can do for yourself and those you care about is to replace them with good ones.

Habits are the things you do which make you, you.

Sometimes people get habits confused with goals, or with jobs.

‘I’m going to write every day until I’ve written my book,’ is not a habit.

‘I’m going to write everyday,’ is a habit.

Any habit with an end date is not a habit.

Goals get accomplished when your long term habits are good ones. Good habits put you in the best position to do good work, and good work leads to accomplishing big goals.

Bad habits provide short term relief and stunt long term progress. They get in your way.

Identify your bad habits and turn them into good ones.

Mine worst habit at the moment is c(ocaine)reating mess when I’m stressed, so I’m trying to turn tidying up into something I do to relieve stress.

It’s going to be hard work forcing myself to do it, and even harder work to find joy in it.

But it’ll only be hard for another week or three, then I’ll be dusting for the hell of it.

Your brain is as malleable as you allow it to be. Grab it like a ball of play-dough and get to work.

If you’re still having trouble, harness the power of accountability. Tell ten people that you’re going to change, and you probably will.

If ten isn’t enough, tell more and more people until the thought of letting the all down, admitting defeat and telling them you’ve failed is so exhausting that you might as well just do the work and make the change.

When your habits serve your goals and keep you happy and healthy in the process, life is at its best. Don’t get complacent.

Be the change you want to see in yourself, then worry about the world.

(To be clear, I was joking about the cocaine.)

Have you ever laid in bed desperate to go to sleep, only to be kept awake for what feel like hours by a rotation of racing thoughts?

Me too.

What are we supposed to do when counting sheep and breathing deeply isn’t cutting it?

According to Sari Bahcall, PhD in Physics at Stanford and author of Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries, we could try hypnotising ourselves.

Hypnosis, as he describes it, has less to do with chicken dancing audience members, and more to do with focus.

A study titled, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information
is famous for asserting that the human mind is capable of interpreting approximately seven items of stimulus at any one time.

Hypnosis is the process of focussing all of the brains resources on to one piece of stimulus.

How do we apply this to sleeping?

Bahcall has a few sleep exercises he recommends, but the following has two are the easiest to start out with. Apparently they have a pretty high success rate depending on whether you’re a more visual or auditory person.

Visual Sleep Exercise

The first exercise involves focussing on the images or shapes you see when you close your eyes.

He says that the most important thing about this method is that you allow yourself to be genuinely curious about whatever you see.

Once you see something, anything at all, investigate it. The thing you see could be as simple as a square, or as complex as the face of a distant cousin. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re not thinking about it.

Now get curious.

Notice things about it. What are its features? Does it have colour? Where are its edges? Focus and refocus, noticing new things about the image, making it clearer and clearer until your brain jumps to something else.

Then investigate that.

Repeat this process for long enough and your should nod off once you get into the rhythm of gentle noticing.

Auditory Sleep Exercise

Despite its name, the auditory exercise doesn’t have anything to do with making sound. It’s for shutting up the voice in the back of your head, not for sounds outside of it.

This exercise is ominously similar to the sheep counting we’ve all tried, but has a few key adjustments which make it applicable to the adult brain.

Once your eyes are closed, allow your brain to randomly generate two digit numbers between 11 and 100, then visualise each number.

You can get creative about how you visualise the numbers, it doesn’t matter. Bahcall likes to imagine them shooting out of a cannon into the sky. I like to imagine them slowly forming from ripples in a pool of water. You do you.

Then… Well that’s pretty much it.

It’s important that you’re able to set your mind on auto pilot generating these numbers.

Hypnotism is possible because of the constraints around the numbers which we’re allowing ourselves to generate; the numbers are in random sequence because if we were counting, we would get bored. If we get bored, we stop focussing, and the process doesn’t work.

The numbers are double digit because we’re so familiar with 1-10 that we can generate them while allowing other thoughts or stimulus to come in. In other words, thinking about 1-10 is too easy.

On the other hand, anything more than two digits and we run the risk of overcomplicating the task. Your mind needs to put less effort into generating the number 74 than it does the number 1382, but more than it does to generate the number 3. Two digit numbers are the sweet spot.

I’ve been trying these out, and will likely do a follow up post to report my findings. If you try either of them, be sure to let me know.

The bread slicing machine was invented 15 years before sliced bread became popular. Sliced bread didn’t catch on because Otto Rohwedder, the guy who invented the first slicing machine, expected people to want it before they even knew about it.

Unfortunately for him, bakers were convinced that factory sliced bread would lead to sad, stale, crumbly loaves. For decades, his brilliant invention flew under the radar.

This is until Wonder Bread came along. Instead of trying to sell sliced loaves of bread to people just because it’s a good idea, they crafted a story around the ‘magical’ properties of Wonder Bread.

There is nothing special or nutritious about Wonder Bread. It’s just white bread. The product succeeded because the company was able to convince people otherwise through their (often problematic) marketing.

Image result for wonder sliced bread advertisement

People weren’t just buying the bread. They were buying a story.

By the 1930s, people had begun to equate the softness of bread with its freshness. Store bought loaves were getting so soft that they were becoming increasingly difficult to slice by hand. Wonder Bread positioned themselves as the answer.

They got people passionate about Wonder Bread, and the story spread like wildfire.

During WWII the US Government placed a temporary ban on sliced bread effective January 18 1943. On January 26, the following letter from a ‘distraught housewife’ was published in the New York Times.

I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!

The ban was lifted in March of the same year. People had been sold, and sliced bread was here to stay.

SlicedBread

We buy stories every day, often without even knowing.

Every purchase we make says something about us, and advertisers know it.

Perhaps instead of the best thing since sliced bread, we should be pondering what the best story is since sliced bread.

Look out for these stories next time you’re at the shops. Make sure the stories you’re buying are honest.

I woke up really sick today.

By my bedside, starting to go cold, was a mug of lemon and honey tea which set the tone for the rest of my day.

I feel like a gooey lump of snot, but it’s been much easier to deal with since seeing that mug.

Sometimes the kind things that people do are less impactful than the fact they went out of their way to do them for you.

It didn’t matter that the tea was going cold because the tea wasn’t what made me feel better. The tea reminded me that someone who loves me has my back, and if I neededed anything, I could ask.

There is overlooked power in these exchanges.

These little investments of time in one another is how we weave the fabric of social connection.

It’s how we bond, it’s how we trust, it’s how we love.

Invest in your relationships little by little every day.

It takes five minutes to make a cup of tea, to pick up some chocolate, or to tidy someone’s space.

If your effort generates more than five minutes worth of joy, you’ve created a net positive in the world.

Take five and do something kind for someone you care about.

What goes around comes around.

When (not if) we make mistakes that need to be avoided in the future we have two options; tell ourselves that next time we’ll be more careful, or build a better system which limit the chance of the mistake happening again.

Being careful might prevent us from making the mistake short term, but what happens when we become complacent again? What happens when enough time has passed for us to forget the consequences of the mistake, or when someone new comes along who hasn’t made the mistake before? Careful is important, but it isn’t enough.

This is why we build systems.

‘If it matters enough to be careful, it matters enough to build a better system.’

Seth Godin

Some systems are huge, others are tiny. Systems become more complicated when the cost of the mistake is high, or when the number of people who could make the mistake is large. You can build a system around any imaginable problem.

Have trouble getting out of bed when your alarm chimes?

Telling yourself you’re going to make sure not to do this on workdays and disabling your snooze option is being careful.

Putting your phone on the other side of the room before you go to bed is a small system.

Neither caution nor a system can guarantee that a mistake will be avoided. But systems are dynamic. Caution is not.

Let’s say setting your alarm on the other side of the room works for a while, but your morning zombie-brain adapts. You’ve discovered that if you go to the end of your bed and stretch far enough, you can turn the alarm off without even needing to get out of bed.

The system is failing. It needs to be adapted. So, you implement a new rule:

You’re not allowed to turn off your alarm until you’re dressed.

This one simple change to your routine implies that you’ll need to get out of bed, turn on a light, take off your pyjamas, and dress yourself before you’re allowed to turn off your alarm.

Couldn’t you still just turn the alarm off at any time and just go back to bed? Of course.

But if you were willing to put the effort into being careful, wouldn’t you also be willing to put in the effort to implement a system?

Systems take effort to implement, but once they’re in place they dramatically decrease your likelihood of making mistakes.

You can take a systems based approach to everything important to you.

Be careful, but be smart about it.

I love a nap almost as much as I love an espresso.

Recently I discovered that the two can be combined to great effect.

If you drink a coffee just before taking a 20 minute nap, the wakeful effects of each will compound.

This seems counterintuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you look at how caffeine and sleep each affect the brain.

As our bodies generate energy, they are constantly producing a neurotransmitter called adenosine.

Your brain has a number of adenosine receptors which are triggered as adenosine binds to them. These adenosine receptors are your body’s way of knowing it needs to sleep.

The more adenosine receptors activated, the sleepier you become.

When you sleep, your body produces less adenosine than it breaks down, which is why you usually wake up more alert that you did when you went to bed.

But what if you’re tired and sleep isn’t an immediate option?

This is where coffee steps in.

Lucky for us, caffeine has a similar structure to adenosine.

(Caffeine and Adenosine side-by-side)

Caffeine’s structure is similar enough that it can bind to the adenosine receptors without activating them.

This essentially blocks adenosine from binding to your receptors and telling your brain that you need to sleep.

Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to absorb into your bloodstream. By spending that time napping, your body naturally breaks down some of the adenosine in your system, which frees up more adenosine receptors for the caffeine to bind to.

A short nap primes your body to maximise the wakeful effect of caffeine.

If you’re a coffee drinker and haven’t tried this before, give this a shot.

Demand for critical thinking, digital literacy & creativity in the job market is rising dramatically.

(Foundation For Young Australians)

Our job markets are moving towards valuing skills over experience.

We are becoming more dynamic learners. It’s not uncommon to have a handful of career changes throughout your working life anymore.

Having spent 15 years working for an organisation means much less than it used to.

As people’s working lives become more dynamic; shifting and changing as technology and culture develops, skills become more valuable because they are transferable.

That’s not to say that experience isn’t valuable, but experience can be too specific, even when it’s from a similar job.

A McDonalds manager doesn’t care whether their employee took the time to memorise every ingredient in a Whopper in their last job. They want to know that their employee can flip a burger.

Young people now have the opportunity to focus on the type of work they want to do, rather than the job they want to do. But we don’t get it for free.

The cost of career dynamism is job security.

Some of us will work contract to contract for the rest of our lives, with next to no work in between.

This sounds scary, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The more roles we expose ourselves to, the more skills we adopt. The more skills we have, the less likely it is that we’ll wake up aged 54 in a job we hate but can’t leave because the market is too competitive.

If you commit to a job which isn’t developing any of your skills, you are only investing your time in gaining experience.

Years of experience in a job you hate isn’t worth much at all. Beware the temptations of complacency.

Become someone who thrives in times of change, became times are always a-changin’.

Get to work.

I want to place a bet.

By the time I die, everyone on earth will be referring to one universal time zone.

In fact, we’d be better off doing so right away.

International or interstate communication and organising would become significantly easier.

We would have to reframe how we thought about time, but this shouldn’t bother us.

Time is not a stable law of nature. It’s a unit of measurement designed by people. We can adapt it whenever we want, and have done many times in recent history.

The United states didn’t have consistent time from state to state until 1904.

In fact, it was impossible to accurately agree what the time was in any two places separated by enough distance until radio was invented. Before large scale train networks, there was no need for everyone’s clocks to be synchronised anyway.

200 years ago your community only included people within close enough proximity that you would share a timezone. The time was whatever everyone agreed the time was.

Obviously, this is not the case anymore. We are all part of a global community.

It’s time we reconsidered time.

I have family in both Canada and Wales, but I live in Australia and I’m not good at remembering stuff I don’t need to recall.

Doing the time calculations, or remembering which is which when trying to figure out a time to Skype is a totally avoidable exercise.

If we all adopted a universal time (let’s say we adopt GMT), or even just started to organise with an agreed upon time zone, this issue would be completely solved.

We only associate 2pm with afternoon because we have never questioned it or considered an alternative.

It only seems weird not to associate pm with afternoon because we have blurred the line between our manually adjusted clock-time and the time of day which is regulated by the Sun.

Understanding that these two things are different is important.

It’s going to take some unlearning, but that mild discomfort is far outweighed by the potential benefits to global organisation and business.

How many minutes do you think you spend calculating time differences every year?

If you don’t have family overseas, fly long distances, or do business internationally, maybe it’s as low as a minute or two? For those who travel internationally for both family and business, perhaps this figure enters the hours.

Let’s imagine an average of 10 minutes per year per person is spent calculating time zones.

If this is true, human kind wastes over 146,000 years of human time every year worrying about these unnecessary calculations.

What would you do with 146,000 years?

If that’s not worth rethinking what 12:00 means to you, I don’t know what is.

We would likely design better words for the times in between morning, afternoon, evening and night as well. And each timezone would have different times they associated with each part of the day, including a new 24 hour time for midnight.

The sun set in Greenwich at 19:30, it would set in Western Australia about 8 hours later at 07:30. I would stop thinking about 07:30 as the time I should be thinking about getting ready for work. 07:30 would be the time I would usually be eating dinner.

Nothing would collapse. Everyone would be fine. We’d never have to think about converting time again.

People who don’t like change would complain for a while… And then they’d have to catch up once people started organising to meet them for lunch at 22:00.

I can’t imagine this not happening. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

If you’re uncomfortable with this idea, please tell me why.

To pay proper attention to anything is to inevitably ignore everything else.

My head does not like this fact.

What if I’m missing something?

Did I forget to…

Has such and such responded to so and so?

Sometimes, if I have enough resistance to a certain task, I’ll bounce around it like this for hours, or even days.

75% of the assignments I’ve ever submitted have been submitted within ninety seconds of the due time.

Given that about 20% have been submitted late… That’s not a good statistic.

This infuriates me.

I’ll bounce around the thing I need to do until there are literally seconds to spare; until I have no option but to do the thing, and only the thing, until it’s done.

This is not procrastination. Well, it is, but it’s slightly more complicated.

Procrastination implies a conscious effort has been made to ignore the thing.

But usually, it’s when I’m actively trying to do the thing that I run into the most trouble.

I get tripped up the same psychology behind choice paralysis.

Choice paralysis is when you have the option of twenty-five seemingly identical toothpastes, and it takes much longer to decide which to buy when compared to deciding which bag of flour you need to buy.

It’s why people spend so much time turning over apples in the produce section; there’s too many to choose from.

My experience, and the experience of many others who struggle with attention deficit stuff, is that as soon as I meet a task which doesn’t offer a clear, immediate and rewarding feedback loop, my brain starts inventing toothpaste brands and throwing apples in the air for me to catch and inspect.

The worst part is that I can often feel it doing this.

I can know that I’m about to avoid a task that I actually want to complete.

I can feel my brain inventing the excuse. Logically I know that I don’t need the cup of tea, or that nothing important will have happened in the few minutes since I last checked my phone. But I can’t stop myself.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

I’m screaming ‘STOP! We need to do this work.’ But my brain runs the red light anyway.

Next thing I know I’m on the couch with a cup of cold tea I didn’t want telling myself that the video documenting the history of Japan will in some way contribute to my essay on negritude poetry due in forty-five minutes.

I then write like a maniac for forty-three minutes, frantically edit the worst mistakes out and submit some sub-par work with seconds to spare.

The solutions I have found to this issue are twofold, and both have to do with stakes;

First, if I tell someone I care about that I’m going to have something done by a certain time, and I know that they’ll check it or know if I don’t, more often than not I’ll do it.

I do not like letting people down. Social stakes work wonders.

This is why I write at cafes and train jiu-jitsu with friends at 6am.

If they’re expecting me to show, I’ll show. But I have never got out of bed at 6am just because I wanted to get some work done for my own sake.

Secondly, if I set deadline pressure before the time things are actually due, I’m far more likely to succeeded.

This can’t be half assed. There needs to be stakes for not completing by the deadline, or I’ll just extent the deadline to the actual deadline and practice the same unwilling procrastination.

For example; assignment is due Wednesday, but if I’m not finished by Monday night I don’t get to eat out with friends on Tuesday night.

This works sometimes, but is less effective than creating accountability through involving other people in my work.

I can still weassel my way out of any self defined deadline. I’m quite good at it.

To pay proper attention to anything, you have to make the thing worth your attention.

If it isn’t by nature, and you’re sure you still have to do it, find a way.

And if you have any better ways of managing this, let me know!

You are your own boss. Even if you work for someone else.

You decide when you wake up, what you do and why you do it.

Why are we such shitty managers of ourselves?

If you had a manager that talked to you the way you talked to you, you’d quit. If you had a boss that wasted as much of your time as you do, they’d fire her. If an organization developed its employees as poorly as you are developing yourself, it would soon go under.

Seth Godin

We need to treat ourselves like we would a well oiled organisation;

Set high expectations, but be realistic.

Apply pressure, but not too much.

Work hard, but not so hard that the work of living becomes unpleasurable.

Most importantly; have a vision, a mission and a purpose.

Your purpose is the reason you exist, your vision describes what accomplishing your purpose looks like, and your mission is the battle plan for how you’re going to get there.

Organisations who fail to define these things, fail to function.

People are the same.

If you don’t know why you’re here, why you’re doing what you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it… Something is wrong.

You’re the boss. Fix it.