Harry Smith

100 Days of Habits

An honest, retrospective look a the first one hundred days of the year, and how habits have shaped them.

In non-leap years, April 10th marks the 100th day of the new year. I’ve always marked it’s passing with reflection on the year so far. What goals did we have? Are we moving towards them? Are we still happy with the goals that we are pursuing? Sometimes I indulge a fantasy of a worldwide day of reflection. A national holiday of resolute silence.

It marks a chance to discuss not only the successes but also the failures. The common discord of ‘productivity’ writers is one of unusual success. It leads to a incorrect perception that life is one happy path. We all present ourselves by our success, and yet it is our response to failure that defines us. This is clear when looking back at the first 100 days of the year.

The goals you didn’t achieve are when you allowed failure to be final.

The first chocolate bar that ended the diet. The first skipped workout. The first takeaway. The first cigarette after swearing them off.

Failure is never final.

It is inevitable.

There is a relationship between time, ambition and failure. A goal that is quick is not ambitious, and does not fail. An ambitious goal given not enough time will fail in one way. Given enough time, it will fail, and succeed. Without failure, a goal is rarely ambitious enough.

To make major change there must be failure. Time, ambition, failure. The ingredients of real growth.

A dedicated habit system is resilient to failure. The habit of good health succeeds where ‘I will never eat chocolate again’ fails. The habit knows that it will sometimes falter, so it also knows that it will recover again tomorrow. For all the grandiose determination of ‘I will never eat chocolate again’, when it fails, it’s final.

I’ve got failures, but I’m not a failure. Let’s look at how that comes to be.

I’ve listed each of the habits I have tracked so far this year, and a short reflection on them. You’ll see that in no single case did I succeed for the full 100 days. Sometimes I have even failed often. But, in all cases I have achieved. That is the resilience of habit to failure. I did not forsake a goal because of a setback, because I have understood the setback to be a part of the process.

100 Days of Habits : A Reflective Review

A quick note. I track my habits in three categories, morning, evening and anytime. You can think of the morning and evening habits as a block of habits executed together - a routine. Anytime goals are general tasks.

Morning Habits

Wake up at 6:00AM - 75 / 100

If I sleep in, I lose the day. Getting up early has enables everything that follows. It’s hard. Though for the pain, I am rewarded with time for all the things I care about. For me, every hour before 9:00AM is an hour where things get done. Failure comes from not going to bed early enough, every time.

Take daily vitamins - 99 / 100

I could talk till I was blue in the face about vitamins and supplements. It’s impossible to state what any one person should be taking. I take high quality multivitamin, cod liver oil, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C.

I have been sick much less often. I’ve had more energy. It’s worth the time and money in my experience. That’s subjective though. And far from a rigorous scientific evaluation. Your mileage may vary, and don’t take any supplement because X/Y/Z person does.

Exercise of some form - 89 / 100

I like to rock climb. They closed the gyms and haven’t reopened them yet. I didn’t set any exercise goals. That was deliberate. I knew I’d be happy to do any form of exercise. Some days I did a little, some days I did a lot. I went from a handful of pushups and zero pull ups to 20+ push-ups, 100+ sit-ups, and 3 strict form pull ups.

Could I have tried harder and got more? Yes, but I would have failed more. I found a balance that was resilient and suited my needs. I improved rather than deteriorated. Sometimes a non-zero result is all the win that you need.

Meditate - 93 / 100

Daily meditation practice is a no-brainer high impact activity. It’s got a fair ‘whiff’ of ‘too good to be true’. Forget the metaphysical nature of it and look at the data. Every high performer you can name is meditating. Everyone has ten minutes a day. Happier, healthier, calmer, more compassionate. All from sitting in silence. Well, there’s a little more to it than that. But if your intrigued, start with 10% Happier.

Morning Journal (750 Words) - 98 / 100

Everyone should be writing a journal of some description. I like the method proposed by Julia Cameron, called Morning Pages. In her method, the journal consists of three pages of long-hand notes as a stream of consciousness. I’ve taken a digital slant, where three pages translates to 750 words. I write them into simple dated text files each morning. Doing this daily has made it much easier to write in general. Free writing trains your brain to turn off the inner editor. It is meditative in nature. You begin each day clear of mind. Pretty good deal for ten minutes every morning.

ANKI - 98 / 100

Everything I learn goes into ANKI. If your not familiar with ANKI, it is a spaced repetition flashcard system. Explaining how I use it would be a article on it’s own. Done right, it is a system that allows you to remember anything, forever, using science. But it only works when it is consistent. An easy habit for the knowledge worker.

Anytime Habits

Something for Katie - 99 / 100

I’ve written about this habit here. Show love in little small ways. It will amount amount to a much larger, more honest representation of your love for others. In the same regard, be wary of anyone that presents work as overnight success or large efforts. Habits are the truth behind achievement.

Small, consistent steps. When you look for them, you see their pattern everywhere.

Achievement Log - 99 / 100

Another habit I’ve written about here. Keep track of the little steps you make towards goals. There is a time before you’ll ever have anything public to share, where important work is being done. It’s like an island forming under the ocean. Keeping tracks of those steps reminds you that something is happening. Even when there is nothing to show.

The log ties the individual efforts together.

Review Calendar - 99 / 100

This year I’m determined to let less things slip through the cracks. Birthdays, anniversaries. It takes a minute to remember them but stays with the other party for weeks. Since making using my calendar a habit, I’ve had a much greater success.

Maintain healthy diet - 76 / 100

This year I’ve experimented with several diets. I’ve been vegetarian for a month. Keto for a month. No sugar for a month. At the moment I am following the slow carb diet.

Each diet represents a extreme philosophy on food. I’m looking for a middle ground that combines the good parts. Achieving a healthy diet with minimal downside. I failed to maintain the habit 25% of time. I am slimmer and healthier than I have ever been. Your going to eat something you shouldn’t. What matters is what you do next.

Protein (Matching current training) - 4 / 100

I needed to make protein a habit because I wasn’t getting enough to match my training goals. In the end, I didn’t climb at all so far. There’s no reason to throw good money away consuming shakes that I didn’t need. Here’s the lesson; don’t be dogmatic. Sometimes habits have to change, and that is okay.

Spend less than £5.00 - 80 / 100

It’s not possible to spend less than £5.00 every single day. But it is possible to try, and it’s the trying that matters. In this case, the failure is not as bad as it could have been because of the clear target. It is an example of using the anchoring effect to your advantage. If I had set the goal higher at £10.00, I would have failed as often but the expenditure would of been more.

Good financial planning gives clarity of mind. A lack of funds causes a lack of security, one of our basic needs. I’m striving to reach comfortable frugality without a sense of loss. I’m not there yet.

Complete Action Item - 83 / 100

What is an action item? I’ve written about how I track them. An action item is a task that improves every other task you do. It’s the top of funnel optimisation that you might otherwise push off. It’s honing your ideas through writing. It’s refining your systems. It’s all the work that isn’t the work. Some days I don’t get to it, but by getting to it more often than not I’ve got several projects off the ground this year. Each action item finished makes the next project that much easier.

Contact Family / Friend - 88 / 100

I’m bad at staying in touch. It’s becoming more common. Loneliness is on the rise. Don’t ignore it, because it has serious health implications. We are community animals, and our communities are becoming very thin indeed.

Evening

Shutdown Ritual - 98 / 100

This habit is from the excellent book Deep Work by Cal Newport. You end your day by processing your remaining tasks. Writing a plan for tomorrow, or storing them for later review. The goal is to have no lingering attention on any task. You have to be able to step away from your work if you are to sustain it. You can’t be present while the day undealt with. It has had a profound effect on my stress and I recommend you read the accompanying blog post.

Maintain Household - 97 / 100

Does anyone like to do chores? Sure, I have a few that I enjoy. But there is all the other chores that you don’t enjoy. The little pools of clutter and dirt that accumulate in the corners. At the end of every day I spend 5-10 minutes tidying. I don’t like the ‘big bang’ approach of cleaning the whole house and wasting a day. Tackled in small doses it never becomes overwhelming.

A well designed environment for work is spotless. It is joyful. It makes everything else easier. Even small amounts of mess are a disaster for true focus.

Read for One Hour - 74 / 100

Of all habits that I fail on, this one upsets me the most. I love to read. When I fail to find the time to read it speaks to a much greater failure of the day. I don’t buy that there isn’t time in the day to read in any given day. It’s such a high value activity that it must take the highest precedence. My failure to read is a failure to recognise the importance of reading.

Finding the time to read is about releasing the grips of TV, games, social media on your time. So far I’ve read 17 books, for an average of one every six days. I try not to read longer for an hour. The goal is not to skim through as many books as possible. I read to understand ideas. Not to promote some vanity metric of quasi-intellectualism.

One Hour Relaxation - 98 / 100

It sounds weird to turn relaxation into a habit, unless you’re also a type A, neurotic mess. In combination with the shutdown ritual, this is how I ensure I can actually sustain a high level of work. I define relaxation as a indulgent activity that doesn’t progress a goal or project. It’s video games. It’s reading fiction. It’s watching TV. It’s a time for recovery. I place a time limit on it so that I don’t end up slipping into a big time sink. We all need to decompress, so it’s important that you find time each day to do it.

Go to bed at 10:30PM - 70 / 100

Getting up early means going to be early. I haven’t got this one drilled down as well as I would like. The ‘sleep is for the weak’ culture of work is dying out. The well rested are the high performers.

I’m no stranger to operating without sleep, I built a career on it. But, you should choose to be well rested whenever possible.

The Next One Hundred

Habits have provided the necessary structure to stay the course in a turbulent world. A morning routine of habits win the day early. A evening routine sustains the effort. In the last 12 months it hasn’t been easy to set specific goals. There are too many variables outside of your control. Habits are always in our control.

July 19th will mark another 100 days. I hesitate to speculate on what I will have achieved by then. What I know for sure is that my habits will march on regardless. Looking back I know I’ll take more time to read, sleep more and continue the never ending fight with my alarm clock.

I can only predict one thing with certainty. I will fail. Again and again.

And then I’ll try again.

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