Getting Your Stuff Together #1
Published: June 11, 2022, 9:12 a.m.
If you've been following me, you probably noticed I have gone silent. I wish I was able to say it was a massive project that is done now and I'm ready to share it with the world, no, I simply didn't do anything. Until April I had my dissertation, and after that, I've been simply not living up to my standards. It's fun and all to float around, but one day you will have to pick yourself up and do everything you have put off, which for me, is far too many things. Why don't we simply start today?
Wall of Shame
Public humiliation is fun right? Let me start with everything I publicly promised to do, but did not follow through with:
Several YouTube videos (blackjack math, the secret delicate video, more RISC-V, OS making, robotics vlog, more memflow, binary exploitation).
Book club (I started reading Permanent Record, but never finished it).
In addition, over the months there were several less public things I was enthusiastic about doing, signed up doing, but when it came to actually doing, I would not deliver. Charles Hoskinson said that to be a leader what you need to do is "Tell what you're going to do, do what you said you'd do, and then tell what you did", I'm awfully great at the first part, am I not? The last part would come naturally I think, but the middle, is what I need to focus on. In other words - execution.
Rock Solid Base
All these things I set out to do are meant for the world, but in order to serve the world I think I first need to have my day-to-day in order - have routines that help me stay on top of things and prevent me from going mentally insane. I need it to be balanced, and I think I know the perfect person to show this for me.
Meet 2019 Auri. He's amazing - he is about to have his high school finals (I suppose A levels), one of the most important things at the time that can potentially make or break his life. Yet, while everyone around is stressing over the finals, Auri does not. While everyone is about to fall asleep during the first few lessons, Auri is zippy. Auri seemingly does not spend much time preparing for the exams, but he's about to be the first in school's history to max out 3 out of his 5 exams. What's his secret? His day to day is rock solid.
Auri knows that everything starts with sleep, it's sacred. When it comes to any life decision where one option is keeping sleep, and the other is something incredibly attractive, sleep always wins. The mind needs to rest before the storm. Then, Auri knows that physical exercise is this seemingly magical thing that clears out brain fog, which is actually not magical, but a scientifically proven activity that helps with blood flow and feeds the brain with more oxygen. Knowing cardio is the most beneficial for the brain, he maxes it out with a 3-5 kilometer morning run. Immediately afterwards, he jumps into an ice cold shower to get the final shock needed to banish any sleep left away. As a finishing touch, Auri sits himself down to meditate, for about 10 minutes, because he knows that training attention will make him sharper over the long run. That's his morning routine. When it comes to evening, Auri journals so that he can make sense of everything that has happened throughout the day, make plans for the future and keep his mental state in check. And this is what he does every single day.
That is quite a lot, yes. I want to go back into it. But how am I going to do it? And first of all, why did I drop this routine in the first place? That is thanks to the University - all the social activities have been too tempting and that's how sleep suffered. To be fair, my exercise routine immediately stopped, because I did not know where to run. I was left with cold showers, meditation, and journaling. I did not find meditation too useful and all the other things got me to gradually drop it off, while cold showers became a little too uncomfortable for my liking. That leaves us with journaling, which I slowly drifted away from given all the insane things that were happening around that time. And I can't say I couldn't execute afterwards, but my consistency dropped, and the only reason I could execute things was because I did not have many things to do. Okay, so how do we go back? Well, why not in order! Let's go through each thing one by one.
This one is key, non-negotiable. 7-8 hours, which means give yourself 8, feel free to sleep less, but always give yourself 8. And this is done not by going to sleep at consistent time, but rather waking up at consistent time (and then going to sleep such that you have enough time). Your sleep cycle should eventually adjust itself to make you want sleep at the right time, and then naturally wake up at the time you're supposed to wake up. After a while it becomes like magic. Another key thing is that - when the alarm hits, do not, I repeat, do not go back to bed - you'd be sabotaging yourself, you will want to go back to sleep, and you will hate your every morning. Just wake up, stand up, and do your things. You can always leave the sleepy sleepy time in the evening. I personally attempt at doing this by engineering my environment - my phone is on the other end of the room, meaning, I need to stand up before I can turn it off, and then it becomes much easier to just not go back to bed.
Now, last year I've done some sleep experiments. I once read up that humans used to split the sleep up into 2 parts. This sounds insane, but apparently it changed with industrialization when factories were expensive to power on, and it became cheaper to force people into working 8 hour shifts. And thus, it became our day to day to sleep once for 8 hours. But let me emphasize this fact - this is not an inherently natural state of reality that humans stuck with for hundreds of thousands of years, this is a relatively recent development done to maximize industrial output in jobs that require close to no mental effort. Personally, I noticed that my productivity plummets around 5 PM and the best thing I can do is watch YouTube in default mode network, and when it comes to programming I get productive well into the night. So why not try eliminating that evening period? Thus, I went to sleep twice - 4-8 AM and PM, and you know what, it was glorious. Even without the rest of the routine I was much more productive. Mainly, because it actually becomes easier to keep this schedule - not many social activities happen between 4-8 (only the practical ones do in the evening, and I used to not do any), and I can go partying without sacrificing sleep. This was so good, that I remember one night getting myself drunk, going to a night club, partying until 3 AM, coming back home sober and then spending one more hour coding CGlue before going to bed. I went out of this schedule mainly because I started going to dance practices that would lie around 6 PM, which was less than ideal. Sleep cycle is 1.5-2 hours, so in theory just 2 hours of sleep for one session should still be beneficial. I believe I might want to experiment with this, perhaps doing a 2/6 split instead of 4/4? What I know is that sleeping twice a day was beneficial to me, and what is key here is balancing out all the social activities with healthy amount of sleep.
This one is pretty self explanatory - just do stuff that makes your heart beat quicker. Okay, probably there are way more important aspects to it, but I am no sports scientist. So take what I say with a pinch of salt, but the knowledge that is widely spread by scientists is that there is a direct link between cardio exercise and mental capacity increasing significantly for several hours after exercise. Jogging/running is not for everyone, although I believe people say it is not for them, because they tried it once and hated it. I sure as hell hated 1 km runs in school PE classes. I sure as hell hated the first 2 weeks going for at least 2 km every day. Both the fact that my legs hurt, but also during the run, it was exhausting, very, very, exhausting. Borderline suffering. No, actually suffering. In hindsight, it was probably not the brightest idea to do runs every day, because your body can simply give after too much physical stress, but it eventually got easier, my legs adapted, and I could get myself to the point of slowly increasing the distance to 5 km. What kept me going is this thing I heard that runners who force themselves through the suffering stage reach this "second breath" thing (I don't know what the term is in English) where it suddenly becomes easier to run and they can last longer. Which made me think that just because I'm suffering, doesn't mean I'm on the edge of collapsing, instead, I'm on the edge of switching gears. I never actually did that, but my first gear became more robust. Although, writing this I am wondering if that is a real thing or not. Heh, it served me well. So basically, running in the morning good. I will try doing it consistently.
As for how, I used to engineer my environment by putting running clothes on top of other clothes in the evening, which helps remembering that I need to do it, and takes one step of action away from me in the morning.
This is actually one the easiest uncomfortable thing to get yourself into. I started doing it before running. The reason this is easy is because it is passive! All you need to do is flick shower to the coldest side possible, and from a few moments to a few seconds the cold hits. It gives a shock, you want to leave, but try to keep yourself there, and move around to cover all sides of your body. In 2019 I would count to 60 seconds. Just like running you eventually get used to it. It makes you much sharper, and in addition, it actually helps with your skin. I would not use any hand creams or anything (being dumb), but cold showers made my skin softer and all the dry parts went away. From what I could gather (and after discussion with my skin expert friend (tm)) it is a very complex topic, but for dry skin hot showers may lead to dryer skin. Mind you, cold water may cause problems if your skin is sensitive and generally, lukewarm is the best, but cold showers were incredibly useful for me psychologically, and should your skin be fine with them I do recommend it out!
Combining it with running is actually pretty marvelous. Getting that shock gives you a bit of a high, and it is a really good feeling when leaving the shower. 10/10 would recommend.
This one is a pre-bed activity. I think it is way more beneficial to meditation. Brendon Burchard in "High Performance Habits" first introduces clarity as a habit (key thing in HPH is that the habits there are deliberate and conscious, not the typical "Oh let's get coffee in the morning" automatic habits). It is all about understanding what you've done and what you need to do. Journaling helps you keep track of things. Every night I would write general thoughts about the day, raise some questions, discuss immediate plans, and then fill in several check-up prompts that I took from the HPH book. And it is pretty difficult to put a finger on it, but whenever you have some ambiguities, it becomes easier to solve them, it becomes easier to track problems and overall it becomes easier to stay on top of things. Engineering your environment is a common theme, and here it is no different. If you write physically, keep the journal around visibly, and if you do it digitally, make sure it takes the least time to set up a new entry - have a template ready and make it so a single action gets you to writing.
Not going to lie, this is more of a voodoo thing, and I could not attribute any benefits directly to meditation. Maybe, it is because I never really stuck with it religiously, which says a lot about my attention span. But since it is difficult in the first place, I think it means I have challenges to overcome. Especially given social media exploiting our psychology to keep us scrolling in the default mode, being alone with your thoughts becomes difficult, because there is always that temptation to do something (not healthy). Meditation would be a reminder of that, and I want to stick with it, but it probably won't be of highest priority.
Overall, I want to incorporate all these mechanisms into my routine. However, it is key to realize that it is better to build things up slowly rather than be overly enthusiastic and unrealistic. I shall try starting out with sleep, journaling, exercise, cold showers, and only then meditation. I think it should be relatively easy to get back to the first 4, because I have done them in the past. I know I can stick with that. I know I can.
The main problem I have is of consistency - I have far too many things to do, and no will to do any of them. Brendon Burchard said in his book "Humans are masterful jugglers. We can manage several projects at the same time, achieve many tasks concurrently, carry multiple levels of conversation - implicit and explicit - with several people at the dinner table. This strength serves all of us - up to a point. Then it destroys us." What I noticed is that with all the things I want to do, I end up doing none. In addition to the promises I've made, I also have work, and I also have several other projects that are hush hush for the time being. And yet, I'm doing nothing. Analysis paralysis? No, I don't even do analysis. Another thing he said was "Keep your main thing the main thing". What is my main thing? Let's say YouTube is (well, it's not, but let's assume for the sake of it), then I would need to produce videos. And I need to go one by one. Simply, one, by, one. I need to make a plan, and stick to it, instead of scattering around like a firefly. That's my theory. And I will try it out. And while it is happening, I will have to say "no" to many things. Many, many things. My plate is already dripping from all sides.
Back when I was preparing for the last Olympiad in informatics I was in, I found myself an accountability partner, for whom I gave 100 euros to safe-keep (it was a friend don't worry). If I didn't get through N practice challenges that week, he would get to keep the money (we then bent the rules to make it proportional, but whatever). While I couldn't get myself to do everything I set out to do, it did push me to get there. It was another environment engineering trick to get me to do what I consciously want to do, but have a hard time getting to do. In HPH, it is called raising necessity. I need some long-term accountability. Evidently, public one does not work on me - I have no real social status to lose, thus no fear. However, a friend of mine happens to be on a somewhat similar boat as me, thus we agreed to keep each other accountable. I do believe you can do everything on your own, but as social creatures, peer pressure is something that should make this journey a tad easier.
This post is more of a reminder to me of what I need to do to get where I want to be, but I also hope it may come in handy for you as well, wherever and whenever you are. I know I should build this all up one thing at a time, because it is important to realize that any initial motivation eventually burns out, and the more important thing is to keep on going instead of burning down with the loss of it. I'm not promising anything anymore, but should this go well, you should start seeing consistency in my content, and this deep hole should become a long and distant dream.