Is It Possible To Be Superman For Two Weeks?

I think I’m crazy.

I was talking with my friend Carlos Miceli last week and we realized something obvious: the more good habits you build, the more you stop appreciating them and stress over building new ones. It’s never ending. There’s no “there” there.

My first reaction was to shy away from this. I should appreciate myself more, I should stop pushing so hard, blah blah blah. But that wouldn’t be any fun. So I decided to swing the pendulum the other way.

For the next 15 days, I’m going into superhero mode.

Let me explain: I sat down and articulated my ideal day, incorporating only the projects that are important to me and the new habits I want to build. Now, rather than implementing them slowly, I’m attempting to dive into them all at once.

Why is this productivity blasphemy?

Almost every expert in psychology and behavior change says – very clearly – that habits should be changed one at a time:

“This is incredibly important… One habit only. Do not break this rule” – Leo Babauta (here)

“If you’re serious about making real change, then you have to start small” – James Clear (here)

“You know that feeling when your to-do list gets too long, and you get paralyzed just thinking about it. Trying to learn 20 different things at once is just asking for that feeling” – Zach Obront (here)

Yeah, I just quoted myself.

The idea is that will power is a limited resource. The more you use it, the less you have left. By trying to do too much at once, I’d be exhausting that muscle without giving it time to recuperate. But that’s assuming my will power is static in both cases. It isn’t.

Why do I think it will work?

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me: I have iron will power when I’m all-in, and terrible will power when I’m half-committed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve decided to vaguely “eat healthy” and done nothing about it. But when I’ve set strict rules, sticking to them was no problem.

This is because the process most draining on our will power isn’t the thing we want to accomplish, but convincing ourselves to do the things we want to accomplish. That internal battle about whether I can justify a burrito bowl as healthy is more mentally draining than eating a chicken breast and some vegetables.

By structuring my days up as a super-clearly-defined, pass-or-fail checklist, I’m alleviated from having to think about what would be a good use of time, and left to focus on doing it. There’s no wiggle room. All the justifications (“I’m just doing research for a blog post”, “It’s not socializing, it’s networking”) are out the window. And, as I’ve talked about before, getting rid of our self-bullshit is the most crucial step to accomplishing more.

Plus, I’ve got some other strategies to keep me committed (see below).

So what’s the plan?

Checklist

I started off by structuring my ideal day. It looks something like this:

6:00 – Morning Routine 6:45 – Spanish Lesson 7:15 – Write 9:15 – Group Discussion at Exosphere 10:45 – Coding 12:30 – Gym and Lunch 2:00 – Focus on Business 7:30 – Home and Dinner 9:30 – Night Routine 10:00 – Read and Sleep

With that in mind, I pulled out the habits that I’d need to stick with in order to do these things. For example, because I have a tendency to distract myself by any means necessary when I’m trying to write, I implemented a no internet before 9am policy. Because I have a tendency to distract myself with Facebook at all times of day, I implemented a Facebook-only-between-9pm-and-9:30pm policy (this should be zero, but a man’s can only resist his news feed for so long).

The picture above is the 25 point checklist I came up with. If I hit all of these in a day, there isn’t much room to get off-track.

And then, the kicker. If I’d done everything up to this point and stopped I’d be doomed to fail. I’d screw up a couple times, get discouraged, tuck the list away in my desk drawer, and never speak of it again.

That’s not going to happen.

As I talk about in my productivity course, accountability is hugely underrated. Our minds can’t handle the incongruence of publicly saying one thing and doing another. So I turbocharged the accountability to make sure that every failure is as painful as possible (remember, because of loss aversion, threatening failure with pain is much more effective than rewarding success with pleasure … silly humans). Here’s how I did it:

1) Talked about this challenge and how awesome it is and how much I’m going to get done incessantly for the past week. My friends all hate me. They’d never let me live it down if I didn’t stick with it.

2) Embarrassment is good, but money is better. The checklist I posted above? My roommate Alberto is holding on to it. Every box that doesn’t get ticked means money from my pocket to his. Ouch! He’s going to donate it all to charity at the end of the month, but that doesn’t make paying him less painful.

3) I’m writing this post. It’s the first morning of the challenge and I thought an extra boost of accountability couldn’t hurt. This shit is on the internet! There’s no running away now! And I’ll say it here: I’m going to post a detailed post-mortem on November 16th outlining how it went, how I feel, what I’d do differently, and what was accomplished. “It was really hard so I gave up” doesn’t make a very exciting blog post.

One important point to note

This is very temporary: This is an experiment in whether I’m able to stick with this marathon-like productivity for two weeks without burning out. It isn’t a lifestyle change. It’s likely that my expectations for myself will shift and many of the things I’m doing will become long-term habits, but that isn’t the primary goal. If it were, I’d need to scale it back a little, pick it up more slowly, and account for all the temptations that are going to come up. As it stands, I can just tell myself, put it off and think about it in two weeks. Having that end date is powerful.

17 comments

  1. Bob

    although i hate the name of your course, i really like your can-do attitude. looking forward to seeing how this shakes out.

  2. zck

    I’m not sure why you conflate “only change one habit at a time” with “don’t rigidly define what your new habit will be”. I think most people recommend defining new habits pretty specifically.

  3. Paulo

    Nice! Last year I tried, along with Sebastian, a 90-day one. And it was bad, after the first 3 weeks or so things were back to the way they were. 15 day is way more suitable. GL

    • Zach

      Yep. Seems easy so far to resist any urges when they come up because “it’s only two weeks” – I’m not sure where that limit is but it’d be interesting to test.

  4. Jean

    Really like this post. You’re right about the general wisdom being one goal at a time/small steps but doing something all-out for a defined period makes a lot of sense. Am going to try it!

    • Zach

      Hey Jean! Cool to see you here!

      Yep, agreed, it’s just about having enough momentum to follow through. Short terms vs. less goals is a fair trade-off, but I think this is more fun ;)

      DO IT and let me know how it goes!

  5. Timothy

    I did something similar one day with my girlfriend. I got a list of all my ideal habits and we spent an entire Saturday just going around and se helped me knock off every single one. I think the habit stuff is bs to an extent bc look at how well boot camp works for habits. I think it’s all about the mindset and environment. You should make a little video diary each day that would be cool.

    • Zach

      I agree to some extent (“If I just do this for 21 days straight I’ll do it forever…”) but I think there’s lots of interesting things to learn. For example, being out of bed with a clear list of things to do at 6:30 has been huge for me. No Facebook all day is big too.

      Mostly though, from a motivation POV, I’ve just realized that my ideal day isn’t as far off from my normal day as I thought. That feels good emotionally. And I’m getting a ton done in the process.

      I agree with environment, but what exactly do you mean by mindset?

  6. Daniel Sweeney

    I ended up here from a Tim Ferriss blog post comment.. who would have thought?

    Interested to see how it works out and insights gained.

  7. Joseph

    Who’s Tim Ferriss? What a lame thing to say after you posted on his article hoping for traffic from his popular blog and you’ve mentioned him multiple times before, just look at your “what I’m reading” section. You know who he is and you’ve lost just about all your credibility with me by making such an arrogant and false statement.

  8. Andy

    You should buy a superman tshirt or better still, the whole costume. Then, put it on every day to give you a boost and remind you what you’re trying to accomplish. Just try not pumping out your chest with the S on you!

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