For the past 5 years I’ve been experimenting with my routine – such as sleep, exercise and diet. In order to improve my quality of life. As guidance I used everything I knew or thought I knew about research on optimal cognitive and physical functioning.
To objectively track progress I used an assortment of cognitive tests (e.g. stroop, digit-span) and personal goals. My method was not perfect, but I believe it was reliable enough. Here are my conclusions.
It is obvious, but not always appreciated. In order to be my best self, I need to take care of my base needs. For an example consider sleeping. Broadly saying sleep helps us physically and cognitively recover from the trials of the day. Furthemore, its useful for memory consolidation and sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively effect working memory and attention.
Therefore, If I sleep irregularly, then my ability to learn from experiences is jeopardized and my body unable to recover. If I am not rested then no amount of clever or positive thinking will fully compensate the limitations that lack of sleep causes.
This is the general idea of what Alan Watkins presents in his Tedx talk “Being Brilliant Every Single Day” – for greater control over our behavior we first need to take control over our physiology.
A plethora of factors influence sleep. Exercise, caffeine consumption, food and water intake (timing, amount, and glucose level), naps during the day (optimal 10-20min for adults), and mental health. This means decisions we make hours or days before influence how well you are able to fall asleep.
Endurance and strength exercise are known to enhance sleep, enhance cognitive abilities, reduce stress, regulate appetite and increase positive emotions (positive affect). Suffice to say exercise is one of the single greatest things you could do for your mental and physical health.
The first principle of exercise is that you need to make it fun. A fun activity is sustainable over the long term. This is important because exercise has both immediate short term effects and long-term effects that manifest after sustained physical activity over several months. The second most important principle to follow with exercise is that you should start small. Don’t exercise yourself to exhaustion. In this video Firas Zahabi explains both ideas beautifully.
The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus 2
Our brains are limited. At any given time we can roughly processs 7 +-2 pieces of information. Some more, some less. Understanding this allows us to make better decisions. Regarding the goals we set and the expectations we have for ourselves.
For instance, this is why pilots and doctors have checklists. They know they need to make a lot of complex decisions. The best way is writing those points of decision making down, because the world is more complex than 7 +-2 pieces of information. If we accept this fact, what does it tell us about how we could live better? At the end of this article you will see one answer to this question.
Self-esteem is competence
Reddit is littered with people asking how to increase self-esteem. But this is the wrong question to ask. Because self-esteem is more likely the byproduct of achieving competenence in a whatever field someone wants to have high self-esteem.
- Numbers game, because too many variables to consider.
- Mere-exposure effect
- Halo effect
- Variety – Get all micro and macronutrients you need, and also limit exposure to undesireable molecules.
- Moderation – Do not spike your blood sugar.
- Weight management – Volume of food and calorie density.
Internal Motivation – Passion/Fear
External Motivation – Accountability
All in all we want to make these behavioral changes into habits. There are a number of ways we can achieve that.
Break bad behavior – Make it impossible. Example: If you want to quit smoking then spend all your money before you can buy a smoke.
Enable good behavior – Make it the only possible course of action. Alternatively couple with something you enjoy. For instance I listen to music or a podcast when I run. Measure what matters. Track your desired behavior and increase time spent doing it incrementally.
|Habit is easy||Habit is hard|
- Fill out the Habits Scorecard. Write down your current habits to become aware of them.
- Use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
- Use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
- Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
- Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
- Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
- Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
- Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.
- Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.
- Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.
- Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.
- Automate your habits. Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.
- Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.
- Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.
- Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain.”
- Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.