This week was far from ideal for me. Whereas most weeks I have a bit of a routine to my habits to keep a good balance, that routine has been all over the place. I’ve been sleeping too much, over-committed with appointments, and feeling every day like there’s not enough time. I was also slammed with two big revision projects that came in and required more time than usual (but on a positive note, one of them was the final review of the audio version of the Multihabit course, to launch soon on Listenable).
All that said, this little storm in the otherwise Zen-like calm I prefer has demonstrated another strength of the Multihabit system, which I will talk about today.
I call this principle degrees of freedom. It is key to eliminating the kinds of habit compulsions which might have left me feeling this week was a write-off.
For each habit you track, think of this as one degree of freedom. The more habits you track, the more degrees of freedom you have.
Consider the following three examples:
Person 1’s habits:
Person 2’s habits:
Person 3’s habits:
- Day job
At a glance, we might assume person 3 has too much on their plate.
However, in the Multihabit system, the opposite is true. To see why this is the case, let’s imagine my week from the outlook of each person.
In the case of person 1, with only writing, reading, to-do and workout, I would have had a “terrible” week. All the commitments, over-sleeping, and generally just feeling like I’m not getting enough done would have made me quite anxious.
Person 2 is a bit better. Whereas I felt a lot of anxiety this week, in actual fact my days had quite a bit of balance because, for instance, I made sure to end the day with some TV time. I kept up on my journaling. I managed to get in a workout when I realized I just wasn’t going to win the productivity game, but still wanted to win the wellness game.
Now, person 3 is by far the best for the kind of week I just had. Oversleeping? Well, that just means I tracked more time on my “sleep” habit. Being over-committed? Well, that just means I tracked extra time on my chores habit. Having lots of time that didn’t quite fit into the boxes of the habits I like to keep up? That just means I tracked more time on my “vacation” habit.
That last part is pretty big: one of the lessons for me this week was that I don’t take enough time off to just relax. Because I have this extra “vacation” habit, rather than feeling upset about the week, I instead learned more about myself and let go of lots of anxiety.
Since each habit can be thought of as a degree of freedom, the more you track, the more potential you have to step back from what you’re doing and assess what is really going on in your life.
Though it might look like person 3 has too much on their plate, this would only be true if person 3 felt a compulsion to put in time on every habit every day, without variation. What person 3 is actually doing though, with this diversified Multihabit approach, is creating a wide net to catch most of their daily time and see just where it lands on a given day.
Where this system gets even more powerful is in the bigger time perspective. Week after week, there is often variation in our habits. Over several weeks, the period of 1-2 months or more, or even a whole year, we get an even better idea what our patterns are.
We develop distance from habit compulsion that most habit-tracking systems don’t address.
So, though this week was “far from ideal” for me, and maybe had a few moments of stress, these were temporary moments which, like storm clouds against mountains, broke quickly. Instead of ending the week frustrated at how “unproductive” I was, I end it with wonderful perspective on how rejuvenating my vacation habit is, and as well, can appreciate that actually, I made some great progress. The Multihabit course for Listenable is now on its way to publication! I slept more than usual, but because I’ve been tracking sleep as a habit all year, I’ve changed all my perspectives on how much time I have “awake” in a day.
So actually, I got a lot done this week. It just wasn’t what I’m used to thinking I should get done. (Note that word “should” — as a good friend taught me once, there’s no use “should”-ing on yourself.)
I even discovered that it’s okay to take a day off piano now and then — but don’t tell my teacher I said that!
Every habit you track adds degrees of freedom to learn about yourself, and simply let go of unrealistic expectations.
Do you have a goal to spend more time on certain habits? Start not just by tracking them, but tracking the activities that surround them. Learn the art of always having a timer on and asking, “What habit mode am I in now?” Over time as you do this, the goal you have will become clearer, as you see not just how you do on that habit, but perhaps what else you spend your time on and what changes you might need to make — be these changes to how you spend your time elsewhere, or changes to your expectations on your particular habit goal.