Challenging my Inner Perfectionist with an Impossible Goal

What I’ll do

Track an overly ambitious amount of desired behaviours for two weeks to;

  1. force myself into accepting unchecked boxes and
  2. find best practices for consistent, agile and long term habit tracking

Background and Ideas

I’ve spent many years fucking around. I tried and failed countless ways to meet my potential. The sense of having a vast potential to live up to has been a crippling force in my life. One way it manifests is a heavy disappointment when I fail to maintain a new habit.

A forgiving and understanding attitude toward myself might improve my life in two ways;

  1. My happiness would be no longer tethered to my productivity
  2. I’d become more productive

Either way sounds like a win so I’ll give it a go. The key for me is not in changing my life overnight, but rather in settling into a consistent habit of tracking especially when things aren’t going my way.

Method

Using Notion I’ll track daily habits with two different tables. One will have check boxes as in yes or no, the other will be recurring such as time spent productively and number of push ups per day.

The list of yes no habits is purposefully exhaustive to ensure I practice acceptance and self compassion around those unchecked boxes. I suspect it will be a sink or swim kind of situation.

Testing period

Between Tuesday 19th of May and Monday 1st of June. I’ll most likely track throughout the day as tasks are completed.

Once this period is over I’ll re-calibrate and set off again. Currently I’m focused widely, on a lot of different habits and actions to see what the data shows, I suspect once I have that data I’ll feel a lot more confident in narrowing down my focus for future experiments.

Logs

I’ll probably hop in here every few days or so to add a short log of how things are going or anything substantial I’ve learned. This entry was written in my logbook a few days ago.

Random

I suspect that a two week turnaround will hit closer than my other attempts. I did a week before this and it was nice but the data from one work / rest cycle just doesn’t feel useful enough to try to draw a conclusion. Two might be the smallest usable block of time to measure?

I feel a rush at the beginning of these experiments, my last one showed a real downturn at the end (though for other personal reasons, I suspect). I’m interested to see if a pattern emerges.

Any tips or hints about not just running self tracking / behaviour change experiments, but also about logging and presenting those logs, would be greatly appreciated! :pray:

Results so far

Results show the same weekly pattern as last experiment. Not sure what meaning to make of this yet, I’ll have a good read of the logs at a later date and see what similarities I can find. So far it seems my week starts out around Tuesday with high productivity and high energy and by Friday I’ve crashed and barely maintain basic self care. By the time Tuesday comes back my productivity and engagement soar again.

I believe the experimental frame of mind has taken some sting out of procrastination and disappointment. This was the intended result and I think it has led to a shorter rebound time than my anecdotal memory indicates.

What I’d improve

In the future I’ll set times and dates to do reviews. I think leaving review sessions up to ‘when I feel like it’ invites procrastination and avoidance. Perhaps with set times and dates I’ll have better results keeping myself tied to the heart of the hypothesis and not just filling in the bare minimum. Review every two days? Or three maybe?

I’ll focus next experiment more on time tracking and blocking out sections of my schedule to get things done.

Thoughts

Doing this makes me wish I had much more data to reference. Is it a pattern I’m seeing? If so how far back into my life might it stretch? Could noticing cyclic behaviour be as simple as two or three weeks of tracking some easy markers?

In any case, I think I’m hooked on this process. Something about the fact that I’m directing it myself… I think meaning hides there waiting to be unpacked.

Thank you for sharing your project, Said. What are some of the habits that you are tracking? How are you practicing being compassionate with yourself when many of those habits don’t get checked off?

Yeah it’s my pleasure I hope QS is ok with the quality of my presentations not really being that high while I get used to the process. I figure it’s probably fine because anyone who is interested will find it and anyone who isn’t can ignore it.

I’m tracking mostly mood improving practices, some productivity improving practices and 2 specific activities (writing and studying) which are most significant to my life right now.

I think it’s interesting that of 12 days running the experiment I’ve only managed to do two habits daily with consistency. Tracking itself, and self talk. To me this indicates a pretty big victory because the underlying goal this month has been to develop a consistent tracking practice. I think framing that as my victory condition has taken a little bit of the sting out of not having checked as many boxes as I’d like. I think this is the biggest take away for me the past few weeks. Having a victory condition which isn’t so much a yes / no but more of a ‘Where between practice and process can I meet improvement?’ has been meaningful for me.

Here’s a partial list of the dailies.

To answer that last question I use self talk. I adopt a compassionate and forgiving attitude and talk to myself in third person. It sounds crazy lol but it works.

I imagine the perfect older brother I wish I had. Someone with understanding, grace and forgiveness. Who could remind me of the bigger picture when I’m getting stuck in the weeds or normalise what I’m thinking and feeling when beating myself up. And I try to channel his words as best I can.

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Alright, this wrapped up a little while ago and only now have I had the time to sit down and sort through it. Here’s my summary of the experiment.

What did I do?

I attempted to overcome my fear of failure and sense of disappointment around expectation management. It seems to me like the first step to build consistent habit tracking practice.

How did I do it?

Two ways;

  1. by setting the bar a little too high and tracking more daily habits than I am able to check off and
  2. by speaking to myself, out loud, from a compassionate and understanding place.

I used Notion as a digital bullet journal for tracking, the template feature and adaptability / agility makes it super convenient as a habit tracker (plus it’s so easy to make a page pretty!).

What did I learn?

Showing compassion to myself is a muscle. It gets stronger the more I use it.

I can frame my victory for a long term success my making personal metrics process based rather than goal based. Focusing on the process feels like it leads to much better qualitative outcomes all round.

There’s a long conversation to have around metrics and how we measure success. I think success framed as a sense of fearless curiousity and nurturing integrity offers a lot more resilience and resourcefulness than say, hitting some number mark or yes no, pass fail grading type system.

Everything is configurable and has significance. For example tables have a natural ordering effect on my processing. I compare columns naturally against each other but not rows. It seems like an obvious thing but the realisation was significant for me.

I can go a day without sleep and function just fine, but I pay for it with the following few days.

Using a timer changes the whole game. It’s so much easier to focus with intention when the timer is counting down.

Conclusion

Overall it was a fantastic success. I set out to do something which was low cost and high reward. I just wanted to build confidence in my process and lay a detailed foundation. I learned a bunch and have work-shopped my habit tracking process into a much cleaner and more automated form, designing it into more of a deeply rooted practice.

I want to continue to run experiments for the indefinite future. I have so many ideas bouncing around. Like the effect of time tracking on productivity, or modifying self talk to see what impact it has on mood, the list goes on!

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