My personal wellbeing support pillars

[Epistemic status: my personal experience]

Last week, I wrote about a way that I now conceptualize my personal maintenance habits/ systems/ practice. In this post, I want to say what those practices are, in rough order of importance for me.

Regularly doing all of these, more-or-less insures that I have good productive days. Note however that various stressors can make it harder to maintain each of these practices (especially #3), and correlation is not causation. It is not entirely implausible that some of these are not doing much work, but they seem useful because the days when I do them are the days when things are going well. More randomized experimentation is needed.

Plus, of course, your milage may vary.

  1. Get enough sleep. Nap during the day if I didn’t sleep enough or sleep well. (I never used to be able to nap durring the day, but I recently developed a method for falling asleep that works reasonably reliably.)
  2. Exercise, intensely, everyday.
  3. Notice, respond to, and process my aversions/ anxieties / triggers / concerns. This one is crucial, and is the current weak point for me. Some percentage of the time, my doing Focusing fails, in that I don’t get more clarity or a next action on the cause of discomfort. I think this is a bug in my Focusing process more than an inherent limitation.
  4. Outline my days the night before.
  5. Do some hours of Deep work, especially first thing in the morning.
  6. Full inbox 0: keeping my attention clear and keeping things moving. [I wonder if this is only good because of the momentum building effects / reward of closing out a list.]
  7. Make some visible-to-me progress, on my projects, even on minor projects
  8. Take rest days (I don’t know if this is only beneficial because it aids in doing some of the things above, but I think there’s an important thing of getting a reprieve from my stressors.)

One important open question for me is, “when all of the above is functional, is there still and additional benefit to daily meditation?” Or, alternatively,  does daily meditation pay for itself by making any of the above (perhaps #3) easier?

Currently, I keep track of most of these in a daily checklist. This has gone through a large number of iterations over the past 5 years, but the first version was based on Sebastian Marshall‘s lights spreadsheet.

The bootstrapping attitude

This is a quick post highlighting a recent change in my mindset that I suppose might be useful to others. (I make no claims that this shift in mindset is clear from the post.)

I used to have a bit of a “failing with abandon” problem. If I wasted most of a day, that meant it was too late to have a “good day”, and it wasn’t very motivating to get up and work on having a “slightly better, but still not very good day”. [I will get around to writing up how motivation works, sometime]. So I would something like give up on my long term goals for that day, and fitter it away.

These days, I have a different attitude. My functionality and effectiveness is a structure that depends on a bunch of different, self-supporting, maintenance processes: exercising, getting enough sleep, having my attention clear, having “everything handled”, doing Deep Work first thing in the morning etc.

These processes are self supporting in that each one makes it easier to do the others. Sort of like a reciprocal structure.


It used to be that when I looked at my lightsheet/ daily checklist and everything was red… Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 1.52.37 PM

…I felt the weight of how far I was from hitting my goals. That feels un-motivating. What’s the point of pushing myself, if I’m not going to get a payoff?

Now when I look at today’s column, and it’s all red, my response is something like: “Yep, I’m not going to have a “good day” today, my supports are not in place. But I can start bootstrapping.” I can, starting from right here, lay the first of those supports, and start building up momentum.

This resets the reference point: I’m not expecting to have a satisfying productive day, but I can still put pieces in place, so that I can have a day like that soon.

Exercise and nap, then mope, if I still want to

I have a new rule for myself (partially inspired by reading Scott Adam’s book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big): I’m not allowed to be mopey or depressed unless I have exercised and gotten enough sleep on that day.

If I feel some kind of despondent, and I haven’t exercised, then I’ll stop bemoaning my situation and go exercise. And if I’m running on sleep deprivation, then I’ll nap first.

I’m allowed to feel grumpy or depressed after I’ve done both of those things.

I’m doing this because, a huge portion of my subjective well being and optimism depends on sleep and exercise, so I want to always make sure that those are taken care of before inhabiting an epistemic state in which things seem bad or hopeless.