Daily Habits – Prologue

When we talk about life, a life of purpose is mostly about creating something worthwhile, whether it is in art, science, or anything else. The door of every creation opens through some kind of pain that has to be endured. For a life defining accomplishment, this pain has to be endured daily with consistent and focused work. But why is any work of highest quality a consequence of years of concentrated effort? To answer this question, consider the following masterpiece in Josh Kaufman’s book The First 20 Hours, in which he narrates a story about a pottery class highlighting the importance of quantity:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

The famous law of nature, 80/20, also implies that the gateway to reach that precious 20% is through producing the average 80%. As a matter of fact, everyone plans for great things but very few show the daily consistency required to achieve anything in substantial quantity gradually leading to quality.

Having established the significance of constant labor, a natural consequence is to understand how important it is to conquer our inner procrastinator through any means possible. With this objective, I read more than a year ago about a strategy on how to stop procrastinating on important goals. The strategy was actually quite simple:

Assume that you have a big goal you really want to achieve, say writing a book or losing an amount of weight. That can only be achieved through a series of daily successes: writing each day or doing exercise along with healthy balanced food. Get a red marker and a calendar that has a whole year on a single page. Hang it on a wall where you can see it every day. Each day when you complete the task required, cross that date with a big X using the red marker. After a few days, a chain of red X’s will start to build up which will grow longer after each passing day. Your main focus should be to NOT let the chain break.

Again, the focus is not entirely on quality but on quantity. By maintaining the chain of X’s, this strategy is one effective way of producing consistent work that gradually moves one towards being better and better.

Motivated to stop my procrastination and gain that always-elusive self-control, I decided to implement a similar strategy with an interesting modification. I hung a calendar on my office wall and at the end of the day, I crossed the date with

  • a red marker if I was disappointed with my day’s output, and
  • a green marker if I was satisfied with the day’s output

An advantage of such a modification is that not all days are the same. Only the person adopting this strategy knows what should have been done with each particular day. For example, a specific day can be devoted to all meetings and administrative stuff which if done right can make the day satisfactory, even if there is no visible progress towards the established goal. Personally, I do a little work on weekends by finding timeslots here and there but my weekend criteria is based on whether I entertained the children right or not. This also helps in automating different balls one has to juggle for a balanced life such as career, relationships and personal wellbeing.

As you can see in the photo above, I opened my account with an extremely bad start. Nevertheless, with each subsequent month, the number of red X’s kept decreasing while that of the green X’s kept increasing, until I reached a point where I simply abandoned this practice.

Some clarification is in order. Most natural processes exhibit gradual change. This change starts as a consequence of slight improvement in one area, and then another, and then another, until the process becomes completely ingrained and seems intrinsic to that person’s identity. That is what a habit is: what we repeatedly do. A habit actually defines a person, their career, relationships and without any exaggeration, their whole life.

Since nothing exists in isolation, every good result comes from a mixture of many good habits. I am writing a series of daily habits in hope that it will help someone in taking control of their lives and using the blessing of time in their advantage rather than throwing it in non-constructive activities. Whether the reader wants to develop their career, or build meaningful relationships, control their weight, or become a first class learner, I am positive that this will change your life in a better direction.

Personally, I haven’t mastered anything yet but enjoying my learning curve. I also realized that this process of learning will never stop. If we all wait for the day to become perfect, hardly any knowledge will ever be shared. At least those beginning on Level 1 can find help from experience of people on Level 2, and so on.

For my mistakes, I will come back and correct them. For new discoveries, I will keep them adding. But for a few weeks now, I will write in successive posts about the daily habits that should be, in my opinion, incorporated by every person.

As a reader, thanks in advance if you comment below which best daily habits you think you currently have, or wish you had. Your valued comments will be greatly appreciated.

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