Feeling stuck can be the absolute worst—you know you’re really not happy with your current circumstance, but also might not know where to start to get unstuck. With millions of “solutions” out there, there is no shortage of offerings for things to buy, diets to try, and quick-fix answers to your problems.
Most often, the answer requires nothing but a little bit of science—lifestyle experiments, to be exact.
Over the last few years, I’ve tested dozens of lifestyle experiments to see how the change would influence my and Amy’s life. In fact, you could call our rounds of decluttering and downsizing as several lifestyle experiments—ones that led to the eventual launch of this website and massively positive life changes over the following years.
So, sound interesting? Let’s get into it.
A lifestyle experiment is just like a science experiment, but instead of science, you’re experimenting with changing your lifestyle to sees how it may improve (or worsen) your circumstances. Once a conclusion is reached, you can choose whether to continue that lifestyle change.
life·style: the way a person or group lives.
ex·per·i·ment: a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.
In this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully execute a lifestyle experiment and share some ideas of experiments to try. At the very bottom of the post, I’ll share some of my most successful lifestyle experiments that I’ve tried over the last few years.
Types of Lifestyle Experiments
Although there are infinite lifestyle experiments to try, they tend to fall into one of just a few categories. To quickly explain and demonstrate each type, I’ll use drinking coffee as an example. A single lifestyle experiment with drinking coffee might be any of the below:
1 / Add. Start drinking coffee.
2 / Remove. Stop drinking coffee.
3 / Swap. Drink tea instead of coffee
4 / Create. Only drink coffee that you brew yourself.
5 / Track. Record how many times per week you drink coffee.
It’s pretty straight-forward, right?
General Guidelines For Lifestyle Experiments
1 / Timeline
When designing your lifestyle experiment, you’ll want to choose a set period of time to perform the experiment at the end of which, you’ll make a decision based on the result. The timeline should be short enough that you can complete the experiment, but long enough that you’ll be able to fully experience any longer-term results from it.
I highly recommend a minimum of 21 days and a maximum of 90 days. Don’t try to swing for the fences especially if this is your first time trying lifestyle experiments. You can always extend the timeline longer than you’d like, but it’s not helpful to cut it short (unless the results are really negative and you need to stop). With that in mind, do not push yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with—if something isn’t working for you, stop and try something else.
2 / Difficulty
This might take some trial-and-error to get just right, but you want your experiment to be anywhere from easy to only slightly challenging. For example, if you barely exercise at all right now, your experiment should not be: Do 45 minutes of cardio 7 days per week for 90 days.
Keep it simple enough that you can stick to the experiment and really see the potential results at the end of it. It’s more important to complete the experiment than it is to try to totally revamp your life in the set time.
The idea is to continually make small changes, test new ideas for set periods of time, and let those changes compile as you grow. None of this is instant, so when starting out, make it easy!
3 / Trackable
If the experiment isn’t easily trackable, you don’t have much of an experiment. Whether in a notepad or your favorite smart phone app, you need to track your progress and record your findings along the way. Armed with that information, you’ll be ready to make a better decision when the time comes.
Results may come quickly, or not at all—and that’s okay. As my 7th grade science teacher Mr. Bradley taught me, “Even nothing is something.” Especially when removing something like a recurring expense, you may find that you feel no different, but end up saving the money you would have spent.
That kind of “nothing” is certainly something in my book!
4 / Isolation
While it doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect, I wouldn’t recommend trying five different lifestyle experiments all at once. Isolate your results by choosing one at a time and see what results come. Trying too many things at once will not only exhaust you, but lead to confusing results at the end.
For example: was it drinking more water every day that made me feel better, or drinking less coffee? Just like a good science experiment, if you have too many variables you’ll never know what actually caused the positive change.
A Helpful Guide To Lifestyle Experiments - YouTube
Now that you have your lifestyle experiment pro-tips, it’s time to start designing your own. As you consider what lifestyle experiments to try, make sure you’re prioritizing safety first and do some research on any potential side effects before beginning your experiment.
Here’s a list of 20 lifestyle experiments to get you started:
Remove sugar from diet
Deactivate social media accounts
Do one simple exercise every day
Create something every day
Cook everything you eat from scratch
Project 333 wardrobe experiment
Go plastic free or zero waste
No TV (at all or during specific times)
Track your mood and energy levels
Track every penny you spend
Stop drinking coffee
Go car-free or from 2 to 1 car
Whole food diet
Make a daily vlog on YouTube
Morning pages every day
Take one good picture every day
Limit phone use to 1 hour per day
Go vegetarian or vegan
Lifestyle Experiment Ideas
Get instant access to a crowdsourced list of 100+ lifestyle experiment ideas.
Success! Look for an email shortly with the link.
There was an error submitting your subscription. Please try again.
I'd like to receive the free email course. Subscribe We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Tips To Stick With It
The most important factor of any lifestyle experiment is that you stay consistent with it for however long you planned, unless you experience serious negative results. Without finishing, you can’t see the results and make an informed decision about how it affected you.
Depending on your experiment, the first few days are probably going to suck. Especially if it’s a change you’re not used to, or something completely different from you’ve done for years. Your brain is going to “twitch” and try to get you to stop doing whatever you’re trying, even if it’s actually better for you. Unless you’re experiencing substantial discomfort, keep pushing through and know that once you get past a week, it is going to get so much easier to continue for your designated time.
1 / Keep it simple
Remember, this may be the first of dozens of lifestyle experiments over the next few years of your life. This is a marathon and you don’t have to run the whole thing right now, so take it slow and keep it simple. You can ramp it up as you go.
2 / Partner up
Accountability is an important aspect of any lifestyle change; do what you can to find someone who’s willing to try the experiment with you. It helps to have someone to check in with and even better if you’re both invested in each other’s mutual success.
3 / Track it publicly
You don’t have to start a blog, but sharing your experience through a blog, social media, or with friends and family is a great way stick with it. Another great way to do this is hanging a piece of paper somewhere visible to track your progress.
Make sure you don’t just talk about it instead of doing it. I find it best to keep these sorts of experiments to yourself (unless you partner up) for the first week or two while you get your bearings. It’s easy to take a false first step by talking about doing something instead of actually doing it.
Finally, if you don’t make it all the way through, don’t beat yourself up! It’s just an experiment and you can always try again or try something completely different. If you want to try the same thing again, cut the difficulty in half and take it from the top!
Lifestyle Experiments I’ve Tried
1 / The Minimalist Game
This is where our decluttering journey began and continues to be one of the most effective decluttering methods Amy and I have tried. Over a few months we got rid of thousands of things from our home and created physical space that we didn’t even know we had.
This was a fundamental change that opened up many other opportunities for us along the way; it’s definitely worth taking a shot at it.
2 / Low Carbs & No Sugar
I’ve done this one for as little as 30 days and as long as four months and every time I do it the results are truly incredible. I did this as recently as December ’17 and lost about 9-10 pounds while buried in snow in Minneapolis and not working out at all.
Since doing these no sugar experiments I’ve substantially tapered the amount of sugar and carbs I eat on a regular basis whether or not I’m doing a full ban or not. In my experience, fat loss and muscle building is about 85% diet and 15% exercise—that might not be the case for everyone, but I’ve found that when I don’t eat sugar, I:
Immediately start dropping body fat
Have more consistent energy
Feel better overall
Have lower triglycerides & bad cholesterol
Don’t feel as hungry all the time
To be clear, I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not able to make diet or exercise recommendations; this has just been my experience. Sugar sucks.
3 / No Coffee
I still drink coffee, because I love it, but I’ve experimented with not drinking it and after several weeks of experimentation found that I prefer drinking it to not. Many people I’ve spoken with have said that it causes them anxiety or other issues, but at least right now, I haven’t noticed much along the negative side.
I do typically only drink a cup of it or so per day and then stop drinking it for a few days to reset my body’s tolerance so I don’t need to increase my intake over time. This might be something for you to experiment with as well.
4 / Social Media Detox
In short, after deleting social media from my phone and doing a digital detox, almost everything got better. After a few days I didn’t miss it at all—but part of the nature of running a blog is also being on social media—so I still use it and continually seek a balanced approach to it.
I find myself wanting to completely detox for a period of time every 90 days or so—30 days off every 90 days on or something like that. If you’ve never done it, this is absolutely something to try.
5 / Daily Writing
For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been doing a 5x per week writing challenge with a friend of mine. It’s not always perfect, but it’s been a productive challenge that gets me writing more than I would otherwise.
On the days that I have something to say, I’m consistently showing up for them to come out. On the days I don’t, I probably write a lot of garbage that will never see the light of day. Either way, it’s perfectly fine.
If you haven’t already, download the list of 100+ lifestyle experiments and highlight a few you might be interested in!
At this point, you have everything you need to get started with a lifestyle experiment of your own! If you have tips to share, feel free to do so in the comment section of this blog post—I’d love to see what has worked for you and what hasn’t.
Last but not least, don’t wait until a particular date, month, day of the week, or any other trivial date to start your experiment. While it might make sense to start on a Monday, it’s best to just do it now. Don’t wait for a new month to experiment with in creating your new life.
Being stuck is totally frustrating, but you can get unstuck by deploying some simple lifestyle experiments over the next few months. It’s a great way to shake things up and really make some substantial changes in your life over time.
Don’t forget to sign up for the Break the Twitch monthly newsletter to get updates and exclusive subscriber-only blog posts delivered directly by email.
It’s hard to overstate the importance that reading has had in my life.
I remember focusing my attention on the nonfiction/personal development section of my favorite book stores back in high school, and that attraction still hasn’t left me. Some of the best things I’ve read were book recommendations from close friends who enjoyed reading them as well.
Many books have influenced my own perspective over the years and after the release of my own ebook, I’ve received many requests to share some of those book recommendations. Specifically, books on minimalism, habits, and creativity—the core principles of Break the Twitch and my work in these areas. This list will be updated as time goes on, so feel free to bookmark this page for later reference.
An important note: Many of these books are available at the library. If you purchase them through these links, you will help support my work here at Break the Twitch and the work of the listed authors. Have a look at my advertising disclosure to see where I stand on this.
Synopsis: Craft a personal, practical approach to owning less so you can better pursue your dreams while serving your purpose.
I may be a bit biased in this suggestion as Joshua is a good friend of mine and my own minimalism story is included in this book, but I believe it is a must-read in the minimalism space. It is thorough, inspiring, and practical in its approach to just how effective owning less is when it comes to living more. You’ll enjoy reading this and pick up great decluttering strategies along the way.
Synopsis: Make the highest possible contribution to the things that matter by discerning what is absolutely essential and removing the rest.
This book is full of analogies that cause those little “Aha!” light-bulb moments and fundamentally changed my perspective of the world. It reads a bit like a book on minimalism, which is why its in this category, but you could really capture an entirely new philosophy through this book based on seeking the essential.
Synopsis: In a culture that constantly pushes for more—more work, more possessions, more obligations—we can find more contentment in less.
Courtney is another friend of mine in the minimalism space, and she has some incredible perspective to offer. The book is all about how to pursue practical minimalism so we can create more with less – more space, more time, and even more love. Look at the big picture, discover what’s most important, and reclaim lightness and ease by getting rid of all the excess things.
Synopsis: Physically and mentally prepare yourself for long-term, low-budget travel.
Really, this is a mindset book. You don’t have to crave the vagabonding lifestyle to majorly benefit from the ideas and philosophies within its pages. It’s a pretty quick read and makes a great case for a minimalist lifestyle whether you’re on the road, living small, or in a single family home.
Synopsis: An intriguing, story-based book on how habits affect our lives and how you can use them to make positive changes.
This was one of those books that I had a hard time putting down and read cover-to-cover. The stories in the book will really get you thinking about just how powerful habits are and will raise questions that will ponder the reasoning behind many common actions in your own life.
Synopsis: The global economy is rapidly changing, and with the accessibility of blogging and self-publishing of all kinds, it’s time to choose yourself instead of waiting to be chosen.
For this one, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version (linked above). I’ve listened to this one twice, because I found it both inspiring and practical. James Altucher uses the audiobook version to provide additional context to the book and doesn’t just read it word-for-word. This book tackles an array of topics, but focuses on small actions/habits to really improve the outcome of your live every day.
Synopsis: Small, continuous improvements pay massive dividends over long periods of time.
I read a similar book probably 13 years ago, and can’t remember specifically which one it is, but this one is highly reviewed. What matters is the underlying concept—Kaizen—the Japanese concept of small, continuous improvement. Any book you might read about this idea would be beneficial, as it influenced much of my beliefs about micro-habits and doing more of what matters every day.
Synopsis: A deeply personal memoir with practical advice on the benefits of living with less.
Cait is a close friend of mine and you can find my endorsement right on the inside cover of this book. She’s a wonderful writer and shares intimate details about her year of less—what it took to downsize her clutter, get rid of her debt, and get healthy. If you’re wanting more of a behind-the-scenes, personal memoir style of non-fiction, you’ll absolutely love this book.
Synopsis: Stop selling your time and build scaleable assets instead.
This book has received a lot of flack for its cheesy title (Tim Ferriss himself admits to 60+ hour work weeks), but the lessons contained within completely changed the way I view the world. I read this book back in 2007/2008 and it’s likely that I started publishing online because of its influence. It’s one of the books that I’ll never get rid of, because I find myself referencing it often as a thought catalogue.
Synopsis: A captivating and thorough look at Warren Buffett’s life with deep lessons.
Warren Buffett is considered one of the best investors of our time, but his story doesn’t stop there. This book is very long at 700+ pages, but one that I read cover to cover and recommend you do the same. There are amazing lessons about habits and the power of small actions over long periods of time in this book, and it makes for a fascinating read. You can apply some of the principles by tackling 20 pages per day to get through the full 700.
Synopsis: Break down the myth of the starving artist through changing your mindset.
Many people hold a perception that it’s not possible to make a good living doing creative work they love. This book is all about debunking the perception that you’re going to starve if you choose the path of an artist. This book is more about solid encouragement on taking the plunge into the art you feel passionate about. If you need to rewire your brain around these concepts, this book will get you there.
Synopsis: Happiness comes from trackable progress and solving interesting problems in and out of work.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi (Cheek-sent-me-high) is known as the “Father of Flow” because of his extensive research and work on positive psychology. Creative flow is the state you get into when time flies by and you’re totally encapsulated by an exciting challenge. This concept became so important to me that I now sport a tattoo of it on my arm (it’s my only one). He makes the argument that “checking out” doesn’t actually recharge us, but instead working on interesting challenges in our free time, when with our family, and more. He provides sound advice and practical steps on just how to do that.
Synopsis: In a low-effort content world, the free market rewards work that takes significant time and focus.
The formatting of this book inspired my own, and Cal Newport makes a compelling case as to why we probably shouldn’t be using social media at all. He’s been very successful in many ways and uses his own experience having never been on social media to talk about the value of deep work, or intense periods of focus. Highly recommended read, you’re sure to take a lot away from this one and at the very least, it’ll make you consider some choices in your life.
Synopsis: A 12-week program that provides a process of how to unblock yourself and cultivate creativity.
Whether you want to improve your creativity or don’t believe you’re creative to begin with, Julia teaches you how to recover your creativity within. The book is a program where she provides weekly habits and exercises that guide you down the path to higher creativity. The principles and wisdom in this book are engaging, empowering, and insightful. Many people swear by the process in this book and I’ve found its “morning pages” practice to be particularly helpful.
Synopsis: A book on writing that is a joy to read.
I absolutely love the way that William Zinsser demonstrates each concept he teaches within the teaching itself. The book is engaging, funny, and incredibly rich in lessons about writing well. I almost put this book in the minimalism category, because there is an entire chapter about removing clutter in writing. Even if the only writing you do is emails at work, this is absolutely worth the read—you won’t regret picking this one up.
Finally, while these are all books that I highly recommend, I would encourage you not to buy or borrow more than one or two of them at a time.
Buying a bunch of books and then letting them collect dust is a common trait of the false first step, so please keep that in mind. Each of these books has ideas that will compound and build upon each other, so take some notes along the way and enjoy the process! Happy reading.
All of the papers, pencils, and whatever-the-heck-else on my desk went into a drawer, a cardboard box, or plastic grocery bag possibly never to be seen again.
These quick cleans were the result of complete overwhelm. I reached a point of not being able to handle the external clutter around me while I tried to manage the internal clutter to focus on whatever homework or project I was trying to complete.
That situation always seemed like it came out of nowhere—I was blindsided by this incomprehensible mess that took over my room, my workspaces, and seemingly, my life.
Firstly, if you have children and this story is all too familiar, I offer you hope: they’re going to be okay.
Secondly, I realized that this is one of the many benefits of looking embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. When we remove as much clutter as possible, they’re less likely to become cluttered again in the first place, and it’s much more noticeable when they do.
Through the last several years of slowly decluttering, I’ve recognized that there are several key areas that act like a personal dashboard—the foundational practices and activities that when left unattended, crumble and cease to support the stress that may come with other areas of life.
If I ignore them for too long, I’m headed for a breakdown.
My personal dashboard consists of just a few things:
Desk and work surfaces
Closet and laundry
What’s wonderfully effective about this dashboard is when I’m feeling sluggish, uncreative, or find myself procrastinating on something, I can quickly check in on these areas of my life and usually identify the issue. Then, I can take a break, go work on turning off that dashboard light and come back to my current task—usually with much better results.
Screen time. If I start spending more time than usual on my phone, I’m likely avoiding something or procrastinating on something important. Once it goes beyond a certain point, I know I have to put it in a different room and refocus on my priorities.
Laundry. If my laundry basket starts to overflow or my closet gets messy, I know that I need to spend some time washing, organizing, and putting things away.
Desk. When my workspace starts to gather things (somehow like a magnet, it slowly attracts various cables and notebooks), I know I won’t be able to focus as well so I take a moment to clear it off and put everything away in a good place.
Sleep. I use a Fitbit to track the quality of my sleep each night and see how much tossing and turning I do. It’s not completely necessary, but after a year of having it, I find the data to be helpful. Also, the data doesn’t lie—it’s easy to overestimate how much sleep we think we’re getting.
Your personal dashboard is certainly going to look different from mine or anybody else’s, but that’s what makes it super effective. Creating this list gives you something to refer to when things aren’t going quite as you’d like them to.
Your list might have things like:
How much music have I listened to recently?
Have I gone out for a walk this week?
How many friends have I called/chatted with recently?
Your personal dashboard doesn’t have to be chores (like many of mine are). They’re just the things that help you take care of you, which helps you stay balanced and productive in the rest of your life.
I would encourage you to explore what your own personal dashboard might look like and jot down a list to discover what foundational things will help you check-in before the major overwhelm takes over.
Finally, as you implement this exercise into your life—perhaps start with just one or two things and check in on those things on a set day each week. Beginning this practice has had a lasting impact on my life and continues to serve me in ways that allow to show up better each day.
I’m confident that the practice can have similar results for you as well. Leave a comment here on the blog or on YouTube if you know one or two areas that could act as your personal dashboard!
For the last few years, I’ve had a tradition of publishing a personal annual review. The last two years, 2015 and 2016 were published on my other personal site. I’ve enjoyed doing these year-end reviews because I found it to be a helpful way to see my own progress, while looking back on where I was at the end of each year.
As Break the Twitch grows, I’ve been feeling inspired to share more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of how my wife Amy and I are applying the aspects of minimalism, habits, and creativity in our daily lives.
That’s why this year, I’ll be sharing my personal annual review with you here on BTT. I should briefly note that I was inspired to do these reviews when I saw James Clear’s, who seems to have gotten the idea from Chris Guillebeau.
I’ve really enjoyed following the format over the last few years, so we’ll cover:
What went well
What didn’t go well
What I learned
Especially if you’re self-employed, don’t have a manager, or a direct mentor to check in with regarding your progress, I highly encourage you to try this for yourself. If you start now, you’ll soon have several years to look back on.
1. What went well in 2017
I wrote a book. After a year of talking about it, I spent many months throughout 2017 writing the best book that I could about breaking the twitch. I got to work with some incredible friends in the form of a developmental editor, copy editor, and a designer. I choose to self-publish this book and I’m glad I did—being involved with every aspect of creating it was rewarding and should be beneficial if I go the traditional publishing route on a future writing project. Hundreds of copies of the book have been sold so far, and I’m grateful to be able to continue this work through your support.
I gave a TEDx talk. This one came as a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one at that. In September, I was invited to speak at TEDxBrookings and a rollercoaster of emotions hit me in the following weeks. Everything from, “Yes, I’d love to!” to, “Why did I sign up for this,” to “I can’t believe that just happened,” and “Let’s do that again!”
BTT growth. In 2017, 3,400 new newsletter subscribers joined the Break the Twitch. On YouTube, despite the growth not being as substantial as 2016 (1,000 —> 14,000 subscribers), the YouTube channel continued to grow modestly this year from 14,000 —> 26,000 subscribers. I took long publishing breaks this year during periods when I was focused on client video work or writing my book. I felt guilty for not posting as much as I wanted to (more in section II), but I’m proud of where things are currently and see a lot more potential for YouTube in 2017.
Mint.com Partnership. Last year, I agreed to a year-long partnership with Mint.com to create blog posts and video content for them each month. I love using Mint, so it felt like a great fit to work together. Here are someofmyposts over on the Mint Life blog.
We got a dog. Amy and I had been tossing around the idea of adopting a dog for a year or two, and when we got news of Rocky, who was taken back to the breeder by another family that couldn’t keep him, we went to see him. It took about five seconds for us to completely fall in love with the little guy and we brought him home that night. Having him around fundamentally changed my perspective about what was important to me on a daily basis (more on that in section III).
My film company grew. This year, I did video work for a major book publisher, other authors, and entrepreneurs. I decided to apply minimalist principles to the business and step away from commercial film opportunities so I could focus on working with independent creators and authors—that felt really good. In doing so, I’ve had the joy of working with and for good friends near and far. About 40% of my income in 2017 came from the film company—one of the most rewarding aspects of this, was being able to pay talented friends to work alongside me—I found a lot of joy in that.
I wrote consistently. After establishing a 6x-per-week writing challenge with my friend Mark, we tracked our writing all year and mostly stayed on course. Because of this, I wrote just over 140,000 words in 2017, many of which went into the book, some of which went into the blog, and much of it the 114 draft blog posts I currently have unpublished on this site. I learned quite a bit about optimal daily habits by doing this, and I’ll be sharing a little bit more in section III and a lot more in an upcoming blog post.
I worked with a coach. Over a year ago, I got to a point where I felt it would be helpful to have a consistent mentor to reach the goals I had set for myself. I had never done this before and looking back, it has been one of the most beneficial and critically important investments I made in 2017. I met John when we serendipitously were seated next to each other on a bus for the closing party of World Domination Summit 2016, and several months later started working with him.
In my 2016 Annual Review, I wrote that I finally learned to ask for help when I needed it and how that changed everything. While money is not the only indicator, my 2017 income was 3x higher than 2016, and I believe the work I did with John was a major contributing factor—check him out.
Traveled, but less. While this might seem like something that should go under the “didn’t go well” section, I found this to be really beneficial, because as you’ll see in section III, I think having a stronger routine for longer periods of time in the same places is actually really good for me. Travel is incredibly disruptive to my focus and productivity (and expensive), and I learned more about that last year. We did manage to do some traveling, just not as much on average as the two years prior:
Breckenridge, CO – Technically went twice, once in February and again this past December. Both for the annual brocation trip with the same group of blogger/entrepreneur/internet-person friends.
East Hampton, NY – My cousin got married to this guy, and we went to celebrate their marriage with them. It was a great time, and Amy took a picture of me on an inflatable swan.
Chicago, IL – For a wedding of one of Amy’s high school friends!
Portland, OR – For World Domination Summit, a super fun event put on by Chris Guillebeau and a horde of volunteers.
Boise, ID – I had never been to “Boy-see” before, so I attended Craft & Commerce, the first ever ConvertKit conference put on my my friend Nathan.
Ann Arbor, MI – Visiting friends and my family where I grew up.
Jupiter, FL – I had the honor of speaking at Think Better, Live Better there back in February. This year, it’s being held in San Diego (I have a scheduling conflict this year, but you should go!)
Nashville, TN – Attended TribeCon, the conference put on by my friend Jeff Goins. If you want to learn a ton about being a writer, that’s the conference to go to.
Relocated (temporarily) to Phoenix, AZ. Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve talked about my desire to be more available for friends and family when they needed it. Us coming here, signaled our desire (and finally, ability) to do just that. Amy’s grandmother in Taiwan needs some additional care and her parents needed help taking care of things in Phoenix while they went to Taiwan to see to her needs.
The ironic thing about building a business that (eventually) allows you to be more flexible is that at first you tend to be much less flexible than before you started. More on that in section II, but Amy and I are now in Phoenix until the end of April when we will return to Minneapolis. We have some close friends living in our home back in Minnesota, so everything worked out really nicely for us to be able to do this.
2. What didn’t go well in 2017
Limited blog publishing. I only published 18 blog posts last year (5 of which were guest posts), and despite the fact that I was writing so frequently, I didn’t hit the publish button nearly enough. Much of this came from the fact that I focused on growing the film company, while also writing my book, but I didn’t intend to write this little, it just sort of happened, which isn’t what I prefer.
I sat behind a computer a ton. Like, a ton. In so many ways, I felt incredibly isolated last year, much of which was probably self-inflicted. I didn’t go to many events around Minneapolis and had limited time with family and friends throughout the year, and that didn’t feel great. It was hard balancing the feeling of trying to tackle a never-ending work load, knowing there was always so much to do, and prioritizing more important things. Something ironic that comes with writing a blog and creating videos about minimizing distractions and doing more of what matters is that to do so, I am usually staring at a computer writing or editing.
Spent a lot of money on video gear. I struggle with this one, because I do feel there is a thin line between buying too much and buying what’s needed to meet an opportunity. This year I started flying for various film productions, which meant getting giant, hard plastic cases that will protect my equipment when I have to travel with it. As I’ve talked about many times before, small things add up, and I feel like I can really lessen this now that I’m fairly well equipped for the kinds of things I want to make.
Beat myself up a lot. This is a tough one, because it only ever makes things worse. When I wasn’t publishing on the blog regularly, I felt guilty about it. I felt as though I was leaving my friends (you) hanging by not contributing more. This year, I want to publish on a weekly basis and will be working hard at that. I’m working on letting this go and just doing the best I can and learning to love that in 2018.
3. What I learned 2017
“Should” is a dirty word. I spent a lot of time feeling like there was something I “should” do because that’s what I was “supposed” to do. When I launched my book, I decided not to do a massive Facebook ad campaign, huge bonuses, or anything else. I was largely silent on the blog and newsletter for almost two months before finally releasing my book. I did it in the exact opposite way that I’ve been told that I should. But, it worked fine.
I’d challenge you to think about what perceptions you’re holding from things that… well, don’t actually work for you. When my coach pointed this out, it blew my mind because I never noticed how much I said that sort of thing. Whenever I’d say, “I should really…” he’d always respond, “Should according to who?” which not only made me laugh, but provided some solid guidance.
Uninterrupted focus is immensely powerful. While I was writing the book, I got fed up and deleted all the apps from my phone, deactivated all my social media accounts, and blocked every unnecessary website on my computer. Like, really shut everything down. From that point on, when I allowed myself to get fully into a flow state I absolutely crushed my writing goals. It was like a night and day difference in my energy, productivity, and creative output. It’s the reason that I’ve largely exited social media and don’t have email or web browsers on my phone.
It’s hard to imagine how much power the uninterrupted brain has. This year, I’m going to let my thoughts carry themselves with fewer distractions and see where it may lead me.
Flexibility isn’t the most important thing. For the first year or two, I wrote quite a bit about freedom and flexibility being our ultimate goals, our vision for our lives together. Then, we got a puppy. He’s an awesome dog, but makes the logistics of our lives much more difficult, and I quickly learned that it’s well worth it. I never had a family dog growing up, and I have a hard time imagining not having him now. Perhaps it was ignorant of me to not realize this fully, but I had sort of fallen for the “laptop lifestyle” ideal of digital nomading around the world and working while traveling.
Since January, I’ve completely back pedaled from that idea and realized that the more consistency I have, the better I tend to do. Which brings me to my final point…
I suck at working while traveling.As much as I’d love to be one of those super cool people sharing instagram photos from all over the world while they hammer away productively on their laptops. It’s just not me. I’m not sure if it’s something I could eventually get better at, but the more consistent my environment and habits, the better work, even creatively speaking. So, I still want to travel—I love experiencing the world through food and culture, but I’m learning that I’d rather be home with Amy and the pup rather than trotting around all the time.
Smaller and more frequent, better. At least for me, I’ve found that there’s a perfect level of a daily habit where it doesn’t feel like a burden, but it’s enough that if all the planets align, things really take off. The best example of this is writing 250 words per day instead of 500. 250 is easy enough that if you plow through it just takes a few minutes, whereas 500 feels it takes way longer than 2x 250. The best lesson I got out of this is that the daily habit only needs to be big enough that it will catch sail if the winds are strong that day. That’s to say that, when you’re feeling inspired or find a great idea, you’ll be there with sails raised, ready to take advantage of it.
I hope that the start of 2018 is going incredibly well for you, and as always, I appreciate the time and attention that you share with me. If you posted an annual review of your own, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list right here:
Anthony’s Note: This is a guest post by Courtney Carver, from Be More With Less. I had a great video chat with her about her message, and her new book, Soulful Simpicity, which just came out at the end of December. Feel free to watch the video below and then enjoy her post on morning routines.
If your mornings have turned to mush and your snooze button, coffee, and everyone else comes first, it’s time to reclaim your mornings. Don’t you feel better when you start your day with intention and direction instead of chaos and distraction?
Without a consistent morning routine you might …
be easily distracted throughout the day
feel sluggish when you wake up
be less present
feel like creative flow is just out of reach
have trouble making decisions
Whether you are starting a new morning routine or getting back on track with a new one, you don’t have to overhaul your morning or your life to get started. Instead start small.
7 small steps to get your morning routine off the ground
1. Stop saying you aren’t a morning person. It’s a great excuse but it doesn’t matter. Start your morning routine whenever your morning starts, even if it’s in the afternoon.
2. Gratitude stretch. Before you get out of bed, think of three things you are grateful for. Say them out loud or to yourself as you stretch your arms overhead and your toes to the end of the bed.
3. Ignore email. Take a mini digital sabbatical for your first hour awake. Without the distraction of Facebook updates or email from your boss, you can start your day on your own terms.
4. Go outside. Start your day with fresh air, and sunshine on your face.
5. Go inside. Sit quietly and reflect, meditate, or pray your way. After a few minutes, ask this question, “How am I?” Then listen to your heart’s answer. That may lead to more questions and answers, but taking the time to ask yourself is really helpful, or at least it has been for me.
6. Create a morning not to-do list. You may have more clarity on how you want to spend your morning after clearly identifying what you don’t want to do. Make a list of the things that don’t add value to your mornings.
7. Show up. Even if you don’t do anything during your morning routine, show up for it every morning for a week. Dedicate five minutes to getting on your yoga mat, sitting at your kitchen table, on the floor next to your bed, or wherever you’d like to be. Just show up.
A consistent morning routine can …
fuel your creativity
strengthen your muscles
quiet your mind
soothe your soul
help you focus
alleviate decision fatigue
make you more loving and lovable
The best thing about a morning routine is that you can start anytime and you can always come back to it. If you are ready for more energy, clarity and love, trade your snooze button for a morning routine.
Courtney Carver changed her life by simplifying it after a devastating diagnosis in 2006. She’s the founder of bemorewithless.com and minimalist fashion challenge Project 333. Learn more from her new book Soulful Simplicity published December 26 by Penguin Random House. Carver shows us the power of simplicity to improve our health, build more meaningful relationships, and relieve stress in our professional and personal lives.
Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.
In the spring of 2013, a massive storm swept through Minneapolis that left thousands of trees ripped from the ground.
Roads across the city were blocked by decades-old giants that stood dozens of feet tall. I had never seen anything like it in the midwest.
That was one week before the sale closed on our first house.
A week later, on the day of the closing, we picked up the keys to our new home and excitedly drove over to check everything out. At that point, many of the fallen trees in our neighborhood had been chopped into neat piles on the lawn extension in front of the houses.
Having a two car garage at our new house (and only one car to put in it) had my head swirling around the possibilities of a wood shop in the other half of the garage. I love working with my hands and the idea of working with wood again felt exciting.
So about a block away from our house we pulled the car over and picked up this giant section of tree trunk. I figured it would be fun to make something out of it as it’s not exactly easy to get chunks of wood that big on a regular basis. Funny enough, you can see the closing documents on the front passenger seat in this photo.
People don’t buy products—they buy better versions of themselves.
Are you taking the False First Step?
I still remember getting the package.
It was a nondescript brown box, just like one that might show up on any other day. After I slid my fingers through the opening in the side, the packing tape popped apart, and the box opened to reveal my new sport watch and heart rate monitor band. My heart rate sped up a bit just from the excitement of the new purchase.
As a part of my recent fitness aspirations, I had decided to start running. To be honest, I hated running—always had—but those extra 20 pounds definitely needed to come off. And this time, I was serious. I knew that I just needed the right gear to get me started, and then it would be off to the races.
That’s why I was particularly excited about this delivery. The watch and monitor were all I needed to be accountable to myself and finally reach my health goals. I felt like I was already a runner now that I had the gear.
From 2010 until late 2013, I spent $12,000 on Amazon.com, buying more than 350 items. That’s about one item every four days for four years straight. It started after Amazon Prime was introduced and suddenly Earth’s Largest Selection was just one click away. A single click of the “Buy” button was all it took to get something magically delivered to my front porch in just 48 hours.
You would think $12,000 would buy some really high-quality, expensive stuff and experiences, right? I could’ve spent three or four months traveling the world, bought an old RV and toured the U.S. National Parks, or even provided funding to build part of a new home for orphans. In this case, the exact opposite was true.
With the exception of my MacBook Air for $950, and the $2,500 I spent for a camera, lenses, and accessories, most of my purchases were under $50.
That heart rate monitor? $50
A book on photography to go with my fancy new camera? $28
A calligraphy pen? $19
It was all just one click and two days away.
For four years, I impulsively chased the books, gadgets, and products that I thought would help me reach my goals. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was trying to become a better version of myself without really putting in the work to get there. I thought I was taking action when all I was really doing was taking out my credit card.
At some point along the line, I had been subconsciously convinced that a purchase was a valid action step. If I want to be a runner, buying a heart rate monitor is a step in the correct direction, right? Buying that monitor felt good. It was exciting, because I truly believed that I had taken a step toward a better, healthier me.
Then, two days later, the excitement would return as I opened the box to find my brand-new self staring up at me. Owning a heart rate monitor would definitely help me be a superb runner. Another rush of dopamine and a feeling of accomplishment would come over me as I examined my purchase, tried it on, and flipped through the manual. The new me was going to be so fit.
What’s Actually Happening When We Buy
This is what I call the False First Step: believing we’ve made a meaningful step toward a goal, when all we’ve actually done is spent money.
Over the next few days, I went on a couple runs with my new gear. I recorded my distance, kept my heart at a healthy 160 beats per minute, and tracked my pace per mile. I would deliberately check my heart rate at red lights so that the passing cars would notice me being a real, serious runner. After all, only serious athletes had this kind of equipment.
A few days later, I was sore. It was raining. I didn’t want to get my new gear wet (even though it was waterproof), so I took a day off. I took another day off. Then, I never wore that heart rate monitor again.
You might think that was bad enough but after that, I did something even worse. If only I had a new pair of running shoes, maybe running would be more fun and I’d get out there again and hit the pavement. So I ordered a pair of shoes—on sale! These shoes would definitely be the thing that got me out there running again. I decided to take a couple more days off running while I waited for them to arrive, which sounded logical because I was basically risking injury by running in my old pair now. Forty-eight hours later, when my new shoes arrived, however, I didn’t really feel like running then, either.
I’m still not a runner, years after those purchases. But while browsing Amazon shortly after, I found another book on photography that I got really excited about.
You can see where this is going.
The False First Step And The Twitch
The False First Step is just one of the many ways we can respond to something I’ve come to call the “Twitch.” At the core of it, a Twitch is a learned habit caused by a repeated cycle of a Trigger, Twitch, and Relief.
The trigger is the discomfort we feel when we desire something, feel guilty, lonely, insecure, or anxious, or a myriad of other reasons.
The Twitch is the unproductive, impulsive response to that discomfort—it is a False First Step, like hitting the one-click purchase button, checking social media to see how many likes your latest photo has, getting a notification, scrolling through the news feed, or eating a sugary snack. The relief is temporary resolve from the discomfort, usually accompanied by a good feeling from the reward center of the brain.
What all twitches have in common is that they are high-reward, low-effort actions—the Twitch feels really comfortable in the moment and takes almost no actual work to do. Over time, our brains develop an automatic response as we learn that we can get a quick dopamine release that takes us out of discomfort, if only temporarily.
Eventually, the Twitch becomes more of a physical response than a chosen action. I’d be willing to bet that if you have Facebook on your phone, you could open it without even opening your eyes. You know exactly what you need to do with the “Buy Now with 1-Click” button while checking out the new shoes you want.
Think about the last time you bought something that felt good to purchase. You might have used it a few times, then left it behind to collect dust or sit on a shelf. It might have been a new yoga mat with top-of-the-line moisture-wicking technology, a new grill for the backyard, or even a new book on an exciting topic you recently found out about.
We tend to buy these things because of the experiences we expect to have around them and who we expect ourselves to be with them, but the things themselves rarely cause those experiences to happen on their own. The purchase is actually driven by the discomfort we feel that we hope spending money will solve. It may be the discomfort of disconnection that drives us to want to spend more time with our family in the backyard. This pain or discomfort is resolved quickly by purchasing a new grill, thinking it will create that experience. For a while, the discomfort goes away until it bubbles up again for the same (or another) reason.
It may be the discomfort of being unhealthy, wanting to make a change in our lives, so we go online and buy something that makes us feel better. Really, we would actually feel better having just stepped outside and gone for a nice walk, or eaten a big bowl of mixed greens. But, those things take time and effort and they’re simply not as easy as hitting the purchase button or pulling out a smartphone for a quick fix—and that’s where the problem begins. Not all Twitches become False First Steps; the Twitch is simply one of the ways we respond to it.
Even if you think you’re completely clear of this phenomenon, it is likely that you’ve experienced it in everyday life. Each day you make hundreds of small decisions about what and what not to do and you’d be surprised to find the small actions that might feel good but don’t actually help you move forward.
What Was Your False First Step?
Buying yoga pants instead of doing yoga
Buying a laptop instead of writing that book you’ve been talking about
Buying new running shoes instead of walking around the block
Buying a new camera when you don’t use the one you already have
Perhaps you haven’t spent as much time and money as I have, or maybe you’ve spent more, but I bet you’re nodding your head right about now. And if you’ve ever been curious about how it happened, why, and whether it is possible to do better, keep reading. In this book, we’re going to look at the different ways the False First Step shows up in our lives, what we can do when it does, and how to “Break The Twitch” so we can consistently live in a way reflects our core values. It might feel like an uphill battle at first, but the payoff is greater than the effort required.
Ready to read more? Buy the Book on Amazon or via PayPal at this link.
Anthony’s Note: This is a guest post by Angela, from Setting My Intention, where she focuses on intentional change and developing healthy habits in the midst of daily life. Follow along with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Everyone loves a good story—especially when it involves a massive transformation.
I’m a sucker for those movie sequences where the main character transforms in front of our eyes and changes from down and out to downright prosperous.
Pretty Woman (I’m dating myself here).
If we’re honest with ourselves, we would love for some fairy godmother to come and wave a magic wand to transform some part of our lives. We desperately want a healthier body, a decluttered home, and loving relationships. We look at where we are today and where we want to be and the path looks waaaaayyy beyond what we can do on our own. We feel hopeless and continue living life the way we’ve always lived it.
What I didn’t know several years ago is that we all have a “magic wand” inside of ourselves to create the change we so desperately desire.
My Transformation Journey – the First Step
In 2012 I was working part-time. My two oldest sons were in school. My youngest son was home with me on my two days off. I felt lethargic and overwhelmed.
I really wanted to start exercising regularly, so I joined the YMCA. If I’m completely honest, the fact that they offered childcare was a huge motivating factor in that decision. I loved being able to spend time with my 3-year-old, but the days felt long with him, and I didn’t know how to prioritize my own needs with his.
Joining the YMCA and planning out my exercise classes for my days off and the weekends, gave me a schedule I needed in order to make exercise a part of my daily routine.
I learned through trial and error that the best time to go to the gym was right after I dropped off my older children from school. We were all in the car and already in motion. If we waited until later in the day, it often didn’t happen.
Exercise became part of my schedule. It was a given. It became a habit that had a reward wrapped up with the activity – a couple of hours by myself to break a sweat trying something new. The rush of endorphins (feel-good chemicals that your body produces when you exercise) made me feel great, and the loving child care that was offered relieved me from “mommy duties” for a couple of hours. It made me a more focused and loving mommy for the other 12 hours of the day.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Decluttering Negative Self Talk
I was 42 years old when I joined the YMCA. It was the first habit that I developed and stuck with as an adult. In October 2013 I ran my first 5K and then in May 2015 I ran my first 10-mile run called the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia.
Starting to run as part of my movement plan was a big step in decluttering negative thoughts. Whenever I heard people say they were runners, I would always reply, “Oh, I’m not a runner. I feel like I’m dying when I run.”
I also used to say to myself and others:
“Oh, I’m a night owl, not a morning person.”
“I’m not a disciplined person.”
“I can’t keep a regular quiet time in the morning.”
“I don’t do (fill in the blank).”
One of the first steps in our own transformation journeys is to stop putting ourselves in a box. Just because we haven’t done something in the past, does not mean we can’t do it in the future. Instead of limiting yourself, approach opportunities and your abilities with curiosity and experimentation.
When I joined the YMCA, I tried Zumba, Pilates, Piloxing, Kickboxing, Yoga, Strength training, HIIT, Spinning, and running on a treadmill. Most of these things I had never tried before.
Today, I’m not a member of the YMCA, but I’m grateful for that time because it offered me the opportunity to try new things in a welcoming environment. It helped me discover that I love yoga and running, which I continue to do every week.
Habit Begets Habit
Today I have a habit of decluttering, a morning routine habit, and a gratitude habit. It all started with my first step of exercising.
When I publish my monthly intentions on my blog, some readers comment how organized I am and productive. I’m always amazed at those comments when I think back to 2012 and how scattered and overwhelmed I felt.
Making the shift to develop one habit will lead to other life-changing habits. I started with exercise. Then I added a 5 minute morning routine. After that, I started decluttering our home.
All it takes is deciding to take action. It doesn’t have to be large. In fact, it shouldn’t.
Pick one area that you want to change and commit to one small step. You don’t have to join a gym to start moving – just take a daily 5-minute walk. Get rid of one thing from your house. Write one thing you’re grateful for.
Do that one step every day. When you miss a day, just start again the next day. My motto has been and always will be, “Progress, not Perfection.”
“To get through the longest journey we need take only one step at a time,
but we must keep on stepping.”
– Chinese Proverb
No Magic Wand Needed
It turns out we don’t need a fairy godmother to transform our own lives. What we need instead is a desire for change, a mindset of curiosity, and the decision to take small achievable steps daily. We have everything we need inside of our very own minds and bodies, no fairy dust required.
What small action step are you taking? If you’re further along in your transformation story, what was the first habit that you developed? Tell us in the comments!