The Sixth Habit and Ultradian Limit
Episode #6 of the course Multihabit: A radical new approach to habit-tracking by John Robin
Welcome back to the course!
So far, we’ve worked on how to manage 5 habits, and at this point we’ve explored the Pareto threshold of 20% and how it defines the “professional habits” category.
But there’s more to discover still, as we explore what happens upon adding a 6th habit.
Discovering Your Sixth Habit
At this point in the course, you might be feeling one of two ways:
• Enthusiastic to find your 6th habit
• Scared by the idea of going beyond 5
For this reason, I’ve made sure that going forward, you can either use the lessons to continue following our group as we add habits, or else just take what you’ve learned in lessons 1-5 to improve how you practice your most important habits.
It’s worth highlighting: If you can hit 20% of your time tracked on single-focus habits that get you 80% of your desired results, then you’re doing great!
But there are unexpected benefits from tracking more than 20% of your time. So, you can either continue with us, or just learn the habit-management principles we discover as you follow our progress.
As our group now considered how to add another habit, we were starting to gain more awareness of our time on a granular level.
Specifically, tracking percentage breakdowns in the spreadsheet, we became aware of how our habits tended to vary by percentage points.
For example, the difference between writing for 2% of my time vs 3% is 14 mins/day. I realized if I wanted to increase writing time, that amounted to spending 14 minutes more per day on writing.
With this in mind, I realized throughout my day the time I’m not tracking yet as a single-focused habit could be thought of as percentage points. 14 minutes here, 14 minutes there. It made me curious to investigate how I’m spending my time and what other habits I might define, then track.
For this reason, as we considered what our 6th habit could be, we didn’t just consider one habit. We thought about several things we spend our time on, after we factored out the 5 habits we’d picked so far.
Examples for me were:
• Watching TV
• Playing Duolingo
• Meal prep
I saw possibilities everywhere, as did Joe, Mary, Rod, and Susan.
My discovery: Generalizing habit activities.
For my 6th habit, I picked my journaling habit.
Like my workout habit, I’d never actually tracked this time. I just did it every day, built around a meditation practice I’ve been working on for 5 years. I never miss a day. Even if I’m out late and have to scramble to get to bed, I’ll put in my journal time.
But I was seeing the power of “what gets measured gets managed”, and learning to think in this granular 1% = 14 minutes fashion.
However, instead of calling my habit “journaling”, I called it “reflection” since I wanted to put my meditation / visualization / and journaling all together. This proved very helpful because it saved me having to scramble to fit in other components that are intimately tied to my journaling.
A very important lesson can be learned here in this.
We have seen in our new take on habits throughout this course that spending time on each one can be thought of like a meditation session. You generally don’t spend just 2 minutes meditating. Usually, you try for a minimum of 10-20 minutes.
Put differently: you shoot for at least 1% of your time.
For a habit, generalize it, if you can, to get in 1% or more. Remember the main point of defining a habit and training yourself to use a count-up timer is to develop single-pointed focus on that habit for a significant period of time.
For example, “brush teeth” is not a good habit name because it only takes a few minutes a day. “Hygiene” would be a better habit name because it involves showering, brushing teeth, and all aspects of self-care. You could even include making the bed with that, since there is a mental wellness aspect to hygiene.
I did exactly this with “reflection”. But I also found when I hit the “reflection” timer, I felt differently about my journal and meditation habits. I felt like I’d entered a formal time where, mentally, my attention is on all things related to this new “reflection” habit.
In a strange sort of way, here was me applying this single-pointed meditation trick to my meditation-related habits themselves!
The point here is, while “reflection” is on, I’m not checking email. I’m not checking text messages. I’m not working on a book. I’m immersed in “reflection” and everything related to that. Any distractions can wait until later.
What about our other friends?
It turns out here that everyone influenced each other a little.
My use of “reflection” reminded Mary that she had a journaling habit she spent time on regularly. She added a “journaling” habit and decided to track it.
On the other hand, Rod liked Mary’s idea of tracking “spider solitaire” and decided to start a “video game” habit. Joe also liked my “reflection” habit and, in fact, asked me more about it, and when I explained, he liked the idea of setting aside some time every day to journal and analyze his progress.
Susan’s wisdom: Ultradian rhythms and habit grouping.
Susan decided to make “Duolingo” her 6th habit.
If you’re not familiar with Duolingo, it’s a free language-learning app which delivers short 5-minute lessons.
Actually, Susan had a bit of a guilty confession.
She pretty much had Duolingo open all day on her computer and, whenever she would have a tough time studying, would start on another language drill. The first thing Susan noticed when she added “Duolingo” as her 6th habit, was that having to pause and resume her count-up timer made her more aware how often she was switching between her “homework” or “studying” habits to jump into her “Duolingo” habit.
Having a “Duolingo” habit now made Susan aware of how this habit was a great way to take a mental break. It made her aware her attention span is about 90-100 minutes.
This has some scientific basis. Studies done on attention span have shown we are regulated by an ultradian rhythm. This is a cycle of about 80-100 minutes, during which attention peaks and then declines.
When training ourselves to develop single-pointed concentration on one given habit at a time, there is a limit to this. And it’s approximately the 80-100-minute cycles of the ultradian rhythm.
Susan’s problem before wasn’t Duolingo. It was that she was pushing and pushing until her attention was gone, and then the only way to break the brain fog was with a desperate escape to some gamified distraction.
Notice that for our whole group of 5 in today’s lesson, no one added a professional habit, and everyone instead simply looked at other domains of their life and how they spent their time to see which one could come under the microscope next.
Let’s see where the 7th habit will take us. Stay tuned!
Your next spreadsheet
Tracking 6 Habits • 2 Weeks • Group of 5 (See first tab for instructions)
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