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Andy Brett running

As I write this, my cofounder (aka the Bee in Beeminder) is off running a 195-mile, 12-person relay race from Mt Hood to the Oregon coast, so tonight’s emergency blog post is up to me. I’m going to tell (part of) the story of how we keep getting ourselves into predicaments like running up and down steep things in the middle of the night.

A year ago we were reading Andy Brett’s race report — 62 miles and not a relay. We like to think we’re hardcore but we’re pretty soft compared to Andy. Anyway, Bee suggested that epic endurance events train mental discipline and that Andy’s hacktastic awesomeness is evidence of this theory. (It’s also evidence for the “awesome people are awesome” theory, but the causality isn’t actually important here.)

It led to a flurry of “we should” statements about epic endurance events, which is when I had a lightbulb moment that’s been serving me pretty well ever since. I can present it as a trigger-action plan or life recipe, or simply as a habit to condition yourself with:

IF I say “I/we should do X” THEN I take some immediate action that gets me slightly closer to X happening.

Any tiny action is allowed, even “I’ll send an email now so we don’t forget.” I think of it as the anti-resolution resolution. As in, don’t just resolve to do things or make things happen, make them more likely, right now.

Being lazy, this self-imposed rule often has a different effect, which is to make me catch myself about to say “I should X” and instead rephrase it as “It might be a good idea to do X but…” and then list the costs or downsides. I feel like this is still a win, if only because it makes me feel less guilty about all the things I “should” be doing but aren’t.

It almost goes without saying that a good default immediate action is creating a Beeminder goal.


But here are some specific examples that don’t just involve creating a Beeminder goal:

  • “We should run a marathon sometime” → Find one later in the season and email a few friends about it.
  • “Let’s be better about keeping the house clean” → Find a commitment device, like hosting a weekly meetup that will have a side effect of shaming you into tidying.
  • “We should host a weekly meetup” → Send an email to a relevant mailing list proposing it.
  • “I need to write more code” → Solve a Project Euler problem.
  • “I should blog about X” → Email yourself some notes or work it into today’s daily beemail.

I’m worried this sounds vacuous, like “just do things and be awesome”. But the idea is to take some action, no matter how tiny, as a conditioned response to hearing yourself state an intention. Cultivate an aversion to saying “I should…” and then sitting there like an idiot failing to follow through.

Epilogue: Mmmm… Dogfood…

The discussion above about hardcore endurance events and my anti-resolution resolution occurred in our developer chatroom. Aaron Parecki chimed in (ironically or not, I’m not sure) with “you should blog that”. My response was that I guess I should and my immediate action would be to dump a transcript of the whole conversation on an etherpad with a #blogideas tag. And the rest is history.