In this presentation I explain my experience with Habit Tracker, and how it’s been such a surprisingly powerful tool for self-knowledge, personal development, and winning the game life!
Loop – Habit Tracker: www.loophabits.org
Jordan B Peterson, ‘Maps of Meaning’: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL22J3VaeABQAT-0aSPq-OKOpQlHyR4k5h
Darci Yoga Teacher: www.dyoga.com.au
Gamify Your Life: Self-Knowledge through Habit Tracker
by Sven –starFury– Löwe
How high does a tree grow?
So much dungeons and dragons, so many video game rpgs. Such was my life ages 15 to 25, the turn of the millenium, a golden age of gaming.
A misspent youth perhaps–or just rehearsing the epic.hiro’s journey?
Ten thousand hours thus invested and now it’s just how I’m wired, for better or worse, I understand the world in terms of levelling up. Of experience points gained, of skills and techniques acquired, of quests achieved.
But this is not LARPing, this is Real Life.
There’s No Extra Lives, No Save Point, this is Reality.
So what’s the aim of the game?
Get your name on that High Score table, of course.
At least in your division, for the hand you were dealt, for your own particular roll of the genetic dice, in your time and space.
Though ultimately we play against ourselves, and the game is personal development. Striving to be the best possible version of oneself. A life well-lived, rich in experience, perhaps even such that the world will be a better place for your having been in it.
And for me, self-knowledge is the way to achieve it.
Self-reflection, self-authoring, self-actualization. This is the work.
Answers to the question: who am I? and why ?
Who do I want to be?
What do I want to feel?
What do I want to achieve, to make, to have.
Remember: One Life.
What do u want yours to mean?
Anyway, such are the lofty ideals: the manifesting in reality of one’s own will, not in any mystic-magical sense, but simply making shit happen!
To be a force of nature, a freelance generator of awesome, transcendence, storming the godhead, rahhh!
All of which, of course, is easier said than done.
So we fail, we fall short, and we try again.
And the victory is in the overcoming of adversity, of rising when we fall. That, after all, is the hero’s journey.
Venturing into the unknown, outcome uncertain, risk balanced against reward.
But there be dragons. They guard the gold…
And that’s life: chasing the gold.
Chasing our goals. Be they grandiose or mundane, they’re still our goals.
They’re goals precisely because we don’t already have them, we may or may not achieve them, and the outcomes are to some degree dependant on ourselves.
Here enters Will Power, that elusive beast.
The application of will. The application of Self!
This is the essence of free-will, we compare reality to our own internally held ideal standards, and then take action to bring reality in line with them.
Incidentally, just as important as free-will is free-won’t, as being a slave to one’s impulses and compulsions is not freedom.
Freedom is that which increases choice.
So it becomes a question of how effectively are we able to apply ourselves to achieving our goals ?
And because the ten thousand hours of mastery can not come overnight (at least not until matrix-style knowledge transfers become reality), it’s our daily habits that have the greatest cumulative effect on our lives.
So we must cultivate habits that will lead us to long-term success.
Which brings me to my point, and the original inspiration for this video, which, at first, was just to share an awesome little tool that I discovered.
It’s called Habit Tracker (for Android), it’s function ought to be self-evident from it’s name. You create a habit to be tracked, every day you get to check it off as done–or not. Then, as you accumulate data over time, you get to geek out at a bunch of different ways of presenting that data.
It’s clean and simple, perfectly does what it sets out to do. It’s just one of those beautiful little pieces of software, and after using it for 4 months, I can’t really think of a way to make it better.
So technically sweet, sure, but what’s been surprising is how much of a motivational instrument it’s become in my life.
I think I can confidently say: I am a better person because of this app.
How? Because Habit Tracker is a concrete way to Know Thyself!
It’s a self-knowledge tool.
Now I’d like to give some context as to where I was in my life around the time when I started tracking habits.
I’d started to let some things slide.
Which, of course, is the nature of life. we get busy, priorities shift, we lose sight of those ideal standards we’d previously set for ourselves.
I like to call this the law of diminishing intent. but really, it’s just the human condition.
I wasn’t really exercising, I wasn’t eating well, I’d find myself seeking distraction, avoiding responsibilities, avoiding my emotions.
Of course these things tend to cluster, and, at that stage, it wasn’t anything super serious. But I noticed the whole empathy-for-future-self thing was definitely slipping.
And I’ve slipped before in my life.
It’s one of the advantages actually, to having been through such darkness, through depression, and, in my case, through some heavy drug addiction.
So I know the signs, indeed, am now acutely sensitive to them.
And that’s just a survival necessity, as I’ve had bad habits that could have nearly killed me…
And that’s the whole point of self-knowledge, to be sensitive enough to the changes in your life in order that you may act early.
What was called for was one of those periodical resets that we all need to do now and then, a realignment, a proclamation of and recommitment to ones goals.
Sometimes in life u just have to start again, with baby steps.
Because at that particular point in my life, I didn’t really have any good habits other than working hard in my business, and trying to be an awesome father and partner.
I really felt I had to start from scratch. So far from the lofty ideals of the Nietzschian Ubermensch, sure enough the first habits I started tracking seem trivial now. But u gotta start somewhere.
My first habit was called “lymph.”
Simply lie on the ground with your legs up a wall forming a right-angle. This helps drain the lymphatic system, and is just generally beneficial for the circulation. It’s also good for me as I spend a lot of the day on my feet, have been historically prone to back and neck pain. Inverting the body is helpful.
It can be done in 5 minutes as a good way to wind down just before bed, so it’s very hard to make an excuse for, regardless of what kind of day you’ve had.
My second habit was called “3 squats.”
A basic core strength exercise. Hold a squat for 45 seconds (or however long), do this 3 times over the course of the day. Easy to accomplish, can be done while working or wherever, very little options in terms of excuses.
And that’s how the ball got rolling again, with the smallest possible standard for success. And it’s true, they are trivial, but that’s the point.
Because at first what you’re really practicing is the starting of things.
With so many things in life it’s just beginning the thing that proves the greatest challenge, but then, once begun, it’s as if the follow thru just takes care of itself.
By accomplishing such relatively trivial things we begin to train our muscle of will-power, small victories give self-confidence through which we can build momentum as we work up to bigger victories.
It’s the meta-practice of practicing the art of practice!
So after a few weeks of that I’d started spontaneously doing a bit of yoga, and my “3 squats” habit was upgraded to “yoga/physical.”
Most often this will be a set of yoga sun salutations and warrior poses. But it can also be pushups/pullups/planks, or a session on my climbing wall, or maybe it happens to be a family beach day and I’ll do battle against the waves until I’m exhausted. This morning I went on a big bushwalk with my daughter and ended up carrying her for a long time and decided to push myself up some big hills.
I intentionally keep the criteria loose, as it’s more about consciously engaging one’s will-power and every day doing something, than any one particular exercise.
Around this time I also discovered Wim Hof aka The Iceman.
So I started tracking my breathing exercises and cold exposure training.
And so, with this handful of physical habits I’m doing something to maintain or improve, every day, my cardiovascular and circulatory system (through the breathing and cold exposure), my posture thru the squats and leg inversion, and my general strength & mobility through the yoga.
But what I’m really training here are the meta-mind-muscles called Deferral of Gratification & Empathy for Future-Self, and I’m trusting they’ll do a great job of maintaining the efficient functioning of the meat robot vessel that is “I”…
Physical aspect thus taken care of, I moved on to higher realms, and, for the first time in my life, I’ve really put my mind to properly trying meditation.
Again I set my criteria for success somewhere achievable: just taking 5 minutes of a day to calm my otherwise constantly racing mind, sitting still, seeking centeredness (whatever that may mean), and just consciously breathing, and being present in my body.
Now, essential to an effective propulsion system is to have both something to move toward, and something to move away from. It’s the carrot and the stick.
So I’ve also been tracking some bad habits from the beginning, specifically:
Over the past year I somehow got into the habit of buying iced-coffees once a week or so. No big deal, right? But because I’ve never been a coffee drinker in my life, I have zero tolerance to caffeine and it smashes me, and if I consume any kind of caffeine after 2pm, it’s pretty much ensured that I won’t be sleeping before midnight. As someone with quite a bit of experience with hardcore stimulants, it always amazes me just how potent caffeine is physiologically, and yet it’s such a socially acceptable drug.
In any case, it’s another dependency, and something that i don’t want to need.
Shit food: basically any time I succumb to junk food (usually on PhilosoBros Pizza & Beer nights)
I track my self-medication habits, ie. vaping.
Also: masturbation… (o_O ~blush~)
Then there’s a couple of miscellaneous maintenance habits: flossing & oil pulling.
Again, by accomplishing the easy stuff consistently, we’re building momentum.
Most recently I’ve added:
Writing: which is any journalling, or article writing, or for instance me writing this very script you’re reading now.
And business meeting.
My partner and I run our own business, and we’re learning (gradually) how to work ON our business instead of just IN our business, this being what separates the entrepreneur from a worker.
Check us out here: ActivEarthFood.com.au
And use the voucher ‘TRR10’ for 10% off =) ∞ <3
Finally, the pinnacle (as of today at least) of my Habit Tracking escapades, I’m calling Manon Touch.
Manon is my partner, love of my life, mother of my child, all that good stuff.
By the way, she makes excellent parenting content on her YouTube channel, Mama Manon.
A friend of ours, who’d also been in business with their partner, gave us some advice once, she said “do something fun together every day!” I often think on that, but only ever in the sense that we’re so far from it.
So this habit is about consciously making time to connect with Manon, to stop, even if just for five minutes, the constant rushing from one task to another that is our lives, and just focus on, and be with her. That could be as simple as asking her how her day was… and really listening! Offering to give her a massage, or light a candle when we have dinner. Just some little expression of my love and gratitude to her, so that she doesn’t just know that I’m here for her, but that she feels it too.
Being connected with her makes every other thing we do together better, and this is important as we do pretty much everything together!
So that’s it, that’s where i’m at!
And guess what? It’s working! And I couldn’t be making this video otherwise, I just wouldn’t be organized, or motivated, or energetic enough!
What is it about making a little check mark in a box?
How does such a simple act become a source of motivation?
One way I think of it is that checking a box is the smallest conceivable amount of accountability. In the sense that, if you’ve got a boss and he tells you to do something, you’ll be hearing about it if you don’t.
So every day I have this self-imposed obligation to open Habit Tracker, acknowledge the goals I’ve set for myself, and declare whether or not I’ve acted on them. It’s a way of generating personal responsibility, holding oneself to account, and training will power.
In another sense, Habit Tracker confers a literal kind of count-ability.
One of the ways in which habit tracker presents your data is by counting your longest consecutive streaks, ie. a habit checked off X days-in-a-row.
Apparently Jerry Seinfeld used to do something like this, he decided he wanted to work on his writing & comedy every single day, so he opted for the low-tech expedient of a calendar on the wall and a big fat marker, or so the story goes. He called this strategy “Don’t Break the Chain.”
This is a great way of building momentum, because once I’ve done say 3-4 or 5 days in a row of a given habit, my inherently competitive nature kicks in and now I’m trying to break my previous record streak (High Score tables, remember?).
Which is something I’ve been doing all my life.
My earliest clear memory of something like this may have been as young as 10. Walking home from primary school there’d always be plenty of rolled-up newspapers lying around on peoples front yards, I’d play this game with myself of counting rotations in half-spin increments, seeing how high I could get.
And this sort of thing has never stopped.
Whether it was juggling a soccer ball or hacky sack, doubling exponentials in my head, hitting trickjumps & railgun in Quake, my fire-dancing…
Always with this internally generated motivation: how many in a row could I do?
It’s how i’m wired: Life as Game.
It’s a self-knowledge thing. To know who you really are, and then exploit your strengths.
I got really good at games (15 years on I’d still destroy 95% of people in any (mouse&keyboard-based) first-person shooter you’d care to mention–#QuakeForLife!)
So if I know I’m good at games, if I know they motivate me, then why not gamify my life?
And indeed there’s another habit-tracking app that’s taken this very idea and run with it.
In Habitica your checked off habits literally give you experience points and gold, with which you level up a little avatar and buy gear for him. What’s more, it’s a full social network so you get to team up with your friends, go on quests with them, and if you haven’t been checking off your habits then you’ll be hearing from your friends about it.
Such a genius way of generating accountability!
It’s also one of the reasons I’m making this video, by putting this on YouTube for anyone to see, I’m telling the maximum number of people about my goals, I’m telling the world “hey, building good habits is essential to a quality life!”, but really i’m talking as much to myself as I am to you out there.
This is a message to my subconscious!
It’s a public declaration of my beliefs in the same sense as when James and I make a video about parenting. By communicating our ideals publicly and with conviction, we give ourselves strength so that when parenting gets challenging, as it inevitably will, we’ll be more likely to remember those ideals for which we strive.
This brings me to an important idea, that of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation.
Are we driven by our own internal motivation?
Or must we rely on external approval and recognition to drive us?
Do we need some outside entity to push us to do the right things?
This question has an almost religious flavour to it.
Are we good because of god? And fear the punishment of hell or desire the reward of heaven.
Or are we good because we ourselves want to be good?
It’s a deep question.
I’ve been working my way through the Jordan Peterson ‘Maps of Meaning’ lectures (which I recommend most highly!).
Peterson might point out just how much we’re embedded in larger systems, and that it might actually be functionally impossible to even talk of the self except in relationship to our greater social context.
While it’s true we’re all individuals, our value structures are almost exclusively derived from the culture we happen to be born into, and so many of our true emotions are buried deep in the unconscious.
What, after all, is the distinction between internal and external when we all have little models of other people in our heads approving or disapproving of the things we do?
Peterson also emphasizes the narrative nature of consciousness, he talks about a narrative as being a way of getting from here to there, hence maps of meaning.
Because at the end of the day we’re all just telling stories in our head, and the stories we tell ourselves either serve us, or they don’t.
So I try to invest my life with meaning, I try to frame my reality in such a way that I know to inspire me. And if gaining levels helps me live my life more effectively, then so be it, for this directly translates to more quality time spent with my family, to more time devoted to my passions. This is winning life–onwards & upwards!
Finally, the last thing I want to mention is that the point of this app is to make itself unnecessary. It’s simply a tool to use until the desired habit has been firmly established, in the same sense that there’s no need for crutches after the broken leg is healed, nor the scaffolding once the building has been built.
That said, there’s no end to the growth that is possible.
After all, how high does a tree grow?
As high as it can.
And you can too.