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The barriers to the task

-7 Post author: Elo 18 August 2016 07:22AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-barriers-to-the-task/

For about two months now I have been putting in effort to run in the mornings.  To make this happen, I had to take away all the barriers to me wanting to do that.  There were plenty of them, and I failed to leave my house plenty of times.  Some examples are:

Making sure I don't need correct clothes - I leave my house shirtless and barefoot, and grab my key on the way out.  

Pre-commitment to run - I take my shirt off when getting into bed the night before, so I don't even have to consider the action in the morning when I roll out of bed.

Being busy in the morning - I no longer plan any appointments before 11am.  Depending on the sunrise (I don't use alarms), I wake up in the morning, spend some time reading things, then roll out of bed to go to the toilet and leave my house.  In Sydney we just passed the depths of winter and it's beginning to get light earlier and earlier in the morning.  Which is easy now; but was harder when getting up at 7 meant getting up in the dark.  

There were days when I would wake up at 8am, stay in bed until 9am, then realise if I left for a run (which takes around an hour - 10am), then came back to have a shower (which takes 20mins - 10:20), then left to travel to my first meeting (which can take 30mins 10:50).  That means if anything goes wrong I can be late to an 11am appointment.  But also - if I have a 10am meeting I have to skip my run to get there on time.

Going to bed at a reasonable hour - I am still getting used to deciding not to work myself ragged.  I decided to accept that sleep is important, and trust to let my body sleep as long as it needs.  This sometimes also means that I can successfully get bonus time by keeping healthy sleep habits.  But also - if I go to sleep after midnight I might not get up until later, which means I compromise my "time" to go running by shoving it into other habits.

Deciding where to run - google maps, look for local parks, plan a route with the least roads and least traffic.  I did this once and then it was done.  It was also exciting to measure the route and be able to run further and further each day/week/month.

What's in your way?

If you are not doing something that you think is good and right (or healthy, or otherwise desireable) there are likely things in your way.  If you just found out about an action that is good, well and right and there is nothing stopping you from doing it; great.  You are lucky this time - Just.Do.It.

If you are one of the rest of us; who know that:

  • daily exercise is good for you
  • The right amount of sleep is good for you
  • Eating certain foods are better than others
  • certain social habits are better than others
  • certain hobbies are more fulfilling (to our needs or goals) than others

And you have known this a while but still find yourself not taking the actions you want.  It's time to start asking what is in your way.  You might find it on someone else's list, but you are looking for the needle in the haystack.  

You are much better off doing this (System 2 exercise):

  1. take 15 minutes with pencil and paper.
  2. At the top write, "I want to ______________".
  3. If you know that's true you might not need this step - if you are not sure - write out why it might be true or not true.
  4. Write down the barriers that are in the way of you doing the thing.  think;
    • "can I do this right now?" (might not always be an action you can take while sitting around thinking about it - i.e. eating different foods)
    • "why can't I just do this at every opportunity that arises?"
    • "how do I increase the frequency of opportunities?"
  5. Write out the things you are doing instead of that thing.
    These things are the barriers in your way as well.
  6. For each point - consider what you are going to do about them.


  • What actions have you tried to take on?
  • What barriers have you encountered in doing so?
  • How did you solve that barrier?
  • What are you struggling with taking on in the future?

Meta: this borrows from the Immunity to Change process, that can be best read about in the book, "right weight, right mind".  It also borrows from CFAR style techniques like resolve cycles (also known as focused grit), hamming questions, murphy-jitsu.

Meta: this took one hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nuq

Comments (5)

Comment author: MrMind 18 August 2016 07:52:02AM 2 points [-]

I love the term murphy-jitsu :D

The environmental influence to our psyche is luckily gaining attention in the mainstream, and we get more and more advice on how to overcome habits challenges modifying what we are sourrounded by.

Unfortunately some challenges are much more difficult than others, and I find that often the harder to overcome are those related to food: food is used as social lubricant almost everywhere, and it's a rare occasion those where you can avoid eating like crap.

Comment author: WalterL 18 August 2016 03:59:00PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for this post man. Good advice.

Comment author: Elo 20 August 2016 04:36:22PM -2 points [-]

I am curious as to whether you have tried the exercise (which is information if yes or if no). And if not - what kind of reasoning you could be used on yourself to convince you to actually try to do the exercise and reap the benefits of the result. (I don't mean to complain at you, or to accuse you at all, I am wondering about how to convince people to take action not just talk about taking action)

Comment author: WalterL 20 August 2016 08:59:10PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I've tried to exercise as part of my weight loss strategy. Jogging, in particular, has been clutch. Putting out the stuff I was going to need the night before, not scheduling anything for running time...all the usual stuff was essential in pulling it off.

Comment author: Elo 20 August 2016 10:33:50PM -2 points [-]

Just to be clear:

You tried to jog but found barriers and this description of barrier-breakdown system is what you did to solve it previously?


you wanted to jog and couldn't work out why it isn't working and used this system to go through the problem and sort it out?


you borrowed from the object level examples and solved your problems like that?


This object-level example was exactly your problem and you solved it yourself but that is a good outline of the solution.