Tuesday Tool: Spaced Repetition, Spaced Repetition, Spaced Repetition

One of my intentions for 2018 was to take up language learning again – and this was one area of self-improvement in which I fully expected to fail spectacularly!

Ever since school, languages have been something I presumed I was inherently “bad” at, and in that typical ego protecting fashion, which we can all be prone to engage in, I shied away from them in the last ten years to avoid feeling stupid.

In my exploration and openness to all things personal development in the last year though, at one point about three months ago, I sat down and identified some lapsed skills that I wanted to reintroduce into my life in 2018, and languages were high on the list.

My desire was driven partially out of embarrassment at the lack of effort I have made in the past, partially out of a desire to be able to speak Italian with my wife, and partially just for the hell of it as it is a cool sounding language.

Obviously, having attempted learning the “normal” way via school, I wasn’t keen to sit down with my head in grammar and noun books, getting frustrated. So, after a bit of research, I came across a book called Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget it, that promised to make language learning fun again…

In the book, I was introduced to Spaced Repetition Systems. Which I was vaguely aware of and will probably write about again, but having never really tried them out with any seriousness all I can say is: WOW – they are life-changing.

Since early Jan, and using just the first 15 minutes of my commute, I have used Anki to teach myself 750+ words in Italian, and I am now putting together my first sentences, using the same system.

The next step in my plan is to start immersing myself in the language by watching Italian films, increase comprehension using phrase cards that I will make and revise through Anki and, eventually, become fluent enough to start practicing in conversation with people I know who speak the language.

Anyway, if you are unfamiliar with Spaced Repetition Systems and you have some knowledge that you want to learn efficiently, I highly recommend you research it – and if languages are your thing, in particular, I cannot recommend the book Fluent Forever, highly enough.

Tuesday Tool: The True Value of Early Rising – and How to Do It using an App

Today I am going to outline how I used my AITMR method (Analyse, Identify, Tweak, Measure, Repeat) to change my entire life by changing one simple thing: the time I got out of bed.

This method is useful for many things, but this example also happens to be, in my opinion, THE most important part of becoming a person you are proud to be. Enabling you to engage with life fully.

Until around ten months ago my morning routine looked like this:

1. Wake up at 7.45 or 8.00
2. Struggle to get out of bed because I went to bed too late
3. Rush to get ready
4. Throw myself out the door
5. Cram onto a busy commuter train
6. Stumble into work at 9 am (maybe) tired, cranky and irritable

My routine now looks like this – mostly:

1. Wake up between 5.00 and 6.00, depending on time to bed that was possible (this morning I got up at 5.15 as I went to bed at 9.45)
2. Have time to make my coffee and breakfast while listening to some non-fiction audio as I wake up fully
3. Do 15 to 30mins of Yoga
4. Do 20mins of Meditation
5. Get ready at a relaxed pace, and in good time to get an early bus/tube
6. Spend 10 to 15mins on bus and tube ride using an SRS (Spaced Repetition System) [currently Italian]
7. Get to work by 8 am so I have an hour to do my gratitude journal, philosophical reflection and some non-fiction or fiction writing – as well as relax before the day begins

How did I do this? Did I become some sort of motivational superhuman all of a sudden?

No. Sadly not!

I realised something 12 months ago, or more accurately, I realised it again for the umpteenth time:

My life was messy, I was a chronic procrastinator (I always have been), and as a result I wasn’t doing 90% of what I regularly claimed I wanted to do with my personal time.

After recovering from the familiar panic this repeat-realisation induced, and rather than make lots of vague and sweeping promises to myself to be better as I had attempted and failed many times before, I decided to tackle my existential crisis as I would a systemic problem in work.

I resolved to try to use the AITMR method that I devised (and probably stole unconsciously) to: analyse the issue in detail, identify points of high-potential for change (inflexion points), tweak one of those things, measure it over time, repeat as needed.

Basically, rather than make broad changes, I chose to first look for a single inflexion point in my personal life, that is to say, one very specific thing in my life that, if I could just change it, could radically shift the curve of my personal progress on goals out of its decline.

After some journaling (the best method of self-analysis), it didn’t take me long to realise what that obvious point could be:

 

ANALYSE:

I realised, after some reflection, that every day, my cognitive journey was as follows:

1: Get up Tired and Unmotivated
2: Wake up as the day passed and got motivated to do something in the evening
3: Have all my energy and willpower drained by 8+ hours of work
4: Get home and abandon my plans due to exhaustion
5: Go to bed late after wasting the evening with “relaxing” things like gaming and TV
6: Repeat the whole cycle the next day.

And that I was, therefore, wasting my time trying to “get things done” in the evening, by which time I was inapable of mustering the motivation in spite of all my high-minded intentions during the day.

I just didn’t have any willpower left in the tank to get anything done by then.

 

IDENTIFY:

I suspected that although I considered myself to be a “night-owl,” that I was, in reality, giving all of my high-willpower, high-productivity hours to work, which meant I was really just a night-sloth.

Now, I’m not disparaging using the evening solely for relaxation. This is fine if you have no personal ambitions, or if your job fulfils those desires for you. But I did and do have personal ambitions that my work does not fulfil, so it just wasn’t good enough for me.

Clearly, if the evenings were of no productive use to me, I needed to make time in the morning to pursue my own goals – but how?

Get up earlier.

Easier said than done for a recalcitrant late-riser.

 

TWEAK:

I have a problem with alarms. Namely, the snooze button. I will snooze until a minute after I needed to be up and out of bed. Then panic.

After some research, I discovered something interesting that I decided could do the trick: Alarms that force you to get out of bed to turn them off.

A simple and brilliant tweak that short-circuits a bad habit, as once you are out of bed and put your coffee on, there is little reason to go back (assuming you went to bed on time).

I promptly downloaded one of these apps (Alarmy on Android) – and also bought a cheap fitness band with an alarm function (Mi-Band).

The former was to force/motivate me into getting up. The latter was to wake me just before the unignorable alarm so that I had a chance to get up without the prompt, training myself. And also to avoid waking my wife!

The alarm, which I have used largely successfully ever since, requires that I go scan the washing up liquid in my kitchen. Beside which I now keep my B-Vitamins so that I always remember to take them (2-birds with one stone).

 

MEASURE:

I have a spreadsheet, that I will discuss some other time, on which I track many data points about myself. I had just started this at the time, so I added a column for Time to Bed, and Time Woke Up. With a simple Success/Fail metric – as in:

Bed before 10:30pm = Success

Up by 6:30am (my initial goal) = Success

Tracking my progress in this way let me see, very quickly, that I was getting up earlier more often.

But as I also tracked the things I was doing with that extra time on the sheet, I could see my TV and Game usage dropped massively over the course of a year (I wouldn’t be bothered gaming at 6:30am, unlike in the evenings), and also that my Meditation and Yoga started happening, daily.

 

REPEAT:

Seeing the progress I had made was a HUGE motivator, not only to continue with the practice but also to tweak it further.

Slightly earlier bedtime, slightly earlier wake up.

Over the course of a year I have trained myself to consistently, and usually happily, get up at an average time of 5:30 am.

Bed time is still tricky, partially due to bad behaviour on my part, but also due to work and to socialise. I will talk about this again as I strive to improve the situation through future tweaks.

 

RESULT:

I am now, closing in on a year later, to my utter shock and surprise, an eager, bright eyed and bushy tailed morning person. This is after 15+ years (I’m 31) of being a self professed “night-owl” – which I am starting to think is really just the codeword for being unexceptional in our electrically charged 24hr society where you need to work through the middle of the day (for the most part, job dependent), and wherein are then encouraged to spend (or squander) your free time consuming entertainment before pouring yourself into bed.

So, the next time you are struggling with large amorphous life issues, rather than try to tackle them holistically, why not try the AITMR method or something similar.

Try to identify that one thing you need to change for the better, and get tweaking. You might be surprised by how far-reaching the results could be.

And… GET TO BED EARLIER!

Be honest with yourself: You are not doing anything useful past 9 pm anyway.