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Ask HN: What is the one habit that you adopted and it changed your life?
79 points by gymshoes on Oct 25, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments
For me, it is working out everyday, no matter how tired I feel. the tiredness goes away as soon as I enter the gym.

Regular meditation. Specifically, transcendental meditation in my case. I'm sure other forms can offer equivalent benefits. I committed to twenty minutes, twice a day. It made no demands on me besides the time, and so I could just sit down and do it no matter how my mind or body were feeling. Some days I sink deeply into it, some days less so. But with the regularity and commitment, I never needed to be anxious about which day would go which way.

It became an anchored daily practice that I could start hanging other practices on. If I wanted to develop some other focus or habit, I could just plan to do it before or after a meditation session. And that regularity gave me space for really intentional skills building and habit development, which I had always struggled with.

It also meant I had two anchors in my day where my mood and mind and body could find some kind of center. Again, the precise impact wasn't the same everyday, but it provided a check against things spiraling away like they sometimes can.

And then the other lovely benefit is that it left me needing less sleep at night. I don't nap during my meditations (or very rarely, anyway) but they seem to provide an early down payment against my sleep needs, and so I ended up ahead on total waking time. For 40 minutes of meditation spread throughout the day, my night time sleep needs dropped by an hour or two. It took me a while to realize this had happened, but it did and research seems to confirm the phenomenon. I'm not a Type-A Go Go Go person, but it's nice to have a little extra time in my days!

That's interesting. I'd like to learn how to do transcendental meditation. Could you please site some good references for me to learn how to do it?

It's the first time I've heard of TM, and having experienced some benefits from more traditional meditation in the past, I was curious.

So I ran into this document, which offers a comprehensive introduction into TM: http://minet.org/Documents/TM-FAQ .

Later edit:

My personal unqualified opinion on the matter: too much involvement of religion and bullshit in this program. While there is a scientific basis to the benefits of meditation, TM is not the most direct and straightforward way to reaching that, as it seems to be organized more as a money-making machine than as a non-profit for helping people.

Personally, meditation has helped me a lot in getting rid of anxiety, letting go of a lot of worries and stress, and simply having a better mental well-being, and with that comes a higher level of cognitive performance and general effectiveness. But I haven't stuck to a habit of focusing the attention towards breathing or anything like that, although I've practiced many forms. At this point it is simply a set of thought patterns, when I notice that I'm in an undesirable mental state, I simply breath, and let go, in a sort-of automatic fashion. This may be something entirely different from meditation, but I think it's a result of that practice.

For a while I've actually considered meditation to be counter-productive. In most matters, if something is causing you stress and worry, there's an evolutionary purpose in that stress and worry, and namely it's pushing you to solve the problem that's at the cause of it. Meditation in a way relaxes that push for solving the issue, that stubbornness, and also helps you let go of desires and wishing the world was in a certain way. It has the effect of making you more grateful and accepting of the state of things. But of course, there are some people for whom this stress and worry is kicked into overdrive by small things, and getting rid of that effect provides an immense benefit to their well-being and productivity, and I count myself to that group. But still, I think meditation is great in moderation, like most things.

Technically, you can only learn it through the TM organization. They have centers in most major cities around the world. They price the training differently in different markets. Honestly, the big advantage of learning it through them is that by paying them a non-trivial amount of money you put some "skin in the game". For most people, it encourages them to stick with it and derive that value back out through practice, when they might slack off with something they just learned about for free. It's the sunk cost fallacy put to good use.

That said, there are some teachers who have taken TM practice and taught it privately (even though you agree not to do that). These teachers usually adopt a different name for their practice and avoid mentioning TM directly. They may be a little cheaper, but still give you that "skin in the game" effect.

There are also some people who have "leaked" the practice for free online. I don't have any of those in front of me, but the ones I've read do describe the practice reasonably. Whether you can commit yourself to practicing without an instructor to confirm your effort and clear up any ambiguities is another matter.

And if you happen to be young, the David Lynch Foundation supports programs to teach it for free to children. I have no idea if there's access to it outside of the schools they've partnered with.

Ultimately though, TM worked for me, but there are plenty of meditation techniques out there and in vogue. If TM proves to be hard for you to learn the way you need to learn (cost, access, whatever), do look for other styles and options! Meditation is great!

Where do you fit these meditations into your day? If I wanted to do this I don't know the optimal time. In the morning before work, and in the evening before bed?

I do the first one as literally the first thing in my morning, before coffees or breakfasts or showers or anything else.

The second is definitely the tougher one to find time for. Since I work independently, remotely, and on a lot of different things, I don't keep a regular daily schedule. But I usually aim to fit the second session in at the end of my "workday" -- making it part of the transition from workday focus to evening focus (whatever that is).

Worst case, I do it in the late evening before bed. (Per TM tradition,) I try not to do it right before sleeping, but maybe before some final reading or TV or straightening up.

Making exercise a priority rather than an option. Before this, exercise was pretty much the last priority because it's the thing I wanted to do least. If there was any reason not to exercise, I used it as an excuse. Now, rather than saying I'll workout after hanging with friends, I say I'll hang with friends after my workout. I'll still usually miss a day (sometimes two) per week, but before I made it a priority I was lucky to exercise once or twice a week.

Getting at least seven hours of sleep per night and giving myself at least an eight hour sleep opportunity (ie lying in bed with the goal of sleep). I feel more comfortable about my overall health and mental trajectory like this (I was chronically sleep deprived for years). While there are no super huge obvious changes I can point to, overall my state of mind is better, I feel more fresh, and more relaxed.

How long after switching from sleep deprivation to a normal sleep cycle did it take for things to improve? I've been sleeping 5-6 hours for 10+ years and recently moved to 8 hours of sleep a night but it's been a month and I'm not noticing any positive effects and I'm wondering if I'm just burning 2-3 hours of my life on any given day.

Did you start the new routine because you wanted some specific effect or because you thought you "should" for some abstract/cultural reason?

I'd give it more than a month to adapt, but you should try to identify some specific benefits you want to achieve. Looking for a general sense of "wellness" or "alertness" is going to be hard to affirm and credit. But you can watch for and recognize more specific goals like you wake less groggy, fall asleep more easily, exercise more effectively, work with more lasting focus, stay more composed in trying situations, etc. The goals will be personal.

And if you weren't struggling with anything that better sleep might fix, maybe it's true that you don't need it!

I'd say I felt much more rested (but that's obvious) after the first few nights, but overall mood and mental improvements seemed to be noticeable, on reflection, a month or two in. I think even if I didn't feel subjectively better though, I'd keep doing it. I choose to trust our existing body of scientific knowledge about how damaging lack of sleep is and how critical sleep is for long term mental and physical health.

not parent, but I've started doing the same as you for around 5 months now. I've noticed is that I can generally get up easier in the morning and thinking in abstracts and analogies may come a little quicker.

I've also noticed that being tired hits me a LOT harder than it used to. Previously I guess I was kind of tired all the time so the marginal difference wasn't much but the last few months if I'm feeling the afternoon/early evening slump its much more difficult to push through and get anything accomplished, even if whats getting accomplished is just spending time with my family and trying not to nod off on the couch.

It's supposably a lot better for health, so I'm going to keep doing it, but its an adjustment and it does feel like I'm wasting at least some of my time.

Its gonna take atleast the same amount of time it took to build up The deficit to be rid of it completely

I guess mine is a bit unusual: Going out with friends every day, even if I don't really feel like it. Social life is very important and if you're busy or somewhat introverted, it's easy to withdraw and forget the impact it has on you. I find myself thinking much clearer, being able to focus better and go all the way to reach my goals now that I'm significantly more active socially.

Not using an alarm clock.

I used to set an alarm for when I wanted to be up. I would hit snooze like a fiend, and end up getting out of bed an hour or two after the time I set the alarm for. I finally realized I could just not set an alarm, and I'd probably get up well before I did with all that snoozing. It worked; I started waking up much more refreshed, and usually a little after the time I used to set my alarm for but much earlier than I was getting out of bed with all that snoozing.

I'm 45 now and I've been waking up this way most of my life. The only time I really set an alarm is if I have to catch an early flight somewhere, or if I'm going on a hike and want to be up well before sunrise. If you're a snoozer, try ditching your alarm for a week when it's not critical if you oversleep, and see what happens.

I tried this last night and even though it sort of worked, I found myself waking up a couple of times starting from around 5am and not getting back to sleep as deeply because in the back of my mind I was worrying that I'd oversleep and be late. In my sleepiness I forgot that I still set a "just in case" alarm, just for 8am. As a result I'm more tired this morning since I didn't get as good as sleep. I might try it for a few more nights, maybe the restlessness will go away.

If I don't manage my sleep schedule at all, it tends to become really irregular, and that can make it hard to make early morning or late evening plans.

But I do feel better waking up without an alarm, so I got into a habit of setting one as a failsafe rather than as a trigger to wake. I usually wake up well before it and just turn it off, but once in a while I sleep in until it goes off. By making sure I never sleep past the failsafe time, I avoid having my schedule careen into its extremes.

I find it's a nice sort of compromise between keeping an alarm and not.

Started doing this when I became self employed nearly 7 years ago. Can recommend!

These days I never get up before 10am, and I'm much much much more productive than when I was working a job and getting up at 6am.

+1 to this, same for me. I've gone without an alarm for most of my adult life too. I used to set my alarm earlier and earlier to get myself up, and finally realized I was just training myself to snooze and sleep through it.

I just naturally wake up now at the right time. Once or twice a month, I'll oversleep by a half hour or so; if that happens it's because I needed it. Fortunately I've always had jobs where that's not a problem.

Cleaning my house for 10 minutes after getting home from work. It Has save me a significant amount of time on the weekend, by lowering the number of house cleaning chores I have to do. Sometimes I spend more than 10 minutes but I try to set that as the bar and sweep or fold laundry or load the dishwasher.

I've set a goal to clean at least "1 unit" 4 times a week. For around 2 weeks it has worked pretty well so far.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is by far the best thing I've ever adopted in my life. I've been training for 6-7 years now. It keeps my life in a good routine, has given me dozens of friends, any time I go to a new city I can find a club and meet people. Competitions are fun and have taught me a lot about myself. Overall I'm a calmer and happier person because of it. I love it and hope that I can continue training for life.

Just out of curiosity, what do you think is the bigger, more common habit behind it? I mean, as a wheelchair user you can't do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Do you have any idea what I want to ask?

I'm not quite sure what you're after. I'll try and answer what I think you're asking though.

Jiu jitsu is a massive sport in terms of how much knowledge you can acquire in it. You start off with no knowledge and you're losing every single day. Most people will drop off and find an easier sport or hobby.

The people that do stick around start picking up more and more information and building their own game. They'll eventually start winning more and more rolls in the club and learn more about why they lose when it doesn't go their way.

The community is great. I believe this is a function of spending so much time in such close proxity to each other, literally face-to-face. There's a lot of trust between training partners.

Competition keeps it interesting and makes sure techniques and games are "honest". There's no point in learning or teaching something if it never ever works. There's a large analytical community that will look through matches, post write-ups and build the collective knowledge.

There's no "good" body shape or particular style that works for jiu jitsu. Generally bigger people will beat smaller people but if there's a skill gap or a few special techniques then the match can go the other way. This means anyone can dedicate the time and just get better on their own schedule.

I don't know what other hobby could replicate that. It would probably be a sport that doesn't rely on a team but instead of individuals testing themselves on other people. Weight lifting could be appropriate. Maybe something like infosec CTFs or Incident Response challenges. You're not competing against other individuals but all solving the problem in your own way.

Racing/driving could be another one but that would be hard as a wheelchair user.

Honestly, I don't know enough about life in a wheelchair to say what is or is not relevant.

I think two of the biggest things for me were:

Keeping a cascading daily log of tasks, thoughts, sketches. Every evening I assess what I completed and start the log for the next day with tasks I didn't finish from the previous day, and new things I want to tackle. It's helped me be productive and is a positive reinforcement loop for being productive.

Second is exercising in the morning, and stretching. It makes a world of difference in terms of health, flexibility, and compensates for stationary computer work for the rest of the day. Not to mention, it wakes me up and boost my mood.

Probably 3 or 4 months ago I started keeping a daily list of tasks that I wanted to complete that day. I was using iCloud Notes but I moved office and am on Windows now so I just use Google Keep.

I'll add anything I want on there. Sometimes it will be Jira tickets I want to complete, it might be "email John about XYZ" or if I'm not feeling particularly motivated it can be as simple as: "Eat lunch", "30 minute walk", "clear inbox".

I love having a completed list of tasks and it really frees up my brain from remembering things and let's me focus on getting stuff done.

What tool for you use for the daily task logging? Or just good old paper?

I used to keep a small notebook. This one specifically:


I'd have a new one for each year. The rolling aspect kept things off my mind as someone else mentioned. I'd note everything in there.

But more recently I moved everything to digital. I keep an iPad pro with me at all times, and I use apple notes. I create a new note for each month, labelled Oct 2018 for this month for example, and keep the rolling tasks list going for that. I keep all of them in a notebook labeled "Daily Notebook". Apple notes lets me access it from more places, and share sketches digitally, and it's free (obviously except for the initial expense of the tablet).

Often overlooked, Excercise also improves rationality.

Working only between 8 to 10 pomodoros in average per day. That helped me to create a boundary for my workday which allows me to be more productive and feel less stressed: https://medium.com/@marcochvez/how-i-get-my-workday-done-in-...

worknflow looks great. I think it will be useful for me. Thanks for building it!

In case you're open to suggestions, being able to adjust the Pomodoro duration would be awesome. The traditional 25 minutes always seemed a little too short for me.

And just curious about the stack if you care to share.

Thanks I'm glad you find it useful :) I'm planning to add more features soon, I will add a settings panel to configure pomodoro length and alarms. Yeah, it's my first JAMstack project, built mainly in React with Redux, I'm using firebase as db and netlify as hosting

Cold Showers in the morning. Remarkably invigorating, super-charges the start of my day.

Also, has anti-depressive effects > https://www.medicaldaily.com/benefits-cold-showers-7-reasons...

Fasting. Not think about eating 5 times a day gives me a lot of free time. Sometimes it gets to the point of been boring, but it brings a lot of benefits to the body.

Fasting (intermittent and longer) has great health benefits. Among other things, it increases production of HGH.


I fast approximately 120 days of a year, or every 3rd day. Have done it under the guidance of my doctor friend, so it was systematic.

Some are water only fasts, others are water + fruits only fast and very few (2 days a year) are no water/no food fasts. I have received incredible benefits: feel lighter, better sleep quality and if I can say so, this is my form of meditation!

PS: Doing it under medical supervision initially is critical.

Do you have any tips for handling hunger cravings when starting out? I've heard that drinking tea when hungry might help curb those, but as someone who's been doing this for a long time maybe you have some other tips to share?

Making my bed first thing in the morning really helped me recover from depression. It was a sort of behavioural cue that would be followed by me drinking a pint of water and in most case a 10 minute meditation (Headspace).

I think focussing on a small habit, helps you take a step towards the routine you'd like can go a really long way to help you make good choices throughout the day.

Now, I can't conclusively assert that it has changed my life, but I've been roughly following the guidelines given in "Perfect Health Diet" and I've experienced some general improvements in physical and mental health (although I wouldn't say they are groundbreaking, there could be lots of confounding variables). But lots and lots of people strongly support this book and claim significant benefits (this again is not a strong and conclusive argument that the book is actually correct is significant in its effect).

Perfect Health Diet (https://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Health-Diet-Regain-Weight/dp/...), despite the very unscientific name, it's the result of the work of two scientists into optimizing their diet for better health. It walks through what's essential in a human diet (micro-, macro nutrients), and also compares to the diet of various traditional tribes, other mammals. The book documents a clear cause-and-effect network between many nutritional issues and the resulting diseases. I learnt a lot about the mammal metabolism from this book.

The most significant factor arguing for this book is that almost every assertion is supported by a multitude of significant studies.

Some quick takeaways: * dose makes the poison: for almost every nutrient the body needs, there's a certain interval in which that nutrient is beneficial, above which that nutrient is toxic. (yes, this may seem tautologically true, but it's important) * the diet of the ancestral man, and most wild mammals is strongly based on saturated and mono-unsaturated fats. This is in strong contrast with the modern American diet, which is strongly based on carbohydrates. As the book carries on the explain, those fats are the exception to the above takeaway, those two types of fat pass through the organism with very little stress to organs, it's a simple reaction which results in no toxic by-products. * there are some commonly consumed things which are actively harmful and are associated with a range of diseases. Some of those are grains.

(anyway, it's been some time since I've read it, I do recommend it as a very well thought out book on nutrition for those interested.)

You're right. Good habits are important. Routines relieve our cognitive capacities and help us to get through the day faster and more efficiently.

But the best of all good habits was to stop hoping that something, a change or a habit could have a massive impact on my life. So I ceased to hope and believe.

Be strong from yourself and accept that there is not THE answer or ONE life changer.

Oh yeah, the lingering hope for THAT ultimate apps or THAT ultimate productivity technique that will finally change your life, postponed what you can do RIGHT NOW for things that might not even existed.

Anyway, after searching for ultimate technique for a long time, I found that the answer (for me at least) is as simple as simply wake up early and do most important things first (for me recently, is exercise) before shitstorm happened — the classic, proven wisdom that I used to refuse to do because it’s not ULTIMATE enough Haha. "How can that conservative routine cope with fast-paced digital lifestyle nowadays!?" What a fool am I.

Walking two hours a day, for sure: negativity drops, the body is energized and watching other people walk makes me relax.

Getting enough sleep.

Arianna Huffington was right. Sleep is absolutely necessary. In addition, some people require only 4-5 hours of sleep, others like myself require 7-8 hours to be "good". Getting a FitBit to track my sleep has also been helpful. Just because I sleep on time, does not mean I have "enough" sleep. Most of us don't fall asleep until 1-hour after we lay our heads. And in addition, most of us do not get enough "deep sleep."

In addition, after I started tracking sleep, I realize caffeine has been detrimental to getting "deep sleep." I often switch to decaf or go cold turkey to help my body detox from caffeine.

Study perpetually ... preferably formal so that you have exam dates. Ie something to motivate you and make sure you’re not just skimming. Just always be learning something. Learn until your last breath.

I do this too. Once it becomes a habit of life I can't imagine not doing it. I know so much random math, stats, coding, ML, just from grabbing a textbook and working through problems. People think it means you are a natural, or it's easy. For me, that couldn't be further from the truth. I'll spend half a Saturday stuck on some really basic problem. It's frustrating, but as the years go by the knowledge compounds. Even if the days feel futile.

On weekends, spending more time in nature, leaving mobile phone and any type of connection to the “world” behind me until Monday.

Spend more time out of doors ;) You will literally feel as if you have reconnected with a protean collective unconscious!

Reading Getting Things Done and fitting it into my life. It made a huge difference.

Waking up early. I get more done between 5am and 9am then the rest of the day.

Longboarding. Funnier, faster and easier on the joints than running. Complements well a gym workout that is mostly strength-based and never gets boring (unlike cycling in the city to me).

Some months ago I got a kick scooter, non-electric. I use it every day, except occasionally the bike is more practical. It's a lot of fun.

That's me, except with unicycling.

documenting processes and information at work. If has been a huge help in training new people as a company scales.

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