Latish Sehgal's Blog

On Habits, Shipping and Choosing Your 20 Mile March

This is the text version of a conversation about 3 semi-related topics I had yesterday at Barcamp Dallas with a bunch of really smart folks.

The term 20 mile march was coined by Jim Collins in the book Great By Choice. He talks about the difference in approaches taken by 2 explorers (Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott) as they raced to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen did a lot of research, came up with a plan, and executed it with great discipline (go 20 miles everyday irrespective of circumstances). Scott’s team let the weather dictate their daily progress, staying in one place on bad days, and trying to go long distances on the better days. Due to his consistence and focus, Amundsen’s team made it 1st to the South Pole, and then back safely. Scott’s team lost, and perished on their way back.

How do you approach your long-term or important goals? Do you work towards them only when you are feeling motivated, or are you consistent and disciplined in your journey? Are you trying to achieve too many things at the same time and not getting traction on any of them, or are you focused on a few important ones?

We are creatures of Habit. Our brain is fascinating and is always looking for ways to optimize and do less work. About 40% of our daily actions are based on habits. Our brain can’t distinguish between good or bad habits though. That’s upto us. Successful people use this to their advantage and build as many good habits/rituals as they can. 2 examples of good habits that I have focused on over the last year are:

  • Exercise: Research shows that people who exercise regularly are more productive at work, patient with their families and do better financially. I do resistance training 3x a week, and go on a few long walks with my wife on the weekends.
  • Sleep: I try to get 8 hours of sleep every night. I have found an inverse correlation between my sleep and ability to focus. When you are sleep deprived, body can’t use sugar properly. You feel tired and take in more sugar. It’s pretty easy to end up in a vicious cycle of overdoing caffeine and sugar, and low quality sleep.

A little sleep does a great cure.
-Bilbo Baggins

I am still working on integrating meditation as a habit into my life. Some of the most successful people I follow online have been recommending it over the last year or so, and I think it’s going to be the next big thing in life quality improvers.

Shipping is scary. I use shipping in the loose sense to denote every time you create something and show it to the world or put yourself out there. It might be a new talk, a blog post, a mobile app or a software. Every time I ship something, I face a lot of resistance from my lizard brain. If I don’t share something I have created, nobody can criticize me for being average.

Every time I have managed to overcome the resistance, I have learned and grown so much. Things I can never learn by reading a book or watching a video (For example, while doing my own thing, I get to be my own boss, which is good. Except that I learned that I am an asshole boss. I struggle with being kind to myself. This is a topic for another time though.). I also become aware of how much I take for granted. When I speak at a conference, I am reminded of how much work goes in preparing a talk, and I am grateful for all the awesome speakers in our technical community. Same thing goes for writing software (And blog posts, creating screencasts. And teaching). It makes me question how many other things I take for granted or don’t give people credit for: Leading a team? A company? Organizing a conference? The list is probably endless.

2 mistakes that I have caught myself doing repeatedly over the last few years are to hide behind learning, or starting new side projects (shiny object syndrome?) without finishing the current one. At the end of the day, both of those can be forms of procrastination that are hard to identify. It doesn’t always work but I try really hard to do Just-In-Time learning and not working on multiple side projects in parallel. Even the circus performer who spins multiple plates at the same time ensures that the 1st plate he spins reaches a certain velocity before he adds another one.

So, wrapping this all up, do you think it’s possible to make shipping a habit? Perhaps by focusing on less things and choosing your own 20 mile march? Remember that motivation can get you started, but habits keep you going.