I was having sushi with an acquaintance in San Francisco.
Very cool guy - Google engineer, very cultured, very smart on lots of topics.
One thing came up that was fascinating to me - he did an almost-silent Zen retreat for quite a while, like a month or two. I don't remember the exact details, but I think they only spoke for 10 minutes per day, or if the Zen master spoke to them? Something like that.
Anyways, he told me that it was all surprisingly mundane at first. No huge breakthroughs, just sitting meditating, and doing lots of chores. The first thing they did every morning was to clean the temple, including the bathrooms.
Every morning, they'd clean the bathrooms. Finally, during the 10 minutes of speaking, one student asked the monk, "I understand discipline, but why do we clean the toilets every day? They don't get very dirty..."
The monk replies, "How hard is to clean a clean toilet?"
That's just it - it's not hard to clean a clean toilet. A dirty toilet is incredibly hard to clean and incredibly unpleasant. But in life, if you get into the habit of doing mildly unpleasant things early, they don't become massively unpleasant things later.
I think about that expression a lot. "How hard is it to clean a clean toilet?"
Not very hard. I try to keep in this mind with my cleaning and maintenance of things.
Nice post... I think the concept the monk was trying to drive through extends to "how hard is it to keep a good thing good?"
You're in shape and are tired of going to the gym because you look good... well how hard would it be to get in shape if you lost it?
Wrote some code and do not feel like writing a test alongside so you decide to test it manually and confirm the results? Well how hard and overwhelming will it become to test the system manually when it grows when you just could have written test cases along the way?
Society and things in general tend to go towards entropy so doing the little things on a daily basis that seem painful adds a lot of value and are achievable because the exercise is not overwhelming. The more you let stuff pile up and fester, the harder it becomes to deal with and correct.
I once came up with this funny one-liner "Shaving and saving - if not done at the earliest, will become difficult"!
"How hard is to clean a clean toilet" - is more short and to the point. good thought.
Great post, and great quote. I've been thinking a lot lately about maintenance. In the past I've seen it as boring and something to be ignored. But that's really not the way to look at it. Maintenance is about maintaining quality, and that is something to take pride in.
You know what? I've created a goal on habitforge.com to clean the bathroom + living room daily first thing in the morning. It should take me 10 minutes but I'm sure it'll be gold for discipline.
Perfect reasoning right there! Good thing about the toilet, is that you have to use it often enough, and when you do, you can see exactly how dirty it is. Contrast this to maintaining a car, or even cleaning the kitchen stove; you have to "put in some effort" to realise that their getting dirtier every day.
Most people don't even see that their kitchen stove is getting dirtier by the day, much less be able to see themselves getting fatter/spiralling into a bad relationship/etc. What we need are constant reminders, so thanks for giving us one today. =)
March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.
I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.
I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.
I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.
A loud scream rings out. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
My first unprocrastination session was incredibly effective. I strongly resisted doing it right away after I finished reading the message, because I had been planning sleep immediately after reading, and I was tired. But I realized I could do 10 minutes, and although I had legitimate reasons for not wanting to, I was also running away from it, and it was more important to face things. So I made my list and then I did 10 minutes on my first item, and I got it completely done which felt fantastic. It was something I'd been procrastinating on for a long time.
Things did not go quite so well for the rest of the week. I didn't do anymore dedicated unprocrastination sessions for the rest of the week. Mostly because I didn't set a trigger (maybe I would have if I had been prompted to in the article :-)). However, I did have in my mind the items on my unprocrastination list, and I did knock them off pretty well each day during the week.
This was an interesting exercise, but at the same time, it felt like it was taking away from the energy I've been trying to put into my habit. Since starting this change labs thing, I have been trying really hard to do my habit each day (a morning routine), and adding 10 minutes of something as hard as this just felt like way too much to add in as well. I am barely hanging on with the "starting small" stuff! 10 minutes of facing really hard stuff that we've been avoiding is actually not all that small …
Nevertheless, I can see how developing the habit of "unprocrastinating" could really help so many areas of my life, including the art of habit change itself.