FIP: The Hardest Habit I’ve Ever Tried

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had noticed myself falling victim to a common malady among personal development hobbyists. I call it “All the Things!” after a beloved comic called Hyperbole and a Half. The symptoms of the malady are pretty simple:

  • A tendency to overestimate what you think you can do in a given period of time in the future.
  • A tendency to underestimate what you have actually done during a given period of time in the past.
  • The inability to escape the sunk-cost fallacy, i.e. keeping on doing a project even when you should give it up simply because you’ve already put in an amount of effort.

Once I recognized the problem, I immediately exacerbated it by turning it into yet another project, code named Enough. The purpose of Enough is to adjust my expectations and acknowledgement of my abilities and also to acclimate myself to the idea that it’s OK to quit something.

I suppose I could have code-named the project Chill Out, Gray, but you get the idea. So how does one work on that? One tool I’ve already begun: the Self Journal, which is doing a good job of helping me recognize the victories and the actual things that are possible during a day. In case there are over-achievers out there who are wondering, that does not always mean more slack; last week, for example, I noticed that I had planned on recording a podcast during the day, but had failed to find the time for it. However, I also noticed that I still had the energy to do it that night…and so I did, at 11pm. It was immensely satisfying to tick off that particular target.

The FIP: “F*** It” Protocol

However, I still needed to learn to escape the sunk cost fallacy – or, as I looked at it, learn to escape the “urgent” so as to stay on the “important.” Natasha and I were in a life planning meeting as I tried to think up a method…and as it came to me, I felt my heart beat faster. Not because I was excited, but because it terrified me.

The idea was as follows:

  1. Write my three targets for the day as usual in the Self Journal. These are basically the “Most Important Tasks” – the big rocks that have to be moved.
  2. Roll a six-sided die. 1-2 means the first target, 3-4 means the second target, 5-6 means the third.
  3. Draw a line through that target and the acronym “FIP” after it.
  4. Whatever it was, it is no longer a target. I must give it up, and do it some other day.

Now, I suspect some of you are wondering some things:

  • Why not just select one that is less important? Because the point is to learn to accept that I do not have control over everything. The dice represents fate teaching me that almost nothing is ultimately important.
  • Why don’t you just make two targets, if that’s what’s going to end up happening? The point is not to end up with a shorter list; the point is to acclimate myself to the loss something that I thought it was important for me to do.
  • Wouldn’t you just end up making one less important? Yes! I totally would. Or I would add the things I thought I should do to the two “important” ones, like a congressman adding riders to legislation. Again, that’s why I use a die to generate the random number.

I have made a couple of adjustments during the weeks that I’ve been trying this protocol. First, with a tip of the hat to one of my readers who suggested it, I make sure I create the three targets the night before. She does it so that her sub-conscious gets a head start on the important tasks; I do it because I really need to fool myself into pretending that these things are all going to be done the next day.

That may seem strange – the need to “fool yourself” – but I’m serious: I found myself changing my Most Important Tasks (MITs) into Not-So-Important Tasks so that it didn’t matter as much if one got FIPped; meanwhile I was making a secret to-do list in the back of my head with All the Things that I would get done.

That defeats the purpose of FIP; the point is to remind myself that I have the luxury of not having everything that I do be life-threatening. The easiest way to measure it was: if one of my family was in the hospital right now, would I be doing this? The answer was always “no”.

FIP, like the STOP, is not something that I would keep doing forever – it especially becomes problematic when the MIT that gets FIPped is something like call Emrys about the Diversity & Accessibility Coordinator Guidelines. Sure, my schedule opened up – but meanwhile Emrys’ schedule is altered, nonconsensually, by my life hack.

But on occasion, it’s worth it to give yourself some extra slack by FIPping an MIT. Because when it comes down to it, I believe the Ultimate MIT is to live life with as much quality – not quantity – that is possible.

What do you think about FIP? See if your friends agree – send them the post, and talk about it in the comments!



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