The Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA) series

Most people seem to want improve themselves, personally or professionally.

Reading, watching, and listening to people tell you how you can develop yourself professionally or personally doesn’t change anything beyond give you a bit of information. People don’t succeed because they have more information. They succeed because they act.

Even if you know you should do something, how do you know what?

Marketers are trying to tell you what to do. They promote diets, exercise, how to start businesses, learning business skills, learning to be rich, learning languages, learning programming languages, religions, networking, and so on. It’s bewildering. Each category has innumerable sub-categories. I bet you can name dozens of diet and exercise products, maybe hundreds.

With so many options, why don’t more people find what they’re looking for to improve themselves, their businesses, their families, whatever?

What looks like the problem, but isn’t

The problem isn’t that these options don’t work. Sure, some people are trying to scam you, but many of these things do work.

The problem isn’t even that everyone promoting something tries to find insecurities in you to prey on and use it to sell you their book, dvd set, seminar, equipment, etc. They spend years and fortunes figuring out how to reel you in. Even being reeled in wouldn’t be a problem, at least for the things that worked. If you have an insecurity, each one is trying to improve your life, so feels justified pitching you, creating a bewildering and distracting set of options.

The problem isn’t even the bewilderment of all that choice, despite how when you start with one thing, before it works, hundreds of other people with hundreds of other options pull you toward their things.

The problem

The problem is the insecurity, or desire for something you can’t exactly identify or know how to get. Even if everyone offering you a solution want to help you and can, as long as your insecurity opens you to their marketing, they’ll distract from your goals. They benefit from your insecurity so they don’t want to solve it. They want you insecure.

What if you overcame the insecurity? Then you could pick and choose among options based on what you wanted, not on how much they advertise or how hard they sell.

How?

Ironically, the effective ones have the answer, just shrouded behind their marketing. They market how much better they are than their competition—in other words, their differences—but the answer is what they have in common.

How to find the solution

If you look at what the successful strategies have in common across all the different options, you’ll find what works for them all. What doesn’t work you don’t need. What works turns out to be simple. I find the common elements to all these things are that they are

  • Self-Imposed: that is, you have to choose to do it. Going to work so you don’t lose your apartment doesn’t count.
  • Daily: if you don’t do it regularly, you’ll drop them. You don’t have to do it daily, but daily makes it harder to forget.
  • Challenging: easy things don’t help you. Watching TV, listening to music, and reading don’t qualify.
  • Healthy: it has to improve your health or well-being. Smoking doesn’t count.
  • Activity: you have to physically do something. Thinking about things doesn’t count. Writing does. Meditation does.

I simplify this list of commonalities SIDCHA, and here’s a picture of it. Do what’s in the intersection of all those areas and you’ll get the common benefits to all of them.

Sidcha Venn Diagram color

You can look for commonalities yourself. You may find a different set, but I find this set consistent with my experience with many personal and professional development options and it works. If you find another works for you, you don’t have to use mine.

The Solution: The Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity, or SIDCHA

If you practice a SIDCHA—that is, if you impose on yourself a daily, challenging, healthy activity—of any sort, you’ll get the benefits common to all the things people are marketing at you.

Most importantly, you’ll overcome the insecurity that they use to grab you. Without that insecurity, they can’t magnify it, prey on you, and distract you from enjoying your life doing what you want.

SIDCHAs give you independence, confidence, security, and resilience. They create a platform for everything else you want to do to improve your life, free from distraction, full of direction and focus.

You might say, “But I want to lose weight / make more money / build muscles / make more friends / etc and a SIDCHA doesn’t do that exactly.” You can choose a SIDCHA from any area you want to achieve a specific goal. The point is that as long as you have any SIDCHA, the rest won’t distract you. You can choose more than one SIDCHA if you want to develop in more than one area. I bet that no matter how many areas you feel distracted to try, after a few months of a SIDCHA or two in any area, I bet you’ll find that feeling of distraction replaced by confidence and security.

SIDCHAs don’t have to cost you anything, though you can choose to pay for ones you consider worth paying for if you want. They don’t have to take much time. You don’t need books, DVDs, membership fees, special clothing, places to go, equipment, partners, or anything like that, though you’re free to do SIDCHAs that need them. Personally, I don’t like needy things, so I keep my SIDCHAs simple.

I recommend starting with a simple, quick, free SIDCHA to start you off. If you know me, you know my main one is burpees, which need almost nothing and give huge benefits. Even if you want to do more than one, I predict you’ll find that wanting look more like compulsion from their marketing, which you’ll find yourself liberated from. If you still want to do more after you’ve done one a while, like a few months, you can add or switch to new ones.

A Sidcha presentation

Wait, Josh, where’s your pitch?

That’s it.

I’m not trying to sell you anything. I just stumbled on what worked for me after years of trying different things. One of my SIDCHAs is to post on my blog every day and SIDCHAs emerged as something I write about.

If SIDCHAs work for you, please spread the word. I’d love for people to link here and for “SIDCHA” to become a household word. My SIDCHAs have improved my life more than I can say.

You can read all about SIDCHAs, how to implement them, examples, and so on by clicking the table of contents to the left.

I’d love to hear your SIDCHA experiences. Email me.

My Harvard and MIT SIDCHA talk

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

A year and a half ago I spoke at Harvard on not dwelling on decisions (and at MIT a couple days later) with my friend’s non-profit, GiveGetWin, that promotes entrepreneurial and leadership thinking and behavior. It went well and they invited me back.

A week and a half ago I spoke there again, this time on Sidchas. Attendees responded positively, at least one called it inspiring. A couple contacted me after to tell me they are starting a Sidcha, which is the response I value the most—that someone is changing their life based on my talk.

Enjoy the talk!

Video: the first and last word on improving yourself

[This post is part of series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA), burpees, and cold showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click to view the SIDCHA series, the burpee series, and the cold shower series where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday’s webinar, on sidchas, my most comprehensive treatment to date:

The number one best tool to improve your life: the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA)

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I bet most successful people have at least one self-imposed daily challenging healthy activity (introducing what should become a standard personal development term SIDCHA, pronounced sid’-chah), whether they developed them intentionally or not. I bet most losers have none. And I bet the more you develop SIDCHAs, the better you’ll find your life, however you define success.

To live well you have to choose to live well, which means choosing to do the activities that create the life you want. SIDCHAs train you to choose what you want.

Examples of SIDCHAs include exercising, taking classes, writing, meditation, playing music, creating art, many hobbies, intentionally taking cold showers, dancing, yoga, and many others. Things that don’t qualify include going to work, brushing your teeth, talking to friends, and casual reading.

Some people don’t have the resources to exit their situation, but almost certainly if you’re reading this blog, you have the resources to create the lifestyle you want. Most people don’t reach their potential because of internal blocks, not external ones: they don’t choose to do what they feel they should.

I’ll put it in food terms because most people in this country are fat and don’t want to be (you can translate it into your relevant area of life you want to improve if it isn’t food):

People don’t lack access to healthy food or information on nutrition. They choose to eat chocolate cake.

People don’t lack ability to exercise. They choose to sit on the couch and not exercise.

People don’t choose to do what improves their lives. They choose what’s easy. Then their lives don’t improve. SIDCHAs train them to improve their lives. They develop and build your skills to choose what improves your life over what’s easy but not helpful.

The same pattern applies to many other areas.

The world is swimming with advice on improving your life. I’ll give you the top advice to achieve anything — melting fat, being more assertive, bigger muscles, better relationships, whatever. People talk about taking classes, exercising, dieting, taking classes, and tons of other things.

Today’s post combines them into one simple direction: have more SIDCHAs. And more effective ones too.

(Follow the links in this post on willpower for data on the correlation between the related concept of willpower and success)

The Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity — the SIDCHA

The name describes it: find something to do daily that’s challenging and that you have to motivate yourself to do. Again, just going to work or brushing your teeth doesn’t count.

And again, I would bet most successful people have at least one SIDCHA, probably more. And I bet most people who don’t like their lives don’t have any.

We all hit problems in life — losing money, jobs, friends, and so on. I bet people who maintain their SIDCHAs through those times don’t suffer from those problems while people who don’t maintain them feel buffeted by the storms of life, victims of chance they can’t overcome.

Let’s look at what the name implies. Each word brings essential meaning.

Activity

You have to do something. You have to involve your muscles, senses, and motivations. Likely you’ll interact with others.

If you don’t have to do anything for the activity, it won’t help you develop.

Healthy

The activity has to improve your body, mind, or both to help you. You can probably tell if an activity is healthy or not. If you’re not sure, check about people who do the activity regularly. Do they seem like you’d like to be? If not, try something different.

There is no shortage healthy activities. If you can’t think of any, they’re there. Find them.

Challenging

The activity has to challenge you. It can challenge you mentally, emotionally, physically, or any combination.

Examples of

  • Physical challenges include exercising, fasting, and learning physical skills like dancing
  • Emotional challenges include taking cold showers, learning emotional skills like acting, and developing social skills
  • Mental challenges include writing, meditation, and taking academic classes

Most activities overlap more than one area.

If the activity doesn’t challenge you, it won’t help you develop. Brushing your teeth doesn’t count, for example. It’s too simple and you probably want to do it anyway to keep your mouth clean. Same with too-easy “exercise.”

Daily

You have to do activity regularly for the benefit to stick. You might be able to get away with every other day, but why barely get by?

You can combine different activities, like two separate things on alternate days — say, lifting weights on odd-numbered days and meditating on even-numbered days. Or other combinations, like classes on weekdays and exercising on weekends. You get the idea. Just do something every day.

If you don’t to it daily, or at least regularly and often, it won’t help you develop.

Self-imposed

You have to motivate yourself to do it. Going to work doesn’t count if you need to do it to pay rent and eat. Most exercise counts because if you don’t do it you won’t suffer. Taking cold showers counts because it’s hard to get in.

What the full combination gives you

This full combination of an activity being self-imposed, daily, challenging, and healthy that you do enables you to choose the activities you want. Since your choices and choices develop who you are, SIDCHAs create your lifestyle and identity.

They keep you resilient from depression or other emotions you don’t want by stabilizing your mood and giving you ways to prevent getting derailed. Once you’re good at adopting and maintaining SIDCHAs of any sort, when you want to improve any other part of your life, you can adopt and maintain SIDCHAs for it. If you want to get in shape, learn a skill, meet new people, or whatever, you just find relevant SIDCHAs and adopt them — like exercising more, taking classes, learning social skills, or whatever.

Read this awesome post on SIDCHA properties for ideas of what to look for in creating your SIDCHAs.

A call to action

What SIDCHAs do you have?

What SIDCHAs would improve your life that you could start?

What are you waiting for?

I’m serious about asking what SIDCHAs you have. I’d love to create a list to motivate and inspire others, and to help them find ones that work for them in their areas.

The subtle value of sidchas

I write about self-imposed daily challenging healthy activities (sidchas) a lot. Why is the sidcha different from the countless recommendations to do other things daily? The difference is subtle but important. It will give you more time, structure, and discipline. Some examples:

  • People who meditate regularly tell me that I should meditate daily for the full benefit.
  • Yoga people say the same thing about yoga, at least that I should do it regularly.
  • A video of a girl who practiced dancing daily for a year, became amazing at it, and got onto TV for it inspired me to want to practice dancing daily.
  • Marshall Goldsmith tells me I should answer six questions daily.
  • Writers tell me I should write daily.
  • Fitness people tell me to exercise daily.
  • Artists tell me to practice art daily.
  • Everyone tells me to do their thing daily.

I don’t have time for all those things.

The problem with all those suggestions isn’t that they don’t work. Most do. The problem is they do work but you don’t have time for them all.

Sidchas give you the value of those things without taking too much time.

The value of the sidcha concept

Sidcha is a category, not a specific practice. When I recommend doing a sidcha, anything self-imposed, daily, challenging, and active will do.

The subtle but important value of knowing the sidcha concept is that as long as you do one, you can say no to the rest and not feel like you’re missing out. People who don’t know the concept do things like this

  1. They hear how important some daily practice is so they start doing it daily.
  2. Then they hear how important some other daily practice is so they start doing it daily too.
  3. Then they hear how important some third daily practice is so they start doing it daily too.
  4. And so on, adding practices.
  5. At some point they miss a day or two of one of them.
  6. At another point they miss a day or two of another.
  7. Eventually they miss days of all of them.
  8. They see daily practices as a chore that don’t do much.
  9. They end up with no consistent daily practices, losing discipline from activities they wanted to create it.

When you know the sidcha concept, when people suggest their awesome regular activity, you can confidently tell them without risk of regret,

Thanks, your activity sounds great, but I already have a sidcha.

If you hear about a new sidcha you think you’d prefer to an old one, you can start the new one and drop the old one with confidence and without risk of regret.

I have three sidchas—my burpee/abs/stretching/pull-up routine, posting here, and cold showers—which works out for me. You can decide how many works for you, but I recommend having at least one.

SIDCHA properties -- The best tool to improve your life: the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Since conceiving of the idea of the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (during a SIDCHA — in particular, a cold shower), I’ve been taken by it. Naturally I want to test it, but I’m coming to consider having SIDCHAs among the most important concepts to personal and leadership development. It combines many of the behaviors and beliefs valuable to create changes you want.

Today I’ll cover SIDCHA properties that distinguish them from candidates that don’t qualify and to help you find them.

First, before you do it, you don’t feel like starting; while you’re doing it it’s hard; after you do it you’re glad you did. This pattern describes nearly all effective exercise, for example. Doing something with this property daily requires discipline and trains your mind to face hard decisions, choose what you consider right, and act on it. It trains you to overcome challenges. It practices discipline and develops fortitude.

Choosing to do something challenging every day, makes choosing not to eat a piece of chocolate cake easy. I would bet a group of people who wanted to make themselves more fit whose strategy was simply to adopt any new SIDCHA would succeed as well or better than another strategy that involved no SIDCHAs, even if the SIDCHA strategy had nothing to do with diet or exercise.

Second, the activities are often flow activities, meaning they create feelings of reward while you do them. They challenge us.

Third, they usually take tricks to start and teach us tricks to handle other challenges. I’ve written how to start my twice-daily burpees, I only tell myself I’m doing one. Once started, I finish the remaining nineteen, which is ninety-five percent. My friend who goes to the gym tells me he only plans to walk in the door. Once there he ends up working out an hour or two. I’ve come to start my five-minute-minimum cold showers by starting my timer for five minutes and eleven seconds. Once the timer starts, I have eleven seconds to get in the shower and turn on the cold water. It works.

SIDCHAs teach you to use willpower to get you to where your regular emotions kick in, a helpful life skill because willpower runs out quickly and requires concentration. Emotions motivate longer and work automatically, without conscious effort. For example, if your SIDCHA is writing and you enjoy writing, you may still need willpower to start yourself. Maybe you have to put your writing tools on a desk with a chair in front of it, sit yourself down, and force yourself to start writing. You know that exertion of willpower will lead that flow state to start.

Fourth, you might feel guilt or shame if you skipped it. This effect verifies that you consider the activity healthy. If you know something will improve your life, you feel bad if you skip it, generally because you know you chose something easy or comfortable over what you considered right.

Fifth, people who do SIDCHAs recognize SIDCHAs in others and can connect over them. If you exercise daily and you meet someone who writes daily, you recognize your commonality and can connect on major aspects of the practices, however different they seem, mainly the properties above.

I’ll write more properties as I come up with them.

A call to action

What are your SIDCHAs?

What are you waiting for?

Start a SIDCHA, take control of your life!

An inspirational SIDCHA video

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

[It’s also part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

About twenty-five days into taking thirty days of cold showers I watched the following video by the guy whose blog motivated me to try it in the first place, Joel Runyon. I found this video the most meaningful description of the reasons to try it. Well, the second most, after just trying a cold shower yourself.

I find the video explains the benefits of any Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). What I like most about this video

It describes how trivially accessible life-changing activities are. The challenge isn’t finding ways to improve your life. The challenge is doing them. Doing them need take no extra time, money, or any other external resource (cold showers save money and pollute less. They’ll probably save you time if normally take longer than five-minute showers). The challenge is purely internal, as is the reward.

The challenging part of a SIDCHA forces you to face yourself. Anyone who does a SIDCHA will tell you the growth it promotes beyond the task they do in the moment. If you’ve done a SIDCHA you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never done one, that’s the fear or discomfort holding you back (like in this post on just sitting still, but which applies to challenging yourself, “More excitement than most people can handle“).

Is describes how choosing to do something challenging provokes the same feelings that discourage all of us from doing many things we want to do. He spoke about starting a company, but he could have spoken about plenty of things

  • Exercising
  • Asking for a promotion
  • Public speaking
  • Asking someone out
  • Helping someone you don’t know
  • Trying new food
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Playing sports
  • Telling someone you care about how you feel about them
  • Trying new things
  • Etc

It describes how to train yourself to overcome those feelings. It’s a skill you can learn. It promotes leadership by getting you to lead yourself. The resistances you feel to doing what you want are the same resistances you’ll face from people you want to lead. Learn how to understand and overcome yours and you’ll learn how to understand and overcome your followers’, and they’ll thank you for it.

It distinguishes between discomfort, pain, and fear, all of which are fleeting, and damage, which cold showers and the list of above activities have no risk of.

It’s funny.

I wish I had made a video like it!

… although I confess I feel extra pride from choosing to do the cold showers on less inspirational material than this video, since it means I took more responsibility. Still, the main value of cold showers comes from doing them.

More inspirational SIDCHA videos

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Here are two videos of people who learned to dance by doing it every day. So much more photogenic than burpees and writing here daily.

I don’t know about you, but watching them brings tears to my eyes. I suggest seeing these videos not about dancing but about freedom and joy achieved through mastery. Recognition from peers and the public comes with it. And about the effectiveness of Self-imposed daily challenging healthy activities (SIDCHAs).

This video has almost five million views:

This guy came later. How much do you love something that you do it outside in -20C? I believe that love and joy comes from discipline and practice.

Now here’s Queen Latifah interviewing the girl, Karen Cheng:

Her own video:

Here’s her project to get people to do something every day for one hundred days, called Giveit100.com.

And her TEDx talk:

Freedom and spontaneity through discipline

As I’ve written before, Martha Graham said it best:

The dancer is realistic. His craft teaches him to be. Either the foot is pointed or it is not. No amount of dreaming will point it for you. This requires discipline, not drill, not something imposed from without, but discipline imposed by you yourself upon yourself.

Your goal is freedom. But freedom may only be achieved through discipline. In the studio you learn to conform, to submit yourself to the demands of your craft, so that you may finally be free.

And when a dancer is at the peak of his power, he has two lovely, powerful, perishable things. One is spontaneity, but it is something arrived at over years and years of training. It is not a mere chance. The other is simplicity, but that also is a different simplicity. It’s the state of complete simplicity, costing no less than everything, of which Mr. T. S. Eliot speaks.


Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

An inspirational SIDCHA video

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

[It’s also part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

About twenty-five days into taking thirty days of cold showers I watched the following video by the guy whose blog motivated me to try it in the first place, Joel Runyon. I found this video the most meaningful description of the reasons to try it. Well, the second most, after just trying a cold shower yourself.

I find the video explains the benefits of any Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). What I like most about this video

It describes how trivially accessible life-changing activities are. The challenge isn’t finding ways to improve your life. The challenge is doing them. Doing them need take no extra time, money, or any other external resource (cold showers save money and pollute less. They’ll probably save you time if normally take longer than five-minute showers). The challenge is purely internal, as is the reward.

The challenging part of a SIDCHA forces you to face yourself. Anyone who does a SIDCHA will tell you the growth it promotes beyond the task they do in the moment. If you’ve done a SIDCHA you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never done one, that’s the fear or discomfort holding you back (like in this post on just sitting still, but which applies to challenging yourself, “More excitement than most people can handle“).

Is describes how choosing to do something challenging provokes the same feelings that discourage all of us from doing many things we want to do. He spoke about starting a company, but he could have spoken about plenty of things

  • Exercising
  • Asking for a promotion
  • Public speaking
  • Asking someone out
  • Helping someone you don’t know
  • Trying new food
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Playing sports
  • Telling someone you care about how you feel about them
  • Trying new things
  • Etc

It describes how to train yourself to overcome those feelings. It’s a skill you can learn. It promotes leadership by getting you to lead yourself. The resistances you feel to doing what you want are the same resistances you’ll face from people you want to lead. Learn how to understand and overcome yours and you’ll learn how to understand and overcome your followers’, and they’ll thank you for it.

It distinguishes between discomfort, pain, and fear, all of which are fleeting, and damage, which cold showers and the list of above activities have no risk of.

It’s funny.

I wish I had made a video like it!

… although I confess I feel extra pride from choosing to do the cold showers on less inspirational material than this video, since it means I took more responsibility. Still, the main value of cold showers comes from doing them.

A list of Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activities (SIDCHAs) you could do

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

New Years Day conjures thoughts of resolutions. Here is a list of SIDCHAs that work for many people.

Please share other ideas I haven’t thought of — ones you’ve done, heard of others doing, thought of but haven’t done, or whatever. I’ll keep adding to it.

  1. Burpees
  2. Meditation
  3. Biking
  4. Yoga
  5. Lifting weights
  6. Running
  7. Cross-fit
  8. Writing
  9. Cooking a better meal than you have to
  10. Cold showers
  11. Taking classes
  12. Dancing (so you break a sweat)
  13. Singing (so others hear you)
  14. Acting (so others see you)
  15. Swimming (if you have easy access to a pool so you can do it daily)
  16. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator (more than five flights)
  17. Practicing social skills
  18. Taking care of children
  19. Many hobbies (challenging ones)
  20. Push-ups
  21. Pull-ups
  22. Public speaking

Reader contributions

  1. Eating no added sugar (I would hope people could easily not adding sugar — just don’t add sugar! — but I can see how it could be difficult if you haven’t done it before if you aren’t used to reading ingredients or if you have intense coffee habits. So for some people I could see it a SIDCHA that I would hope would stop being challenging.)
  2. Write ten ideas every day (a former client told me he got it from James Altucher’s post “How to Have GREAT Ideas” … It looks like he has several other SIDCHAs, as described in this post “How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps“.)
  3. From another reader: “My SIDCHA list has grown to 3 AM activities: 15 burpees, 5 cycles of a sun salutation, and deep knee bends (funny one here: my Aunt was visiting and saw me use my arms to arise from kneeling and she said “you are too young to do that” so I now make a point of not using my upper body to rise and I am trying to strengthen my legs).”

Poor SIDCHAs

I wouldn’t count the following as SIDCHAs. They may be valuable for other reasons, but they don’t give what SIDCHAs do. You could combine ones you can’t do daily into a series — like swim Monday, Wednesday, Friday; rock climb weekends, and lift weights Tuesday and Thursday.

  • Your job (not self-imposed)
  • Brushing your teeth (not challenging)
  • Rock climbing (unless you can do it daily)
  • Playing video games (not challenging)
  • Reading (not challenging)
  • Walking the dog (not challenging)
  • Watching TV (not challenging)
  • Talking to friends (not challenging)

What if I told you the least you could do was also the most effective?

People are looking to pick up activities to improve their lives all the time. Nearly everyone recognizes they could do something to improve it. Maybe they want to get more fit, make more money, be more creative, have more fun, feel more excitement, or whatever.

Some do. I’ve done a bunch and I’m glad I did. The more I do, the easier the next one becomes. But many don’t. I think one of the biggest hurdles is that many activities seem hard or involved. The more I do new things, the more I find doing the most basic, core part of the activity is not only the easiest part, it also gives the most value.

Take yoga, for example. Most people who do yoga these days do a lot that’s irrelevant to yoga. They buy clothes, belong to gyms, travel to remote places, and learn all these words in other languages. Those things do a lot to create community and make you feel like you belong, but most of it is extraneous to actually doing yoga. If you just do yoga every day, you’ll get the greatest value of all the things you could do. If you enjoy it and those other things have value, you’ll end up doing those things, but you don’t have to start with them.

Some people who do yoga will tell you there’s a whole philosophy to it. Oddly, people with different philosophies were still able to do it. In any case, I suggest that the best way to learn the philosophy, if necessary, is to start the practice and create the demand for it. Then you’ll pick it up faster and with more motivation.

Same with lifting weights. The activity has clothes, gym memberships, foods, and all this other stuff that has nothing to do with lifting heavy objects. I suggest that the best way to get into lifting weights is to lift weights however you can, daily. Just make sure you are lifting something heavy every day. If how you start doesn’t help that much but you keep up the practice, you’ll find yourself unable to find ways to improve your practice. If the clothes, gym membership, and so on help, you’ll pick them up, but you’ll pick them up more purposefully if you do it to support a practice instead of in anticipation of starting a practice you haven’t started yet. This way all you need are some bricks or milk containers and you’re on your way to weight lifting.

Why practice helps most

If your activity requires other things the practice itself will reveal the need better than a book or other person. When you feel the need you’ll understand the purpose of what fills the need. If yoga needs some way of thinking, you’ll realize it by doing the poses.

Think of any way you want to improve your life. To achieve it, think of an activity that will create the improvement you want. Now strip away everything inessential. What you’re left with, do that. Keep it up. Make it your SIDCHA. Question everything inessential and consider it an impediment. If you questioned too much and got rid of something essential, you’ll value it that much more when your practice shows you you need it.

Want to do yoga? Find some poses and do them every day. You don’t need yoga clothes, to speak Sanskrit, to use a mat, or anything else. If those things help, they’ll come. You don’t need a philosophy. Your philosophy will emerge from your practice.

Want to lift weights? Lift things however you want. Don’t do anything to injure yourself. You don’t need equipment, protein powder, or anything else. If you have arms you can do push-ups. If other things help they’ll come and you’ll value them more when you realize their value.

Want to meditate? Sit still every day. You don’t need special mats, phrases to say in your mind, philosophy, or religion. You don’t even need quiet. Just sit in a chair if that’s the best you can do, but do it every day. The philosophy will emerge and it will be your philosophy. If learning more helps, the practice will reveal it.

Want to become a photographer? Get the cheapest camera you can find and take pictures. I can’t think of anything less you can do, nor can I think of what would help more. Everything else is inessential and holds you back from starting. If more equipment would help more, your practice will reveal it. Just take pictures every day. The more you do it, the more you’ll end up doing everything else, like showing your work or making more elaborate or deliberate pictures.

Want to become a writer? Write every day. The hardest parts of writing seem to be getting published, finding agents, and things like that. Taking classes costs money. You know what’s easiest? Getting a piece of paper and pen and writing. You already have access to a computer if you prefer typing. What could be simpler or more effective in making you a writer than writing? Just write every day and you’ll either find you don’t like writing or you’ll fill in everything else.

Want to become an actor? Find a script and read it to friends.

Want to become a cyclist? Get the cheapest bike you can find that fits and ride it daily. I just went to Craig’s List and saw a great bike for $200 in under thirty seconds of searching. As long as you ride it a little before buying it you won’t accidentally get something that doesn’t fit. If it mostly fits, riding it will teach you what to get better. You don’t need fancy equipment to ride a bike. If you end up liking fancy equipment, you’ll know what to get better by outgrowing a bike you’re riding daily than by guessing beforehand. You only need to ride.

Want to do or become anything? You’re probably getting the idea by now. Do the associated activity daily with as little of anything else as possible. Success and enjoyment comes from doing—by physical activity. Thinking and accoutrements will follow if they help or not if they don’t.

This is the value of SIDCHAs. They get you doing the activity. You don’t need a goal or purpose. It will come from the activity. In my experience with my daily habits—mainly burpees, cold showers, oatmeal breakfasts, and writing—their value emerged from doing. They make a lot more sense and contribute to everything else from doing them, which I find the easiest and most effective parts.

What are your tricks?

[This post is part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve been talking to people about SIDCHAs. I’ve found something surprising that I’d consider researching if I were still in school or had students working with me.

Nearly everyone who does a SIDCHA overcomes the challenging part with a trick — something to start them. One of mine is that before starting burpees I think of doing one, not all twenty-five, then once I start I finish the rest. Another is that before starting a cold shower, I often set my timer for five minutes and ten seconds. My minimum shower length being five minutes, that gives me ten seconds to start the shower, so I can’t keep dawdling around and have to get in and start.

Most challenging things I can think of that I do regularly have tricks like that.

I thought I had a few personal little one-off ad-hoc tricks, but I’m beginning to think these tricks are more common, maybe even pervasive, among people who have productive daily habits to help them do them. I would have thought using tricks got in the way of actually learning to do it, but now I don’t think so as much. I see them as becoming part of the process.

If you don’t have little tricks to do you SIDCHAs or other challenges, think about creating them. They work. No reason not to if they help you do the job. If you do have little tricks like that, share them. I bet others would appreciate and benefit from them. I’d love to hear them.

How to overcome creative avoidance, destroyer of motivation

[This post is part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What is creative avoidance?

You know the feeling, or rather the mental chatter.

The scene: Some time ago you told yourself you would do something challenging. Maybe going to the gym, talking to your boss about a raise, asking someone out on a date, one of those things you have to will yourself to do. At the time you knew you would do it. Now it’s time to do it. Suddenly your mind fills with excuses and various reasons not to do it:

  • You’re tired.
  • It doesn’t matter that much.
  • You can do it better later.
  • You want to do something else first.
  • You’re not ready yet.
  • You can’t afford it.
  • You’ll do it, you really will, tomorrow.
  • You didn’t really want to do it in the first place.
  • Other people didn’t do it and still succeeded.

You know the routine. Someone came up with a name for that thought pattern: “creative avoidance.” If you read my posts on mental chatter and empathy gaps, you know about it.

The problem with creative avoidance

The problem with creative avoidance is that after all those excuses seduce you into complacency, you look back later and realize none of them meant anything and you feel bad for succumbing to them. You teach yourself not to challenge yourself as much the next time. You miss out on great things in life and make yourself helpless.

The opposite of creative avoidance

The opposite of creative avoidance happens when you do something challenging. Here is that overall pattern.

  1. Long before your activity you think “No problem, however hard it may seem, I’ll will myself to do it and my willpower will make it easy. Nothing can stop me.”
  2. Just before you do it your mind goes crazy with excuses not to do it, to do it tomorrow, that not doing it is no big deal, and so on.
  3. Doing it is uncomfortable.
  4. At first you think “Holy shit, am I actually doing this?!? This is crazy!!”. When you’re almost done you think “That wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought. The anticipation was worse than the experience.”
  5. Then after you do it, the discomfort disappears immediately and you feel great for doing it.

How many great parts of life do we lose in step 2?

Every time I see a hard problem I think of my repeatedly proven way to solve hard problems:

The best way to solve a hard problem is to solve a related easier problem, build experience, and apply what you learned to the harder problem.

What are easier problems? SIDCHAs! Burpees, exercise, cold showers, meditation, and things like that develop the skill to overcome that creative avoidance. Because they’re healthy they improve your life. Because they’re challenging, they develop your ability to recognize and overcome creative avoidance.

Many people ask me why I continue with the cold showers or twice-daily burpees. All they think about is the physical sensation, or how they’d rather sit on the couch and not do them. For some reason they don’t realize it’s training to live the life I want by enabling myself to choose deliberately what I want to do, not just to follow paths others lay out for me, which I call the rat race, or surrender to whatever shiny thing appears in my vision, which I call blowing in the breeze.

I think people who just give in to whatever pleasure or chocolate cake tempts them consider this lifestyle austere and spartan and theirs more pleasurable. I suspect the opposite—that living this way brings more pleasure, happiness, and emotional reward, and that people who live this lifestyle appreciate their pleasure more. But that’s just my feeling.

SIDCHAs are a floor you won't drop below and they don't depend on others

Have you had problems? Have you felt depressed?

We all have. Sometimes life feels like it’s free-falling, like as bad as it gets it seems like it can still get worse and does. When life brings you down, it helps to have things that keep it from dropping lower.

Friends and family are resources people commonly cite as keeping their lives stable and keep them from dropping too low. As much as they help, friends and even family are outside your control, meaning you could lose access to them, leaving you vulnerable to suffering.

SIDCHAs, Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activities, keep your life from deteriorating and they don’t depend on anyone else.

Having a few SIDCHAs stabilizes your life and helps keep you from getting depressed.

(Maybe this doesn’t apply for people whose conditions are far outside most people’s, but I bet they apply to a lot of people who think it wouldn’t.)

Simplifying personal development

People trying to sell you things make developing yourself harder. They talk like their thing is best and people invest themselves into their activities.

The biggest issue to me is that people too invested in one activity try to exclude other activities, making participating all-or-nothing. I think most people like to do a variety of things without committing exclusively to any, which conflicts with the plans of people selling things.

Take yoga for example. While many people do yoga sometimes, you know what I mean by yoga people. Yoga people dress, act, stand, eat, and talk like each other. They shop where yoga people shop. They talk about courses they take and all that. They make their personal development activity their identity. Look at what Wikipedia says about Lululemon, which sold over $1.3 billion last year:

Lululemon refers to its retail store employees as “educators.” They are required to develop a ‘personal connection’ with each customer. As fitness and healthy-lifestyle ambassadors, Lululemon employees must set goals for the next ten years, which are posted in the store. Employees are given certain books that founder Chip Wilson chose as being critical to his own development and required to read every one of them… After a prolonged hiring process, potential employees are taken to a yoga or spinning class to ensure they “fit in”.

Yoga people aren’t unique. Runners, meditators, photographers, writers, and so on invest themselves in their community. Great for them, but it raises a barrier for those who don’t want to become yoga people or tie their identity into one activity.

What if I don’t want to become a yoga person or a runner, weight-lifter, or whatever? If the activity is so useful, can’t I just do it without making it my identity?

You can, but the people promoting it are overwhelmingly yoga people or some equivalent, so you can’t help interacting with them.

The value of a the concept of a self-imposed daily challenging healthy activity (SIDCHA) is that it doesn’t focus on one activity or exclude others that meet the requirement. As long as you’re doing something self-imposed, daily, challenging, healthy, and an activity, you’re getting the benefit. The SIDCHA concept has nothing to do with clothing, shopping, or anything like that. It’s about doing something and that’s it. You can switch between them.

The point of the SIDCHA concept is to qualify your activity as above the threshold to help you. Anything less and it probably won’t meaningfully help you. Anything there or above will give you the discipline, dedication, and the other most valuable things from any personal development or fitness activity. You can just do that much and you’ll get nearly all the value without having to spend all that money or commit yourself to an identity.

Discipline doesn't enable you to do things. Doing things consistently makes you disciplined.

[This post is part of a series on the Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activity (SIDCHA). If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People keep getting it backward when they congratulate me on the five years of daily posts, four years of daily burpees, and other disciplined achievements.

They say, “You must have a lot of discipline to do that,” implying that before I started I had some special trait that enabled me to do what they couldn’t.

They have it backward.

No baby is born able to do multi-year projects. We all have to develop discipline like anyone else.

Doing daily exercises develops discipline just like practicing any skill develops it.

If you want discipline, do things that need discipline. You’ll flounder at first but you’ll develop it. Same with any skill.

Believing someone else has some special ability you don’t is more likely complacency.