Intentional Living

Breaking free from the Guilt-Distraction Feedback loop

It comes up gradually. You are trying to work through something, and face some distractions. Then there are more distractions. Instagram, email and oh look, I should really clean up the kitchen.

It gets to the point where you are hours behind in your progress. What should have been done today stretched into tomorrow. Then, oh look, its next week and you really should have had that all wrapped up last week.

Then Guilt shows up. Its Saturday but you didn’t get the thing finished so instead of going out with friends or to the ski hill, you stay at home to “work.” But you never do, distractions and lack of motivation hits again, and oh, there’s more guilt coming on top of it. And it cycles like this until you are feeling worse and worse and getting less and less done.

But how do you break free from it?

Start small

The worst thing you can do is try and hit the entire task head on. i.e “tonight is definitely the night I finish “. At best you’ll get through 1/3 of it (and still feel crappy about yourself when it’s not done). But lesser outcomes are much more likely.

So instead break something off that is both short in duration and easy to complete. The motivation is much easier to overcome when you know it will just take a few minutes.

Some examples:

  • Write one page of a book (instead of trying for multiple chapters)
  • Commit to running for 1km instead of going for the full 10km
  • Write one function of code in a module (instead of trying to write an entire feature)

When you break down the larger effort, the motivation hill gets smaller and easier to get over. And once you gain some traction and have a tiny win, the momentum often builds. You will end up writing much more code than just the single function. You will probably power through the entire chapter. And once you’ve run 1km, well, you’re already sweating so you might as well keep going.

One other mistake to avoid is starting off by breaking the task up into a complex bunch of parts or map it all out (over-planning is just a “meta” version distraction. You need less distractions, not more.) Have you ever been planning a project and find yourself hours into selecting the best project management tool? (I have.)

Make a deal with yourself

If you’ve broken the task own into a small piece but still can’t seem to get through it without finding something else to do, make a deal with yourself. “I can’t go get another coffee until I write a page of the book.” “I’ve been avoiding that proposal all day, but if I proofread it one last time and send it, I can meet up with my friends for a beer.” It doesn’t take much, bu t like the above tip once you get some movement, the momentum builds. This is a version of Habit Stacking that James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits which I highly recommend.

Just do the fun thing

Keep your routine. Don’t keep putting off the other things in your life to spend time on the task (I.e. outside your work day, etc.) Don’t work in the evenings or on a Saturday if you don’t normally do. If you have a trip or fun event planned, GO! (And be as guilt free as possible.) These are the things that will fill you back up with energy to make over the motivation hump. This doesn’t mean you should take off in the middle of your work day or fit in distractions that are out of place. But if the depression and self-loathing is starting to pile on, this is a great way to break free of it.

There you have it. What techniques do you use when you’re stuck? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Additional reading: Related to “start small” is a motivation technique called No More Zero Days ( read about it here ).

*Note. In the middle of writing this post, I got sidetracked on Flickr for half an hour trying to find the perfect photo ūüôā Cover photo (c) David Fulmer

Intentional Living


You signed up for that Yoga class. You bought a (lightly used!) treadmill. You got the brochures for that trip you always wanted to take. But two month later, you’ve gone to one yoga class, have logged 5k on the treadmill and who knows where the brochures went.

Oh well, there’s always next year, right? Wrong.

Here’s a secret: You can set a resolution anytime, not just at an arbitrary day of the year where the earth happens to be in the same spot as it was 365.25 days prior.

This might surprise you, but those successful people you read about actually fail a lot. They probably have 10x the amount of failures as the  do successful things. The difference though, is that they don’t get discouraged, they keep going. They take lessons from the failure and say “Okay, oops, I won’t do it that way again” and then use that to get better.

Maybe yoga just isn’t your thing. Or maybe you need to try a different variation (Bikram, Yin, Hatha, etc.). I like running now, but I used to hate it (but I’d do it twice a month anyway.) It was a task, a chore, something that needed to be done, something that I did to lose weight. Then last year I discovered trail running. Everything switched. Being outdoors and on the trails was what I needed for it to resonate with me. Now I can run 4 hours on the trail like it’s no big deal.  I’m out in nature, seeing things, relaxing.. but also happen to be jogging at the same time. It no longer feels like work, but rather something I can’t not do. I run 2-3 times a week now.

Start things often. Fail at things often. The key to this though is that you have to start. Making excuses like “hmm, better luck next year” is the easy way out. Try something different, make more realistic goals, and set new “resolutions” for yourself continuously throughout your life, not just once a year.

Intentional Living

2 years of car ownership data

I drive a lot.

I have the typical North American mindset about car ownership: I¬†never really think¬†about how much it costs, I approach driving as a “necessity” and that “it costs what it costs”. But a recent post by Chad Kohalyk on his 2 years of OGO Carshare data made me stop and think:¬†“wait, what DOES driving cost me? I’ve always heard that car ownership costs Canadians $9000+ a year. Thats a lot of money. There’s no way I’m spending that, am I? I drive a small economical car but it can’t cost that much, can it? Can it!?”

Well lets ask the data.

Before going into that, I need to explain what a majority of my driving is. Very little of my driving is work-related since I work remotely. Most of my driving aside from the basics like grocery shopping, etc would be considered “recreational”. I drive to things like running clinics¬†and community events in the evenings. I spend a lot of my weekends at places like the ski hill or on hiking trails. Its not unusual for me to drive 5 hours round-trip on a Saturday for¬†a backcountry ski day or epic hike in the rockies. I drive to visit my family in Edmonton a couple of times a year, a round-trip trip of 2000km. In short, I log a lot of recreational highway distance. ¬†I also live ~20km out of town so even going to a coffee shop is a round trip of 40km. ¬†Also: I just like to drive. I like the freedom.¬†If there’s a group of us going somewhere, I’m usually the one to drive.

So back to the data.

Luckily I track all of my fuel-ups in Fuelly so it’s pretty easy to extract cost data. In 2014 I drove 30,821km for a total spend of $6462. In 2015 I upped the distance to almost 39,000km for a cost of $7443. Holy crap, that’s a lot of money! However, its still within the range¬†that Canadians spend on a car of similar size.




*Routine maintenance is oil changes, batteries, tires. Unexpected maintenance is the sudden failure of a part or anything outside of the expected life of a part. Depreciation is an estimate based on Kelly Black book and CanadaTrader values.

Going forward

I need to drive less. It’s that simple. Thats pretty much the only cost left for me top optimize. I’m pretty diligent about my driving technique to keep fuel mileage as high as possible. I do a lot of the car maintenance myself. My car is paid off and is one of the most economical AWD small cars on the road There’s not much to optimize aside from distance

On that note, I hope to move into the city within the next year and that should cut down a lot on the distance to the grocery store, errands and coffee shops. Being within walking/biking distance will be huge.¬†I hope this will reduce my mileage by 5-10,000km per year. Aside from that, I do find a lot of joy in weekend trips, ¬†but maybe I could optimize by having others drive or taking advantage of closer options. And one day I hope to become a member of a service like OGO Carshare to eliminate the need for a car for the “20km radius from home” trips.