How to use serotonin to hack your productivity
It takes a lot of discipline to do something consistently — and it only takes a couple of missed days to completely destroy your streak.
Once that streak is broken, there may be a long period of time in between. Or you go on an extended indefinite habit or project holiday.
It happens to everyone. It certainly happens to me.
Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with an idea.
Sometimes, keeping up momentum is the easy part. It’s the bit when life hits you with the unexpected and you accidentally miss a day.
Or you just weren’t feeling it.
So you skip a day.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Every now and then you might just need a break. However, what I’ve discovered is that if you use the do-double-skip rule, you’re more likely to keep going at a particular task, habit or project.
The no-double-skip rule explained
The idea behind this is that you don’t skip out on a task, project or habit two consecutive days in a row.
This means you’re allowed to be working on the task every other day.
Sometimes we over-commit ourselves to the idea that we need to be working on something every single day. When we fail, we beat ourselves up over it. This reduces whatever emotional traction we’ve gained previously. It twists our perception and outlook, turning our victories into failures.
You don’t need that.
What you need is an understanding that it’s ok to skip a day or two — just not back to back. Sometimes you just need a mental or physical break from a particular task.
When you’re committed to doing something every day, it puts immense pressure on yourself to complete it. When you don’t, for whatever life-related reason, you’ve created a black mark in your brain against the activity.
You lose momentum because your mindset sets you up for accepting hiccups in routines as a failure.
But by using the no-double-skip day rule, you’re priming yourself with a different approach to goal setting and its perceived success.
We’re all lobsters
In Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, there is a section in one of the rules that talk about lobsters.
It turns out that when lobsters lose a fight, the serotonin level drops and pushes it down the hierarchy of lobster supremacy. It also turns out that humans share a common evolutionary ancestor with them.
Serotonin is a brain chemical that is often associated with feelings of happiness. In humans, it can be triggered and released via psychological perceptions or physical activity.
When we use the no-double-skip rule, you are transforming your relationship with the task, project or habit. Skipping a day is not viewed as a failure. Rather, it is accepted as part of the process, giving you the flexibility and mobility needed to complete your other tasks.
So rather banking your serotonin on the number of consecutive days, you also still get a boost when you skip a day. Your skip day also lets you have a break — something which might just be enough to get you up and running on your feet again.
It takes time to build a muscle
Our willpower to do something is like a muscle. Sometimes it gets tired. Sometimes it’s just not trained to do a particular task or habit.
When you give yourself permission for a day off, you give yourself permission to rest — something which we don’t seem to do enough.
There is a misconception that if you want to gain traction in anything, you need to work at it every single day.
The truth is, what you really need is to be consistent with it.
The frequency helps but it’s better to have a maintainable frequency over a long period of time vs. going all out in the beginning and then running out of steam a quarter of the way there — all because you didn’t give yourself permission to rest.
The act of sprinting, in the beginning, may feel like you’re making massive traction.
And when you start slipping in velocity, you start to beat yourself up.
Then your brain responds with less serotonin and the next you know, you’ve fallen off the bandwagon and joined all the lobsters that have done the same.
It’s better to be the smart lobster and pace yourself in your new habits and projects.