Discover more from The Forcing Function
#040 - Be consistent but not dogmatic
Welcome to Issue #040 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
🤔 Made me think: To be creative on purpose, schedule it.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Splitting rocks by hand.
How reps matter in both newsletter writing and in doing personal training.
Now that we’re through the first third of 2023, how are you doing on those goals that you set for yourself this year?
Are you making good progress? Or have they fallen by the wayside. Lost to the siren of the next shiny thing that’s caught your eye or forgotten in the fickle winds of good intentions.
When my personal trainer (PT) asked what I wanted to achieve with my fitness this year, my answer was immediate.
Simply to be consistent with my training. Partly because in 2022 getting over a series of medical issues curtained how much I could train. But mostly because I prefer working on process goals over outcome goals.
Over time and with experience I’ve realised what works for me is putting in the reps (which I can mostly control) rather than gunning for an arbitrary target (which may be out of my control).
In a similar way, that approach is what’s kept me going with producing this newsletter.
With Issue #039 going out last week, I’ve now hit my weekly publication deadline on time, every time for a straight 9 months now. When I first started, this milestone seemed very distant and almost unachievable. And now, in only 3 months’ time, I will have been publishing for a full year.
So, as I’ve done in Issue #14 and Issue #027, this issue will be a look back on the last 13 weeks of publishing and my newsletter journey so far. This time, through the parallels I’ve seen in my journey of getting fitter.
Thoughts from my personal training sessions
Gasping for air, I turned the corner at the end of my running circuit and it took all my remaining energy not to collapse or to vomit on the pavement.
As a teenager, you’d think that I’d be fitter, but I’ve never been one for working out or playing sports. I was that quintessential Chinese kid with glasses that preferred to be in front of the computer playing strategy games. And whilst I did dabble every now and again into running, or rugby, or rowing - none of it stuck.
Thanks to my genetics (well, at least some of them) I got away with being lean without working out at all - much to the annoyance of my wife!
It was when I switched my private health insurance to Vitality that made me realise that I should take my fitness more seriously.
My previous insurer used a hands-off model where I paid my monthly premiums and made claims if needed. In contrast, Vitality’s approach is highly proactive, data-driven, and employs daily feedback. All to encourage me to be consistently healthier.
For example: by regularly working out - as tracked by my Apple Watch - I benefit from regular rewards - such as free Amazon Prime membership - as well as earning a lower premium quote on my annual renewal.
Their gamified approach really appealed to the strategy gamer in me (as well as my mindset as a business analyst) and motivated me to find the most efficient way to get the rewards. If my health improved along the way - that would be a good bonus. So, part of my strategy was to engage a PT to meet the cardio workout requirements.
It was in that “spirit” of being efficient that I started with a single 90 min session each week. I specified that duration to give myself a full hour of working out with 30 min for warm up, rest periods, and cool down. Given my fitness levels were low to start with, I made progress albeit perhaps slower than it could’ve been.
Two years later, in 2019, I switched to doing a single 2-hour session each week. That did help me progress up to heavier weights and more challenging exercises - as the video below shows. But, it also put me well inside the territory of diminishing returns where training in single efficient session didn’t equate to training effectively.
The pandemic lockdowns completely changed the game for me and for the better.
Firstly, as a visceral prompt that health was important. And, if I was serious about getting fit then training effectively outweighed my outdated notions of being efficient with my training sessions. Secondly, as I was now working 100% remotely, I had no excuse for switching up to 3 x 1-hour sessions a week.
Without sounding like one of those cheesy fitness commercial, with that simple change, accelerated the progress I could make.
Looking back over the last 6 years of PT, my attitude to keeping fit has changed markedly. From being something that I don’t do, to it being a chore to get through, to now being something I look forward to doing. There’s nothing quite like trying to survive to the last rep of an exercise to help take your mind off a long day on a client project.
What hasn’t changed is being consistent with my reps. It’s got me into the habit of not just getting fit, but also staying fit. And, although this wasn’t my original intention, it’s got me doing certain exercises in my 40s - like performing strict chin ups and pull ups - that my teenager self would never have believed was possible.
What’s kept me going is not being dogmatic with my approach but iterating as and when needed. Nowadays, I’m doing 2 x 1-hour sessions with my PT. And instead of that 3rd session, I’m doing the kickboxing sessions on Apple Fitness+ which I’m enjoying for its mix of cardio, strength, and the mental challenge of following the kick/punch sequences.
In looking back over another quarter of producing this newsletter, I’ve noticed a few parallels with how I’ve progressed with my personal training.
One of the reasons why I engaged a PT in the first place is that it’s much harder to skip a session when I’ve got someone waiting for you. Especially on days when I’m exhausted by work and can’t bothered. That’s my “forcing function” for ensuring I get that fitness rep in.
It’s the same with the Thursday deadline that I’ve set myself. After week after week of that deadline rearing its head, I’m slowly learning to embrace the seemingly relentless schedule in a more positive way rather than a Sisyphean burden. Without that “forcing function” committing me to publish by a certain day on a certain time, I would succumb to the same excuses for not working out and I wouldn’t get my writing rep in.
And, as I’ve iterated with my personal training, I’ve done the same with my writing.
The biggest change has been building a habit where I’m not burning the midnight oil in a single “Hail Mary” writing session to get a whole issue drafted and edited in one go. I’d love to say that’s because that’s when inspiration strikes and I’m just in the flow. In fact, it’s more like when my “panic monster” wakes up when it realises I’m at risk of missing that deadline.
Instead, I’ve come up with a general approach for producing each issue which I’ve broken up into 90 min time boxed sessions that I do over Saturday to Wednesday. The “secret” ingredient is that those sessions get scheduled in my calendar so that I know when I’m doing them. It doesn't always work out that cleanly each week but I’m getting more consistent at it.
Looking back at doing all these weekly reps, there hasn’t been an outwardly marked change as there’s been with my fitness training. instead, there’s more of a subtle internal change. One that has slowly manifested itself without me realising.
By being consistent, I’m now no longer that worried about putting something out there in public for anyone to read. Back in Issue #001, I agonised over everything in the newsletter and debated if it was even worthy to be published. Today, whilst I still agonise the quality of each issue, I’ve unconsciously stopped worrying if I can or should publish.
Consistency has given me confidence.
🤔 Made me think
To be creative on purpose, schedule it.
One of the biggest challenges that I have with writing this newsletter is that the creative process to produce this newsletter is inherently messy.
As a business analyst who looks to make processes efficient, effective, and repeatable, that messiness is the antithesis of my mindset.
And whilst I have come up and iterated on a general approach to producing each issue, I still struggle with reconciling the two. But following a defined schedule has helped anchor me as I wrestle with this.
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Chuck Close | Photographer
🧑💻Worth checking out
📺 Splitting rocks by hand | Tezcan Ahmet
An apt metaphor for newsletter writing as a long-term endeavour. One that takes persistence, dedication, and perseverance to be successful at. And when you don’t know when those turning points will arrive.
Whilst I’m not chasing subscriber numbers or going viral, success to me is about being a better BA and seeing what publishing consistently brings me in the opportunities and people I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Seneca | Stoic philosopher
You can see more of Tezcan’s work on his Instagram.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
If you enjoyed this newsletter, let me know with the ♥️ button or add your thoughts and questions in the comments. I read every message.
And, if your friends or colleagues might like this newsletter, do consider forwarding it to them.
For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.