Sustainable Lunacy

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Leaving Post-Its On the Walls In Your Head

Posted by Annette on March 19, 2018

remember.jpgThe Power of Implementation Intentions--And How to Use Them

It’s the middle of March. Is it time to run upstairs with a vuvuzela and wake up your sleeping New Years Resolutions? Probably. According to a 2002 publication in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50% of the folks who say they set a resolution have officially failed to follow it by April. (That number is probably lower. It was a self-reported study, and humans hate to admit they suck.)

I have that vuvuzela to lend you. It’s called implementation intentions.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, you’re certainly not alone. This dissertation (from Peter M. Gollwitzer and Gabriele Oettingen of the the Department of Psychology at New York University) does a great job in treating the subject, but the upshot is this: implementation intentions are simple, they’re do-able, and they work. They’ve been tested, and those tests show that the subjects who used them significantly improved the chances of forming new habits that stuck.

So what is this wizardry?

Clashing With Initial Reluctance

There are two people living in your head right now. Since they’re in everybody’s head, I’ll introduce you to mine: Right-Now-Nette and Future-Nette.

They hate each other. Future-Nette is always having to take out Right-Now-Nette’s trash and clean the stack of dirty dishes that Right-Now-Nette leaves in her metaphysical sink. Everything Right-Now-Nette does is a problem for Future-Nette to solve. Goal-setting is really the sudden inspiration that Right-Now-Nette gets to satisfy Future-Nette’s constant nagging--because Right-Now-Nette and Future-Nette always seem to meet within the blast radius of Right-Now-Nette’s bad decisions.

Those decisions were made, generally speaking, when Right-Now-Nette was ignoring Future-Nette’s frantic calls and text messages. In order to set goals and keep them, Right-Now-Nette has to remain in solid communication, but there are so many things that drop the signal: depression, for one (especially if you’re not managing depression), unhealthy stress, anxiety and our old friend ego depletion (well worth a read in and of itself), just to name a few.

Implementation Intentions: Instant Triggers

If the communication between Future-You and Right-Now-You is comparable to a spotty cell signal, then the only way to keep it going is to set instantaneous reminders that Right-Now-You has to see. Use the equivalent of post-it notes all over the important goals in your life.

Implementation intentions simplify your goals into very simple “if, then” statements. That’s it.

The “if” part is the situational cue--the colorful post-it note that catches your attention. The “then” part is your planned response to that cue--what’s written on the note.

Some examples.

Here are a few standard goals:

  • I’ll start meditating every day.

  • I’ll run three times a week.

  • I’ll stop scrolling so much.

  • I’ll stop living paycheck to paycheck and save more.

Those change into:

  • If I have just woken up, then I’m grabbing my phone and doing a 15-minute meditation practice from my meditation app.”

  • If it’s Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at 9a.m., then I’m setting off on a five-mile run.”

  • If I have just received a paycheck, then I’m putting 15% of it into savings.”

You can stack them, if the stack is simple:

You’ll notice that the implementations have a few things in common:

  • They’re dead clear.

  • They phrasally take for granted that the action is happening.

It’s elegant and it’s powerful: more than a decade of research, comprising nearly a hundred studies have illustrated the effectiveness of implementation intentions. They can actually double your likelihood of achieving your goals. No shit.

How to Craft a Solid Implementation Intention

Pare it down.

If you were communicating with a roommate or a partner or a lover and left the house covered in post-its, you’d get no helpful response. Right? Same goes for Right-Now-You. Choose your top 3-5 and commit, commit, commit.

Decide on the best places to stick your notes.

Be very specific about the times and places you either get derailed (“If I’m opening the fridge, then I’m stopping and deciding if I’m really hungry”) or most likely to follow through with the action (“If I’m getting in the car, then I’m cueing up a book-on-tape from my must-read list.”)

Check for vagueness.

If your post-it note on the trash can says “take care of this,” then the recipient of your note could choose to interpret that in all sorts of ways, right? Your Right-Now-You is a lazy roommate. Make the note incredibly specific, and then double-check that there’s no way it could be mistaken.

Example: “If it’s nighttime, then I won’t go to bed too late” is easily fudgeable. “If it’s 11:00p.m. Sunday-Thursday, then I am in bed, turning off my devices and turning off the light.”

How Do These Work?

It’s a three-pronged approach, baby.

  • They heighten awareness of obstacles to your goals as well as the opportunities to meet them. Wasted time and weak moments have a tendency to dissolve in the face of a clearly framed implementation intention.

  • They eliminate choices and automate responses. Like a well-behaved robot, you’re already doing what you said you were doing.

  • They conserve your precious willpower. Since you’ve handed off the decision-making process, there’s no willpower available to fall prey to ego depletion.

Right-Now-You is a punk-ass motherfucker who doesn’t do nothing for nobody for free. It’s true. But, just like the most annoying teenager, there’s a perfectly functional adult in there just waiting for the right stimuli to create a more pleasant existence for Future-You. Will Implementation Intentions be the key to get Right-Now-You on board?


Try the tool and see if it works for you. Your two warring cohabitants might finally find peace.


'remember!' photo credit: Wade Morgen Remember via photopin (license)

robot photo credit: Ian Sane Pane Staking Art Form via photopin (license)



“AirBNB vs. Hotel” Is A Fool’s Game, And All Travelers Are Losing

It seems that the hospitality industry is having something of a conflicted moment.

I’ve been traveling full-time since 2009. I stay in a lot of hotels, and a lot of AirBNBs. Many dozens per year, in fact.

I love the AirBNB experience for its intimacy and its invitation to live like a true local, though that often comes with quite a bit of meetings-halfway on things like internet connection, privacy, cleanliness and convenience. That’s cool. I get it. That’s why I booked an AirBNB.

The site is introducing a new service level this year to try to address the inconsistencies, but y’know what? In so many circumstances, I like those inconsistencies. They provide a kind of wabi-sabi toothsomeness in a life that might otherwise be spent in a Fight-Club-style series of featureless boxes.

The other thing I love about AirBNB is that it, by the very nature of its existence, has helped define that one means by “the hotel standard.” Merely because it exists, these days, when one books a hotel, it is because one needs a hotel. One needs a seamless check-in and check-out experience at any hour. One needs the internet to work. One needs the bed to be comfortable. One needs the shower to be clean. One needs one’s privacy respected. One needs the professionalism and detail that comes with an actual, factual HOTEL. There is often a premium associated with this certainty--but when you need a hotel, you need a hotel.

I’ve had a couple of experiences this year that are shaking my confidence that such a beautiful balance is long for this world. It seems, dear readers, that both warring factions--on the sharing-economy side and the traditional-hotel side--are waging a war for a market they imagine they share in totality, and we suitcase-luggers are all gonna suffer for it, because they do not.

Take, for example, The Curious Case of the Surprise Non-Hotel.

When I first saw this property on, I assumed it was a professionally serviced apartment. They were, after all, charging a $191 (no typo) resort fee for a two-night stay at a property with no discernible resort amenities. No bother: a professionally serviced apartment was certainly what I needed: I was working a key position at a very-high-profile event at UCLA’s biggest venue. I needed my rest, my internet, my privacy and a nice space; I couldn’t AirBNB it for this.

When I arrived and I saw what I was really in for, I was stunned. I rolled my bag past a crowd of college students in the hall to discover a bare-bones apartment, furnished with a stark minimum of yard-sale stuff.

Sure enough, there was a “Welcome to your AirBNB” house manual on the countertop.

The shower glass was covered with soap scum, with a half-full bulk bottle of cheap drugstore shampoo and a pump bottle of antibacterial hand soap tossed in as amenities. Crinkly little hairs populated all the corners. There were two tiny, cheap, non-absorbent towels IN THE WHOLE PLACE. We checked every closet in the house.

And the internet didn’t work for one moment of the entire stay, no matter how much diddling we did with the hardware. The network never even appeared.

When my “how was your check-in” notes came back with a big frowny face, one of the people associated with the AirBNB-in-hotel's-clothing came knocking. It was almost 11p.m. I had a call time early the next morning for my event, so I didn’t answer. He didn’t go away; he kept knocking until my partner let him in. The hapless fella did nothing to help.

It hardly mattered, though: Both nights, there were college-kid parties in full swing across the hall, drunken party conversations floating through the paper-thin walls until the early morning. I tried in vain to sleep on a bed that managed to be too hard and too soft all at once, slumping down into a dejected pit in the center.

When morning creaked into view, it was time to start the workday. We arrived at our assigned parking space to discover an angry note on the rental car windshield. The scrawl thereon blared that the space we had been instructed to park in was, in fact, assigned to one of the uni-kid residents, and that we were about to be towed. We high-tailed it outta there.

After my show was safely in the rear-view mirror, I cracked my knuckles and laid into Hard. I’ve been a Gold member as long as I can remember, and--to their credit--they returned a credit for part of my stay. The credit wasn’t complete and their contrition only partial (my scathing review has not, as of publication, actually appeared on the site to help others), but I chose to move on.

Fast-forward to yesterday, in Prague.

I was arriving alone, luggage-laden and SIM-cardless, in the dead of Czech winter. I speak no Czech. I’d flown in on three legs from Phoenix, each of which had pummeled me with delay after cancellation after delay. I had to be at the main Prague train station by 06:30 the next morning.

I needed a hotel. I really needed hotel.

I chose the Hotel Sovereign for its high ratings and its proximity to the station. I crossed my fingers.

And y’know what? It worked.

They sent a car service to pick me up at arrivals, my name displayed cheerfully on a little card. The driver treated me to a little personalized tour of the city (with which I was already quite familiar, but I loved his storytelling, so I nuzzled into the back seat and let him unspool). When I arrived, the pretty Czech coed at reception was the soul of hospitality, offering me a carry-out breakfast when I made my way to the station the next morning. The room was sparkling. The WiFi worked. The bed was cozy. And, when jet lag routed me out of it at an abominable hour, I wandered down to the fitness center and hefted some kettlebells to crank-start my bleary system.

To wit: It was a true hotel experience, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.

This dichotomy of experience has given me a few hard thinks about the accommodation marketplace. I’m an AirBNB owner myself, so I have skin in this game, and I’m very keen on the idea that the market on the sharing side of the fence continue strong.

If accommodation brokers continue to dilute their offerings with non-hotel-standard rentals, I think they do so at their own peril. Who will risk it? We’ll just add the extra step of searching a Google map and booking direct.

My conclusion: Maintaining some semblance of separation between hotels and sharing-economy spaces helps everybody manage expectations. This is key because, at the end of the day, the hospitality industry’s stock-in-trade is the exceeding of expectations--and you can’t exceed expectations you haven’t managed.


Playing around in a decidedly hotel-hotel room at The Drostdy in Graaf-Reinet, South Africa (one of my personal favorites)

I spend a lot of time doing things that have the potential to leave a serious mark. If you do, too, you have no business wandering around without a purpose-built first-aid kit. You will certainly end up using it, and it’ll save you and your companions much unnecessary misery.

Here’s what I carry myself. All of this fits in a quart-sized freezer bag, which snuggles into about half of my helmet by volume. I hope it smoothes your path as it has smoothed mine.


1. Electrolyte liquid pocket bottle

This little dropper bottle makes two and a half gallons of electrolyte water, which turns the tap water in your Platypus into a sports drink. I use the higher-end Elete brand because I can't taste it in my water.

2. Potable Water Iodine Tablets

I know, I know. I hate the flavor of iodine disinfectant, too…but you need to pack a means to purify water on an emergency basis, and tabs are the smallest and lightest. (This will also sterilize the water you’ll need for item #16.)

3. A few adhesive bandages

I only carry the large rectangles and the hourglass-shaped finger bandages; both, waterproof.

4. Wet wipes

Because who lets themselves be caught without wet wipes in the back country? Nobody smart.

5. A folding knife

Because first-aid scissors suck for everything that matters--like chopping young branches to use for splints. (Keep it sharp.)

6. Pain meds/antiinflammatories

I keep mine in a pill bag marked with the data of the drug that’s inside (dose and date).

7. A notebook and permanent marker

When something has gone seriously wrong, you’ll need to take detailed notes for the help that eventually arrives (or you drag yourself out to). You’ll learn what needs to be noted when you do your Wilderness First Responder course—a subject I wrote about at some length for  

Paper and pen are also useful for notes left at camp, for tirades left on windshields and for chasing down campfire hookups after the fact. Essential, n’est-ce pas?

8. Oral rehydration salts

Bad water? Dirty ice? Questionable pre-mission street food? Dangerously high desert temperatures? Have a few packets of these in your first aid kit to get you through it.

9. A trim-your-own dressing strip

I can’t seem to find these in the States! It’s a footlong bandage that trims down to the length you need to cover a wound and adheres there, eliminating the need to carry gauze and tape. I found mine in a pharmacy in Slovakia, but I’ve seen them throughout the EU. (The link is to a Canadian pharmacy.) These are great for covering long, nasty scratches.

10. Laminated instructions on how to operate the friggin' human body when stuff goes wrong

Even if you were at the top of your class at the WFR course, your memory will fade. Print out these cards and have them laminated for your kit. 

11. A first-aid antibiotic

Neosporin, bacitracin, bactroban (as shown here)…whatever you prefer. Check the expiration date reasonably regularly and remember that some people are allergic to Neosporin.

12. Non-latex gloves

Because keeping a line of defense between yourself and fluid-transmitted pathogens is only important when it’s important, but then it’s the most important thing ever.

13. Some moleskin

Because blisters can f the f off, and if you’re doing any serious hiking, you’re going to use ‘em.

14. Adhesive stitches

A.K.A. “steri-strips,” A.K.A. “butterfly strips.” There are some ouchies for which adhesive bandages just don’t cut it. Be ready for those. 

15. An emergency survival blanket

Never been stuck at the launch or the exit point or the basecamp in the freezing-ass cold? Lucky you. When you eventually are, you’ll be glad you have this.

16. An irrigation syringe

If you or your adventure buddy have sustained a “dirty” injury (the kind with rocks and dirt ground into it, y’know), you’ll need to flush out the injury with about a liter of clean water. (That’s the other reason you’re carrying iodine tablets, y’know.) The irrigation syringe has a curved plastic business end that helps you direct the flow of water to wash the crap out of the wound before it sets and has to be painfully scrubbed out later.

17. A full roll of self-adhesive athletic wrap

The 17th item in my kit doesn’t appear in this image because it was being used at the time: self-adhesive athletic wrap. I prefer the kind that tears by hand, and I don’t bother with wraps that require the little metal hooks to stay attached. I keep at least one full roll in my kit, because running out the end of a roll when you really need just a little bit more is a shitty thing.

*18. A WFR card

Y'know that thing I mentioned about getting a Wilderness First Responder certification? If you do dangerous stuff for fun--and don't we all--it's well worth your time to take a few days someplace pretty and emerge knowing how to help yourself and the athletes around you. (Yosemite--where I earned mine--is nice. So is Puget Sound.) You might well save a life someday.

At the end of the day, it's what you carry in your skull as much as what you carry in your kit that will save the day, so pack correctly.


WFR Photo Courtesy University of Puget Sound

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