Affirmation Experiment: The Mule Unloaded

Mule Reloaded Cover

Hello. It’s me again, the Mule.  The Unknown called me out in a post you have have seen about the Affirmation Experiment, and I thought I might give an update to how that is going. Also, my piss now smells like rich, Colombian coffee. Those two things are related. Let me explain.

As you might be aware, the intention of this project is to test the viability of using affirmations as a vehicle for self help.  By repeating these affirmations twice per day, out loud, with no other expectations or requirements.

Here are the two affirmations I made:  

  1. By the end of the year, I will lose 100 lbs.
  2. By the end of the year, I will no longer have depression.

You can read more about these in the first article I wrote.

What I want to tell you is how the experiment is going. Here’s my official summary two months in:

  1. I have lost 18 lbs in the first two months
  2. Maybe my depression is less. I can’t tell; it’s hard to measure.

So what does that mean?  Success? Failure? Miracles?

Affirmation ICP Miracles

“I’ve seen shit that would shock your eyelids!”

What I’ve Learned About Having an Affirmation

The reality is that the experiment is far from over, so I’ll just focus on the process, and what I’ve learned. The #1 thing I’ve learned so far:

Saying the affirmation every day teaches you how to build a habit.

Once I started the experiment, I sometimes found that I couldn’t remember if I’d said the affirmation out loud.  This wasn’t acceptable to me, as the whole experiment breaks down if I couldn’t keep the variables fixed.  So I tried to figure out a way I’d be forced to see the words without resorting to Clockwork Orange levels of forced visualization.  

What I first decided was putting the two affirmations on my to-do list at work, as that list is the first thing I see when I get to work and the last thing I look at before I leave.

However, I found that wasn’t quite what I wanted, as I wanted to follow the rule precisely and actually speak the affirmations, but didn’t want to declare loudly to the office and my employees every morning that by the end of the end of the year, I was no longer going to have depression.

So what I did settle on was saying them when I got out of bed in the morning, and when I got into bed at night, since I also do those things every day.  I chose the weight affirmation in the morning, so I get to whisper “I will no longer have depression” into the surrounding darkness at night, which makes me happy because it creeps my wife out.

So this alone has made me think affirmations have something to them.  Saying them requires the construction of a new habit, so your mind gets into a mental state of a habit, which is really the first step to change.  

I honestly think I could probably say every morning: “By the end of the year, I will create a Cyborg Hitler whose sole purpose is to paint Easter eggs,” and it will have an impact on getting me to set a habit.

Affirmation Cyborg Hitler

Seen here pushing the limits of his programming.

The affirmation works like a radar that picks up opportunities for good choices.

For the first week or two, before I settled into the daily morning/nighttime habit, I would use the affirmation almost ironically.  Right before I’d eat a huge bowl of ice cream, I’d smirk at it and say “By the end of the year, I will lose 100 lbs.” like I’m some clever asshole.

One day, however, I was sorting through emails and deleting the throwaway ones I get from HR, (e.g. new company policies, fire-drill dates, your third violation of sexual misconduct notice, blah, blah) but I locked in on an email that Weight Watchers was starting up where I work and that a rep would come on site.

“Well, fuck.” I said. “By the end of the year, I will lose 100 lbs.” And I signed up.  

Under any other circumstances, that email would have went in the trash (along with the third reminder that “I’m drying it out! It was wet!” is not a valid excuse to have your dick out in the bathroom under the air dryer). By saying my affirmation every day, that phrase is in the front of my mind and causes opportunities to jump out at me more than if I was casually glancing through.

Signing up for Weight Watchers also had an unexpected benefit:

Getting a stranger to silently judge you.

Weight Watchers is AA for people who are addicted to food.  We have meetings where we talk about the minutiae of temptation, share horror stories about restaurant experiences, and talk about eating an extra slice of lemon pie with the same gravity as if we had shot ourselves up with heroin over the weekend and fucked a clown with AIDS.  

We literally get gold stars like children when we reach weight loss milestones and little charms over time like 1-month sober chips.

It’s arguably sad and very “First World Problems” kind of stuff, but here’s why it works for me.  Every week, I get weighed by a stranger — somebody I’m paying from Weight Watchers — whose sole responsibility is to write down and track very specifically, in tenths of a pound, how much I weigh and then reward me if I do lose weight or encourage me if I don’t. The fact that he’s a stranger is what makes the difference.

I look at it this way.  I could save time (and money) and have my wife weigh me every week and write it down.  But I see her every day. She knows my moods, knows when I’m having a tough day, and she might cut me slack.  But a stranger doesn’t give a shit about that.  

I could give him any excuse, but he just smiles and nods because he’s heard every fucking one of them. He doesn’t care that I had a busy week, doesn’t care if I was bored and wanted sugar as a pick-me-up.  He only cares that I lose weight.  So goddamn it, I have to figure out how to lose weight for that fucking guy.

Affirmation No Fucks

Weight Watchers motivation in a nutshell.

I think it can work no matter what habit you are trying to achieve. For example, I have been a decent piano player since I was a kid.  But I only started getting really good when I started taking lessons a few years ago.

Before then, it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to practice, or what drills I needed to do to get better. I knew exactly what my gaps were.  

The problem with self-motivation was that it required me to do 100% of the habit reinforcement, so I would never push myself to get better or try harder things.  So when I started taking lessons, it wasn’t actually what I learned from my piano teacher, it was that every week I was expected to do better, and I was tested on that expectation, so I was forced to learn on my own.

So that’s how I’ve gotten to losing 18 lbs in 9 weeks. No tricks, no gimmicks. I’m losing weight the same way everybody fucking loses weight. I’m eating less overall and I’m eating better things, and moving around a bit more than I normally do. Real fucking surprise, right?  Insanely infuriating when I think about it because it’s really that simple and it’s really that hard at the same time.  What it takes is building new habits, and having a stranger make you do it helps build the habit.

I’ll highlight the main habits I’ve changed:

  1. I stopped drinking soda.  I do have diet soda if I really need something sweet.
  2. I track my steps. If I haven’t reached 6,000 steps during a normal day, I take a walk with my dogs  
  3. I starting drinking a Soylent product that is mixed with caffeine for breakfast called Coffiest.  It’s a meal replacement drink that has the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals and also makes my piss smell like rich, Colombian coffee.
Affirmation Coffee

The best part of wakin’ up.

As I lose weight, I’m sure I’ll have to develop more habits to keep driving the weight down. Not sure what those are yet, but I don’t think it matters because what will stay the same is that a stranger will make me do it and I’ve got no excuses.  Will I lose 100 lbs in one year?  So far the trend is a steady 2 lbs a week, so I’ll update if that starts to plateau.

So if you want to build a habit, get a stranger to help you.  I don’t think they necessarily need to be paid. But they do need to be somebody that will not sympathize with you about your old habits.

So I’ve talked quite a bit about the weight part, but nothing on the depression.  The fact is that I’m not quite sure if anything has changed.  But I think that might be more about how I wrote the affirmation.  How will I actually know if depression is gone?  I don’t imagine by the end of the year I’ll turn into a pre-hermit Richard Simmons, but maybe I would?  The fact is that depression really isn’t easily measurable, and from day to day it’s not a discrete thing I can track, like my weight.  And to be honest, I’m not comfortable yet talking this over with a stranger like a therapist, but maybe I’ll get there.  In the meantime I’ll just talk about it with complete strangers on the internet.

What I do know is I’m currently missing habits that could affect this goal.  The Unknown had some good suggestions in his newsletter.

One suggestion he made was to focus on the positive rather than the negative. So instead of “By the end of the year, I will no longer have depression,” change it to:

“I live  every day with joy, enthusiasm, and gratitude.”

It’d be great if I could go to a scale and it would tell me how much joy I have today along with my weight, but measuring those feelings is more complicated than that, and I think I need to find other ways to track against this goal.

So I’ll open it up to the class for more help.  I’m looking for suggestions on emotional habits or a metric by which I could be evaluated on this affirmation.  In addition, what habits could I build against depression?  That’s where I’d like to go next.

By the way, if you could measure joy, what would be the unit of measure, like lbs or kg for weight?  My initial thoughts are “Thimblespoon” or “Suncock.”

Something like “That customer was really happy —  like 4 Thimblespoons happy.”  Or “I am so excited for Disney World, I’m filled with at least 8 ½  Suncocks right now.”

So there’s my update, 2 months into the experiment. I’ll keep you posted.  

We’ll take it one day at a time.

Affirmation Pooh

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