Non-Zero Days

At some point over the last two weeks I came across a subreddit about ‘non zero days’. As far as I can tell, the community on Reddit sprung up in response to a comment made by ryans01:

Rule numero uno - There are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single fucking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didnt’ do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.

I’ve been in favour of incrementalism for some time now. The idea itself is incredibly liberating coming from decades of exposure to popular fiction in all its forms which remains obsessed with prodigious narratives.

Too often I’ll start something new, a mental or a physical activity, and after maintaining a relatively high velocity in the initial phases of familiarisation with that activity, my velocity will start to take a hit as my engagement deepens past the introductory levels.

A good example of this is my engagement with learning kanji characters. I’m a fan of WaniKani, which has been a godsend for improving my overall knowledge of kanji characters as well as my ability to roughly decipher character combinations that I might not have specifically come across before. With all the changes in my life since last Autumn, my regular study on WaniKani eventually ground to a complete halt. First I wasn’t making as much progress as I set out to in a given day, then I began skipping days, and before I knew it, the number of reviews that I had waiting for me were in the hundreds and I just gave up.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been doing five minutes of reviews on WaniKani every morning. The first few days came with a pretty high error rate. By the end of the first week my success rate was hovering at around 90% for each review. Yesterday I had cleared my entire review backlog and I found myself at a point where I could start learning new characters again.

My approach to incrementalism so far has been flawed in that I bring the implicit expectation that my velocity will only ever increase, and that every increase in velocity represents a new baseline which I can’t let myself slip under.

I’m starting to understand and put into practice the idea that regularity trumps velocity in incrementalism. Ensuring that today isn’t a zero day is more important than trying to match the output of yesterday.