Life can feel like it's on autopilot sometimes.
We become so accustomed to the routinization of our day to day lives – Wake up. Go to work. Get home. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Go to bed – that we get swept up in the simple act of "doing," without reflection on what we do and why we actually do things.
But, what we do is incredibly important because our actions end up defining our lives.
Scott Marquart, set out to examine the "whats" and "whys" of his own life, ultimately starting One Week Without, a blog where he documents his journey of one week experiments. Each week Scott chooses to "isolate and eliminate habits, vices, and conveniences" for a 7-day period – typically focusing on things that are mundane or quotient – such as giving up coffee, lying or sleeping in. The purpose is "to learn to better appreciate, respect, and employ [these habits, vices, and conveniences] into a life of moderation, health, and happiness."
We met Scott through Twitter ( @scottmarquart) – hurray internet! – and struck up a conversation around habit forming and self-reflection. He's contemplative, ambitious, persistent, and on a fascinating journey towards cultivating a life of purpose and self-determination.
In the conversation below, you’ll learn more about how to begin forming new habits, factors for success, and the importance of starting small:
Scott: I’m a man of many passions; literature and music come to mind, but above all I’m obsessed with living life to its fullest. I’d had a nagging feeling for sometime that I could be living better, but I wasn’t in a place to overhaul my life entirely, without abandoning commitments and responsibilities to everyone and everything I cared about.
After a lot of thought, I decided to start One Week Without, a mission to go without something each week, whether it is a convenience, a vice, or just something I take for granted, in order to learn more about myself, my habits, and how I can live better.
Ha! Yes, well I was reading everything from Thoreau to Leo Babauta – everything I could find about living life more fully – and for quite some time I let the happy thought that these other lifestyles were possible satisfy my desire to go out and find my own. It’s hard to identify a "match-in-the-powder-barrel" moment, but eventually I just got tired of letting everyone else have all the fun.
I wanted to start improving my own life, step by step, and the process that became One Week Without seemed like the best, most actionable way to get started, without overwhelming myself with a sudden tectonic shift in lifestyle.
As the One Week Without project grows - and I with it - I keep finding new definitions for its overarching goal. At first, it was simply to eliminate vices and try to incorporate them more moderately into my lifestyle. Now, I’m realizing that the greater value of the process lies in learning not to take anything for granted.
It seems like every time I reduce my dependence on something, I get one step closer to uncovering the essence of myself, whatever lies underneath all of the habits, conveniences, and vices that surround me. For me, this seems more and more like the ultimate goal: to see what’s at my core by stripping everything off in isolated pieces.
It’s hard for me to dictate what others should take away from these challenges, but I hope if nothing else that my experience speaks to the possibility for making your life what you want it to be, and to not simply take the rules handed down by others for granted. To me, this is one of the most important things of all: life is meant to be lived intentionally.
Habits are embedded in the context of other habits. When I went one week without sleeping in, I discovered that sleeping in wasn’t the real problem, it was that I was staying up too late. And part of why I was staying up so late was because I was drinking coffee too late in the day, and I’m sure that even that habit has its root in another.
Habits are rooted in our social and environmental context. Many people have noted how easy it can be to quit old habits and develop new ones when you change your context dramatically, whether that’s by moving to a different city, getting a new job, or something else. But part of my mission with OWW is to show that it’s possible to change your habits without wholly disrupting the rest of your life, so I’ve had to mitigate these environmental factors as best as I can.
It's important to develop a replacement habit. While many people seem to decide on their replacement habits from the get-go, I often prefer to take a few days to see what I naturally gravitate towards. In my current challenge, one week without social media, I’ve been writing more because I don’t know what else to do when I’m on my computer and can’t kill time with Facebook or Twitter. The more closely your replacement habit fits in the role of the habit it is intended to replace, the easier the transition between the two will be.
Believe it or not, the challenges I’ve picked have just sort of come to me at the right times. I rarely have planned more than one week in the future, but when the time has come to embark on a new challenge, there has always been something salient on my mind that translates into a good subject to explore.
You are correct about the importance of evaluating your own life and assessing what you can change or do better. What I like to do is take fifteen minutes completely alone and in focus and meditate on a few open-ended questions. Here’s a few I’ve come up with that I’ve found to be particularly useful:
If you are considering trying your own week without challenge, I’d advise you to think about the simple things in life, the things you take most for granted, that don’t help you accomplish your goals or values. Whatever it is, if it isn’t getting you any closer to where you want to go, you can probably learn something from going without it, even if the greatest takeaway is perspective.
Far and away, the biggest lesson so far is that I have the power to live whatever life I want to live. All of the conveniences I take for granted, everything I once thought I could never live without, are just luxuries. They neither define me, nor are they required for me to be who I am. This power gives birth to an incredible freedom in knowing that your life hasn’t already been designed, you get to create it, actively and intentionally, each and every day.
Well, hopefully one day in the future I will have learned enough from these challenges that I’ll see fit to write a book on the whole experience, One Year Without has a certain ring to it… Ultimately, I hope that I can break free of the structure of the work world entirely and truly create my own lifestyle from scratch, though that may be a ways off.
The best thing for me has been the encouragement and support I’ve received from so many people I will probably never meet. I’ve heard back from a few people who have tried their own challenges, and hope to hear even more stories from readers in the future. I love seeing One Week Without turn into a community of experimenters and adventurers. I would encourage anyone out there who wants more out of life to get their hands dirty, take the challenge, and see how strong they can be for themselves.