Like most days, I got lost in neverending click throughs on reddit. I found a subreddit called /r/NonZeroDay, dedicated to “For those struggling with motivation and procrastination, a place to share your daily progress towards your goals.” I was of course immediately interested.

It turns out that the entire subreddit started from a single comment by user ryans01 attempting to motivate a poster who seemed down on his luck. User ryans01’s comment blew up and his seemingly innocuous comment turned into a philosophy based on four simple rules:

Rule 1 - No More Zero Days

A zero day is defined as a day where you don’t do a single thing towards your goal. The philosophy here is to promise to do at least one thing that’ll help you towards your goal:

One push up.

One chapter.

One sentence.

The idea here is that if you do at least one thing you’ll feel productive. And the reason that that’s important is because when you feel unproductive, the feelings associated with being a failure prevents you from trying again.

Rule 2 - Be Grateful To The Three “You’s”

The three “you’s” are defined as your past self, your present self and your future self. Quite simply, be thankful to your past self for keeping up with your goal. Meanwhile, your present self does a favour for your future self by doing at least one thing (Rule number 1) so that your future self feels motivated.

In ryans01’s post, he even goes on to describe your three “you’s” as your friends. The idea with this rule, is that you are creating a positive emotional feedback loop: because your present self did a favour for your best friend, your future self, your future self will have an easier time with their non zero day goal. And meanwhile, you’re continually being grateful to your past self, for being such a good friend in helping you get to your goal.

Rule 3 - Forgive Yourself

I feel that this is the most important rule. There will be some days when you can’t do that one thing for the day. And when the next day comes around, forgive yesterday’s self and be a better friend for tomorrow’s self.

You’re trying to keep the positive feedback loop going, so with this rule, you’re forgiving yourself instead of giving up. Then, you pick yourself up and help tomorrow’s self so that they don’t feel what you’re feeling now.

Rule 4 - Exercise and Books

There are many studies observing increased cognitive abilities with regular physical activity. For example, this Forbe’s article lists ways that regular exercise helps with your mental health: increases your energy, sharpens focus, enhances mood, helps impulse control, improves memory and increases productivity.

Also, endorphins feel pretty good.

Secondly, read books to help you get to your goal. As ryans01 says it “Reading is the fucking warp whistle from Super Mario 3. It gets you to the next level that much faster.”

The community on /r/NonZeroDay even points out that this rule is the easiest way to achieve a non zero day. Even if fitness or reading a book isn’t the goal you’ve set out for yourself, if you do some push ups or read a chapter for example, you’re technically helping your future self out achieve his or her goal faster.

Personal Takeaways

I’ve been feeling pretty down because the goal I set out for myself (release the blog system running this website publicly) has been going nowhere. I’ve been feeling guilty because I’m so busy at work and I can’t find time to code even one line, or make one commit to github.

But after reading these four rules, I found that I’ve been “hacking” this system: I bike every day. That counts as Rule number 4 right? So, technically, I’m helping my future self to finalize this software release. Which means that I should thank myself, Rule 2, for doing this. And that makes it easier to forgive myself, Rule 3, for not finishing.

Hey, looks like I’ve been doing non zero days, Rule 1, all along. I’m going to release this software.

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