One Observation / One Restraint for Thirty Days

If you enjoy experiments that might give you energy, an edge or new insight

consider the discipline of 

One Observation / One Restraint for Thirty Days


An observation is a practice you consciously include in your life. You might choose a certain amount of time for meditation, an exercise regime, a daily gratitude journal … any habit that is going to enliven you or give you energy.

A restraint is a practice from which you consciously refrain. You might choose to abstain from an unhealthy habit, a certain food group or substance … anything that drains you.

Here’s an example from a round I did last year:

My Daily Observation:  Do my physical therapy exercises

I injured my foot running, went to a physical therapist and was given some physical therapy exercises to do on a daily basis.  The exercises were boring and took an absurdly long time to complete.  I started in half-heartedly and soon after, dropped them completely.  I knew they were important but I could not muster up the motivation to do these repetitive, mundane exercises.  Each day I felt guilt, but the guilt did nothing to get me motivated.

My Daily Restraint:  Get off coffee (but not caffeine)   

My coffee habit had gotten a little out of control.  I was increasing the dose and hitting the aeropress more often than what I knew was helpful.  The coffee would crank up my energy to the point where I’d feel nervous and jangly and by late morning I’d crash, sometimes even having to take a nap.  More often than I liked, I’d look for more in the afternoon to keep me going.

I determined that for thirty days I would do my PT and move from coffee to tea.


What Happened

Week #1:  

Observance:  I feel sore and irritable.  

Restraint:     I switch to Matcha Tea.  It tastes like pond scum.  

Week #2:  

Observance:  Soreness has dissipated a bit.  Listening to a podcast while doing the PT makes it bearable.  

Restraint:  The tea still tastes like pond scum but my energy isn’t so wonky.

Week #3:  

Observance:  I feeling a bit more strong and balanced.  Less pain in my foot and hip.

Restraint:  I am starting to understand why the monks use Matcha Tea as a meditation aid. The tea still tastes like pond scum, but my energy is more steady and buoyant.   And I’m sleeping better.

Week #4:  

Observance:  My foot feels great.  My gait is balanced out and I actually feel better than I did before the injury.

 Restraint:  I mixed the Matcha Pond Scum Blend into a smoothie. Perfect!   I’m amazed at how much more productive I am with my energy steady and solid through the morning.  I can feel a momentum in my work that’s quite satisfying.  When I look back to before I made the switch, my sleep has improved dramatically.


Here are the keys to the practice:

1.  Select only one observance and only one restraint. Choose practices you sense will enliven you in some way. Make them specific and measurable.    

2.  Set up a system that will support you and keep you motivated.


How to Maintain Momentum

It can be challenging to stay inspired and keep your practices vibrant. Here are two ways that might support you:

1. The Seinfeld Method

Jerry Seinfeld knew he needed to write every day if he was going to break out as a comedian.  This is what he recommends:  Print out a monthly calendar. Put a big RED “X” for each day you practice. 

Keep the calendar where you can see it or better yet, where others can see it too. 

The idea is to keep the visual chain going. 

(I use a different color marker for the observance and restraint.) 

2. Enroll a Partner

Find someone who might like to be an ally for your practice. Determine what kind of support you’d like and might offer to your partner.


Some Options with Your Partner:

  • Send a daily email about your practice and your experience. This can be as simple a putting the information in the subject line. Your partner doesn’t have to respond. But they notice.
  • Schedule a series of calls or meetings with your partner to share observations and challenges.
  • Enroll a friend, partner or your whole family. Some folks have done this with their spouse and kids and have the practice as part of their dinner conversation.