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When 750 Words Are Enough: A Q&A with Buster Benson (Part 2)

Here’s part II of my interview with Buster Benson. It is more than 750 words, thank you very much. (Here was Part 1)


How did you get started in the habit mapping concept? Does this track back to something you did as a kid?

I would write in my journal every single day as a kid. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and learned how to build websites that I got more interested in [habit tracking] though. The first web-related habit I did was back in 2002 or 2003 called Moblogging — these days that’s just called taking photos with your phone. I’d take these 640×480 tiny little pictures but there was no site to really capture the photo so I built a service that would capture tag and add it to my blog.

From there I started tracking my mood.  Along with the photo, I would add a +1 or -1 and that got pulled into my “morale-o-meter” which was supposed to check whether I was interacting with things that were uplifting my mood or bringing me down. I wanted to see if there were any correlations between how much I ate, slept how much I drank and my happiness. I did that for about three years and the interesting thing was there was really no correlation. You could sort of tell a story some things by looking at the graph, but really it was just random. That made me really, really interested cause I thought I just must not be capturing the right information. That’s really what sparked my interest: I didn’t want to track just anything, I wanted to track the things that have meaning to me or that told me information that I didn’t already know about myself.

So tell me about 750 words. I’ve read the Artists Way and have tried to do the “Morning Pages” but it’s a struggle to do everything by hand, which Julia Cameron requires as part of said, “Way.” Your app which lets you do it digitally, and lets you know when you’ve written 750 words and stores it. You’ve pretty much solved my issue.

For years I’d been doing Morning Pages, but I was never very happy doing it in a paper journal either. I wanted to know that no one going to find it.  For the same reason, I was never happy doing it on my computer or blog because I was paranoid someone was going to be able to log in or I might accidentally forget to make something a private post. That all made me censor myself more. So I really just built that for myself. I really didn’t think more than 50 people would use it. It’s now probably one of the most loved things I’ve ever built which is awesome.

Have you talked to Julia Cameron about it?

I’ve tried a few times and people have tried to introduce me. One of her adamant rules for Morning Pages is to use a pencil or pen. I don’t think she would necessarily like it.

Oh I don’t know, if that’s the barrier between me doing it and not doing it, It’s much better that I’m doing it.

Yeah, true.

So you have all these sites, and you do your morning pages and you’ve been taking photos of yourself at 8:36 every morning for the last 1445 days. Have you conquered stress? That actually sounds really stressful to me.

Good question. I have no idea how stressed out I’d be if I didn’t do those things. In general my life is pretty stressful. The last five years it’s been up and down but I now have tools to recognize when I’m stressed out and knowing which tool or exercise or behavior can help me get out of it. Before I was on this downward spiral, running an art gallery in a bar, trying to get city permits, losing lots of money, unable to sleep at night, my blood pressure was high and I was quick to anger. I did acupuncture, mediation and writing –  that helped a lot. It was doing simple things that really helped, like having a nighttime ritual to calm myself down. I only do them when I need them. But at least I know what works for me. That’s the really important part of self experimentation. I’m not trying to create a chain of habits that I can’t vary from day to day. I need variation, I need serendipity, I need to break the chain every once in a while.

[Niko sits in for his Dad on the 8:36 project]

Has having a baby [his son Niko] added the inspiration for a new tool or app?

I haven’t come up with any new habit, but any parent will tell you, being present for a new baby is a really rewarding and actually relaxing experience. It’s very easy as a start-up person to always be thinking about the future or planning things. I try to explain this to my friends who don’t have kids, that it’s maybe the cheesiest or cliché thing to say, but just being able to forget about the future for a while and realize these moments of connection with your family are probably the most rewarding experiences in your life. If I had a billion dollars in the bank it couldn’t create the same experience that I could just get playing with my kid for 10 minutes.

That might answer my next question which is when are you happiest. When does everything comes into full view and you feel like, ok this is the moment when it all makes sense.

When I’m building something, figuring something out. Kellianne, my wife, often makes fun of me and says that when I’m burned out at work, I start a new project. I’m thinking things through, iterating and the ideas are fresh. It feels like it’s meaningful to me.


  1. Pingback: Don’t Think, Act: Life According to Buster Benson | Tue Night

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