Personal Challenges & Habit Formation

This blog has always been finance and investment related, and I never shared much on the personal front. However, I figured I will share some of my personal goals that I have struggled with & achieved so far in 2018 — just because its something that I have been reading & thinking a lot about recently and find it interesting.

My major personal goal for 2018 was related to habits (and habit formation). Over the years, I had fallen into some bad habits while letting go of the good ones; so I am making a conscientious effort to change things one month at a time.

Lot of these challenges are focused on health. Something that I haven’t shared before on this blog is my interest in health. After finances, health is my biggest passion. As I get older (in late 30s now), I am reminded that I need to clean up my act and lead a healthier lifestyle if I want to enjoy the later years of my life.

I like to set myself monthly challenges because I figure whatever new things I want to try, I can work & struggle through them for one month. After the month is over, I can look back & re-evaluate on whether I want to keep the new habit going or discard it. This feedback step is crucial in habit formation. I used to follow this model years ago, but had stopped over the past 3-4 years.

In 2018, I decided to polish off this little tactic and incorporate it into my life again. Shane Parrish from Farnam Street Blog summarized it well in the following tweet thread recently:

In fact, I am currently reading the book The Talent Code, which goes into the detail of how we learn new skills and how talents are grown through deep practice; how Myelin (the white matter in the brain) plays an important role in using the struggles of learning a new skill and acquiring talents. Struggling with a new skill is crucial. When we try a new activity, neurons firing in the brain form new pathways and circuits. Some of these circuits are right for the targeted task (and need to be reinforced by feedback and repetition), and some are wrong (needs to be discarded, again based on feedback). The feedback mechanism allows us to keep more of the correctly-fired circuits and avoid the incorrectly-fired circuits. This is where myelin comes in — by providing insulation around the correctly fired circuits (no different than insulation around a copper wire or fiber optic cable). By iterating over and over, the new circuitry allows us to grow new skills/talents so that we can continue performing the  task without thinking or trying consciously anymore — due to repeatedly firing the same established circuit over and over. This is a long winded and a more complex biological answer to the old axiom “Practice makes perfect”.

Back to the monthly challenges…

Although the monthly challenges aren’t new to me, I decided to tweak it a bit this time to make them cumulative. For e.g., I pick Challenge X for the month of January and the hope was that after doing it everyday for the whole month, I can continue doing it forever (on cruise-control). Then pick up a Challenge Y in Febuary and continue doing X & Y forever. And so on.

Another little twist that I added for these monthly challenges are that I alternate adding a good habit for a month and removing a bad habit for a month. And hopefully by the end of the year, my day-to-day has changed to make me lead a better life.

Without further ado, here is my progress so far this year:

January

Challenge: Floss everyday.

Before the start of 2018, I was not religiously flossing everyday and would just resort to brushing 2-3 times a day while flossing maybe once in 3-4 days. Oral hygiene is one of the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to avoiding heart diseases (one the three major killers in humans). There is a lot of evidence to show that oral hygiene has a direct correlation to heart health. As a result, I decided that I want to incorporate flossing in addition to brushing 2-3 times a day into my daily routine.

How did I do? I missed 3 or 4 days of the month, which was a considerable improvement. Also, I have kept up pretty well since January ended and perform this task without thinking too much about it. Goal achieved 🙂

February

Challenge: Limit alcohol consumption to weekends only.

Over the course of last year or so, I got into this habit of having one beer every night at the end of the day as a ritual. I have found that this is a terrible habit and need to rid of it as it was affecting my sleep and also affecting my overall mood.

How did I do? I had pretty good progress with this in Feb, although I have slipped a bit since the end of Feb. But overall, I would say that I am doing much better than I did at the start of the year.

March

Challenge: Work out 4x per week & start lifting weights atleast once a week.

This challenge was triggered with Mrs R2R and I geeking out on Peter Attia‘s work. I had heard and read a little bit about Peter Attia a few years ago (my wife’s colleague is an oldtime friend of Peter from his school days), but rediscovered his work in early 2018. In addition to sharing some amazing knowledge about diet, health & fitness and how to lead and extend your “health span” (where your quality of life is good due to healthier living as long as possible instead of just a life-span where you manage to survive but in declining condition year after year), Peter’s top recommendation is to lift weights. The reason being that once you are past the age of 40, your muscle mass declines by approx 1% per year, but if you can slow that down (by staying active and lifting weights) that can make a huge difference when you are older. Strength training and stressing is the only way to increase your bone density and this can have a huge impact if you fall in old age — which can result in a broken hip (a common attribute among the elderly, which you seldom recover from).

I used to lift weights regularly until a couple of years ago, but lately the only workout I was getting was playing soccer twice a week. I hadn’t been to the gym and lifted weights in almost 2 years! March was a good month as far as habit formation goes and I was able to up my workout regimen. In addition to playing soccer regularly, I have been frequenting the gym and starting lifting weights. I think I had one week where I didn’t get 4x/week of workout, but managed to achieve this goal for the rest of the month. Another win! 🙂

April

Challenge: No screen time for the last hour before bedtime.

The third aspect (after food and exercise) when it comes to overall healthy living often overlooked by many is: sleep. I have been suffering over the past few months of broken sleep. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, usually to go to the washroom, and cannot fall back asleep. I then resort to looking at my phone, and next thing I know I am awake for an hour or two in the middle of the night. So, I figured that I need to optimize my sleep and do whatever I can to sleep through the night without any interruptions. Working in tech, where I stare at a screen all day and stare more at screens for reading/blogging/entertainment, I decided that I want to cut back and see if it helps. So, my challenge for this month is to avoid any screen time for one hour before bed.  The only exception to this rule is if I have to work, as sometimes I need to co-ordinate and get on conference calls with colleagues overseas.

So far, I haven’t seen too much improvement, but its still early to tell. I have failed on this challenge for about 3-4 days in the last two weeks since I started. Hopefully this will help me overall. One positive aspect of this challenge has been that I am reading more books now than ever, so something positive is already coming off of this challenge.

That’s my update YTD. What do you think? Share your thoughts below. I will provide a follow up update on this front later in the year.

18 thoughts on “Personal Challenges & Habit Formation

  1. Certainly a noble and worthwhile objective. It appears your approach is a modification of Deming’s 14 steps so keep tracking and celebrate the incremental steps no matter how small!

  2. That’s a great idea breaking up your goals into monthly ones. Good job achieving them and keeping them up. I think the most difficult part is committing to it over the long term, since it’s easy to fall back to old habits once your initial excitement for change diminishes. A few things I find helpful is to have someone keeping you accountable (eg your wife) and to physically write things down and check them off once you’ve completed them. It may not seem like much but it really does help keep you focused.

    • Yes, one of the harder things to do is not to fall out of the good habits that you pick up as you go. Its what I am thinking a lot about too. Keeping yourself accountable will work on some people, but not necessarily on everyone — depends on your personality type and which part of the framework you fall into. For e.g., I know that I am better at keeping myself accountable to no one else other than myself, and dont look for outer expectations; while a lot of others may perform better when there is external accountability.

      Good to hear from you…its been a while. Hope things are well on your end.
      R2R

  3. Hey Road

    Wow great ideas and actually a lot like mine.

    My wife’s a hygienist and I slack with flossing. I honestly flossed once a month or whatnot. I recently got a water pick. Its awesome and helps a lot, they stress I should still floss more but its an improvement! I also keep a couple of those ez flossers if I drive.

    I wasn’t burning the pounds off last summer like I normally do. I drink tall cans now as they are a better value. Since moving to the country I love sitting back in the yard after work and turning some tunes on and cracking a cold one. Winter was easy to cut that, but with the weather creeping back I got to watch that.

    Working out – Ive dropped the ball, I worked out a couple times and felt great. Excuses happen and I havent gotten back at it. I have thought of keeping a page on my site just for this. That way its online and keeping me accountable. Just dont want to mix finance and fitness.

    The screen time is one I’m really guilty of and have thought the exact thing. Forcing myself to read a book for roughly a hr before bed would be great. I guess that’s one downside of a blogger, I love to read others materials.

    Anyways keep it up man, great idea!
    cheers

  4. Great list. Now that I’m fully retired (wife still works) I have more time to work on fitness, health and nutrition. I workout at Goodlife 6 days a week. It’s an investment in me.

    I use those floss picks (Zehrs brand) instead of actual floss. I use one after every meal, works great and keeps me honest with dental hygiene.

    I only have a few beers on Fridays only with the guys. Never during the week.

    I mean if you don’t take care of yourself, why save and invest for later if you lead a destructive lifestyle? Anyways, just me.
    Cheers!

  5. Living a healthy lifestyle is interesting:

    1. The healthier you become, the harder it is to become unhealthy (it’s why people who go to the gym regularly just can’t stop going to the gym).

    2. The more unhealthy you become, the harder it is to become healthy (it’s why people who don’t work out have a hard time committing to fitness).

  6. Woww great work so far :). I must try to use your April’s challenge on myself. Mrs. TDK has been asking me for it for past several months but I never tried, seems like I should try out myself for better quality time with family and some relaxing from these rays from these devices with screens :).

    Thanks for posting.

    Good Luck,
    TDK.

    • Yeah so far I am seeing a lot of benefits in trying to avoid screens. No more vegging out in front of the TV or browsing mindlessly. Reading more books is definitely a better outcome, although I make sure that some of the reading doesnt send my brain racing thinking about stuff. Some easy reading is recommended 🙂

      R2R

    • Is there such a thing as too healthy? 🙂 Injuries are a part of pushing yourself if you are challenging and focusing on the results. Give your body the time to heal up and hopefully, you can continue on the path.

      R2R

  7. Thanks for sharing your habit goals! I read somewhere that it takes 40 days to incorporate a habit. Flossing daily- good for you! One time I put a sticky note on the mirror that said “FLOSS!” and it helped. I recently started using Interdental brushes which seems to make flossing easier and more effective.

    Hope you get some more sleep, decreasing screen time is a good idea. The blue light of the screens affects your circadian rhythm.

  8. We can’t actually see a result in a night or weeks. But WE humans have instinct and though the challenge is quite difficult to handle still we think outside the box and hoping for something positive. And yeah, I agree with there are lots of helpful books, especially in financial management and investment that can really help people.

    • Habit formation does take time. Studies have shown that habit formation can take anywhere between 3 weeks to 8 weeks. But consciously working on them month after month, Im hoping to incorporate them into my lifestyle.

      cheers
      R2R

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