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:
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 🙂
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.
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! 🙂
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.