Yes I am woefully behind on my blog (and my improvement program).
April has been the month of slack. I’m not sure whether this is from over-training, changing my diet/supplement regiment or plain ol’ burnout. A three month run was pretty good but I’ll see about getting back on the saddle in May.

March Reviewed

I most definitely did not do what I said I was going to do in March. So what have I learned from my failures?
1. Pick one thing and one thing only – especially for compliance reporting.
For some reason I had assumed that you should/could build on tracking the habits you are developing. This doesn’t work for me. Instead it results in habit development burnout. I’m really tired of writing about the habit that I learned in January. What’s interesting is I don’t think anyone explicitly suggested I keep adding to my compliance list. In fact Benjamin Franklin explicitly did not do this – In Ben’s self-improvement program he only focused on one thing at a time. Henceforth, I’m going to do the same.
2. Even though I’m failing, I’m still winning. So I haven’t mastered the art of getting to bed by 11 each night. I’m still becoming a more present person by meditating every day, developing as a singer on a daily basis, and getting in great shape by working out 6 days a week while following a strict diet. I’m made some major behavioral changes in the last three months and now they (mostly) feel like old hat. Also, I am getting better at the 11pm thing. I’ve quit drinking caffeine after noon. I am insisting that I get 8 hours of sleep which means that if I don’t get to bed at 11, I don’t do my singing exercises in the morning before going to work. I’m playing games with my brain until I figure out what works. The rest of the nighttime routine is a piece of cake, so I am almost there.

Tomorrow is the beginning of April. I need to pick my April healthy habit soon!

March’s Healthy Habit – Nighttime Routine

I have been taking on a lot of new habits lately which I can list in a later post. The habit I need to create for myself is the thing I am not doing – getting to bed on time.
I am waking up every morning at 7 and I really need to try and get 8 hours of sleep – especially with my sleep apnea problems. If I’m not well rested, all other good habits and achievement become unpleasant and difficult and more importantly – I become unpleasant and difficult.

I’d like to get to bed at 11pm every work night (Sunday through Thursday).

There are some things I need to do before going to bed so in this post I am declaring that I will follow a “Nighttime Routine”.

I will do the routine at the same time Sunday through Thursday.
I will do the routine on Friday and Saturday – at some unpredictable time.

Here’s the routine:

Continue reading

February’s Health Habit – Meditation

I think I waited so long to pick a healthy habit because the two leading candidates: meditating on a daily basis or picking the three things I was going to do during a day, just seemed like too much of a commitment. I didn’t think I could do either of them every single day. My solution to this problem was taken from Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke Of Insight”. When Jill talks about relearning things after her stroke, she says that things were successfully learned by chopping them into discrete steps where the complexity of each step was manageable by her mind. In the realm of habit creation I take this to mean make the new habit simple enough to be workable.

I had thought that meditating daily meant finding 20 minutes out of my day, every day to meditate. That is so not workable right now. So I thought about 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes. All were a no go. What I settled on was committing to counting 10 breaths. In the particular form of meditation I practice, you count your breaths from 1 to 10 and then repeat the count indefinitely. So I am effectively committing to doing 1 unit of meditation. While this main seem like a cop-out, I maintain I will end up doing more meditation by setting this commitment. If I were to commit to 20 minutes a day and knew I couldn’t do it, I would just skip that day’s meditation. But since I am committing a counting 10 breaths, I really have no excuse not to sit down and do it. It’s too easy to not do every single day. And since its the minimum, I might fall into a routine of doing 5, 10, or 15 minutes a day. The point is that I will do something everyday. That will give me a daily foundation from which I can build. My goal is to sit for 20 minutes but will get there one set of breaths at a time.

Speaking of goals – why meditation? What do I hope to gain from it? In the particular form of mediation that I practice, you always start with out the vow “No matter how many sentient beings there are, I vow to save them all from suffering”. This is a very nobel sentiment. I am going to sit with a goal that’s a little more modest. Having seen myself meditate and not medidate over the years, I believe I am a lot more fun to be around when I mediate. I am more relaxed and easy going. If I don’t mediate, I can get really cranky (think godzilla). So the reason I am sitting is to save the people around me from suffering! They shouldn’t have to put up with ‘sir-cranks-a-lot’. So this one goes out to all my friends…

Look for a daily update’s on how I’m doing at http://joel-accountability.blogspot.com/

New Accountability Blog

In my efforts to create 12 new healthy habits this year, I have discovered that there really is value in doing a daily checkin. I don’t really want to do that on this blog. Daily checkin entries seems like too much noise. My solution is a new blog http://joel-accountability.blogspot.com/ . I can’t imagine anyone will want to read it but the fact that it’s public still generates the accountability that seems requisite for creating new habits. That’s the theory anyway. Let’s see how it works!

Healthy Habits Checkin

In my January 9 post, I resolved to:

*each week print of 7 days of Alan’s diet
*each day of the week circle my meals on the sheet and note any deviations.
*report on how I am doing every Monday

So how’m I doin?

*each week print of 7 days of Alan’s diet Check.
Piece of cake.

*each day of the week circle my meals on the sheet and note any deviations. Almost check.
After doing this reliably for 16 days, I fell of the wagon this weekend. I had a non-routine weekend largely due to a photo shoot that went into the wee hours of the morning instead of wrapping up at the usual time. It’s easier to do routine things when they are part of a routine.

*report on how I am doing every Monday
I clearly have not done this. I would have written three Monday post by now. The original recommendation was to report back to my witnesses on a daily basis. I now see why. It’s not to be held accountable so frequently. It’s a way to force yourself to reflect on the new behavior you are generating on a daily basis.

Some thoughts:
I didn’t lose any weight. This was not a goal but had I followed the diet to the letter, I would have lost a few pounds. Instead my weight would drop and then climb as I would “somehow” manage to eat the calories needed to get me back to the original weight. This could include everything from incorrectly eyeballing portion size (looks like 6 ounces to me) to consuming extra calories from drinks during “special occasions”. Also each time my weight would drop my anxiety level would increase. When I snacked my way to the heavier weight I would get calmer. These powers of self deception and emotional manipulation fascinate me and fill me with a new found respect for those invisible systems in my body that keep me at some homeostasis of its own design.

On a related note, it’s pretty clear to me that choosing this goal was a “Head Fake” ala Randy Pausch Right now I’m learning to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea with a CPAP machine. This is a little like strapping a leaf blower to your face every night before you go to bed. I believe that focusing on a diet has been distracting and gives me the illusion of control we all crave. I measure food in clear well defined units and eat it at defined times. I get results as long as I follow THE PLAN. Tricky Brain. I am amazed by your mysterious ways.

Creating Healthy Habits in 2009

I like New Year’s resolutions. In theory. Any activity that gets people to reach for their better selves is OK by me. In practice, I haven’t gotten around to creating any 2009 resolutions until now. Two blog post got me moving.

The first is from Amy Batchelor over at Thoughts and Random Patterns. Her posting The Year of Living Alphabetically inspired me to act. In the blog Amy commits to posting a list of words each week of the year. The list of words in that first post are beautiful. If you need to be reminded of the poetic power of language, read the blog. I also liked that Amy decided to focus on her own unique strengths as a list maker. This act of embracing a skill that some might consider mundane and turning it into a super power was very inspiring. Finally I liked the concept of breaking up the New Year’s resolution so that one thing at a time happened. A lot of the work I have read on achieving goals stresses the importance of dividing the goal into manageable pieces.

The second blog post echoed this theme of doing one thing at a time. The author, Tim Ferriss, writes about Leo Babuata’s new book The Power of Less. In the post, Tim states “focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time, so that you’ll be able to focus all your energy on creating that one habit.” The post also lays out the basic rules for each month: pick your monthly goal, announce your goal publicly, and report on your success on a (ugh) daily basis.

The second post was enough to put me in action. So I am now officially announcing my intention to create a new daily habit for each month of 2009. At (or towards) the beginning of the month, I will announce my goal. I will give periodic (frequency TBD) updates on my success.

For January, I am going to start following my diet. Last April, I consulted with the talented nutritionist Alan Aragon to create a diet and exercise plan. Over the next 5 months, I lost 5 lbs of weight (with a much larger loss in fat and a significant gain in muscle), improved my diet and level of fitness. The diet made a huge difference in how I looked and felt.

The diet was also reasonably easy. The “structure” of how many meals to eat in a day and what to eat in each meal was defined on a single sheet of paper. To follow the diet, I just kept a food diary by circling what I ate on the sheet of paper. In the event that I deviated from the recommended meal, I just wrote it down.

Sounds simple right? I was until I changed jobs and cities.

So it’s time to start again. This means I will do the following:

*each week print of 7 days of Alan’s diet
*each day of the week circle my meals on the sheet and note any deviations.
*report on how I am doing every Monday

That’s it.

I’m keeping my first goal simple and inconsequential per Tim Ferriss’s recommendation. I know I can keep this goal because I have done it before. The real challenge is publicly announcing that I am on a diet and promising to report on my progress. That feels really weird to me. Once I feel more comfortable with the methodology, I can look at bigger challenges.

In closing, thanks to my muses for inspiring me to play the goal game in 2009. And thanks to anyone who reads this for holding me accountable.

Happy New Year!