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Personal Challenges & Habit Formation 3

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.
These small incremental changes can have a profound effect over time. The benefit (and detrimental effect, in the reverse case) of compounding is something most investors are well aware of. Same concept applies to life and building those marginal gains and compounding them. This article from James Clear and the associated image conveys this point well.
You will notice that most of these challenges are health related. After finance, most of my focus & passion surrounds health. In addition, I am always looking to optimize things so that I can live longer and healthier life. This is a follow up post revisiting all challenges since Jan.


Challenge: Floss everyday.
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. This one has been a big winner for me and I can say that the habit has set in without any extra effort needed. I automatically find myself flossing almost after every meal now…a habit that will pay dividends for the coming decades.


Challenge: Limit alcohol consumption to weekends only.
While I struggled a bit initially, I was able to get better at it over the more recent months. I have drastically cut down alcohol consumption and hope to keep up with this habit. I’ve had up and down months since February, but the trajectory remains down — which is what I was aiming for.
In fact over the month of July, I experimented with a zero alcohol consumption challenge. I failed at this, and ended up having four nights of having a drink, but it was an interesting experiment. I think zero drinks is a bit unrealistic since I do enjoy an occasional beer/cider/whisky – so I started targeting more of a 3 drinks/month kind of a limit.
This worked well right until the holiday season came around and I started having regular drinks over the last couple of weeks of December. Looking forward to going back to a more drier state in the new year.


Challenge: Work out 4x per week & start lifting weights atleast once a week.
A win but not completely on this front. I have been working out regularly and have gone back to hitting the gym & lifting weights regularly, but haven’t kept up to 4x per week. All is not lost, since I am staying active about 3x per week on an average.


Challenge: No screen time for the last hour before bedtime.
A complete failure on this front 🙁 I have not been able to kick this habit of staring at my computer or phone before bedtime. It remains one of my goals, but perhaps I need to try some other tactics to achieve this.


Challenge: Eat organ meats once a week
I have been reading a lot about the ketogenic/carnivore/LCHF(low carb & high fat) diets lately. I am not going to go into the details and the benefits of these diets since that information is readily available elsewhere on the web. For the most part, our household follows a paleo diet (not 100%, but close enough). But even from an evolutionary standpoint, one point that is always missing from most debates is the consumption of organ meats. Even in the carnivore community, most people seem to focus entirely on lean meats — which misses the point. Organ meats are probably the most nutrient dense foods available and the current culture has shunned these as waste. I grew up eating organ meats regularly (perhaps once a month or so), so I decided to start introducing these back in my diet.
I was successful during the month of May, but haven’t kept up with this habit. Needs more attention going forward.

June & July

June Challenge: Zero snacking
July Challenge: Intermittent Fasting
I’ll combine June & July challenges since they are related.
In addition to reading about the different diets mentioned above, I’ve also been following the research & benefits of intermittent fasting (IF). One of the leading causes of Type 2 diabetes has now been revealed to be the constant secretion of insulin. I found that most of my snacking was related more to boredom rather than a need to eat or drink anything. Initially when I started, I found it hard as I kept finding myself going to the fridge after dinner looking for something to eat, simply because I was bored. On the Intermittent Fasting front, I have also started skipping breakfasts — which has freed up my mornings completely. The only thing I consume between dinner and lunch is a cup of coffee with a small amount of coconut oil. Most IF proponents suggest 16:8 to be a good balance (16 hrs of fasting and 8 hrs of eating). I started off with 12:12, and progressed to 14:10, then 16:8, then 18:6 and even tried a few days of 20:4.
These two habits have been a resounding success and a complete life-changer. In addition to all the health benefits, I have a lot more time on my hands since I don’t have to think about breakfasts, snacks etc (I still prepare a breakfast for my 2-yr old toddler, but the cooking & cleaning is minimal).


Challenge: Reduce sitting time
As a software engineer, I spend a lot of time in front of the screen and majority of it: sitting. I think everyone can agree that this is a horrible position to be in for an extended period of time. Some people even go as far to call “sitting is the new smoking”. The challenge for the month of August has been to reduce the sitting time. I was able to convince my manager to get me a standing desk at work — which has helped me in addressing the point. While this is great when I am at work, I need a similar setup at home since I only go to office about 1/2 the time and work from home when I can/want.
Progress has been good, but I can do better going forward.


Challenge: Focus on posture
Sitting in front of computer has made me hunch down over the years. I wanted to spend some effort to correct my posture by pulling my shoulders back, sit/stand a bit more upright.
The progress on this challenge is a bit more hard to gauge since its hard to measure. I *think* I am doing better and will be trying to improve more going forward.


Challenge: Cold(er) showers
A few years ago, I tried this experiment and found that it helped me deal with the long, cold winters here in Canada. I don’t know if its just a placebo effect, but I find the cold weather just a bit more bearable when I have a slightly colder shower. I still take hot showers, but end the showers with cold water, just enough to shock the system a bit.
I haven’t done tons of research on this, but I read a few places that cold showers stimulate your sympathetic nervous system and has some overall health benefits. Like I said, I haven’t researched enough to know if there is enough data to back this up, but since it helps me deal with the winter a bit better, I will take it.
Progress has been good as I have been doing this regularly and hoping to continue through the winter months.


Challenge: Incorporate phototherapy to address SAD.
Living in Canada in the cold, dark days also comes with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I have found that my SAD has been getting worse each year. My wife has also faced the same problem and uses a LED lamp that she finds helpful. I decided to give this a try to see if it helps.
Not good progress on this. I used the LED lamp for a few days, but haven’t kept up. Needs more effort on my part.


Challenge: Meditation
This is one activity that has been recommended from numerous people I respect & follow. I have tried meditating in the past & always given up after a few days. I decided to finally give it another shot in December and try some guided mindfulness meditation.
This activity was also a complete failure since I gave up after a few days of trying. I am not going to quit trying yet, so the struggle continues.
That’s my habits update for 2018. It was fun to share this part of my life on the blog, and not sure if I will continue this series in 2019. What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

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