A Tip For Better New Year’s Resolutions

New Years ResolutionsBetter as in more sustainable, successful, the kind you don’t forget about come January 22nd.

I made my most successful New Year’s resolution to date for 2011: I would no longer buy clothes at H&M, mostly because my closet was at least 50% H&M and I was buying too many things I did not need. I have not shopped there since.

My second to most successful was for 2014: reading at least one newspaper article a day. Which I did until circa July. Only then did laziness set in and New Year’s seemed too far away for the resolution to still matter.

Other resolutions were such a failure that I don’t even remember the year I made them. Exercise more. Eat better. I just looked at my journal to see which resolutions I made for 2015 – I never wrote them down and now I’ve forgotten them. Maybe I wanted to meditate? I did that until February… I think.

So what was the secret ingredient in 2011 and 2014? Specificity. Never going to one specific store. Reading one article every day.

Compared to that, “eat better” doesn’t mean anything. It should have been something like: Cook three meals a week that include at least two vegetables and no meat. Eat X servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Not eating X, Y, and Z.

Accordingly, my 2016 resolution is specific (but not as great an example for this strategy as the variations of “eat better”): I will floss every day. 2016 and beyond will be an era of dental health. This is slightly daunting, as my life expectancy as of January 2016 is 54.78 years. Three minutes of flossing a day adds up 60,025.35 minutes (1000.42h, 41.68d, 5.95 weeks), including leap years.

Maybe I should have refrained from doing these calculations. But I will put the floss in a convenient, highly visible place and get in habit implementation mode.

What are your 2016 resolutions? How will you make them stick?

Final 2015 Experiments and November Results

IMGP2114 KopieToday is December 1st. So how did my November experiments go? I am so glad you asked, because they were a resounding success! Double drumroll and early firecrackers, because really, who wants to wait until New Year’s Eve?

  1. Yoga: 27/30 days!!! On November 4th, I did the “best” tree pose ever. With my foot on my thigh, not my calf. I can now almost do tree pose. I am more flexible. I am not that much stronger, because I had a cold for two weeks and did a lot of restorative yoga. But without this experiment, I probably wouldn’t have moved at all during that time, so major win. Even on busy days, I added three minutes of yoga to the end of my day, giving myself some breathing room. From now on, I want to keep practicing at home, but I won’t be as “strict” as I was this month. The new goal will be not to miss two days in a row.
  2. Studying French: 28/30 days!!! Some vocabulary, some emails, and mostly reading a novel and short stories (Onitsha by Le Clézio and Les Yeux de Soie by Françoise Sagan).

I learned from last month’s mistakes and documented whether or not I did these things every day, and I’m pretty sure that was a large part of why things went so well. I also got rid of one thing on most days, so the low-key Minimalism Game was a success, too.

New month, new experiments. So of course, another drum roll for December:

  1. Read a chapter of my electrocardiogram book every day. An advent calendar of sorts. Clearly I go to medical school.
  2. Study French medical vocabulary for 10 minutes every day. Since I took the easy route of “just” reading for most of last month, this experiment is more specific. I’m going to be writing index cards and then studying them so I can start my semester abroad confidently.

These are realistic, since 10 minutes are not long, and the chapters in the ECG book are very short, too, about 5 pages each. Make-ups are allowed because December is a busy month.

How are you ending the year in a stride?

October Results

I guess by “check back on Monday” I actually meant “check back on Thursday?” But moving on, life happens. Since it is only improbable but not impossible that you’re dying to find out about the results for my Oct
ober experiments – without further ado (except the obligatory imaginary drumroll):Halloween

  1. The Minimalism Game – success! I made it until day 26, which means that I got rid of 351 things. Yes, technically, I didn’t win, i.e. make it until Halloween – that would have meant removing an additional 145 things. But that’s ok. Considering that I only have one room to declutter (most of the kitchen stuff belongs to my roommates), and things were already pretty minimal, I’m more than satisfied. I got rid of many things that I wouldn’t have questioned otherwise – why do I keep every postcard I receive in a box I never open? Who needs 71 buttons? Why do I own a CD when I don’t own a device that can swallow it? Just a sample of the fascinating questions I had to ask myself this past month… I hope I stay in a decluttering frame of mind over the holidays, since I’ve discovered that that is the best prevention to accumulation and the holidays are, well, a risk factor. I’ll maintain momentum by getting rid of one thing a day.
  2. Eating slowly – failure! At the beginning of the month, I was surprised that I remembered this resolution during so many meals. Instead, what should have surprised me was that I failed to act on this remembrance. Not always, but most of the time, my eating speed was the same as in September and all the months before. Not quite the point of this exercise. So what went wrong? Two things:
    1. The resolution was not specific enough. What is slow, even? That word means nothing when you’re hungry and only have 20 minutes for lunch. On the next try, it has to be something like “Chew at least 15 times” or “Put your fork down every three bites.” Numbers. Best way to specify a habit.
    2. I didn’t track my progress. While I took notes of every thing I got rid of and kept track of my September habits daily, I only took one little note regarding slow eating. On October 6th. As the month progressed, I remembered to slow down at fewer meals, until it had no influence whatsoever on my behavior. Next time, I should write a little note after every meal, recording my progress and keeping the resolution in the antechamber of my mind. This will probably also help in defining “slow”, since I’ll be forced to think about it at least three five times a day.

But I did learn a valuable lesson (which I recorded on October 6th): When consumed slowly, convenience foods to not pass the test: when you try to actually enjoy and savor them, they really don’t taste good enough to even deserve to be eaten. I also learned that this is a lesson you forget about as soon as you stop eating slowly.

How do you deal with setbacks? How do you formulate resolutions to make sure they are specific enough?

I hope you were more successful with your habits in October!

Nifty November Experiments

New month, new habits. My November experiments are ambitious in the sense that they both require taking time to do something every day, and as we all know, days can get surprisingly short as the holidays approach. But I have pretty strong intrinsic (#1) and extrinsic (#2) motivations, so that’ll help. Here’s to optimism and perseverance.

Experiments_Nov15

Drumroll for experiment #1: Do yoga every day. Either following along on Youtube (I love Yoga with Adriene and Fightmaster Yoga), going to a class, or freestyling things up by myself. I actually cheated and already started this experiment – I just got so excited about it. Plus, I figured it was a good way not to feel “meh” about myself going into winter, so I decided to put that momentum to good use. During the last two weeks, I only missed one day, and I love it. I feel so much better about myself, my body feels healthier, and I think my mind is quieter, too. And for the first time in my life, I did yoga without someone telling me which poses to do, but listening to my body and doing what felt necessary and right. Major yogi win.

Drumroll for experiment #2: Study at least 15 minutes of French ever day. I’m going to study abroad in France in the spring, and while I’m taking a medical French class and doing a tandem, I want to get my brain more into it. Either I speak, follow along with my online class, study vocab and grammar, or read French. Anything to get those brain cells used to a third language. And hopefully prevent nervous breakdowns on my first day in the hospital (hence the extrinsic motivation).

Are you starting any new habits in November? Check back on Monday for a review of October’s experiments! I know you’re dying to find out how eating slowly and the Minimalism Game went…

Experimental October

HalloweenAs I announced yesterday, publicly conducted experiments will be a thing on this blog. I hereby announce the research questions for October. I am back at home, so the project is less ambitious than September’s blank slate approach. Classes start in a week, so the challenge will be returning to and improving my regular routine.

Drumroll for this month’s lifestyle tweaks:

  1. Eating slowly. I’ve been known to breathe in my food along with oxygen and I irrationally believe that it will no longer taste good when it is lukewarm/ cold. This is something I want to unlearn. I want to force myself to slow down and really taste the things that are supposed to nourish me. Even after two days, when remembering the experiment, I realized that many things, especially convenience foods, really don’t taste that good when you attempt to enjoy them slowly. We shall see what change a month can bring.
  2. The Minimalism Game. Getting rid of more things every day, using the number on the calendar as my guide. I’ve played before, a few years ago, but didn’t make it through the entire month. It’s a great way to keep decluttering at the forefront of your mind, and already, things have had to say goodbye that I otherwise would not have questioned. Here’s to winning this time!

Have a lovely October and stay tuned for an update on the experiment at the end of the month – and many posts in between!

Public Experiments in Self Improvement

Self improvement is a hobby of mine. It seems common to bloggers (see? I’m already referring to myself as a blogger in my third post! Yay for successful identity appropriation!), or maybe we’re just the ones who can’t stop talking about it, while everyone else focuses on the improvement and holds their tongue.

I saw the “public experiment approach” on Raptitude and Zen Habits and decided to steal it– although I failed to start this blog in time to announce and conduct the first experiment publicly, so the review will have to suffice, as it was not an experiment in time travelling.

Since I was doing a one-month internship at a GP’s in a town I’d never been to, let alone lived in, I decided to try the strategy of the blank slate, the idea that it is easier to create new habits in a new environment, because you’re old triggers are gone. This led to wanting to adopt more new habits in one month than I’d ordinarily attempt.

Drumroll for the habits, in order of importance:

  1. 20 minutes of writing every day.
  2. 15 minutes of bodyweight exercises every day as a replacement for the gym I usually go to.
  3. Don’t eat sugar except for homemade jam and ice cream, honey, pancakes with maple syrup, raisin bread and things I baked myself.
  4. Eat 50% fruits and veggies at every meal.
  5. Do push ups every morning.

Drumroll for the results:

  1. Success! I wrote in 22/30 days, and made up for missed days – I travelled every weekend, which made writing daily difficult. But I discovered that trains are great places for journaling. Only three days were missed due to bad planning or lack of motivation. I will make this part of my morning routine back home.
  2. Success! 17/30 – I missed about three days due to the common cold, but days missed because of travel/bad planning/needing to go to bed were all made up for. Makeup days are not part of the 17, so I probably got to 30 x 15 minutes. YouTube and podcasts were my best friends, but I’ll be happy to get back to the structure of the gym and group exercise classes. And not having to think about my workout. Yes, picking a YouTube video is considered thinking.
  3. Failure! 13/30 – this surprises me, as I felt like I was sticking to the rules on most days. The art of lying to yourself highlights the importance of documenting your every move. Compared to habits 1 and 2, this shows that not doing something is much harder then doing something, because writing for 20 minutes takes 20 minutes, whereas not eating sugar takes all day. Travelling made it more difficult, but breaking the rules would have mostly been avoidable, had I decided to care. Only half the times of eating forbidden fruit were worth it, tops. I’m going to have to learn how to assess the worthiness of a treat without actually eating it. Mostly, the issue was emotional eating due to loneliness – I knew no one in that town and didn’t think that making friends was realistic during my short stay, so I didn’t even try. On rule-conforming days, I still ate a lot of sugar, for the same reasons. There was only one day, September 3rd, where I didn’t eat sugar at all, and I have to pessimistically attribute that to the excitement of starting something new. Thus, the rules did not lead to consuming (much) less sugar – but without them, the emotional eating may very well have led to more binges. I will see how well they work back home, where I have a social life – shocking, I know. It’ll take some getting used to.
  4. Success! 19/30 – easy during the week because I like veggies and I cooked all of my meals, impossible while travelling. But the experiment led to trying harder while on the road, so that’s a plus. It’ll be interesting to see how that works back at home where I have to factor my boyfriend, and occasionally friends, into meal planning. That social life again – this time a benefit of not having one. My goal is to stick to this without being too rigid, and definitely trying to make breakfast a success – in the past months I’ve actually been too lazy to eat fruit in the morning, and I will no longer excuse that.
  5. Failure! 9/30 – I forgot about this habit until September 5th. And proceeded to forget about it again every other day. I’ve wanted to make this a habit for a year now, and I thought the only thing stopping me was being embarrassed to do pushups in front of my boyfriend. However, many other things were stopping me: the morning is obviously not a good trigger for this, hence the forgetfulness. I never actually did them in the morning. One reason – when remembering the habit – is that I do not consider my pyjamas appropriate pushup attire, and by the time I was dressed, the habit had slipped my mind. Again. Maybe I’ll retry this with a different trigger, like coming home after class?

Here’s to hoping that the blank space won’t work (too much) in reverse, erasing those habit successes. It can have the failures, though. Free of charge, too.