A Letter To My 15-Year-Old Self

Meteor Crater Selfie
The standard couple selfie at Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff, AZ.
High School Freshman Me

Lucas,

Believe it or not, I am you in 20 years. Congratulations! You made it to 35! It hasn’t been the easiest road to travel, but I am happy with how things have turned out so far. If time is set to occur (let’s ignore the infinite universe theory for the moment) then you will make the same decisions I made and end up right here as me.

However, life doesn’t need to be as hard as your decisions will likely make it out to be. I don’t want to cheat the system here, but I do want to improve your chances of improving yourself a bit more ahead of the curve than I did. Sorry to say, this letter isn’t about how to make a billion dollars or to make you famous – it is about being a better version of yourself.

First, your life is going to change within the next year. At the moment, you’re starting to hang out with a particular group of people from Sonic that you shouldn’t be around. Trust me when I say, they are not the cool people and you don’t want to follow in their footsteps. The actions you are invited to participate in with them are not worth the consequences. Turn to the exceptional kids your own age for inspiration and motivation – you’ll be thankful for it later.

Second, give your parents a break. Your mother is doing the best she can (as she always has) and will continue to do so for as long as you live. As for your stepfather, take a moment to calm your adolescent hormones whenever you think you are getting mad or frustrated with him. He is a good man and you can learn a lot from him if you allow yourself to do so. Without going into details, this is another situation wherein rash decisions made in the heat of the moment are not worth the consequences.

Third, despite your current mental state, the future does matter. There is no guarantee you will live to be 100 years old, or even 35 for that matter, but don’t waste your future by throwing everything you earn away in the present. Yes, you will always find a way to earn money and, yes, you will find ways of living comfortably at times, but you don’t have to make it so difficult for yourself. Save your money, avoid using credit cards, and start investing early. I’d be in a much better place in life if I had slowed down and taken the time to use my money to better my position rather than spending it on impulsive decisions.

Fourth, learn something new everyday. Learn about people; learn about money and how it can generate more money without any actions on your part; learn to be a better friend; learn to trust; learn to love. If you ever feel like you don’t need to learn anything new then you need to reevaluate yourself. I did a pretty good job on this front, but a bit more effort would have helped me out exponentially.

Finally, make a point to find yourself in Albuquerque sometime in 2008 – specifically the Home Depot on Renaissance Boulevard. You’ll meet a young man there named Bud (yup, that’s his actual name, no nickname), it would behoove you to make his acquaintance and see what develops. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

I know, you’re probably disappointed that I didn’t tell you the stocks to buy or the sports team to bet on to make you rich overnight. Too bad. Those are things you will figure out on your own.

Your a good kid, stop beating yourself up so much and trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations. You’ll make it through the hard times and should try to enjoy the good times a bit more. Take care of yourself, our lives depend on it!

Your friend and benefactor – Lucas

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2019 – A Year of Challenges

Since 2018 didn’t work out so well for me in regards to accomplishing measurable goals, I am taking a net new approach in 2019. I will need to remain motivated to overcome the barriers we all experience when trying to improve ourselves – I have confidence this can be done.

Borrowing from my professional life as an Implementation Manager (think project manager meets sales meets operations management) of software, I need a shorter, time bound approach to my personal improvement. Over the course of a year, motivation to accomplish a long list of goals bleeds out like so much juice from a squeezed lemon. It is untenable and ultimately self-defeating to watch as one goal after another slips through my fingers resulting in failure (reference: 2018).

Another inspiration for this new approach has been the random social media challenges people take up in order to get followers, friends, and other digital accolades. Yes, even the tide pod challenge has some influence in my thought process. Now, the difference between the social media muck challenges and what I am doing is I plan on long-term personal change based on short-term, high-impact behavior modification. My Challenges are not temporary nor are they just to see if I can do something – they are meaningful and will result in real life gains.

The Modular Approach to Change

How have I decided to approach 2019? It’s simple enough, each month is a Challenge (or goal) to overcome. Each Challenge facilitates rapid behavioral change which leads to positive habit formation or results in accredited documentation (such as a certification or hard-skill). At the end of each Challenge I will devise a means of continuing the positive changes in a way that is less disruptive to my day-to-day life.

By breaking the year down into more bite-sized chunks of time (wherein a quarter is a Module and a month is a Challenge), I can accomplish several things:

  1. Regular achievement of goals which fuel future success
  2. Short-term gains that lend themselves to long-term, positive changes
  3. An easily read scoreboard or tracking system

This is what it looks like:

To measure success in any particular Module the following criteria will be used:

  1. Success in 3 Challenges equals full success in the Module
  2. Success in 2 Challenges equals average success in the Module
  3. Success in 1 or fewer Challenges equals failure in the Module

Each Challenge will consist of a 30-day block of time (with the exception of February which will only be 28-days) dedicated to overcoming the designated Challenge. In the final days of each Challenge, I will devise a plan for continued moderation of the bad habit or expansion of the good habit past the Challenge end date. This final step to each challenge is the key to actual self-improvement over the long-term.

For example, in April 2019 I have slated a “No Added Sugar Challenge” for the month. This means I will cut all sugar not naturally produced by a food item from my diet – no sugar in my coffee, no creamer, no bread, no cold cereal, no soda, no syrup, etc. Throughout the month I will update this blog with my progress as well as any physiological effects I observe. It is likely that at the end of the month I will want to reintroduce certain sugars back into my diet, however, I don’t want to return to the same level of sugar intake I was at when the challenge began. Therefore, a moderation plan will be executed to allow me to enjoy sweetened coffee without turning to a gallon of soda everyday.

This approach to change allows me to stack my successes over shorter periods of time while maintaining long-term gains. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is using this approach, but I can’t seem to find a name for it. Maybe something along the lines of “Stacked Success” or “Stacked Progress” – obviously I am stuck on the work “Stack”, but I digress.

January 2019 Challenge

For January 2019, I have challenged myself to close all three Activity Rings on my Apple Watch. I chose this challenge because it is something I have done many times in the past (though inconsistently) and is a good stepping stone into the much more difficult Challenges later in the year.

To ensure this isn’t a cake walk, I have increased my “Move Goal” to 750 calories per day. In order to achieve this elevated calorie count I will be required to purposefully do things everyday to increase my overall activity. Relying on standard daily activity at my desk job will not close these rings.

I anticipate this Challenge will require conscious effort to achieve but won’t disrupt my daily life too badly. Though people will attest to “loving change” all to often sudden or rapid change results in relapsing into bad habits or substituting new bad habits for the old ones. Human beings are resistant to change because we find comfort in complacency and routine. However, this comfort leads to sedentary lives which do not produce anything new. I am tired of buying into this approach to life.

Though this first Challenge should be accomplished easily enough, it won’t be so easy as the months pass. The Husband and I gave up sugar for 3-days last year and the effects were good and bad. Our moods shifted and our energy levels dropped initially (it was absolutely miserable) but by the end of the third day we were feeling and sleeping better. Unfortunately, 3-days wasn’t enough time to break the habit. I expect this year will be very difficult but have very positive results.

I plan to update this blog regularly with updates on my progress throughout the month – this will include my triumphs and shortcomings. Check back often for details on my progress!

What approach are you taking in 2019 to improving yourself? Status quo or are you getting organized and systematically attacking your goals? Let us all know in the comments below!