Week 7: January Challenge Success!

I am a few weeks late with this post, but I am proud to say I successfully completed my January challenge of closing all the Activity Rings on my Apple Watch everyday throughout the month. It is also a point of pride that I completed the Apple January Challenge of accumulating 300 exercise minutes! So, one personal challenge and one Apple Challenge completed in the same month to start the year. It’s a great feeling to have achieved success so early in 2019.

Since the close of January, I have continued on at the same level (750 calories per day) without missing a day. This puts me on track for a second perfect month in a row. In addition to this potential challenge success, I have already achieved the Heart Month Challenge which consisted of closing my exercise ring for 7-days in a row from February 7th to February 14th. Also, I am on track to achieve the February Challenge of 113.9 miles in movement throughout the month.

Success appears to stack as quickly as you can set realistic goals.

My continuing goal (measured on a monthly basis) is to close all my Activity Rings at their current levels (750 calories) through July 15th. This will result in my longest streak for closing my Move Ring – my previous record was 191 days. Barring illness or crazy travel schedules, I should be able to accomplish this ambitious challenge.

Things aren’t looking so good for my February Challenge of completing the CAPM certification from PMI by the end of the month. More to come on that in my next post.

How are you doing on your 2019 challenges? Any hurdles to share with the world? Leave your experience in the comments!

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Week 3, 2019: Staying on target

Week 3, 2019 and I'm staying on target!
Week 3, 2019 and I’m staying on target!

It’s the end of yet another week and I am happy to report that I am still fulfilling my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings on my Apple Watch! I’ve accomplished this through lunchtime walks, weekend excursions with the dog, and treadmill runs (because it’s flipping cold outside). That’s the good news.

The bad news is I have found myself slipping into some of my familiar bad habits this week. Including an abundance of television watching (boo!), an increase in my nicotine intake (yup, still a smoker in 2019), and less activity between the events in the paragraph above. I feel the worst part is I haven’t been writing as much this week as I have in the past month.

Of all the therapeutic activities I have participated in throughout my life (admittedly, it hasn’t been as much as it should be), writing has always been my saving grace. It’s the ability to take an errant thought, bad decision, or fantastically wild idea and bring it into the physical world that amazes me about writing.

Holding on to negative emotions? Cool, write it down and I’ll bet you money you will feel better instantly.

Got a crazy idea for a new business? Outstanding, put it on paper, type it into Evernote, or drop it in an email to yourself, make it real!

Having a hard time figuring out a solution to a problem? Write it out on a dry erase board or draw pictures of it on a blank piece of paper and a solution will come to you.

Throughout my life, when I have gone long periods of time without writing down my thoughts (privately or publicly) my emotional stability deteriorates, my concentration suffers, and the grey hairs on my head multiply like rabbits in a box. Plucking the best, mundane, and worst out of my head brings stability and calm to an otherwise rocky ride. Surely, I am not the only one who experiences this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, there is always an excuse:

  • I have no time!
  • I’m too busy!
  • I have too much going on!
  • I don’t feel like it!
  • I don’t want to!
  • I’m tired!

Any of those sound familiar? I tell myself at least one of those everyday. The fact is, we all have more time than we admit to having. How many hours a day/week do you watch non-educational/non-developmental TV? How many hours do you spend drinking alcohol (and recovering from it)? How many hours do you spend commuting (don’t write a journal while driving, but you could do a stream-of-consciousness voice memo)? How many hours do you waste not helping yourself?

I am an advocate for taking time off, lounging about for short bursts of time, and (every now and then) just shutting down for a few days. However, it can’t be every weekend or everyday when you get home from work. There is a point when relaxation becomes sedation and that doesn’t help anyone.

Take 15-minutes, set a timer, and start writing about your day – the events that happened, your feelings about those events, your plans for the future, what you want to accomplish tomorrow, and so on. Fifteen minutes. That’s all it takes to start something.

Week 1, 2019: A good start

The first week of 2019 has come to a close. Overall, I am going to label it as a wonderful start to the new year!

Week 1, 2019 – Closed

To start, I was able to close all of my activity rings on my Apple Watch. This may seem trite to some people, but the sedentary lifestyle I have found myself in has not done much good for my concentration, motivation, mood or waste line. I know I am not the only one out there who has thought, “huh, when did these pants get so tight? The dryer must have shrunk them.” Only to order pizza delivery while binge watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

The small act of closing activity rings on the Apple Watch has positively impacted me in my day-to-day life. Instead of letting hours slowly inch by me while I binge watch television or surf social media, I get up and go for a walk or do a body-weight workout. Yesterday, I took the dog for a 45-minute walk (something she doesn’t get to do often enough) and followed it up with a solo walk around downtown Albuquerque. I had energy all day long. It doesn’t take much to make a difference in your life, but you have to start doing something for any change to occur!

A few other things have fallen into place during this first week of 2019; things I didn’t expect or consciously plan to execute. A couple of examples:

  1. The TV has remained off 95% of the time – This is probably the biggest surprise. Without any conscious decision, I haven’t tried to write, read, or work with the TV on “in the background”. Not surprisingly, returning home from work each evening, I am actually productive as I pursue my writing, reading, and making improvements around the house. Without the visual or auditory distraction of the television I don’t have the urge to sit on the couch and do nothing until it’s time to go to bed.
  2. I have read hundreds of pages – I am planning to release a “Book-a-Month Reading List for 2019” later this month as a year long challenge to read one book per month. These books are going to be unrelated to work (the 9 to 5 job or my personal pursuits) and are more to disconnect from the daily grind than anything else. I am almost done with my January book…in less than 6 days. In addition to the novel, I have been reading the news more often (depressing as that can be) which has reopened my eyes to so many of the problems (and accomplishments) of the world.
  3. Screen time has decreased – With the exception of tonight, I have purposefully turned off all screens (computer, phone, iPad, etc.) two hours before going to bed. During these final two hours, I shower, write in my journal (old school paper and pen), read, and spend time with the husband. I’m not certain, but this may be contributing to more restful sleep or, at the very least, the ability to fall asleep faster without the tossing and turning. I’ll have to keep it going through week 2 to find out.
  4. I have been drinking more water – I haven’t cut sugar out of my diet (that’s a challenge for later in the year), but I’m not drinking as much soda as I was two weeks ago. In fact, I have been drinking 8 or more 8 ounce cups of water each day. I have no doubts this is contributing to my energy levels and lack of lethargy this week. I will be keeping up this newly forming habit in week 2 as well to see what happens.

Alright, so, the first week of 2019 is over and I have (thus far) successfully maintained my progress in my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings everyday this month. Twenty-five days left in the month. Twenty-five days of closed rings. I’ll post another update at the end of week 2, stay tuned for more!

Me trying not to smile too much as The Husband snaps a pic

How are you doing with your 2019 challenges? Maintaining motivation or falling off the wagon? Sound off in the comments – I’m sure people are more than happy to help get you where you want to be!

Bataan 2019: Why we voluntarily walk 26.2 miles

On March 17, 2019, the Bataan Memorial Death March will occur. This will be the second year The Husband and I participate in this event and we are beside ourselves with excitement. To most people, it seems odd for a couple to use precious vacation time for the opportunity to walk on dirt roads through the high-desert of White Sands Missile Range for 26.2 miles. Upon finishing, we will be in pain, exhausted, and dehydrated. Our reward? A certificate of participation and aching bodies.

I wrote about this last year as well, but I still get confused, even bewildered, looks from coworkers, friends, and strangers when I describe the event so I want to touch on why we have decided to make this an annual pilgrimage.

By Ле Лой – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43326904

Let’s start by looking past the pain, heat, and dust – this event is a memorial to tens of thousands of prisoners of war who were forced to march more than 60 miles without adequate food, water, or medical care in the Philippines during World War II. If they failed to walk, they died. Those who made it showed incredible strength and a will to survive most people will never have to face in their lifetime. This is more than just a marathon, it is a salute to those who would not be defeated; it is a testament to the fortitude of human beings under immense stress; it is a payment of respect to the survivors and the hundreds who didn’t live to see Camp O’Donnell.

My own experiences in the Army motivate me to participate in these types of events. I have witnessed true courage under the most high-stress and dire conditions. It may seem weird to the uninitiated, but taking part in the Bataan Memorial Death March is more than a personal badge of honor, it is a show of respect to those who served and sacrificed before me. By showing a willingness to experience even a tenth of what they went through, I hope the survivors will see they are not forgotten and their sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

Bataan Memorial Death March

A more grounded element of my motivation is the challenge of the event itself. A majority of the route takes advantage of semi-improved dirt roads that snake through the mesquite and scrub brush of White Sands Missile Range. These roads consist of loose, deep sand churned up by thousands of people slogging along its course causing feet to sink deeper into it with each heavy step. Ankles, calves, knees, and quadriceps are pushed to the limit with steady inclines in this sandbox environment. The physical challenge is one thing, but each step drains a person’s mental commitment to finishing the course. I have always avoided the easy path, thinking of it as cheating. You can’t grow as a person by doing everything the easy way, you have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and into new territory otherwise you’ll atrophy.

Pre-Event Selfie – 2018

Finally, this is a bonding experience for The Husband and I. Last year, we found ourselves at each other’s throats off and on, but it is understandable given the pain we found ourselves in. Despite some hostility (we still love each other very much), we managed to complete the Honorary Route (14 mile course that excludes the lollipop section that starts at checkpoint 8) without killing one another or causing serious bodily harm to each other. Between these bouts of pain and dehydration fueled fits, we talked, laughed, and enjoyed the experience together. To be honest, I think the Bataan Memorial Death March would be a great couples counseling session for anyone who wants to see their partner at their rawest.

So, that’s a glimpse into why I participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should consider taking part in it at some point in their life. You can learn a lot from yourself in the middle of nowhere.

To register, head over to the official Bataan Memorial Death March site and click the “Register” button. Prices just went up at the beginning of 2019 with another planned increase in February. Don’t wait, only the first 5,000 participants are guaranteed a full race packet, it’s got some good stuff in it!

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!