Week 2, 2019: Still On Target

Two weeks complete in Apple Activity.

I am happy to report that I am still on target for accomplishing my January Challenge. Thirteen days in a row my Activity Rings on my Apple Watch have been fully closed. I’d be lying if I said it has been easy – yesterday, I had to do a semi-intense 45-minute workout throughout my house at 10:45 at night to close them all. Lazy days lounging around the house don’t contribute to success in this Challenge.

My energy levels continue to be higher than what I have become accustomed to over the years. I still don’t know if this is attributable to the increased activity related to the Challenge or the increase in water consumption or decrease in fast food/restaurant food or a combination of all three. On the one hand, I am a bit disappointed that I have made so many changes at the same time that it is impossible to narrow down which of the changes have had the greatest impact. On the other hand, I am happy that I have made the changes because I haven’t felt this good in years.

With nearly half the month in the past, I am keeping my focus on finishing this Challenge but not losing sight of what’s coming up next month. In preparation for a 28-day sprint to becoming a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), I ordered the hardcopy Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) today. I already have the kindle version, but for this Challenge, I think a physical copy will be much better for me. I have always retained information and generally learned better in the real world.

Becoming a CAPM is important for my professional development but will also have positive effects on my personal life. Learning new ways to look at, evaluate, and solve problems will always be a universally applicable skill. I wish more people would take different approaches to the same old problems, but that is a post for another time.

As a disclaimer, I have read most of the PMBOK already, but not in a way designed to set me up for success to take the CAPM exam. My focus on the first read through was immediate application of certain principles and process into my day-to-day work. February’s Challenge is to end the month with a passing score on the CAPM exam. This will not be easy, some people study for months in order to pass the CAPM exam – I will be relying on in-depth study sessions on my own as well as with my husband to achieve success in the shortest month of the year.

I look forward to completing my January Challenge successfully and determining how I will maintain my gains throughout the year. Check back regularly to see how it’s going!

How are you doing with your Challenges? Any unexpected benefits? Use the comments to share your own experience in 2019 so far!

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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

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!

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!

2018 – A Year of Progress But Ultimately a Failure

Like many people, I have spent time reflecting on the year as it comes to a close. Many questions have been rattling around my head trying to gauge my success this year. As usual, my answers to these questions inevitably result in an evaluation rated as “average”. Those close to me will say I am being too hard on myself or that my analysis isn’t accurate, but I feel the results are as impartial as can be expected.

To start, I only achieved 2 of the 10 goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Marching in the 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March and writing on this blog were my measurable accomplishments (i.e. documented goals at the start of the year). I failed to lose the weight, pay off as much debt as I projected, or quit smoking. Losses across the board.

However, I did manage to accomplish a lot this year that wasn’t contained within the limits of those goals which is why I don’t feel like a total failure. This is not a silver-lining moment to minimize my shortcomings of 2018, it is simply the truth. So, what did come out of 2018?

  • I was on the road for work or personal reasons 15% of the year
    • According to the airlines I spent nearly 60 hours on planes
    • I visited 8 states and 2 dozen cities (many were new to me)
    • I flew 25,000 miles on one airline (enough to circumnavigate the earth one time)
  • I was promoted at work
  • I purposefully made time for other people
  • I learned new skills
  • I took time off from work (a shocker even to me)
  • I paid off some debt
  • I read a dozen books that weren’t related to work
  • I celebrated 10 years of being out of the Army
  • I celebrated 7 years with the man I love most in this world
  • I planted a garden with my husband

Today, I am a better person than I was a year ago, this is a fact beyond dispute. Personally, professionally, financially – I made gains in all these categories throughout the year. My one regret is that these gains are not measurable, at best they are anecdotal. Fortunately, since I have identified these shortcomings I can take strides to improve next year.

I am ending this year with a smile on my face and plenty of hope for the future. Of course, to support that hope, I have already established a solid plan for the coming year and am laying the foundation for continued success beyond 2019.

How did your year end? Were you successful in your pursuits or happily enlightened to new priorities? Do you have 2019 planned out or are you flying by the seat of your pants?