New Years Resolutions

I’ve come to realize that a large portion of habit formation (at least for me) is publicly pre-committing to things. I’ve also come to realize that blogs are generally more interesting when you get to learn more about the personal life of the person who writes them. These two realizations join in one place: blogging about my New Years Resolutions.

First, a note about my type of goal-setting – as you’ve perhaps seen with my other public goals (NaNoWriMo 2011, NaNoWriMo 2012, and blogging schedules), I tend to be optimistic and ambitious, to the point where I can sometimes set myself up for failure.

Blog

I like blogging, and I think blogging does a lot for me in being able to clear and organize my thoughts, and to communicate and advocate my point of view. Therefore, I want to write better. However, I don’t know how to measure the quality of my writing, so I’m unsure how to resolve to write better.

There’s a way out. I’ve found that my subjective feelings of quality of writing and the objective indicators I do have (number of comments, quality of comments, positivity and frequency of simple feedback) all seem to go up when I write more. In the same spirit of NaNoWriMo, quantity seems to bring a quality all of its own.

Therefore, In 2009, I wrote 80 essays. In 2010, I wrote 24. In 2011, I jumped back up to 139. In 2012, I finished 184. This year, I want to shoot even higher, and aim for 200 essays in 2013.

I’m also re-discovering that I enjoy computer programming and my games arcade is a little bare. I therefore resolve to add 4 more games to the arcade. I hope this will bring a bit more variety to the site.

Health

But my resolutions aren’t just about this blog. I’d also like to improve my health. Most mundanely, I’ve been having some trouble getting into the habit of brushing my teeth regularly. I’d like to fix that.

Also, at 6 foot 2 inches and 210 pounds, I am slightly overweight. As far as I’ve come to understand, 99% of weight loss involves eating less and exercising more. An additional 0.9% involves eating better. (But you probably shouldn’t take weight loss advice from undergraduates with no specialized knowledge or training, especially if they’re still overweight.)

No S Diet

First, as for the eating less and eating better, I’d like to start what’s called the No S Diet:

The No S Diet […] is a program of systematic moderation I invented for myself that I imagine might work for similarly minded people. No funny science or calorie accounting involved, just a few simple and mnemonic tricks for building sustainably “good enough” eating habits. There are just three rules and one exception: No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds, Except (sometimes) on days that start with “S”. That’s it.

The upshot of this is exactly what it says on the tin: On weekdays and non-holidays, I will eat no snacks (I will confine myself to three meals a day), no sweets (I’m not eating candy, baked goods, syrup, ice cream, sodas, fruit juices, or sugary cereal), and no seconds (whatever I eat for my meals must fit on one plate).

And while it doesn’t fit the mnemonic, I’d like to add another part to this – no caffeine. I seem to sleep better and more regularly without it, so I’d rather just avoid it along with the rest, even if it will take a similar amount of resistance. At this rate, given that I already don’t drink alcohol, the only thing between me and Mormonism is the belief system… most of the behavior change would be easy. (I also refrain from eating meat, so I’m no stranger to dietary restrictions, even those that don’t have weekend breaks.)

Exercise

Second, while I have been running during last summer, I’ve been out of practice since school started. I’d like to restart, by completing the nine-week Complete Couch to 5k. (I had gotten to 1.7km earlier, but now I’m securely back at couch.) Each week installment requires three days a week, so I will commit to that. I’m going to give myself some extra leeway starting this one out, however, because not only am I not used to making a school schedule to accomodate running, but also because it’s cold outside and I’ve never run in the winter before.

I’d also like to supplement the running with work on the Hundred Pushups routine and the Two Hundred Situps routine. My initial test was 9 push-ups and 25 sit-ups. These are seven-week routines, three days a week. I will do my pushups and situps on the same day, but might not do them on the same days as Couch to 5k, though each will be three days a week.

I think that’s good enough for now. Assuming I actually stick with these regimens and improve enough to meet their fitness requirements, I can start browsing for more advanced routines, or try and craft my own. More likely I’ll plateau somewhere for quite a few weeks, assuming I even stick with it.

Finances

Additionally, I’d like to focus on my finances. I already live a pretty frugal life. But I still spend money on things I don’t need. And not even in the utilitarian sense of my money is always better spent on other people. While I would like to be frugal so I can afford to donate more, I’d also like to be more frugal so I can save more, and also because I think that I could just generally buy the same amount of personal happiness for less. I could easily be more cost-effective.

In 2012 currently have spent about $2400 on everything, excluding taxes, donations, and what my parents buy for me (college meal plan, textbooks, housing, tuition, insurance, web hosting fees, cell phone data plan, and some other miscellaneous essential expenses).

However, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff over at Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, and Boris’s Frugality Guide, and I’m rather certain I can make a goal to slash this to about $2000 and be no less happy.

I’d also like to earn more, so I can do more things. I earned about $6000 through various jobs and stipends throughout 2012. I’d like to bring this up to over $6200.

Driving

Also on the somewhat embarrassing front, I’m 21 and have never gotten a driving license, which is unusual for people of my age where I live. I’ve learned how to drive somewhat before on a learner’s temporary permit, but it expired and then I went to college and never needed to know how to drive again. As an investment in my future, in case of the very likely event I will have to drive at some point, I want to get my license. I got a new temporary permit on 28/Dec/12, but now I need to re-learn how to drive and pass the driving test to get an actual license.

Some Notes on Habit Formation

But how am I going to make these habits stick? Well, specific, measurable, and trackable precommitments are the first step. Making those precommitments public and out in the open, so other people can hold me accountable, is another step.

The third step is to actually track and measure those precommitments (in a public way), so I’m announcing a new project – tracking my habits in a HabitCal, which “is a free online tool for tracking (and more importantly, building) good habits – like diet and exercise” from the same guy who made the No S Diet.

The fourth step was to make the habits psychology safe – they’re ambitious, but they’re within current projections, are “doable”, and have escape clauses (like exercising only three days a week on any three days instead of specific ones, or being off the diet on weekends). They’re also not overly time consuming or require that much mental energy – the diet is simple, the workouts start at 35 minutes per week and scales up to 1 hour a week. …And it’s a lot easier to avoid snacks or seconds if you don’t have any in your room and couldn’t eat them even if you wanted to.

And the fifth and final step is that I’m actually committed to these precommitments. These are things I want to do.

The sixth step would be to find friends who want to make similar resolutions, and then check up on each other. But I haven’t found any yet. Are you interested?

Besides all that, I can find surprisingly little immediate information about habit formation that is reliable and on the internet. Maybe I’ll have to search JStor or books?

Well, most importantly, let’s see if I actually keep these habits.

Followed up in Resolutions Update: February Edition.