New Year New You?

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

“Carpe Diem”

During the December holidays, I visit my family while working on preparations for resolution-based January fitness promotion.

Visiting my family makes me think about death.  The grandparent generation for me is dead or dying.  Reviewing the family tree is, for the most part, a big list of dead people, without much record of exactly how they spent their life or how big of an impact it had on the future.  Even the people who had a big impact (good or bad) – my grandfathers both did – there’s no real record of it.  It’s just what the living people remember.  How did these people think of their legacy?  What did they try to improve?  How far did they get?

January is a new beginning for many people, a fresh start.  I certainly make it an excuse to dedicate myself to new forms of discipline.  I’m finding it interesting in 2017 that even though my alcohol ban is over, I don’t really have the same desire to drink anymore, so I don’t.  I think in 2017 I’ll get the benefits of less alcohol “for free.”  I don’t have to make a resolution about it, and it will just happen b/c I’m already in that habit.  It feels like dividends from the resolution of 2016.

I’ve been doing yoga almost every day since October, taking about one day off a week.  My ham strings are tight and my back is hunched, so yoga doesn’t exactly feel triumphant for me.  It feels more like the pathetic attempt of an aging nerd to look like a 22 year old sparkle pony.  But the alternative, not doing anything, is even more Jabba the Hutt / Smeagol, so I keep at it.  Meanwhile, one of my friends is studying for medical boards.  She scores 50 and 60 on practice exams.  She needs more like 80.

It takes me 35 minutes to do the standard yoga video I do.  It probably takes 45 minutes or so to do a practice exam.  These are the increments of time representing a single activity.  Single activities might include a workout, a monthly budget,  a problem or two in an engineering interview quiz book, the time it takes to prepare a fancy salad.  These are all things that are good for us that we avoid (in the US) simply because we aren’t in the habit of doing them, and they seem unpleasant.

Interesting fact: at the end of the 45 minutes, often these activities give us a reward.  Like the salad tastes better than we thought, or the endorphins from the yoga make us feel relaxed, or we feel smart by solving the interview questions.  But sometimes we don’t get much of a reward: we score low on the practice test.  We can’t always predict ahead of time that there will be an immediate payoff to the activity, but the situation is dynamic – how we feel before the activity is definitely not always how we will feel after it, even though our brain strongly suggests to us that it will feel the same.

2017, new year new you – 365 days.  That’s the timespan for a resolution.  45 minutes.  That’s the time span for actually getting off your ass and doing something.  In the year, there are about 11,680 of these 45 minute time intervals.  You’ll probably sleep through 1/3 of them, leaving 7786.  On a given day, it’s about 21.  Let’s round to 20 to make it easy.  If we divide by two to account for pooping, eating, commuting, etc. we get 10.

Every day, a person has about 10 slots to take action on something for a meaningful period of time.  Why don’t we robotically plan and execute 10 intentional and focused improvement activities every day?  Or even 5?  Let’s say that 10 is too much b/c we have to spend half the time generating income rather than actually improving.

Why, attention span of course!

It’s hard for us to remember those 5 things we’re supposed to be doing.  We aren’t good at it naturally.  To be successful, we have to set aside time to think about… thinking about those five things more!  We have to schedule in our calendar to meditate on those 5 things so that they become part of our brain’s type 1 thinking system and surface themselves effortlessly.

Anyway, that’s a little off track.  In this post, I wanted to think about the reasons why we think about and plan on the time scales that we do.  Why revisit these issues once a year?  Why not once a month, once a week, once a day, or once an hour?  For my financial tracking, I’d say I usually revisit once about every two weeks, which roughly coincides with a new direct deposit.  New money appears –> I plan what to do with it.  It’s basically reactive.

With yoga, I plan more on a daily basis.  Wrist feels crappy –> lighter yoga session.  Wrist feels good –> heavier yoga.

This suggests that we tend to plan more reactively than proactively.  Therefore, if we want to focus more attention on a given area of improvement, a good strategy might be to create artificial pressures that force us to react.  Fitbit does this with weekly step challenges, where a group of people try to get the most steps, and the phone will tell you if “John” just passed you, or if you’re running “neck and neck” with Susan.

Here’s a question.  Given that I plan my finances every 2 weeks or so, are there times of the month when I am most likely to make wasteful purchasing decisions?  Intuitively, it would feel like around the 23rd of the month is the time of greatest weakness for me, because (1) I would be flush with cash from the month’s second paycheck and (2) I am a week away from the last time I planned and reviewed my long term goals, and so they’re not as fresh on my mind.  But does this match up with when I actually waste money?  Exercise: process all my transactions and identify the most wasteful days of the month for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

  1.  get all the transactions into a spreadsheet.
  2. identify the days 1-365
  3. identify regularly occurring large transactions (mortgage, property tax, etc.) and strip them out.
  4. Graph Out the years.

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