I Did It For Me

New Month Resolution #3

As I mentioned a few months ago, I think it’s valuable to consciously mark time as a way to make gradual changes to one’s behavior. The usual case is the New Year’s Resolution, but it comes only once per year and almost nobody sticks with it for that long. As a substitute, I proposed the idea of a New Month Resolution, the basic principle of which is to choose some habit or activity I want to cultivate, and do it every day of that month. The task should be (a) big enough that it takes a focused effort to get it done (showering doesn’t count), and (b) small enough that one can expect to make real progress in 15-30 mins each day over the course of a month.

Play along from home, if you want. 🙂 (If you do, I’d love to hear about your experience!)

Update from Last Month

Big highlight was visiting Sydney and, even more importantly, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; it was fantastic, beautiful beyond my expectations.

Another highlight for me was learning to play my favorite Christmas song on piano; here’s the original, and here’s the sheet music in case you want to try it out. My version is of course imperfect, but it felt good to be able to share the good vibes of the song. Having a specific goal helped me carry November’s resolution beyond a single month.

As with last month, the main thing on my mind daily is the status of my job applications. Sometime between now and Jan 7, I’ll likely make a decision about where I will live for the next 2-3 years. It could be the US, it could be Europe, it could be East Asia; everything is still on the table.

Last Month’s Resolution

1. Walking

Let’s start with what’s positive. Walking 10,000 steps/day went very well:

My FitBit log for the month, with failed step-days marked by a red arrow.

As of this writing (Dec 29) I missed 3 total days this month. (One was the 7th, when I spent the whole day swimming around the Great Barrier Reef!) It’s not shown here but I am at 11,000+ steps today, and expect to have no problem on the 30th or 31st.

  • Excused absences: 1/31 days
  • Unexcused absences: 2/31 days (assuming success on Dec 30 and 31) (UPDATE: successful both days, final score 2/31 days)

This wasn’t a difficult challenge overall–on days that I commute I get to 10,000 almost for free–but it accomplished my unstated goal, which was to get me out of the house on a few days when I might have just sat around at home.

  • Commitment: 4/5
  • Difficulty: 0/5
  • Likelihood to do it again the following month: 5/5

2. Fasting

Daily intermittent fasting (16 on/8 off, as the pattern) was more difficult:

Two things to note about this. In general I had mixed feelings about fasting consistently; my blood sugar spikes felt pretty extreme and I got tired during the day at awkward times. It’s not clear to me that the benefits outweigh the costs overall. A more sustainable diet program is in order, I think.

But in a less exculpatory way, one of the big hinderances here was alcohol. Get a few drinks in me and I’m pretty lax about my eating habits, let me tell you. All those 2h or 3h fasts? For the most part, that was me eating at 10-11pm while drinking a beer and watching Netflix. Altogether enjoyable, but not what NMR is about. I give myself a C+ at best here.

  • Excused absences: 1/31 days
  • Unexcused absences: 13/31 days (assuming success on Dec 30 and 31) (UPDATE: success on 30, fail on 31; final score 14/31)

Because I’m enamoured at having data about myself, here is my “sleep score” for the last three weeks:

If you squint a little you can see that there may be a correlation between those days I failed my fast and decreases in my sleep score. Allowing myself some wild speculation about correlations I see, I can make a case that Drinking → Late Night Eating, and some combination of Drinking+Late Night Eating → Worse Sleep. Or, I guess, a simpler hypothesis might be that Stress → Drinking and Late Night Eating and Worse Sleep? It’s funny because I don’t really feel stressed… could be a case where it’s happening without me noticing. This topic deserves a more dedicated study, which the author postpones for future work.

  • Commitment: 2/5
  • Difficulty: 5/5
  • Likelihood to do it again the following month: 0/5

Up Next

The timing of my big failure to fast (roughly Dec 13-20) was for sure not random; this corresponds roughly to when many postdoc offers started to go out and I was checking my status compulsively. I don’t think of myself as being particularly susceptible to stress, but I’m pretty sure I’m stress-eating. The likely answer to this problem, as with many things in life, is a greater level of mindfulness, achieved by increasing my willingness and ability to pay attention to what’s happening in those moments.

Months ago I read a bit about mindful eating and concluded that it’s probably a really useful thing to work on. Then, I did nothing about it. Most of the time: (1) I eat whatever is nearby and convenient; (2) the food just goes in my mouth automatically while I do something else, like listen to a podcast or scroll on Facebook; (3) I don’t even taste the food. I increasingly believe this to be the default state of most people, but this isn’t about them; I do this for me.

Conveniently, Sam Harris recently interviewed Judson Brewer on the topic of craving, addiction, and their relationship to mindfulness. Brewer cited studies suggesting that through app-based interventions, addictive behaviors like smoking or stress-eating can be mitigated. This is what I want. I downloaded his food-related app, called Eat Right Now (wordplay, yet another good sign!), and next month I’ll follow his program as closely as possible. (It costs $30 for a month, which is worth it at least for the experiment!)

Related: I recently looked into the harms (and benefits!) of drinking alcohol. The widely-accepted definition of heavy drinking is roughly “>4 drinks on any day or >14 per week” for men; staying consistently below this level severely reduces the risk of physical and psychological harms. I’m going to try to follow my own advice here and really stick to this, also starting Jan 1.

Resolution #3

Starting January 1, each day until (at least) the end of the month, I will follow the Eat Right Now program via the application in my phone, with the goal of improving mindfulness in my eating habits.

I will also stay below the threshold of “heavy drinking”, defined by >4 drinks on any day or >14 per week.

Results and new Resolution will be given on or around February 1, 2020.

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