In 2015, I picked up a few new habits that I’m pretty proud of and hope to continue into the New Year. I want to share some of these, as they’ve had a very positive impact on my life.
I started keeping a list of books that I finished as well as a backlog of books to read next. Whenever someone tells me about a book in passing or I come across a mention in an interview, tweet, or podcast, I add it to my backlog. Seeing my list of completed books grow has been rewarding, and putting the finish date on it gives me an idea of my reading activity month-to-month.
In 2015, I was able to finish 28 books and get through significant parts of a dozen more. The books I read influenced a lot of my thinking when it came to habits, whether it was exercise, how I conduct myself at work, how I communicate, and how I eat. So in a way, keeping a reading list and being motivated to read more than my usual amount was probably the most influential habit I formed this year.
If I had to choose, here are my top 5 picks for books this year:
- The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Boot Camp at the YMCA
After a three year hiatus, I returned to regularly attending Thursday morning boot camp at my local YMCA. It’s an early 7AM class that is brutal to wake up for especially in the winter, but by 8AM, I always feel amazing and congratulate myself for making the right decision. The class is an intense mix of running, core exercises, and plyometrics (burpees!), and it goes pretty much nonstop for an hour. I feel like attending boot camp has been really great for keeping me in shape for other activities like pickup football and basketball. I also take pride in knowing that I’m the best bear crawler in my class.
Just a couple of years ago, I struggled to jog for half a mile. Since 2014, I’ve been steadily increasing my capacity to run, and in 2015, I began to take up running more frequently. During the first half of the year, my participation in a duathlon race and a triathlon relay spurred me to run 3-4 times a week. Even after these races, I tried to keep up my running, doing at least one day of 3-4 miles each week. More recently, I’ve been trying to up the distance of my runs. I’m hoping to get my body comfortable with 7-10 mile runs.
A few things have kept me motivated to run besides the obvious health benefits:
- Earlier in the year, I went to the New York Running Company at Columbus Circle, did the whole video recording and analysis of my running style, and picked up a pair of Saucony running shoes which I absolutely love and can’t run without. Every time I put them on, I get a boost of confidence that I can easily run a hard 3-5 miles without a problem.
- I love having uninterrupted listening time for my audiobooks and podcasts, and running affords me this. The best was when I was listening to Finding Ultra by Rich Roll and being inspired by his stories of competing in ultra triathlons. It put me in a really focused running mindset.
- Whenever I travel to a new place, going for a jog is a great way to discover the area. In 2015, I ran around Barcelona, San Francisco, Santa Monica, the Hamptons, San Diego, Melbourne, and Hudson Valley and enjoyed exploring these places.
Paying Attention to Credit Card Rewards
Earlier in the year, I came across this Rolling Stones article on Ben Schlappig, who runs the blog One Mile at a Time. I had never paid much attention to frequent flyer programs or to credit cards offering rewards, but I was fascinated by Schlappig’s exploits with rewards programs and decided to read up on ways to use rewards points to travel. In addition to One Mile at a Time, I also found The Points Guy to be a helpful resource.
I ended up signing up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which got me 50,000 bonus points (plus 5,000 more for referring my wife). I also took advantage of the 2x bonus points on restaurants and cafes as well as travel (airfare, hotels, and taxis), quickly racking up thousands of points. I’ve used points already to purchase airfare to visit my parents in Atlanta and also to buy some stuff on Amazon. When I think about it from a numbers perspective, these points get me more value than the 1-2% I was getting from my cash back credit cards, especially since those cards have a cap on the total reward amount. I also signed up for an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card and received 50,000 bonus points as well as 3x bonus points for money spent booking all of my airplane tickets to Taiwan and Australia (over 6,000 points).
I also took inventory of all my mileage points on various airlines and decided to be smarter about which airlines to use in the future in order to maximize rewards. As with my finances in general, I wish I had started on this earlier and taken the time to read up and sign up for the right programs, but it’s better late than never, so I’m glad I was able to gain a bit of fluency in this area in 2015.
Embracing a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
I came across this video back in the summer and became curious about cutting meat and other animal products from my diet while upping the intake of plant-based foods. My meals typically centered around proteins such as pork, beef, chicken, and fish with vegetables often being an insignificant side dish or sometimes non-existent. I also rarely ate fruits except for the occasional banana. My lunches mainly consisted of cold cuts or a banh mi. I told myself I would try cutting out animal products from my diet for a few weeks and see how it felt.
It’s been over four months since, and I’ve stuck with a plant-based diet. I’ve cut out pretty much all animal products (I still indulge in some honey and kimchi, which has small fish as an ingredient), and I’ve tried my best to stay away from processed foods (I’ll eat chips or Oreos every now and then). No meat, no fish, no eggs, and no dairy. I’ve upped my intake of dark leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach, bok choy, etc.) and also delight in trying different types of grains (e.g. faro, quinoa, brown rice, etc.). While I’m allergic to fruits such as apples, cherries, and peaches, I’ve been eating quite a bit of avocados, mangoes, oranges, and bananas. And for my sources of protein, I eat various types of beans, nuts, and seeds. I’ve also come to appreciate sweet potatoes, yams, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Here’s what’s changed for me:
- I cook a lot more at home and go out to eat a lot less. I want control over what I eat and what goes into my food. My favorite go-to dish is soba noodles with veggies and mushrooms seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce. I also make a mean smoothie using my Vitamix blender. At work, I stir-fry vegetables and rice (see how we do lunch at Barrel).
- I feel great after my meals. I feel like the food I eat is easily digested, and I don’t seem to suffer from any kind of food coma or lethargy after a mainly plant-based meal.
- I feel strong and energized. Initially, I dropped some weight as I got used to my new diet, but as I became more adept at incorporating new and varied ingredients, I’ve been able to maintain my weight and keep my muscle mass.
- I look forward to eating all the time. I used to be a big snacker who loved cookies and chips, but I’ve largely cut those out of my daily routine. Instead, I look forward to cooking myself a nice meal at home or having a green smoothie.
- I’m very curious about food and trying new things. I find myself paying closer attention to the produce sold at Whole Foods and at the farmer’s market, and I’ve been collecting different recipes to cook at home.
I’m committed to staying with this diet. I may enjoy a bite of sushi or a pastry made with eggs every now and then, but for the foreseeable future, I feel like there are too many benefits with a whole-food, plant-based diet to eat any other way.
During my twenties, I relied mostly on eating out, getting take-out, or cooking a piece of meat or fish at home. I also ate an inordinate amount of eggs and bacon. A “healthy” meal might be sushi take-out once a week. I don’t regret the way I ate in my twenties. I had many memorable meals, amazing dishes at great restaurants, and gluttonous fun hanging out with friends. Now, in my thirties, I’m okay with missing out on prix fixe dinners and all-meat cookouts. I’m excited to continue exploring plant-based foods that nourish, energize, and taste delicious.
A year can go by very quickly, but it’s important to note that a year is a very long time to see small, routine acts quickly add up to something bigger and more impactful. A recap of how new habits impacted me in 2015:
- The decision to eat a plant-based diet led to hundreds of healthy meals in just a few months, helping me feel better and more energized daily.
- The decision to use credit cards with different rewards programs led to thousands of points I could use towards travel.
- The decision to keep track of my reading list and be disciplined about reading on a daily basis got me through thousands of pages and greatly expanded my knowledge.
- The decision to run and exercise each week helped me to stay in shape and log over a hundred miles of running.
I’m excited to explore new habits, optimize existing ones, and stop bad habits in 2016. What I’ve shared here are very specific to some personal habits. I also found that approaching my work in this manner was helpful for me (perhaps a topic for another post). There’s something very empowering about being deliberate and proactive about the way I behave and live my life. It wasn’t always this way for me, and I remember being content with “going with the flow” of everyday life. These days, I’m more likely to ask myself “how can I do this better or smarter?” and experiment with changes both big and small. I won’t always get it right, but what’s important is that I keep trying.
Goodbye 2015, and happy new year!