2018 was a good year for experimentation. I tried out a lot of different approaches to cultivating or switching up my habits . Some ended up sticking and many were abandoned. I’m grateful that I’ve had the luxury of time, energy, and resources to continually mold my daily routines freely. I know that this won’t always be the case, especially when new responsibilities (e.g. parenthood) emerge, but I hope that the past few years of consciously thinking about habits and designing a life of interlocking habits allows me to leverage the power of habits in new life situations.
2018 New Habits
Working Out 3+ Times a Week
I mentioned last year that I joined a Crunch gym that opened up literally across the street from our apartment. I can see if someone is on the squat rack and get myself there in less than 2 min, it’s that close. Earlier this year, I had become pretty good about lifting at least twice a week, which was initially my goal. However, I wanted to up the intensity and rigor of my workouts, so I decided to sign up for Athlean-X, a fitness training program put on by sports physical therapist/strength trainer and popular YouTube personality Jeff Cavaliere.
I had been watching Cavaliere’s Athlean-X videos for more than a year on YouTube. He has some really good content that helps viewers understand the mechanics of the body and the exercises that develop the body both functionally and aesthetically. I decided to pay the $99 for the Athlean-X intro program, which was a content-rich 90-day course with 5 workouts per week.
On average, I was able to do at least 3 exercises per week and on some weeks I was able to keep up with all five workouts. It took me about 120 days to finish the entire program. The workouts were intense and sometimes very difficult, but by sticking with the program, even on my slower timetable, I was able to see progress.
One way to objectively get a sense of my progress was the Athlean-X 400 Challenge, which would happen every few weeks to diagnose my strength and conditioning. The 400 Challenge consists of 100 push-ups, 100 body-weight squats, 100 inverted rows, and 100 sit-ups, split however I wanted and timed. My approach was to do 10 at a time for 10 sets, cycling through all four exercises on each set. My initial effort at the start of the program took me 7 minutes and 35 seconds. By the end, I was able to get it done in 6 minutes and 53 seconds and I was really pleased to see that by the 9th and 10th sets, the inverted rows that gave me so much trouble were not as hard as they had been some months earlier.
I’ve really enjoyed working my way through the Athlean-X program. After the initial program concluded, I bought the next 90-day course (“Athlean Extreme”) and just wrapped up my first month. I’ve developed a ritual of changing into my gym clothes, watching the day’s workout instruction video, writing the exercises on a Post-It, and then jogging across the street to the gym. I start with 5 minutes of jump rope to warm up and then dive right into the exercises. The nice thing is that most exercises take no more than 30 minutes. With stretching at the end, I’m usually back home within 40-45 minutes, making it easy to get a workout in before work or right before dinnertime.
I’ve come to really appreciate the type of functional and strength training that’s embodied in a program like Athlean-X. It reminds me very much of my days in high school when I played football and ran track. I had practice five times a week and one day for games/meets. Every day, I experienced a battery of functional movement exercises (e.g. jumping, backpedalling, skipping, shuffling, hurdling, etc.) as well as strength training in the weight room. I remember the confidence of feeling “in shape” and being fit back then. It wasn’t just the types of exercises but also the fact that it happened almost daily. This year, I’ve found myself at the gym more times than I’ve ever been since I graduated high school (nearly two decades ago!). The result is a similar feeling of confidence as my body feels strong, flexible, and durable.
This is a habit I picked up in the later part of 2018, but it’s one that’s made a big difference. Intermittent fasting is not a diet but rather a pattern of eating. Whenever you eat, your insulin level spikes up and the body has to spend its efforts breaking down the food you’ve eaten. By fasting for a prolonged period of time, the body goes into a state where its able to start burning stored fat. Here’s a pretty good article about intermittent fasting if you’d like more details.
I listened to a few podcasts that mentioned intermittent fasting and decided to give it a go. The toughest part was giving up my breakfast because I always enjoyed my blueberries and cereal in the morning, but after a few days, I was able to quickly acclimate. My fasting schedule goes something like this: I don’t eat anything until 3PM every day and my feeding period is between 3PM and 10PM. After 10PM, I’ll not eat anything again until 3PM the next day, a 17-hour period of non-eating.
At work, intermittent fasting has been really easy. I’m usually busy in meetings or calls most of the day, so rather than do the usual stuff-my-face-for-10-minutes at lunch around 12PM, I abstain from food until 3PM, when I take out some nuts and berries that I’ll snack on along with maybe an English muffing with peanut butter. It’s been a bit tougher on weekends, when I sometimes count down the hours until 3PM and usually have something lined up to eat when the minute hand strikes the hour.
While it has been a bit of an adjustment, what keeps me going are the benefits: I’ve felt really good both from an energy level and from a digestive level. I’ve also lost a good amount of fat from around my midsection, which no amount of exercise seemed to be helping. Because it’s not a diet that restricts or changes what I eat, I think intermittent fasting is a habit that’ll stay fairly sticky for me. I can foresee a time when my feeding period changes (and even compresses), perhaps from 1PM to 7PM vs. 3PM to 10PM, but I’m fairly confident I’ll continue to employee this eating pattern.
Monthly Dinner with My Parents
Last year, I put a recurring event on my calendar to have dinner with my parents on the last Thursday of every month. This was fairly easy to keep, and it’s been a pleasure to see my Mom and Dad in a relaxed setting with good food. With a grandson on the way, I know I’ll be seeing them a lot more. Proximity is such a luxury, especially when it comes to family, and I’m forever grateful that they’re just a 10-minute drive away.
Black & White iPhone Screen
Last January, I came across an NY Times article about turning your phone grayscale in order to make it less stimulating. Since then, I’ve kept my phone on grayscale mode. I’ve switched back to color perhaps 3 times total and only for a few minutes in order to show people some photos in color. Other than that, I gladly welcomed any method that would make my phone less attractive to use. With social media apps already gone, my phone usage had been mostly limited to the Kindle app, Podcast app, NY Times app, and YouTube. And on YouTube, I’ve mainly only watched videos on sports and exercise. It’s not appealing to watch trailers or fun clips in black and white.
While I upgraded to the iPhone Max XS with its huge screen and amazing color, I don’t feel bad keeping it in grayscale. I’m still able to take full color photos that I’ll sometimes look at later on Google Photos using my laptop. I know that I’m still addicted to my phone in various ways, checking every now and then for email, text messages, and new ESPN.com articles, but I’ll continue to experiment with ways to reduce mindless screentime.
What Happened to Habits I Picked Up in 2017?
Here’s how my new habits from 2017 fared in 2018:
I’ve kept up the practice of writing in my journal almost every weekday. I started a fresh new notebook in September, so that now gives me 3 volumes of journals. It’s always a treat to look back and read about some of the things that were on my mind even just a few months ago.
Daily Mobility Exercises
Because I haven’t gone running as much this year and also because there is a mobility and stretching component to my gym sessions, I’ve largely skipped my daily mobility routine. However, on days I don’t work out, I will typically do the couch stretch and some mobility exercises with the lacrosse ball at home.
Tea Instead of Coffee
I’ve kept going with this, drinking only black and green teas. My only cheat is on Sundays when I’ll have coffee to help me focus for the 3-4 hours of work I typically do to plan for the week. If you’ve ever watched the movie Limitless starring Bradley Cooper, coffee serves like an NZT-48 drug that gets me super dialed in to the work. It’s a nice superpower and it only works because I’ve limited my caffeine intake quite a bit.
Weekly Newsletter and Writing Blog Posts
I was less consistent with sending newsletters and writing blog posts this year. I averaged a little less than 2 newsletters and blog posts per month, which isn’t bad but not nearly as productive as I would’ve liked. I don’t know if I’ll continue doing the same Consumed / Created format in 2019, but I hope to continue getting myself to reflect on books I’ve read.
Habits for 2019
My life will be drastically different in 2019 as my wife Melanie and I welcome our first child. I know that I’ll have to adjust my routines and incorporate new activities. I’m going into this process without any set expectations. I want to get the lay of the land and then experiment with various frameworks that will help me feel like I’ve somewhat got a handle on things. Until then, I’ll leave things open-ended for 2019.
I hope to continue with my workouts and my intermittent fasting. I’ll also try to devote more time to reading and writing while watching less TV, always never-ending struggle. And most of all, I hope to spend a good amount of time with family and friends, always conscious that our time together is finite and quickly fleeting. Happy New Year!