- ✅ Quit smoking. Cold turkey.
- ✅ Self learned to code. Spent 396 hours coding, which is almost 2.2 months where I was a full time engineer. (Wakatime)
- ✅ Lost 14kgs weight and 18 inches of body fat
- ✅ Shipped 3 side projects with 700+ registered users (Timewise, Timespent Toolkit, Kaapi)
- ✅ Meditated for 1350 minutes total, with one streak lasting for 48 days straight (Headspace)
- ✅ Traveled to Australia, Japan, Vietnam
- ✅ Attended five family events (did zero in 2018)
- ✅ Led a new business launch at my job and got a 10/10 performance review
Building habits is a habit
Alright, now that the clickbaity titles are out of the way - let's talk details! 2018 was a pretty bad year for me. I was horribly overweight, my dog died in a car accident right in front of me, I wasn't performing well at work and had no goals in life to look forward to. It wasn't really rock bottom. But you know that gnawing feeling deep in your stomach which says that something is wrong but you bury it down because it is too much to confront?
Yeah that's what it was.
I did my year in review (I have used this for 3 years now, and highly recommend it) by January end and finally came to realise that it's time to move my butt. I still remember taking an off from work for 3 days straight (sorry boss!) and shutting myself in a room to do some hard thinking. The version of me that came out was definitely a stronger and more hopeful person.
The first thing I decided to do was start measuring everything, and not worry about the goals too much (reading Atomic Habits by James Clear really helped). I stopped thinking about the finishing line & decided to focus on fixing my daily habits.
It was an exhilarating, and sometimes stressful journey. I sometimes felt like I had picked up too many things. And I haven't yet become an expert at any of my new habits (I enjoy being a generalist anyways) but damn it was fun! I do have some learnings and here they are:
Digital habit trackers don't work
Yes, you heard me! I think there are too many distractions on our phones for us to really make habits stick. I did try apps like Habitify, but always used to get lost in fancy UX and mobile notifications vs actual retrospection. What finally worked for me was a good old calendar on my desk.
Keeping it on your desk will definitely invite some awkward conversations with house guests. But it will be there when you get up. And when you go to sleep. The environment you design influences what you do. And there is something beautiful about scratching a small box with a pen, that can't be replaced by the click of a button on a mobile app. Technology can only take you further so much.
Adventures are great. But boring consistency is what makes you a hero
If you look at all the reds across any month you will see a very common pattern. I was traveling at that time, or I fell sick. And then it takes a few extra days to get back on track. It is very very boring to do the reps. But just show up and force yourself to finish an activity.
It's the consistency that matters more than intensity or accuracy. Want to close your sales targets? Get up and write 50 cold emails every day.
I have decided to stop being a ninja, or a rockstar, or anything that adds chaos to my day. I am a sucker for routines now. That's where true craftsmanship comes and I want to aspire for that.
Yes, creative solutions happen via unplanned short bursts on intense work, but that doesn't help you build that habit.
You control the small inputs, not the larger output
Bhagwad Gita - "Do your tasks, don't worry about the fruits it will bear".
This sounds like obviously-absurd philosophy, but if you really experience it. It's something else. It's a beautiful freedom. All my worries went away. I couldn't take stress about the things that I had no control over. You can totally get up and do 10 minutes of Yoga. Or even 2 minutes of stretching on the chair. And very slowly those 5 minutes every day turn into a 45 min warmup on Sunday mornings. This is in your control.
Loosing 5 kgs is not in your control. Your metabolism and water-absorption rate is different. The way your body is built is different (and you should be proud of it!). Hence it might take you three months to lose that body fat vs your friend. Getting up in the morning on time is not in your control - but getting into bed and shutting off all lights is! So just do the latter.
Oh btw, no, Seinfeld did not invent the "don't break the chain method". There are 100s of blog posts on Atomic Habits that I just followed.
What can be measured, can be fixed
I was trying to track everything. Here are some stats.
Cheating is ok
There were days (especially while traveling) when it was difficult to continue the habit. Life and daily chaos always gets in the way. But my desire to mark a green on my tracker was just too high, and I found ways to cheat.
- When I couldn't code, I would watch Youtube tutorials on Django programming
- When I couldn't meditate, I would just listen to night soundscapes on my Headspace app
- When Yoga was too boring, I would go out and play a game of badminton and still mark my Yoga cell as green.
I used to feel bad about this, but fuck it, who cares!
Start small and simple. You can't learn 10 new habits in a month.
If you look at the patterns in my calendar for each row, it usually took about 3+ weeks before I could really be sure that this habit is going to stick with me. I am still unsure why some of them are not successful.
But that's ok I guess. It's the journey of being 1% better than yesterday that really matter, not the end goal. There is no end goal, anyways right? The north star shifts.
And that's it! If you have any questions, just reach out on Twitter ..