A Look at My 2015 Resolutions

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At the end of a year, I like to look back on the
year that’s gone by, both in terms of my achievements and failures.
What good things have I done? What things have I left undone? How can I
make the coming year better than the previous one?

Often, these end up taking the form of “resolutions” for the coming
year. I like to think of “resolutions” as simply personal goals for the
next six to twelve months. They establish the things I’d like to
improve and change in my own life. This is actually something I do
normally every three or so months, so I’ll usually sit down and look at
my resolutions in March or April to see how they’re going and then
refresh them. In fact, my own resolutions for the coming year are just
evolutions of the projects and goals I set for myself back in September.

My focus for resolutions in 2015 is on daily actions.
Rather than worrying about big end results, I’m more interested in
doing things that alter my daily routine and that alteration leads me to
the lifestyle change I desire.

The problem with setting a big goal for the year – like losing 50 pounds or saving $5,000 for retirement – is that it puts a timeframe on something that’s incredibly hard to estimate up front.
You can’t know in advance how difficult it is going to be for you to
lose a significant amount of weight or to save an amount of money.

What you do know is if you commit to certain positive daily lifestyle changes, the lifestyle goal you want will happen eventually. If you want that change to come faster, you can make stronger daily lifestyle changes, but it’s generally better to focus on sustainable changes. You’re far better off making a little change that will stick than a big change that you’ll burn out eventually.

I described this habit-altering idea in depth in my recent article on making daily practices work for you.
In effect, my 2015 resolutions are an effort to build the best
possible “daily practice” that I can. Here are the nine things I’m
committing to, almost all of which are devoted to a better “daily
practice.”

I’m going to walk an average of 15,000 steps per day.

In 2014, I walked an average of 11,000 steps per day (on the days
that I measured). I’m concerned mostly about the average, as I want to
make walking a greater part of my life.

My solution for this is to use a single page of graph paper to track
this. I have a block of 1,100 squares measured off – a 22 x 50 square
block of squares. I use a pedometer to track my steps and each time I
take 5,000 steps in a day, I black out a single square. So, on a day
where I walk my desired average, I’ll black out three squares. On above
average days, I might black out four or five squares – on a lazier day,
maybe only one or two.

The purpose of this goal is mostly to encourage me to walk around
more. As a writer and a researcher, I spend too much of my day in a
sedentary position and it doesn’t help that some of my hobbies encourage
that as well.

How does this help my finances? For one, it will
reduce long term health care costs. A healthier and less-sedentary body
will do wonders for reducing the expenses related to the potential of
many debilitating diseases. For another, it will boost my energy
levels, making me more productive in other areas of my life, and I can
use the walking time to learn things via audio format (something I do
anyway).

I’m going to do at least one French lesson in Duolingo per day.

The purpose here is to gradually increase my ability to speak French
over time. Duolingo separates language learning into a bunch of
discrete bite-sized lessons that are perfect for a five or ten minute
break. Since I can do these on my cell phone, it’s pretty convenient,
too.

The nice thing about “little bursts” like these is that it enables me
to go further if I want to on a given day while providing a low
maintenance baseline. I can choose to do two or three or more little
lessons in a day.

Rather than using a wall chart, I’m just going to use Duolingo’s
internal “streak” mechanism to keep my chain of days going. Ideally,
I’d like to get a chain of 365 days going, but I know that’s probably
unrealistic. I just want to make my streak(s) as long as possible.

This is a substitute for my previous nebulous goal of “learning to
speak French” that I attempted last year. While I certainly made some
progress toward that goal, I realized that the goal was a poor one as it
didn’t really establish what I needed to do to succeed. I wish to
learn the language because all of my children have expressed interest in
traveling to France in the future.

How does this help my finances? Being able to speak a second language conversationally helps my career opportunities, plus it helps with cognitive factors as well, helping you think better.

I’m going to spend at least one minute practicing with my guitar each day.

I’ve had a very nice guitar for a while now, but I rarely get it out
and actually work on learning to play it. It’s a shame because every
time I get it out I find myself really enjoying the practice. But then I
stick it back in my closet and when it’s out of sight, it’s out of
mind.

Recently, I started sitting my guitar in a little spot right next to
my desk and I’ve found myself grabbing it a lot and just strumming it
and fooling around with it in an unstructured way. I want to change
that and actually learn how to play it. I have a big collection of
“learn how to play guitar” videos on my computer that I intend to work
through as I gradually learn a few songs.

Now, why only one minute? The idea is that with a one minute goal, I
will pull out my guitar to do that single minute of practice under the
idea that it will only take a minute, but once it’s on my lap, I’ll be
personally motivated to practice for longer because it’s actually fun to
play it once it’s out and on my lap.

Basically, this is just a call to pull out that guitar and dig into a
video lesson once per day. I intend to track this with a small wall
calendar, crossing off each day that I practice and eventually building
“chains” of consecutive days of practice.

How does this help my finances? It really doesn’t, but it is a free hobby (or very close to it) since I already own the guitar.

I’m going to reduce my prepackaged food and restaurant food consumption to one meal per week.

I really don’t eat out that often, but I want to reduce it even further for a bunch of reasons.

For starters, most food served at most restaurants isn’t really very
healthy. While it’s fine occasionally, it’s not good for you if you eat
it all the time.

Another reason is the cost. There are very, very few situations where restaurant food isn’t drastically more expensive than making the same meal for yourself at home.

A third reason is that, in the end, it doesn’t really save much time,
at least for us. We don’t have food delivery in our area, which means
we have to go somewhere in order to enjoy restaurant food. When you add
up all the factors, eating at a restaurant doesn’t usually save us a
ton of time.

I intend to save my restaurant meals for times when I eat with my
family or, on rare occasion, when I go somewhere really nice with
family.

I am making two exception to this rule. First, I will break the rule
and not count meals that I eat out with out-of-town friends.
Sometimes, I’ll have an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time
ask me to eat lunch with him or her and I’m not going to count that
social obligation here. I view that as an expense to get to spend time
with an old friend. Second, I will break the rule on family vacations,
though I will try to find non-restaurant solutions to eating.

How does this help my finances? My food cost goes
down. My calorie intake also goes down, as does my intake of things
like extra sodium and trans fats and MSG, which will help my long-term
health.

I’m going to do at least one minute’s worth of dynamic resistance yoga each day.

About a year ago, I received a copy of DDP Yoga,
which is a “guy”-themed exercise DVD set that focuses on using dynamic
resistance. In other words, as you move, you move as though the air is
full of sand and is resisting your every movement, so you “push” as hard
as you can.

I started getting interested in yoga because of ongoing back
problems. Several people recommended that I try it because it helped
them drastically reduce their back pain and it really does work provided I keep up with it consistently.

That’s the real problem – consistency. Much like my guitar playing,
it was easy to put it aside when my back was feeling good.

The “one minute” idea from my guitar lessons extends here as well.
Once I’m already doing some positions, it’s pretty easy to just continue
and go through a routine. The “one minute” motivation is there to
convince me to actually get started because even if I decide I’m not in
the mood today, it only takes a minute to keep the chain going.

As with the guitar lessons, I’m keeping a small wall calendar upon
which I’ll mark the days where I achieve this goal. The goal, also as
before, is to build “chains” of days where I succeed.

How does this help my finances? As with the other
health-oriented goals on this list, the big value that they provide is
that they reduce long-term health care costs. In this case, it will
also reduce costs in the short term by keeping back pain at bay. There
are also some energy benefits to doing this type of exercise.

I’m going to eat a “vegan before six” diet on weekdays.

This is an idea recommended by Mark Bittman in his book VB6.
It’s pretty simple – just avoid meat and animal products in what you
eat for breakfast and lunch. Doing so drastically reduces your calorie
intake for the day (as well as reducing the intake of many other things
often included in meat and animal products) and you can also eat pretty
much whatever you like for dinner.

I considered including weekends in this challenge, but decided to
exclude them because of the difficulties it may impose on other members
of my family who aren’t eating restrictive diets.

I chose to do this because of the compelling case made by VB6 and other similar books. A number of studies conclude that making fruits and vegetables the core of your diet – the vast majority of what you eat – has innumerable health benefits.

How does this help with my finances? It’s all about the health, as described multiple times earlier in this article.

I’m going to complete a session of an online class each day.

Between the mountains of online classes that major universities are putting out there through things like OpenCourseWare and Open Yale and Coursera (just to name a few
of the multitude of outlets), there are almost infinite opportunities
to delve deeply into learning about specific subjects of interest to
you.

Lifetime learning has always been a part of my life, but I’ve mostly
just jumped from topic to topic, bearing down on one topic for an hour
or two and then jumping to the next thing. Online courses – most of
which are completely free – allow me to bear down on a specific topic
and dig deep into the material.

Most of the time, this will take the form of listening to the lecture
of a class in podcast form while I take a walk and then writing down my
reflections on the lecture after the walk. There are many, many
classes out there that offer the lectures in audio form.

From what I can estimate, each class should take me about a month (or
so) to work through, with some being a bit shorter. My focus is on
making sure I do a session a day (on average), but I hope to work
through fifteen different classes in 2015, some of them leading to more
difficult courses on the same topic. Some of the areas I want to focus
on include biochemistry, programming language theory, philosophy, and
graphic design.

How does this help with my finances? The whole
point of this exercise is to maintain my ability to learn while also
picking up new ideas and skills. I find that learning about different
topics stretches my mind in different ways and sometimes makes it easier
to connect ideas in unexpected ways. Plus, listening to the lectures
of online classes is something I can do while walking or while driving
somewhere, so it doesn’t really take up much extra time (time is money,
after all!).

I’m going to write fifty words of a novel each day.

Over the last, say, decade or so, I’ve been tossing around several
ideas for novels. One is a story of sibling jealousy in a near-future
background. Another is an urban fantasy with a brother-sister
protagonist combination that could potentially be a series. Yet another
is a high fantasy novel focused an older assassin and a young woman at
odds with one another.

I have lots of character biographies, some chapter-by-chapter
sketches, and some rough drafts of chapters floating around, but I’ve
never willed myself to actually complete the writing.

That changes this year. I’m committing to a very simple goal of actually writing fifty words in one of these novels each day.

Again, the threshold is low so that I might convince myself in the
moment to write even more than that. I figure that fifty words is
enough to often get me in the flow of writing.

How does this help with my finances? Writing
something like a novel is an investment of time into something that will
eventually become a passive stream of income once published. While
there’s no guarantee that anything I write this year will become
published, it will certainly lead to better novels in the future that
have a much better chance of becoming published.

I’m going to brush my teeth twice daily and floss once daily.

Some of you will go, “Wow, that’s excessive.” Others of you will go, “Wow, that’s … normal.”

The truth is that I typically brush my teeth once a day, yet that did
not prevent me from getting a few dental problems in the last few
years. I don’t eat a very sugary diet, either.

During my last visit, I talked to my dentist about what I could do
about it. He suggested I use a mild toothpaste, not use too much, brush
once or twice a day, and floss once a day.

Since then, I’ve been trying to stick to that, but it’s been
something I’ve had difficulty adding to my routine. I usually brush in
the morning, so remembering it in the evening (along with flossing in
the evening) has been the real trick.

Rather than keeping track of my success here, I’ve just added an
alert to my phone that goes off at eight each evening admonishing me to
go brush and floss my teeth.

More than any other thing here, this is the one I want to become so
routine that I never even think about it. Sometime in the hour or so
before bed, I want brushing and flossing to be completely normal.

How does this help with my finances? Fewer dental
bills, less time spent going to the dentist, and less time spent dealing
with annoying minor dental issues is a big win all around.

Your Goals

So, what can you take from this?

First, focus on micro-goals that you can pull off each day. Don’t sweat the giant mountain. Instead, focus on what you can do today that will take you a step closer to that mountain peak that you want to reach.

Second, make them sustainable. If you commit
yourself to too much stuff, you’ll never be able to make it work. Most
of the items I’ve listed above just take a few minutes per day and some
of them directly overlap, making them much easier to achieve. Many of
them are just refinements of things I’m already doing. Look for goals
that are just a small step beyond what you’re already doing and then
build up from there if you feel it necessary.

Third, make them fun. Some of the goals I’ve listed here are things that I view as fun
(such as playing the guitar). It just means I’m shifting around
leisure priorities. Other goals are just reinforcements of things I
enjoy that I already do normally (like going on walks). A goal does not
mean subjecting yourself to misery. It might just mean redirecting
your leisure time a little or adding a little bit more effort to things
you already do and enjoy.

Finally, everyone has different goals. My goals are
not your goals and your goals aren’t mine. The value in looking at
other people’s goals – and the reason I enjoy reading the resolutions
and goals of others – is that it can give you ideas on how to achieve
your own goals, similar or not.

What do you want out of your life? What little thing can you do
today to move in that direction? Can you do it tomorrow and the day
after? If you can answer those questions, you’re defining a good goal
for yourself.

 – The Simple Dollar

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