(From the archives) The value of establishing one keystone habit

(From the archives) The value of establishing one keystone habit
Photo by Tristan Colangelo / Unsplash

A look back at 2014 and forward to 2015

Most years as December winds down, I resolve to change 5–10 things that fall roughly into the categories you’d expect: lose some weight, be more active, sleep better, read more, etc.

Before articulating what I’m planning to work on this year, I wanted to look back at what I set out to do last year and see how I fared. I threw down some quick grades on the goals I’d laid out, OKR-style:

  • Sleep better (0.8) — Gone are the days of regularly going to bed after midnight. While I’m not perfect about it, I’ve gotten much better about getting into bed around 10, reading for a bit, and then getting to sleep. This has mostly come at the expense of watching shitty TV or just reading minutiae on the Internet so no big loss. As I suspected, this was somewhat of a keystone habit for me that facilitated other habits — more well rested/alert, more energy to work out early, more reading time, etc.
  • Be in better shape (0.7) — The first half of the year involved a couple of experiments — 3 months of primarily rowing followed by 3 months of primarily working with a personal trainer. I eventually settled into a consistent running habit in June/July that carried through the end of the year (September + December were highs with 70+ miles run). In order to maintain the focus, I sign up for a race every few months to ensure I have a goal (next up: NYC Half in March) so I expect this pace to continue.
  • Lose Weight (0.4) — I was at 230lbs in January and I’ve gotten down to 223lbs (not great) without much focus on my diet at all. I’ve still got a ways to go (want to get below 210) and will focus more directly on diet this year starting with The Whole Life Challenge on January 13th (wanna do it too? let me know!).
  • Read more books (0.5) — The good news is I was able to establish a consistent book reading habit that didn’t exist before 2014. I was also successful at broadening the kinds of books I read, including reading fiction for the first time in 15+ years. The bad news is that I only got halfway to my goal of 20 books. Favorite fiction: The Martian (Runner up: Gone Girl). Favorite non-fiction: Creativity Inc. (Runner-up: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting)
  • Go deep in a couple of new areas of interest (0.9) After having spent 7 of the last 10 years deep in mobile, local and social, I wanted to really immerse myself in a new space space and a new set of design challenges. In February I joined Project Florida as Head of Design and have been working hard to build a team and a product in a space — health/fitness/data — I previously only knew from the outside as a consumer. Now that I’m almost a year in, I’m blown away by how much progress we’ve made and how much I’ve learned. I love our team and am so excited about what we’re building. (ps: if you’re a Product Designer looking for something new and share our passion for improving health and empowering behavior change, drop me a note)
  • Write more regularly (0.1) — I barely wrote at all this year so this one was a total fail.
  • Be more ruthless about how I spend my time (0.7) — I got better at saying “no” so my calendar got closer to actually reflecting my priorities. I cut all of the social media distractions from my life by closing all but the handful of accounts I get genuine value from. The one exception is that I still have my Facebook account but that’s close to getting the axe too as Instagram has become a much better version of what Facebook used to be as well as the most accurate representation of my social graph (well played, Zuck). All this helped to generally be more present in whatever I was doing but there’s always room to improve.

Overall, last year was one of the healthiest I’d had in some time. I’m happy with the changes I was able to make and feel like I ended the year with some good momentum in many of the areas I was looking to improve.

As I look forward to 2015, I want to continue to build on those changes. In addition, I’m going to focus on making one change that should serve as another keystone habit: Get up an hour earlier (6am) every day of the week.

This past year I’d get up at 6 the days I’d go running, sleep in until 7 the days my wife would go running and sleep until the kids got up on the weekends. My plan is to set my alarm (Jawbone quiet alarm, which I’ve grown to love) for 6am every day as an experiment. My hypothesis is that it will allow me to:

  • Have some personal time to focus — some days it’ll be going for a run, other days it’ll be reading, and hopefully some days (like today) it’ll be writing again. I’d also like to give meditation a go.
  • Set a calmer tone for the day—as anyone with kids will tell you, getting everyone (including yourself) ready for the day and out of the house on time is a chaotic daily ballet that can’t be a healthy way to start the day. Giving myself a little more time in the morning will not only make that process more pleasant but will also hopefully set the stage for a calmer entry to the work day and the challenges it brings.
  • Benefit from a more consistent body clock — I’ve never had trouble falling asleep but I often struggle with falling back to sleep when I wake up in the middle on the night. My hope is that establishing a more consistent sleep and wake schedule can only help my internal clock (science).

Obviously this will occasionally get undermined by life — late night working, party time, sick kids, etc. — but I’m excited about the potential benefits of this extra time to reflect or create as well as some consistency to my schedule.

Lots to look forward to this year. Giddy up!