Improve and Grow in 2021

2020 has finally come to an end, but the problems it brought seem like they will spill over into this year as well. But before you get all depressed on me. You can still do things now that can improve your life and will help you hit the ground running once things go back to “normal”.

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Habits

The habit loop consists of four parts. The CUE that triggered a CRAVING. Which then requires some kind of RESPONSE, which grants some type of REWARD. If we target these four stages there are ways of breaking out of our bad habits and building new ones.

James Clear in the book Atomic Habits suggests that for building good habits we:

  • Make it obvious
  • Make it attractive
  • Make it easy
  • Make it immediately satisfying

And do the opposite for bad habits. If you want to break a habit of snacking, introduce friction. Instead of having M&Ms in a bowl on the table next to you, leave them in the cupboard in another room. Want to start reading? Have the book nearby in a visible spot.

If you want to learn more about habit change, I suggest you read:

Person as a Whole

The Body

Sleep

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Lately, with the rise of the grind/hustle culture, you hear sayings like “Sleep is coffee for the poor.” or “I will sleep when I am dead.”, but people saying this don’t realize how much damage they are doing to themselves and their productivity.

While in REM sleep our memories consolidate which is a key step in learning anything. While you are sleep deprived your brain works about as well as when you are intoxicated. So if you don’t have a few cold ones before you go to work, study or try to do anything productive, why don’t you also have that night’s rest you need.

Oh, and yes, “beauty sleep” is a thing. People tend to categorize well-rested people as prettier and more successful.

Some general tips:

  • Figure out whether a morning or evening person and schedule your day accordingly
  • Try to sleep for 7–9 hours per day
  • Don’t drink alcohol before going to sleep
  • Don’t eat or exercise to close to going to bed either
  • Dark and colder rooms are better for sleeping
  • Reduce stress

Building a habit of going to bed:

Prep work:

  • Pick the time you need to fall asleep (wake up time -8 hours)
  • At least 30 minutes before that set aside your phone and dim the light
  • Get ready for bed, then maybe read a book, but just try to stay away from blue light
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, you can try breathing meditation

Habit cycle:

  • Set a bedtime reminder (cue)
  • Tiredness (craving)
  • Get ready for sleep (action)
  • Reap the rewards of well-slept nights

But if you really want to get into the science of sleep, I suggest you read:

Food

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Food is your body’s fuel. I mean you probably don’t fill up your diesel car with petrol. Maybe your body doesn’t come with instructions like a car does, but there are still good and bad diets. Since there are many schools of thought and diets, I can’t really make any suggestions other than for you to do the proper research yourself. But the main thing to focus on is long term sustainability. Don’t opt-in to things like paleo or keto diets if they will make you miserable and you won’t be able to stick to them. Remember that most people who pick unsustainable diets reach some part of their goal, but once they revert to their old habits, they lose all the progress they worked so hard for. Diets really are a long term investment.

Some things that worked for me:

  • Reduce the intake of sugar and saturated fats
  • Calculate your daily calorie intake
  • Use MyFitnessPal for a few weeks to get an idea of how many calories the foods you eat most often have
  • Start budgeting your daily calories (eating burgers and pizza from time to time is ok, just make sure you have the budget for it)
  • Don’t guilt yourself if you slip up from time to time, but stay as consistent as you can

Building a meal prep habit:

  • Have a set time to do this, mine is after work since cooking is relaxing to me (cue)
  • Need for relaxation/wish to eat something good tomorrow (craving)
  • Prep the ingredients for a quick cook the next day or cook the dish for warming up (action)
  • The knowledge that tomorrow’s lunch will be great (reward)

Exercise

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Since more and more of us work desk jobs, we don’t really get in enough exercise. We didn’t evolve to just sit around all day. Exercise improves cognitive performance as well as physical. Going out for a run or gym are great options, but there are alternatives as well that works great in times like these as well. I suggest you look into calisthenics and/or yoga, both are great options because they are body-weight based and don’t require gym equipment.

Some suggestions:

  • Find a program you can follow
  • I like the app Freeletics, where you can find different exercises or subscribe to a coach
  • Be consistent

Building a morning workout habit:

  • Have workout clothes prepared at your bedside (cue)
  • Craving for stretching and getting a head start on the day
  • Workout (action)
  • The feeling of having a handle on your day

A lot more on this topic can be learned from the book:

The Mind

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There are so many things you can do to sharpen your mind. Too many to list, but I will mention a few.

  • Make time to do something fun
  • Adopt a growth mindset and work on grit
  • Learn a new skill or language
  • Learn something new through an online course (I suggest Coursera)
  • Read books
  • Start journaling
  • Start meditating (helps with sleeping and stress management as well)
  • Improve your financial literacy

Some great books on these topics:

Outro

Data Scientist | Hacker