New Month Resolution #7
As I mentioned a few months ago, I think it’s valuable to mindfully mark time as a way to make gradual changes to one’s behavior. I’m trying out the idea of New Month Resolutions; the basic principle is to choose some habit or activity each month to commit to, one that is (a) big enough that it takes a focused effort to get it done, and (b) small enough that one can expect to make real progress in 15-30 mins each day over the course of a month.
Play along from home, if you want. 🙂 (If you do, I’d love to hear about your experience!)
Update from Last Month (April 2020)
Another month in COVID-19 quarantine. Not much to tell. About three times in the month, I made it to Rehovot to visit the office, though all other days I was working from home. My friends and colleagues around the world have mostly adapted to this new situation, with more meetings / seminars (for work) and more conversations / parties (for friends) held virtually over Zoom. I’ve started teaching a statistics course through my university for Master’s / Ph.D students, which of course has been moved online as well. Overall, it’s weird how the days blend together when they’re not marked by a commute to work.
Thankfully I have good roommates and I’ve had several opportunities to see my excellent girlfriend this month. We even had a cookout on the balcony to celebrate Israel’s 72nd birthday.
We grilled for a while!
As a country we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel too. Over the last week or so, Israel has started reacting to the very optimistic infection numbers and started to reopen the economy. Just today, I read that 80% of Israel hasn’t had a new COVID-19 case in several days, and the government is considering reopening public parks, beaches, and outdoor markets. From where I sit I see a class of schoolchildren playing soccer in a nearby field (legally or illegally, I couldn’t tell you). Things are rapidly approaching something close to normal.
Optimism via https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
Let’s hope we don’t see a new peak in infections as a result.
In blog-related news, I haven’t written as much as I’d hoped, but I have a few things that are half-written and should get posted soon. My Twitter presence has languished since finishing my 100-day challenge, so I’m thinking of restarting a new 100 days.
Last Month’s Resolution
Major Resolution: Lucid Dreaming
Historically I never remember my dreams (maybe a few times per year), and last month I worked to fix that. More ambitiously, I wanted to learn to lucid dream. A lucid dream is where you ‘wake up’ inside your dream and can interact consciously with the dream; in some cases, people report being able to control the contents of the dream, leading to flight, world travel, sleeping with famous people, or whatever else they felt like doing. Sounds like fun!
The first part (remembering) has been a huge success. I started keeping a dream journal, using the Awoken app on my phone, and every day when I woke up I tried to remember what I had been dreaming. In many cases, it worked!
In my half-awake state, I spoke into the app everything I could remember. This is unedited output from those memories.
I have 12 entries in my dream journal over the course of a month, which is a huge improvement.
I did not, however, have any lucid dreaming experiences. What I tried to do, to make it happen, was to initiate “reality check” moments throughout the day to make it a habit to see if I was dreaming; this I did using the same Awoken app. When the app played a chime, I’d stop what I was doing, look at my hands, count my fingers, bite my tongue, read something carefully, or any number of other simple “am I dreaming?” tests. The goal is to make it such a habit that I’d even do it in my sleep. The app even played the chime in my sleep to try to trigger these checks during a dream. Unfortunately it never happened for me.
The reality checks are interesting, because they’re basically short mindful moments speckled throughout the day. Notice your hands. Notice the sounds around you. Look around. I started to notice how much my daily life is spent in a daze, sort of focused on what I was doing but basically mindless and un-present. Even though I was awake, I felt like I was waking up. Regardless of the lucid dreaming idea, I’d like to keep cultivating these moments.
So I think I’ll keep these habits, though maybe with less emphasis: I’ll continue to journal dreams when I remember them, and I’ll keep the reality checks happening for now.
Results (+/- relative to my expectation, which corresponds to 0): 2/5
Likelihood to do it again the following month: 5/5
I’ve been thinking lately about the benefits of subtractions to one’s routine, in addition to additions, inspired by Nassim Taleb’s Via Negativa principle. He writes in his book Antifragile:
So the central tenet of the epistemology I advocate is as follows: we know a lot more what is wrong than what is right, or, phrased according to the fragile/robust classification, negative knowledge (what is wrong, what does not work) is more robust to error than positive knowledge (what is right, what works). So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by addition — given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily.
If I apply this to habit cultivation, the life lesson I draw is: think hard about the habits you’ve already cultivated, and subtract the bad in addition to adding the good. So for the next few months, I’m intending to split my NMR into these two parts.
A subtraction: I’d like to go a month without alcohol. This should be easy, and I’ve done it many times before. In the future I may try other dietary subtractions like caffeine, gluten, dairy, meat, etc. But I’ll start simple this month. I’m also interested to try subtracting other, non-dietary things from my life to see how it goes; I have some ideas. 🙂
An addition: a good morning routine goes a long way, and I want to work on mine. Two things I think would be helpful are stretching and breathing daily, so that’s what I’ll do. There are plenty of simple stretches online, from basic to yogi-level, which I’ll sample day by day. Breathing is more tricky, but I’ll start with breathing exercises for singers and maybe move to more extreme kinds (some of these are also yogi-level).
(I didn’t stretch/breathe yesterday (May 1), so I began this morning (May 2).)
Starting May 2, until (at least) the end of the month, I will (+) do a daily stretching and breathing routine in the morning, and (-) abstain from alcohol.
Results and new Resolution will be given on or around June 1, 2020.