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New Month Resolution #8

This is part of an ongoing series of monthly self-experiments; see the full list.

Update from Last Month (May 2020)

Not much to report this month. Quarantine in Israel has been largely ended, with schools, beaches, and even restaurants / bars reopening over the last few weeks, subject to new requirements about hygiene and capacity. It’s nice to see the country come back to life, particularly in Tel Aviv where the streets were eerily silent lo those many weeks.

On the other hand, there are some very recent signs that all this might have happened too quickly (data from Johns Hopkins):

Oh noooooooooooooo (see the uptick in the final few days of May)

So many of us are bracing for a possible “second wave”. I just hope that now, with increased testing capability and better knowledge of outbreak locations, any renewed lockdowns will be targeted more intelligently than the blunt nationwide quarantine we saw in Wave 1.

In blog-related news, I still tweet occasionally. I even wrote a couple of threads where I did some actual research and tried to answer a question, like a mini-blog; if you like this blog then you might enjoy what I share there too.

Also, I feel like all Real Blogs share weekly or monthly “links posts”, so I intend to do that too; it’ll likely just be a mish-mash of whatever I’ve been reading / listening to or found interesting lately. I’ll try to post it around the 15th of the month so it doesn’t get mixed in with the other monthly post (my Resolution).

Last Month’s Resolution

(+) Breathing and Stretching

I resolved last month to work on my morning routine, by doing a simple stretching routine and some basic breathing exercises. The idea was both to improve these aspects of my own physical life (I’d like to be more flexible, after all) and also to start the day in a more positive and healthy way.

How did I do? Meh, it was fine. I had trouble sticking to it in the second half of the month, particularly as the last week or so I hurt my back and had some difficulty twisting / moving laterally. On days that I succeeded, I mostly followed this guide to breathing exercises for singers and a simple stretch routine that varied every day (mostly sitting / standing poses). I didn’t feel much reward for either of them and I felt little to no motivation to add to the basic routine or research new routines.

I tried to keep the resolution broad and not define it too precisely, to allow myself room for experimentation. But I worry that this actually just led to reduced commitment to the practice and a failure of habit-building. I listened recently to the conversation between Sam Harris and James Clear, and as a result, think I understand better how to construct a resolution such that I’m more likely to stick to it. James boils it down in his book, Atomic Habits (haven’t read it yet):

Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.” “The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

I’ll seek to follow these rules in future NMRs.

  1. Commitment: 1/5

  2. Difficulty: 1/5

  3. Results (+/- relative to my expectation, which corresponds to 0): -2/5

  4. Likelihood to do it again the following month: 0/5

(-) Alcohol

I also resolved to abstain from alcohol for the month. This, I mostly succeeded at, with a few (precisely 7) “cheat days” that corresponded largely with social gatherings. If I didn’t feel like making it A Thing that I’m not drinking (prompting the question “Oh, is something wrong?”), I drank with my friends as normal.

Some summary data:

Red regions correspond to “heavy drinking”, as defined here.

Main positive outcome from this resolution is not drinking so much at home; in the evenings when I typically unwind with a glass or two of wine, I drank tea instead, surely a healthy substitution. I secretly hoped this would make my evenings more productive, allowing my brain to remain online for nighttime reading or blogging rather than the wasteful Netflix / video games I indulge in lately; this wasn’t really the case overall. I tentatively conclude that alcohol is not the primary driver of my bad nighttime habits.

I still wonder whether my drinking habits are correlated with my sleep schedule or quality of sleep; a cursory look at my FitBit sleep data doesn’t suggest any strong correlation. But I think a lot of data would be needed to tease out an effect like that so don’t get too excited just yet. (Note that at the end of this year I’m expecting to have 365 consecutive days of drinking+sleep data and will share those results in December or January.)

Up Next

As before, I have in mind both a positive (+) and a negative (-) resolution this month. All my focus remains on building better daily habits.

(+) Greenfield’s 8 Rules for Health

Recently Eric Weinstein had a guest on the Portal, Ben Greenfield, who talked about healthy habits, nutrition, and how to parse complicated medical literature to find the best info to apply to one’s own health. A large fraction of the conversation was committed to “personalized nutrition”, the sense in which general principles of nutrition do not apply in every case and we must all develop our own best practices (often in collaboration with a doctor or personal nutritionist).

Nonetheless, at the end, Ben made the following summary of habits he would recommend to anyone.

  1. Regular, low-level physical activity throughout the day;

  2. Relatively low-carb, Mediterranean diet;

  3. Sunlight;

  4. Be outside barefoot / touching the ground (“Earthing”);

  5. Sweating or being hot;

  6. Being cold;

  7. Good clean water;

  8. Minerals.

Though some of this is new to me (shoutout to my girlfriend for telling me about “Earthing” weeks ago!), it’s hard for me to imagine any of this would be bad advice. Regardless of what he specifically would recommend for each category, I mapped each of these to a more easily-trackable set of micro-resolutions which I will do every day:

  1. Each day I will ensure my heart rate rises above 140; (EDIT June 7: Starting June 5 I’m changing this to “I will take at least 10,000 steps per day.”)

  2. I will reduce red meat and carb consumption, substituting fish/chicken, vegetables, whole grains, and yogurt;

  3. Each day I will spend at least 10 minutes in direct sunlight;

  4. Each day I will “Earth” for at least 10 minutes;

  5. Each day I will expose myself to very high temperatures (via sun, hot water, sauna, etc.);

  6. Each day I will expose myself to very low temperatures (likely by taking a cold shower);

  7. Each day I will drink at least 100 ounces of filtered water;

  8. Each day I will take a multivitamin.

I may modify any of these on the fly if they feel too challenging / not challenging enough; (1) in particular is very unambitious and I expect to raise the bar after a few days. Further, (2) is less precise than the others and I’ll determine if I’m succeeding on a case-by-case basis.

Collectively I’ll refer to these as Greenfield’s 8 Rules for Health, and I’ll follow them carefully this month. I think this resolution is naturally attractive and easy, but in an attempt to make it more satisfying, I’ve made myself a grid that I’ll fill with checkmarks when I succeed:

To make it obvious, I’ve affixed the grid to my door so I can’t miss seeing and being reminded of it throughout the day.

(-) Social Media

I spend (really, waste) too much time on social media, in particular Facebook and Instagram. I’ve been using a Digital Wellbeing setting on my phone that limits each app to 30 mins/day, but I can still access Facebook on my computer, and the amount of time I spend thinking about each is surely much larger than 30 mins/day. I need a cleanse, so this month I’m deleting Facebook and Instagram.

(I’m keeping Twitter, hoping to retain its usefulness as an information machine.)

Resolution #8

Starting June 1, until (at least) the end of the month, I will (+) follow Greenfield’s 8 Rules for Health (as I’ve interpreted them above) and (-) I will abstain from using Facebook and Instagram.

Results and new Resolution will be given on or around July 1, 2020.

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