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New Month Resolution #9

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

Update from Last Month (June 2020)

At the end of May we saw what looked potentially like the start of a “second wave” of COVID-19 cases here in Israel. Well, in June the prophecy has been fulfilled:

Daily cases in Israel; data from Johns Hopkins as usual.

Around the world, many other countries are in a similar (or worse) situation. So, that’s not great.

The other bad news of the month is that Scott Alexander shut down his blog. 😦 See here for his reason, here for Twitter discussion, and here for a petition that might help bring the blog back.

Not much else to tell. The Statistics course I teach is ending in a few weeks, so my Sundays will be open again soon. The temperature here is rising fast as we approach full-on summertime in the Middle East. Overall it’s been a pretty uneventful month for me personally.

Last Month’s Resolution

(+) Greenfield’s 8 Rules for Health

Last month I resolved to follow what I dubbed Greenfield’s 8 Rules for Health, named for Ben Greenfield who advocated a related set of principles as being advisable for nearly anyone to improve their health. I interpreted these principles and came up with some fairly easy-to-assess goals to accomplish each 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 modified the first rule because I spent two days hiking in the Galilee and somehow did not achieve a heart rate above 140 on those days; steps felt like a more reasonable measure of my baseline level of activity. The second rule was measured on a subjective scale, whether I felt like I was mindfully making choices in accordance with a Mediterranean diet, rather than a hard rule like “no red meat at all”. The other six were very easy to assess.

How’d I do?

Pretty well, overall! Easiest task was #8, taking a multivitamin, which I did 30/30 days, and all I had to do for #7 was upgrade my water habit to filter water rather than tap (29/30). I took cold showers all days but one (29/30), and accomplished high temperatures (29/30) either by alternating to a hot shower, or coupled with time in direct sunlight (28/30). Sunlight was a particularly fun one; I started doing my daily meditations on the balcony of my apartment, where (before 10am) the sun shines directly. Very nice.

The others were more difficult. Rule #1 (Walking) and #4 (Earthing) required leaving my house, which is nontrivial in the time of Corona; still, these resolutions got me out of the house more days than not (16/30 and 19/30, respectively). I should say, 16/30 doesn’t capture the true effect of the resolution on my habits, as there were many days that I left the house and took a long walk around the city, only to fall just short of 10,000 steps. (Just checked: there were actually only 6 days this month where I took fewer than 8000 steps.)

Finally, Rule #2 (diet) was also fairly difficult. I did cook at home more and I did opt for fewer carbs / less red meat very often. I ate yogurt and granola most days for breakfast and some kind of chicken / salmon for many lunches and dinners. Still, I ate some pita (less than usual) and some burgers (less than usual) and so on. Hard to know if this helped my overall health status or energy level.

What will I retain from these rules in the coming month(s)? I think cold showers, sun meditations on the balcony, Earthing, and long walks will continue to happen regularly. I’ll still try to minimize (but not eliminate) carbs (though see this month’s resolution below). I’ll keep drinking filtered water most of the time, and I’ll at least finish my bottle of multivitamins. So, I’ll actually retain quite a bit!

  1. Commitment: 4/5

  2. Difficulty: 4/5

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

  4. Likelihood to do (some of) it again next month: 4/5

(-) Social Media

I deactivated the Facebook and Instagram apps in my phone, and pretty consistently abstained from logging in on my computer. I slipped a few times–either because I had a particular reason or when I was particularly bored–but there were not more than a handful of instances and overall my mind did not often drift to my next Facebook status or Instagram story. This was very successful.

I do think I spent more time on Twitter than before, I guess as an unintentional substitute, but aside from re-reading a few posts unnecessarily, this didn’t feel like a waste. I also have Snapchat, which I use almost exclusively to send a picture of my face to my younger brother every day, and receive one in turn.

Up Next

Via Positiva (+): I want to read more. I have started several books but progress has been very slow. This month I want to kickstart this habit.

I think it’s realistic for me to read / complete three books this month, specifically these three:

If you look closely, you’ll see that the two on the left already have bookmarks: Law’s Order is roughly 300 pages and I’ve read about 200 of them; Homo Deus is about 400 pages and I’ve read 150; on the other hand, Fooled by Randomness is about 250 and I haven’t started. That’s 100+250+250 = 600 pages in a month. This seems like a reasonable goal, and here’s why.

The average reading speed for adults is about 200 words per minute, and the average number of words on a page in a book is a few hundred as well (let’s say 400 words per page to make it simple); then the average reading speed is (200 words/minute)/(400 words/page) = 1/2 page/minute, or a page every 2 minutes. So it’d take me roughly 1200 minutes = 20 hours to read 600 pages. There are 31 days in July, so I’d need to read 600/31 pages/day ~ 19-20 pages/day, which translates to about about 40 minutes/day (less, if I read faster than the conservative average above).

So a successful day will be one in which I read at least 20 pages. To make it obvious and satisfying, I’ll mark the number of pages I read per day on this chart, affixed to my door (so I can’t overlook it):

Via Negativa (-): I’m going to give up gluten this month. This, for a few reasons:

  1. I continue to find carb-heavy foods to be a comfort / crutch when I’m bored or upset about something. Without the option of breads or pitas, I’ll hopefully opt for more healthy outlets.

  2. While I’m not in any way convinced gluten is bad, per se, I’m all for experimentation to see if giving something up improves my overall well-being. That’s part of what these NMRs are supposed to be: Self-Experiments.

  3. My girlfriend has a gluten sensitivity, so this will help me internalize the rules and potentially empathize more fully with her dietary restrictions.

In practice, giving up gluten means no breads (unless made with obscure flours like teff), pastas, and beer (unless certified gluten-free). Wine is fine, and surprisingly so are most whiskeys and vodkas, even though they are often made from glutenous grains like rye or barley; the distillation process removes nearly all of the gluten. I’ll make it work!

Resolution #9

Starting July 1, until (at least) the end of the month, I will (+) finish three books (goal speed = 20 pages / day); and (-) eat a gluten-free diet.

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

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