Friday, December 31, 2010

1001 posts and a New Year’s Resolutions for 2011

This post is number 1,001 of 2010. I set a goal of 1,000 posts back in January. I’m happy to see that I hit my target, but it was no easy task. By midyear I was behind schedule to the tune of 250 posts. My travel schedule had put me in China for a good part of the first half of the year so blogging was difficult. Once home, I managed to make my goal by applying the project management techniques I use in the real world – and that gave me an idea. Perhaps I could use my project management skills to improve my heath.

My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to continue a project I started on October 1st. I think the popular term for what I’m doing is called “eating my own dog food.” I mentor people about how to change habits as part of what I do for a living. I’ve started following my own advice. On October 1, I stopped smoking. I had been a regular cigar smoker for 30 years. I thought quitting would be harder than it was. I only miss it when I’m under a lot of stress.

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”Mark Twain

October 1st was the start of what I call my “get healthy” project. I’m using my project management skills and the skills I normally teach to others to eliminate bad habits. I put together a project plan to guide my efforts. The plan covers all aspects of my health and fitness. My goal is optimal health. My approach is to identify bad habits and eliminate or replace them with good habits. I have a lot of bad habits.

For example:

  • Oct 1 – quit regular smoking (elimination)
  • Nov 1 – quit regular drinking of diet soda (replace with water)
  • Nov 15 – reduce alcohol consumption to 2 units per week (elimination)
  • Dec 1 – quit junk food breakfasts (replace with oatmeal or like food)
  • Dec 15 – Take meds as prescribed (new habit)

Jan 1 starts with a new habit – the daily walk. On Jan 15th I move on to eating moderately at lunch and dinner (no heaping portions or seconds). And so the process goes. I change one habit every 15 days or so. I have 30 habits already targeted over the next year and I’m sure to add more as I move through the year. My plan is in Microsoft Project. I review progress several times a week. Zen Habits offers some good advice for how to successfully change your habits. .

I’ve found failures to be just as important as successes when trying to learn how to improve, especially when it comes to changing habits. It’s not an easy task, and I’m sure every one of us has tried to quit something and failed, or tried to do something positive and failed. The key, of course, is to not just give up after failure, but to reset your resolve, to analyze what went wrong and why, and to plan to overcome those obstacles the next time.

One primary success factors is simply defining things correctly. I did not quit smoking altogether, I quit smoking on a regular basis. If I smoke a cigar again it will not throw me back into the “smoker” category, nor will I feel like a failure. It’s been three months without smoking and two months without diet soda, so I'm not abusing the definition, I’m framing the definition so that a small lapse is not a major failure. I learned this by looking at past failures where small lapses tanked big efforts.

Another success factor is keeping track of what I’m accomplishing. I smoked an average of 5 cigars a week. That’s 5 cigars x 14 weeks for 75 cigars avoided and $490 saved. For diet soda I avoided 22100 mg of salt and a whole bunch of artificial sweeteners, plus I’ve picked up 10 8oz glasses of water per day (up from less than 1). Every can of soda avoided moves me toward a better me. Over time, the numbers become impressive and helps keep you focused on your goal..

I’ve noticed some health benefits already. I breath a lot easier now that I do not smoke. Eliminating diet soda caused me to shed a lot of water weight (diet soda is loaded with salt). Eating oatmeal has knocked my cholesterol down by 28 points (it was already good, now its even better). I’ve even lost some real weight too. The biggest change is adapting to life with less caffeine. Cutting the diet soda’s also radically cut my caffeine intake. I now look forward to my morning cup of coffee like a drug addict looks forward to his heroin fix. I think reducing my caffeine intake has helped tame my lifelong battle with insomnia. I now have trouble staying awake once the day winds down.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that I could make these changes on my own. I think watching my dad die had something to do with changing my mindset.That and the absolutely awful time I had in China (where my every public appearance was an ordeal.). Plus, when it comes to my work life, I follow everything I teach. I know making changes to small habits can result in amazing outcomes. For example, I taught an employee how to handle a help requests from VIPs. The process is simple. Listen to the request and then repeat it back to the requestor – seek agreement. When back at your desk, send an email acknowledging the request and make a commitment about its resolution. Notify anybody on your team or in your chain of command who needs to know about the commitment. Follow up each day until the task is complete and keep your team informed. And then when done, follow up again a week later to make sure everything is working ok. This little change of habit radically changed how the employee was viewed by the leaders of the organization he supports. It works every time.

Happy new year everyone.

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