October Monthly Challenges

August & September are in need of reflections. I’ll soon do that.

My goals for October:

  1. Finish final draft of Travel eBook [DONE — Current in Editing]
  2. Build out personal “best of” longform article reading list (long blogpost) [DONE — read here!]
  3. 10 minutes of morning meditation & 10 minutes of evening [Completed 50% of mornings and 57% of nights]

July {reflection}

Mid-Year Reflections

July was an “off” month on challenges. I determined this back in my January planning phases — as a way to assess the larger goals of my yearlong project and perhaps set a stronger course going forward for the second half of 2015 based on what I learned in the first.

I’ve done so and with August beginning have changed my approach on goal-setting, in hopes of the self-systemization ideal that I started the year with. Here are some of the changes I’ve made:

Non-Categorization of Goals

I started the year with three categories of goals: Health, Writing, and Lifestyle. This categorization was meant to keep goals varied and expansive. The idea being that if I could succeed in goals across this spectrum, I could build a system or framework that would work on goals in any category. Doing all health or all writing might pigeon-hole me into successfully mastering one corner of my life but nothing bigger.

I don’t think I was wrong in this approach but it had the effect that I was actively trying to avoid. I got stuck in these categories and nothing else. Goal-setting was restricted and habits didn’t overlap as much as they could have. As I learned in April where I turned technology off at night which gave me time to roll out my muscular frame, goals that help one another succeed are ultimately beneficial.

So there won’t be categories going forward. I’ll just set goals on things I’d like to improve on my own life and work on the set-up of the goals so that are not in opposition, but rather in harmony with one another.

Focus On The Means, Not The End

The set up on previous months could aptly be described as this: figure it out. I’d set a lofty goal of something I’d like to accomplish and left myself completely open on how to actually do it. Months that had missed goals could really point back to this as a reason for failure. I didn’t focus on the means as much as the end and a month isn’t a long time for standard methods of discovery like trial and error.

Instead, new goals will focus on the how (or the means), and leave the larger ends unto themselves. If they’re hit, great, but their magnitude won’t be the only measure of success.

Instead, I’ll focus on repeatable smaller tasks which can build habits and create positive change. The actualization of these smaller tasks and habits will be the success factors, not an arbitrary degree to which a larger goal is achieved.

Carryover Goals

Many of the goals I’ve set in previous months were aimed at things I actively wanted to change about myself. Some were challenges to exceed my own expectations, but others were aimed at better living (as I saw it). I found myself in my “off” month of July wanting to continue some of these. Of course, I could do so — but giving it the guise of a challenge made it so much more imperative to my day-to-day.

So, starting in August, I’ll have at least one carryover goal each month. This is a goal I’ve done in the past that will be repeated with the hopes of building long(er) term character change. My hope is that some goals will be carryovers for multiple months and morph themselves into fully formed habits through that process. But that’s to be seen!


June has come and gone. It was a great month in sunny Vancouver (and some in Victoria and some in Seattle too). I found myself with time to explore this new city, sit at the beach and the parks, and visits to the cities above—both for the first time.

As for my goals, there was mixed success (again), though I’d classify it as “mostly successful”. I used some strategies from previous months and learned some new lessons (and the old lesson of being more specific in how I phrase the goals).

I’ll be taking July off from the monthly goals for a mid-year assessment period, so these will be the last of the first set of goals. The whole experience has been great and I’ll talk in my analysis about some larger lessons learned.

So, how’d June go?

Floss [Lifestyle Goal]

Goal: Floss twice every day

Result: Complete!

This was a habit I’d been wanting to develop for some time now. Flossing is that perfect example of something I know is good for me—that I should be doing on a daily basis—but that had never been habitualized before.

This goal was rather easy to complete. I used the technique of tying this to something that was already a habit—brushing my teeth. Luckily, these already went together. I simply wouldn’t pick up my toothbrush until I had already flossed.

I found that after a floss and a brush, my teeth felt cleaner than usual. This was fairly obvious as a hypothesis but a pleasantly reaffirming consequence.

I hope to keep this one going—but certainly a success from June!

Work on Travel Ebook [Writing Goal]

Goal: Completed first draft

Result: Done! [to the extent any first draft can be complete of course….]

In May, I began formulating an idea of writing an ebook. The basic idea was collecting what I had learned from traveling around for the last 4 years while sustaining employment. I did some quick research and saw there really wasn’t much out there on this specific niche—and with the opportunity to self-publish being so easy these days (through Amazon’s portal for ebooks), I thought it’d be a fun project.

I started drawing up some notes and approached this month with the writing goal to get a first draft going.

As of now, I’ve written over 15,000 words (approx. 50 pages). I have a complete outline and every section has at least some content. Some sections are fully thought-out and developed, others exist in outline or note form. There are lots of notes on things needed.

So, certainly, there’s a lot more to do, but the foundation (“first draft”) is set. And I’m getting more excited about the project each day (a good sign).

Lose Weight [Health Goal]

Goal: Lose 8 pounds

Result: Completed once; overall not completed

Here’s a recurring lesson: goals can be both achieved and failed. This one is an example. The goal here was to lose 8 pounds. I weighed myself on June 1st in at 172.2 pounds. On June 20th, I weighed myself at 164 pounds (after a morning workout and not having eaten breakfast). So, goal achieved!

And, yet, by the month’s end, I had gained some of that weight back (thanks to a few days of drinking and not having my kitchen to make my meals). So I ended the month at 165.8—a failure on my goal.

So did I achieve it or not? Well that depends on interpretation on what a goal means? I did lose the 8 pounds, but it was not “lost” by month’s end. An interesting perspective challenge!

The real element here is the learning: one in how to cut weight (mostly with nutrient timing and more working out), AND the effect of environment on that. With a kitchen to cook and control meals, weight loss was relatively smooth (see the general trend in the first half of the graph). Once removed from that, it becomes a lot more difficult.

I tracked weight throughout the month, so I could put it into graph form. Here it is:


june weight loss annotated bigger


For now, I’ll have to consider this goal as “failed” (how I interepretted it). Thought there is some mixing in of success at having—at one point—lost those 8 pounds.


Another month and some habits tried and formed. I saw the second success of the strategy of tying one habit to another (already formed) habit. This will be something I take with me as I go forward.

The weight loss plan didn’t quite pan out—but there were certainly some success aspects to pull out of there. I learned a lot about nutrient timing and how diet and exercise interact with one another. I did lose a good sum of weight, but ultimately was unsuccessful because I was unprepared for a new environment. For the first few weeks of the month, I was at home and within walking distance of a gym. I walked a lot, worked out more, and ate exactly what I wanted to eat and when.

As I left Vancouver, I sacrificed a great deal of control over my environment. Of course, I anticipated this since this comes with travel—which I do quite often. One aspect of travel is an increase in environmental instability. You don’t get to control the happenings around you and the access level you have to certain accessories (think: groceries, gym, kitchen—just to name a few).

In Victoria & Seattle, I found myself eating every meal at a restaurant. I had limited access to a workout facility (though I was able to cheat the system a bit in Vic), and the days were not as open for my own planning (trains, boats, check-out times).

I do think it’s possible to keep habits up while traveling, albeit much more challenging. One needs a certain level of not only disciple, but patience and persistence to make these happen. My first months of 2015 proved that, but I’ve yet to be successful on each of my three goals in any month. What part of that is due to a environmental flux and what is due to my own lack of systemization?

That, dear readers, is the question to figure out through July—a month off of goals and dedicated to an assessment of what’s happened already and what I can do to be more successful ahead.

More next month!


I was just re-reading my post from April’s challenges. April was kind of a month of everything – lots of running around. May was not that. May got simple. I’m set up here in Vancouver and have my own space (a first in four years) and am coming to enjoy the simpler things — having a morning coffee outside, listening to music, watching a baseball game, exploring my new neighborhood. Got to say, too, that Van sure makes it easy. One month in, I’m convinced this is the most beautiful city I’ve been through (naturally). That certainly helps keep the mood too.

May really gave me some time to focus on my goals and start to put some habits together on achieving them. Overall I did pretty well I’d say. Let’s have a look!

Keep A Tidy House [Lifestyle Goal]

Goal: No dishes in the sink at the end of the night. No clothes on the floor either.

Result: 29/31 nights.

Count was kept on a sheet with a calendar of May crudely drawn on it. An “X” was added the next morning if I woke up to no dishes or clothes on the floor. I managed well on the clothes (which is actually probably a more common bad habit on my part). The dishes were the two times I missed this.

I hate dishes. Still do. This didn’t make it any easier. But I find a few methods that worked.

One was something I figured out early on. See what I was doing was using the sink as a kind of sitting place for the dishes. So instead of dumping a dish in there, I left it in a stranger spot — on top of the counter that is in my living room, for instance. That worked until I got lazy and started having flies all around the apartment (it’s nice enough in Van to leave my balcony door open all the time, so I like the take advantage of the fresh air.

Next, I left the light on over my stove — meaning I had to fully walk into the kitchen to turn the light off. That worked for about a week and then I started getting lazy. Almost missed a day as I was going to bed. Had to convince myself to get out and do the dishes.

Later, a friend revealed a trick he used —simply just counting the seconds it takes to finish the task/chore. It works especially well for dishes. This has two (2) effects: (1) you realize how quickly you can really do dishes (most of my times were 2-3 minutes), and (2) you get to race yourself. I could guess how long it would take me and then either (a) try to get near that time or (b) beat it. Fun helps form habits.

Write Book Reviews [Writing Goal]

Goal: 3 published reviews

Result: Done. My reviews for Travels with Charley (Steinbeck), One Summer (Bryson), and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers).

This was fun. It, of course, forced me to read these books which was enjoyable in itself. It also made think while reading, “what’s really going on with my experience here?” And gave a new edge to reading.

I don’t read a lot of book reviews, but I wrote in a style I’m comfortable with and thought hard about what the books and authors left me with. Finished this one on the last day of May!

Pull-Ups [Health Goal]

Goal: 10 consecutive pull-ups

Result: 10 pull-ups over bar, 5 strict pull-ups.

I didn’t specify my goal here, so it’s hard to give a pass/fail on this one. In the past, the ten pull-ups (head below bar, head above, etc..) probably would have counted just fine. The “strict” pull-up — all the way down — is of course much harder.

The positive here is improvement. I tested my pull-ups on the first day of May and got to 4 pull-ups, and about 2.5 strict. That’s more than a 2x improvement on these, so I’ll take that as a positive sign. It was certainly an improvement.

To accomplish this improvement, I set out to practice the pull-up multiple times per day. AT least once in the morning and once at night I got myself to do pull-ups, and then experimented with doing negatives (starting near the top and slowly lowering myself down). These all helped build up my pull-up count.


May was a good month to sit back and assess some of my challenges and what I’m accomplishing. I had more time to devote to them (I don’t think I could have finished three books in any other month this year). As life as slowed down for me due to staying put for a bit, I found some room to dive deeper into my 2015 project. I’ve made notes on self-systemization that I think will carry me in my future endeavors, but still nothing quite complete as a full framework or system. Closer, but not close yet.

As the month progressed, I found new tricks for habit-forming (see the lifestyle goal) — one’s that I’m still using past the month’s end. I also found success in blocking time off in my calendar to make sure I attended to my goals. I stuck with one old lesson as well — performing something before doing something I would do anyway. (In this case, it was doing pull-ups before I had my all-important morning coffee).

I’m still looking for greater assurances of success but I feel myself getting more used to my discipline cycles and finding ways to either overcome any lack thereof, or motivate myself in other ways. What I’m looking for is a larger sea-change in myself (or a trigger that can cause that), but the monthly goals are short and don’t always allow for that exploration.

What i’ve set forward, then, is a June full of my most ambitious goals yet. These will not be easy (see my Home page for a listing of those). I’ll need to be disciplined, dedicated, and focused — all while trying to tinker with a system that aids these paradigms. So we’ll see.

July, then, is an “off” month. It’s a reassessment time. What’s worked? What hasn’t? It’ll be time, then, to put forward the first go at a system and see if it makes or breaks. More on that later, of course.

For now, June is already begun and I have goals to attend to!


April was a busy month. I spent time at home with my family, in Chicago with friends, made it to the Final Four and Championship game, did 9 days in Panama, got my SCUBA diving certification, officiated a wedding, and flew to Vancouver, my home for the next four months.

It’s been a necessarily relaxing weekend. But now I get to write this sitting outside of my new apartment in the PacNW, looking at the mountains, and listening to Vin Scully talk through a baseball game. It seems like a mundane Saturday, but for me it’s novel.

Today is the 2nd day of May, as well, which means that April is over and so are my challenges, and there’s a new set to start on!

So, how’d I do in April? Pretty well, actually. I changed my approach in two (2) ways: no more daily challenges, but weekly instead, and combining challenges so that they worked with each other, instead of against.

Results are here:

Limited Technology Hours [Lifestyle Goal]

Goal: No Personal Technology After 10pm on Weekdays

Result: 19/22 nights.

I broke this three nights, almost all by necessity. I did, however, offer a solution to accomplish the deeper goal I set out: no technology within 90 minutes of going to sleep. This, again, was what the goal was aimed toward — and in that I was successful. This taught me a lesson, not in discipline, but in discovery. It’s not necessarily something that will automatically carry into a success framework, but it might in the planning stages of taking on any kind of challenge.

Poems [Writing Goal]

Goal: 15 published poems

Result: Done.

I put up a page to host all the poems. They are in no particular order — other than the one I chose to write them in.

This is the first time I’ve ever put poetry out (“published”). The challenge was really getting over by nerves in doing so (vulnerability is probably a better word for it), and then settling with what is posted without the enormous weight of wanting to edit every word hanging around. But it’s done.

Most of these are poems on several edit(ion)s now. So it wasn’t writing, just again, coming to terms with posting something I do as a hobby and do not do for others very well (or often).

Muscle Health [Health Goal]

Goal: 90 minutes of muscle rolling weekly.

Result: 4/4. 100%.

This was probably my most enjoyable goal of the year so far — one because it feels oh-so-good to get to roll out your muscles for a while (after you get past the hurt, of course). But also because I feel as I made my biggest jump with this in terms of a larger framework.

Two big discoveries from here that I mentioned above: (1) it was helpful to establish this as a weekly goal instead of  a daily one. What this allowed me to do was borrow time against myself on days when I wasn’t able to do my rolling. This helped me achieve success in a month where my schedule, location, and workout schedules were entirely varied. I was in 3 different countries, flying all around, driving until late into the night, and there just weren’t days I could accomplish this. Past months saw me fail in several goals precisely because they were daily. With this, it meant that there were some nights I rolled for 30-40 minutes, but again, it was when I had the time to do so (or made the time) and didn’t try to beat the impossible. Then (2) was that this goal aligned very closely with the lifestyle goal. Since I wasn’t allowed on any technology, it freed up my time to do something like this; which is non-technical. It was a good realization — have goals that promote each other instead of inhibit.


It was a great month — lots of memories and some good success with my challenges. May will be much more sedentary, but it was great to see success on-the-move. I suppose,in some ways, I’ve mastered parts of that lifestyle. Now we’ll see how the staying-in-one-place goes.

There isn’t much more analysis I have than the large paragraph above. The planning stage for May has been a bit more in-depth, to help accomplish the idea of having goals that complement one another.

Looking forward to my month in Vancouver — exploring some new terrain. Looking forward to a new set of goals. I’ll do this month and June and then take a break month in July for a full analysis and breakdown of how things have gone so far. Perhaps I’ll come out of July with a v1 of a framework to use. We’ll see!

Why A Framework?

This is the second post in my monthly challenge. The idea is to help explain what I’m doing with these monthly challenges by blogging about it — which is a monthly challenge in itself. Meta, yes. Confusing? Perhaps.

This blogpost will center around frameworks. Or, more specifically, one framework. One I seek to pull out of these monthly challenges by the end of 2015.

In layman’s speak, “framework” is defined simply as “an essential supporting structure of a building, or object”. In the programming world, where frameworks have become quite common, it gets a little more complex.

Here’s how one site explains a framework (again, in the scope of computer programming):

In the longer term, a framework ensures the longevity of your applications. If a development team works as they please, only that particular team will be able to maintain and upgrade the application with ease. The way that a publisher supports a proprietary solution.

On the other hand, the structure that a framework provides for the application makes it possible to avoid this pitfall altogether and it gives any developer – whether they participated in its development or not – the ability to easily “adopt” an application, to maintain it over time and to upgrade it both quickly and neatly, whenever necessary….

I’d like to take this idea and spin it into my life. In this quote, the author lays out the benefit of a framework. It’s a way to share something across the board without the pains of sharing, or the extreme pain of starting from scratch each time. I won’t necessarily be using it to help different people (or take my hands off and into the hands of someone else), but I will be using a framework across several disciplines. In this sense, I’m the new person coming in and trying to pick something up with ease. And, for that, a framework can be quite helpful.

The idea is I can pick up a goal, a large goal: write a novel, or squat 350lbs, and eventually achieve that goal. It’s a self-success framework — one that does not reinvent the process for achievement with each new goal, just adapting its parts to fit the application (and remember the metaphor of an application from my previous post). This is what I’m after.

What can I use, time after time, to ensure success? We’ve seen people do this. Accomplish goals across different disciplines, different plains of thought and different schools. My theory is that they, explicitly or unconsciously, have a self-success framework that empowers them to success. This can simply be: put your head down and work. That’s a self-success framework. A simple one, but it’s certainly a structure around which you can build, or achieve, or progress. What I seek might be as simple as that, but I won’t know until I find it.

You can think of a framework as an umbrella. It should encompass everything that fits under it. If something doesn’t fit under it, it’s either been misclassified, or the framework is limited. Or both. One framework that everyone knows is the scientific method. This framework fits into every unit of science — from geology to neurobiology — and allows scientists to use it as a structure to frame research. It provides consistency and, having been refined or just made amazingly, accomplishes what it sets out to do: either proving research hypotheses or disproving. Either way, no scientist can truly publish work without utilizing this framework – and this it retains its umbrella status.

I’ll save the whole “why” question for another blogpost — thought I kind of did answer it in this one. The truth is, I see this as being the safest road to self-success and self-advancement. Safe not in the opposite of danger, but safe in the sense of reliability. Maybe that’s the better way to say it: this is the most the reliable method.

And so, I seek a framework. One I can use in any challenge. How will I get this? Examining myself and my success through a series of monthly challenges — testing different facets and achievements. What is consistent across these int terms of success? What is a surefire trigger for failure? The collective understanding of these will help to build that framework.

Or at least that’s the idea.

February Challenge Results & Analysis

February began my year of monthly challenges (January was a planning month). I set three goals for myself: meditate for 30 minutes per day, increase my flat-footed squat hold time to 5 minutes, and write (and post) a short story.

Below are the results of my challenges, followed by an analysis of these result and what I’ve learned from the experience.

Meditation [Lifestyle Goal]

Goal: 30 minutes per day, everyday

Result: 21 days (70%) of +30 minutes of meditation (699 total minutes (11+ hours) of meditation)

To help track this goal, I used an app called Sattva. It’s a very basic app that times your meditations, offers some guided versions, and keeps a timeline (and location tracker) of past sessions. It was good for its purpose, though it did fail to track two (2) meditations that I did while I was offline (not on internet or data). So those went untracked though I know how that really went. Both days were timed at 30 minutes. Here are screenshots of the tracked times that I did.

Screenshot_2015-02-28-13-07-43Screenshot_2015-02-28-13-08-14 Screenshot_2015-02-28-13-08-24 Screenshot_2015-02-28-13-08-38 Screenshot_2015-02-28-13-08-50

70% is not bad but it’s certainly not hitting my goal. Some examination is needed on why I did not hit this goal, of course. The reason is simply just dedication. There were a few days in the middle of the month where I was traveling and some where I had a fever and stomach cramps. On these days, I did not meditate. Other missed days were because of simple exhaustion.

I had a good system going of meditating first thing in the morning but travel, the AGPA conference I attended, and other facots didn’t allow for this. Some days I was relegated to a late-night meditation, but other times this was lost. To succeed here, I would need a dedicated system that cements the need for this.

The good news? The meditation was a great help in centering myself this month. It was a great challenge and a helpful one at best. Perhaps the best result from this is that on days following “missed” days I could feel something “off” or missing about my disposition that was due to breaking out of this semi-formed habit.

This will certainly be a behavior I continue to do, though probably not daily.

Squat [Health Goal]

Goal: Hold a flat-footed squat for 5 minutes

Result: Held a flat-footed squat for 2 minutes 15 seconds unassisted, and three minutes with assistance

This was a goal I failed quite spectacularly on — not even getting to 50% of my goal.  The goal, of course, was arbitrarily set so it’s not such a let down — and I realized as soon as I got started just how hard 5 minutes is….for anyone. For me, I started the month barely able to squat. I had to work on form first (still not great) and then do exercises to increase my ability to hold the pose. None of this was easy. I had to deal with locked-up ankles, knees, and a groin area without must stretch to it. To hit 5 minutes would probably take a routine of several months.

And that also speaks to another point here — similar to the meditation challenge above. I simply did not prepare myself enough with a routine to accomplish what I set out to do. I should have had a regimen, and instead I had stretch breaks, sporadic practice, and an inconsistent approach (holding on to legs of chairs/tables, lifting the back of my foot up and squatting that way). I did this unassisted by a professional and, though I did watch my body, I did not have an approach that would guarantee success by any means. Next time, I’ll need this.

imagejpeg_0 Squat side

Short Story [Writing Goal]

Goal: Write & post one short story

Result: Wrote and posted two short stories (La Entrada (Jorge’s Story) and Proposing At A Funeral Isn’t The LEAST Romantic Thing You Can Do).
Well, it’s nice to hit one of my goals. And even nicer to have doubled it.

Writing is probably what comes easiest to me and completing this challenge meant mostly just sitting down and DOING it. Well, a funny thing happened as I sat down to write a story — I thought of another one. Jorge’s Story was born at the beginningof the month from my few days spent in the real La Entrada and I thought of the proposal story while exploring Cuenca with a friend and trying to find a coffee shop. Somehow it just HIT me. I wrote the first draft of that one (proposal story) in 40 minutes sitting at Cafe Austria in Cuenca, Ecuador. Did some light editing on it but left it mostly as it was then. Funny how those things work: )

The La Entrada story took me longer and has a much great depth to it. With more time I would have edited it over (and over and over) again, but hey you gotta ship, right?


This is the first month of what’s going to be  longer project and even these results are exciting to me. When I set out on the path of making there challenges and working within them, I told myself it would matter less that I completed the challenges (though effort and desire were paramount), than that I understand why I failed or succeeded. So this analysis is just as important as the one above, and certainly this one will careen into future months and challenges, as I attempt to build my own framework of self-success.

Let’s start with writing — my one completed challenge. This one came easy because it’s been a process I’ve undertaken several times over the last ten years. And the process is usually the same:

  • Mulling over an idea,
  • Putting something on paper with notes on later plot, character, or other details,
  • Filling those missing parts in
  • Reading through draft 1
  • Editing and inserting notes
  • Writing draft 2

It’s been quite simple and the process goes on further as time goes (no doubt next time I look at these stories I’ll have an intense desire to write a whole new draft.

This was the process, throughout the month, on Jorge’s story and the process in a much shorter timeframe for the Proposal story. Since this is such a reliable system, it was easy to call upon to hit a deadline (the month’s end).

The squat and meditation challenges were new — both in their goals and in the systems I can now see were needed to complete them. For meditation, the element was simple: dedication. I needed to, on a day to day basis, make a conscious decision to set aside 30 minutes to meditate. Most days I did this. On days I did not I could either not will myself to do this, or it did not come up as a conscious priority (on one or two occasions it did occur to me but I was not in a place where I could complete the challenge). This will be important because many upcoming challenges will rely on this same need of dedication to succeed — and my lifestyle of constantly traveling and not having a homebase will throw elements and curveballs in constantly. I need to make sure I am setting aside time that is unencumbered and cannot be moved to complete my challenges. Most days, the best time for this is first thing in the morning.

For the squat practice, dedication was certainly an element, but so was systemization, which I did not have. This will have to be something I take with me going forward — especially on challenges looking for iterative (or advanced) improvements. Unless I know what I should focus on day by day, I’m relegated to blindly practicing in hopes of advancing. I could have followed a squat regimen to keep me in line of my goals but I chose to simply just practice and stretch each day (which turned into just most days).

So, my learnings from this month:

1. What will be needed more and more is the discipline to sit down each day and accomplish my goal — whether it’s accomplished in that one day (like the meditation) or part of a process for the month (like the squats)

2. The earlier a system can be put into place, the greater chance of success (writing goal vs the others).

and one last one:

3. In a life of varied opportunity, these challenges have to be my focus to be successful. As much as I’d love to read for two hours each night, I need to prioritize these first.

That’s all for February. It was a fun month of growth and I’m inspired to keep going on new challenges with my takeaways!