The seed of change
Many begrudgingly dismiss January 1st as an opportunity to start over, try new things, or better oneself based off of the tired cliché of empty gyms by January 7th. Don’t let the nay-sayers rain on your parade. And if you are one of those nay-sayers, why not give it a try before you’ve evaded the weight of guilt set forth by New Year’s resolutions.
Recently, the team behind the Freakonomics Radio podcast delivered a rebroadcast of Save Me From Myself, an episode about tricking oneself into commitment using commitment devices. These commitment devices ranged from donating a large sum of money to someone/something you absolutely hated to incriminating oneself all at the cost of breaking from a commitment. The episode is worth a listen and if you are not a Freakonomics Radio subscriber already, it’s worth adding to your regular media consumption list for the New Year.
While I don’t suggest forking over loads of money or threatening yourself with jail time for breaking on your resolutions, there is something to be said about commitment devices. In my experience, the use of small commitment devices has created a snowball effect that has lead to a massive increase in will power. Allow me to explain.
My first stab at true commitment was for health. Years back, I found myself trying to clear my throat every thirty seconds. This became quite irritating for not only myself but for those around me. After roughly one month of this behavior, I sought out an allergy specialist. The results from my food allergy test showed that I was highly allergic to beef, dairy, and whey. For most, cutting back on beef and dairy would tough but not impossible. For someone in their early twenties in which beef and dairy were their primary source of food intake would be unfeasible. While cutting out beef and dairy (a large portion of In-N-Out’s menu) would require of a leap of faith, in looking at my future-self and those around (commitment device), I knew I had to give it a shot.
Letting go of my primary diet of the past 20 years, I quit beef and dairy cold-turkey. Almost immediately I began to see results. The consistent and annoying behavior of clearing my throat was gone, I began to loose weight, and I felt much better. Three months passed before I began to slowly reintroduce beef and dairy back into my diet. Nearly eight years later, I am able to easily moderate the intake of these foods all the while enjoying new substitutes (turkey for beef, rice/soy milk for milk… nothing comes close to real ice cream…).
I had come to find that looking at my future-self wasn’t motivation enough. I needed to reinforce the commitment device for my own health with my impact to those around me. No one wants to hear someone clearing their throat every 30 seconds.
The health results from this first act of commitment led me to think about other actions I should be taking to better myself. I decided that I need to exercise more. I had attempted to jog every now and then but just couldn’t find my rhythm or comfort. The “clunky” iPod classic I would stuff into a tiny pocket would cause my gym shorts to fall down with every step. I would become tired and discouraged at the fact that I could only run around one block before I felt like I would die. Again, the commitment device of my future-self was not enough to continue my motivation. I needed another motivator.
I knew I needed to begin exercising and was not about to let that go. As discussed in a previous post (see Freshman 15… or 25: My Story), I decided to spend a chunk of money on updated jogging equipment. I’d be damned if $400 of my roughly equivalent paycheck at the time wasn’t going to get me off of the couch. I invested in a new iPod nano, Nike+ sensor, and compatible Nike+ shoes. I loaded up my new iPod with gobs of punk and post-hardcore tracks and set off to gamify my fitness regimen. I quickly became addicted to the action and found myself pushing harder and harder to break my personal bests, telling myself “just one more song” or “one more block” every time I felt like giving up.
My investment in fitness took me from panting after running the block to breaking a mild sweat after a 10K. In recent years, I have found that music has become too repetitive and non-productive. Today, I pack my iPhone to the brim with podcasts and/or audiobooks and head out with the Nike+ Running app. It’s a great way to make every run feel unique and inspiring. Some recommendations include Radiolab, the aforementioned Freakonomics Radio, and A Life Well Wasted. (Pro tip: Laughing makes for tricky runs with mixed breathing patterns. Try to stray away from comedy podcasts)
The benefits I have gained from my new diet and fitness routine have poured over into numerous avenues of my life. With an improved diet, I feel I have more motivation and energy to try new things and act on inspiration while my jogging has provided me with a foundation of perseverance. I welcome stressful workloads because I know how good it will feel when it’s over, constantly pushing myself to help one more customer or answer one more email than the day prior. This in turn has propelled my career to places I had never imagined.
However, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Following a version of the 70/20/10 model, I knew I needed to introduce some type of creative hobby into my life. I had tried numerous creative activities from film making to music but nothing ever stuck. These types of activities either required a group of people or an overwhelming amount of time and energy by a single individual. I decided to try writing.
In 2010, I started a few blogs but never forced myself to stick with them. In 2013, I re-launched TheStarrList.com, migrating from Tumblr to WordPress as a more robust blog. At the start, I took a few of my favorite pieces from my Tumblr and plopped them on WordPress. I found an attractive theme and added some images. Without much effort I had already had a decent foundation for fresh new posts. I attempted to commit myself to at least two posts per month. To double up my return, I would also drop a copy of my posts onto my MyIGN blog. This allowed an already established audience to find my work.
Within a handful of posts, my 5 Reasons to Run article caught the attention of Stephanie Lee (@superLEE, It’s Peanut Butter Stephie Time!), former IGN Community Development Manager. I became featured on IGN’s Community Spotlight which began driving traffic to both my MyIGN blog and TheStarrList.com. With this boost in traffic, I became motivated to write one post per week. While quality waned, I began to find that the creative outlet of blogging was enriching while the traffic response was encouraging.
Due to my previous successes with diet and exercise, I was able to successfully push myself to act on blogging. Blogging has added another building block in the effort to craft the person I want to become, not only for myself but for those around me. The “success” of TheStarrList.com has propelled me to do something I had always dreamed of yet never thought possible. In November of 2013, I took part in the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month.
I have never been a reader, always looking at books as mountains, wondering how authors could write one let alone a plethora of novels. My experience with writing had been pigeonholed to my term papers and reports for my Poli Sci classes in college; lengths of 20-30 pages, double-spaced, max. 50,000 words or roughly 200 pages was impossible. However, I had recently found myself in a place were I had roughly three hours of time to kill on a bus every week day. While I could be working, I decided that this novel was important to me. It was my Everest. If I were to complete it, good or bad, it would always be there to remind me that I had the will power reshape my diet, to becoming addicted to jogging, to fall in love with blogging, and to write a volume of collected thought, plot, and characters in the form of a book.
At the stroke of midnight on Dec 1, 2013, I crossed the 50,000 word finish line. I had written a book. And while not published or shared with anyone but myself, I now use this work as the fuel for any and all creative, work-related, and personal endeavors.
TODAY AND FOREVER
What are my commitments for the New Year? I’ve planned to read 12 books, write 52 short stories, and commit to writing more hand-written letters by the years end. More importantly, I will embark and a life long commitment of love.
I have always been committed to the professional side of my life; calling out sick from work twice in 13 years and only missing a handful of classes between grade school and college. Only recently have I have learned to be committed to health and creativity. In this New Year, I will be happily applying the commitment device of marriage. Putting it like this seems to take the warmth out of this exciting engagement. However, the commitment device will not be used to trick myself into remaining locked into vows with my soon-to-be wife. On the contrary, it will be used as a symbol provided to her that I am committed to this relationship. While my future-self is proud to be wed, it is the impact that I have on her future that will motivate my commitment.
I see tremendous benefit in surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. I enter every situation and environment as a virgin to the experience; questioning everything and cautious of my behavior; starting in the wrong and finding my way to the right; everyday waking up in darkness and searching for the light; always starting from world 1-1 and never continuing from a saved state. Albeit somewhat damaging to my confidence, I am constantly grounded while observing and soaking in others’ behaviors and ethics.
I find my relationship no different. Constantly intimidated by my finance’s natural culinary and design talents, I am now continually motivated to push myself harder to feel deserving of her. I wake up every morning knowing that I have something to learn from her. Other than our separate work lives, there is rarely a time when we are apart. Never have I felt bigger or better than her. And because there is so much to learn from her, the excitement of observing her actions and talents keeps me yearning to being by her side for the rest of my life.
This New Year, plant the seed to the new you. Don’t let grandiose ideas or nay-sayers scare you away. Run five days in one week. Start a podcast. Stop watching TMZ. Write a song or a blog post every two weeks. Read a book every month. Take baby steps. Shake off old habits. Commitment to the unknown or uncomfortable will spark a fire inside of you. Allow it to open your eyes to a fairytale world you would have never thought possible.
Image source: Darvin Atkeson